Durrant K., “The Earth Will Teach You” ; Gloucester: Wide Margin, 2014
Reviews by Jonathan Ingleby and Revd Dr John Weaver
This is a book which has many different virtues. The author’s intention, he informs us, is to help us to discern ‘the voice of nature and the testimony of Scripture’. I think he does more than this. Scripture is certainly present and the way nature teaches us is the main point of the book – see the title. But I would add some additional elements. The use of the arts and regular references to contemporary events and people add hugely to the book’s impact, helping to drive home the chief polemical point that the fate of the planet is a vital issue today in our Christian discipleship.
It is a delight that nothing in the book seems forced or unnatural. The passages from Scripture are faithfully explained, the poems and pictures are wholly appropriate, the illustrations from life are familiar and relevant. At the same time the connections made are often surprising and highly revealing. Balaam’s donkey warns us against riding to destruction. The great tree of Jesus’ parable speaks of hospitality; the soil itself speaks of humility and obedience. The story of the snake in Genesis 3 is a cautionary tale we need to take seriously; the Jubilee legislation and the description of the mighty crocodile in Job also have their warning messages. The sacred oak that Abraham camped nearby encourages a sacramental approach to nature. In the New Testament mysterious clouds reveal important truths; more plainly Jesus condemns the lack of imagination of the rich farmer and feeds 5000 while reminding us that little can mean much, even if in our day we can scarcely believe it. He speaks up in favour of forbidden Sabbath harvesting and against ruled-based religion. Finally, the rhythms of life, dawn, sunset and the seasons of the year are also shown to be inherently health giving – we cannot afford to neglect them.
How can we use this book? We can use if for enjoyment and encouragement. It reminds us again and again that we live in a beautiful world and as part of it ourselves we can constantly draw inspiration and instruction from it. The earth will indeed teach us and also nurture us if we are not too busy ignoring or destroying it. We can use the book to persuade others, both Christians and non-Christians. Much of the resistance to the ‘green’ message is a result of people feeling that they are being frog-marched into a different lifestyle. I believe this book will make people realise that, though we do need to change, the change will be to something more life-enhancing, more liberating and more exciting. What the earth teaches us is good news, indeed more than that: it is an appeal to join in the creation of a new heaven and earth.
Jonathan Ingleby is a former lecturer in Applied Theology at Redcliffe College, Gloucester. Previously, he worked in education for more than twenty years in India. He lives in Gloucester and was recently chosen as parliamentary candidate for the city by the Green Party for the elections in 2015.
A further review of Kevin Durrant’s, The Earth Will Teach You, Gloucester: Wide Margin, 2014.
In case you missed the first review of this book on the JRI Blog, I want to affirm that this is an excellent commentary on selected biblical passages, which offers insight and creative engagement with the natural world and our life within it. Kevin Durrant tells us that the text began life as a series of sermons. Each of the resulting chapters provides the reader with material for discussion in Bible Study groups and for sermons. The author explores the ways in which each biblical writer expresses their understanding of God’s presence in nature and of nature as our teacher. Through pertinent contemporary illustrations, stories and poetry each of the chosen passages is brought to life in new ways.
Durrant challenges the reader to listen to the wisdom that comes through the voices of the natural world; for him the whole of creation is sacramental. He insightfully points out the value God places on the animals, the first place of Behemoth and Leviathan showing us God’s pleasure and glory. But then when we consider the animals in Noah’s Ark there are those that we would not have chosen to rescue because they are dangerous or annoying, yet to God they are all valuable.
Sadly, Durrant reflects that we don’t hear the voices of nature because of our disconnection with the rhythms of God. He encourages us to benefit from the God-given rhythms of the seasons and of day and night, which our modern industrialised world has blurred.
He concludes that we need to hear the wisdom that God offers to us through the voices of nature, for example God speaking to us through the decline and extinction of species.
His final thoughts are close to my heart as he draws a parallel between Hezekiah’s buying off of the Babylonian threat in exchange for 15 years of personal peace and prosperity (2 Kings 18:13-16, 20:4-19) with our desire for several extra years of energy-rich living through the fracking of shale gas. Like Hezekiah we ignore the possible catastrophe.
He concludes that we have the testimony of two witnesses: scripture and nature supported by science. He stresses that we will be foolish to turn deaf ears to the voices of nature, which are for us the voice of God.
I wholeheartedly commend this book to preachers and teachers, and to anyone who wants to find biblical help in addressing environmental issues.