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In other words, Bonhoeffer critiqued both the classical-scholastic and the modern-rationalistic traditions of theology for treating the gospel as investing life “with a particular quality or a particular value” on top of a mankind already founded on natural structures of existence. Evangelical theology, meanwhile, aims to set the gospel of Jesus Christ as its foundation and contrast to all the other frameworks that humanity has built up for itself.

As a theology that attempts to get its ideas about God, man, and the world solely from the Bible, the key to any evangelical environmentalism must be Scripture itself. However, we must be careful: Since Scripture begins with Genesis, it can be tempting to keep our thoughts on Creation stuck to the Creation narrative and the beauty of Eden.

But the fact is that Eden did not last. Eden may perhaps describe how the innocent world was, but the Fall means that it cannot describe how the world is. For that, we might better look to a book like Job. The world of Job is a broken one, though still reflecting the Eden story. There is a first peace and blessing—but then the Fall happens. God is in control, but he also allows terrible evil to happen—this time to the righteous—and seems all the more distant and silent for it while Job and his friends lament and debate.

Planetarium begins in a similar chaos. The album is a seemingly random assortment of songs; not even the listing of planets is in order. The first tracks speak of lust (“Venus”), guilt (“Neptune”), war (“Mars”). A strange irony permeates all of them, most obviously in the track “Saturn,” which contains a party anthem (“tell me I’m evil / tell me I’m not love / tell me I’m evil / tell me I’m not the face of God”) played to a roaring electronic pulse fit for an EDM festival. But the bridge reveals this all as a goading farce: “Where there’s joy / I bring trespass / Where there’s light / I bring you darkness.” What seems to be the rapturous debauchery of the Greek gods is only a mask for the demonic.

In all these songs, we never know exactly who—Greek god or human pride—is speaking, which may confuse the listener. We are tempted to treat it all as a puzzle to be worked out, to almost ignore the instrumentation which layers further ambiguity onto the already confusing lyrics. (We may even commit the grievous sin of skipping the instrumental tracks, too concerned with meaning to simply enjoy the music itself.)

All this confusion is answered by the album’s climactic track “Earth,” which brings together the truths of Creation and the follies of our modern world. Beginning with an ethereal ambience that recalls the Spirit of the Lord hovering over the waters, the first verse then comes in the fluttering of a melody that matches its lyrics: “Innocence was never lost / though it may have been insulted.” Creation is not without foundation or meaning, but beckons to its original innocence of Eden. It may have been insulted, forgotten, but it was not lost.

In constant tension between true hallelujah and “contradiction, ceremony,” humanity in particular tries to reach back to that first paradise. We see an order, but it is not ours—“there are no more accidents / living things refuse to offer / explanations of their worth.” We try to return to Eden, but we find only that original sin to become like gods. Our expansion and organization brings “paranoia and prediction / exploration, competition,” and our attempt to become gods clashes with our place to live as people.

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Planetarium
Planetarium
4AD
2017-06-09
$9.49
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Christianity Today
Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Planetarium’ Charts a God-Sustained Cosmos