I argue for the theological plausibility of reading contemporary environmental concern as a response to the prophetic voices of nonhuman nature, and in that sense as a movement of the Holy Spirit.
The literature on pneumatology and the environment tends to concentrate either on the Spirit's role in creation (and the continuities between creation and new creation) or on the ecclesial location of the Spirit's transformation of material reality. While these approaches are sound and necessary, neither appears fully to address the specific theological challenge of the contemporary environmental movement and of contemporary environmental stress, as a historical moment between humanity and nonhuman nature. Pneumatology needs to take account of the specific ways in which the environment becomes an issue for theology and society, and of the historical ‘discernment of spirits’ involved in Christian and theological responses to the environmental crisis.
In an attempt to address this need, I take up the now well-developed theological claim that nonhuman nature is a subject, rather than the backdrop of salvation-history, and develop it in relation to the idea that prophecy as the work of the Spirit both reveals and realises God's history with creation. I draw on Eugene Rogers’ approach to pneumatology by exploring the non-identical repetitions of pneumatology's paradigmatic narratives, but, going beyond Rogers, I trace these repetitions in nonhuman and extra-ecclesial realities – in ‘the environment’. The main paradigmatic pneumatological narratives considered in this article are those related to prophecy, and in particular to the miraculous extension of gifts of speech and hearing; rereading these narratives in the contemporary environmental crisis leads to an account of how the ‘voices’ of nonhuman nature are heard as prophetic speech that summons response. In a final section, I turn to another paradigmatic pneumatological narrative – that of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness – and propose, in dialogue with Donald MacKinnon and others, that it offers a starting-point for theological responses to the experience of despair, loss and failure in the context of environmental concern.