Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: Keeping God's Earth

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for providing me with a review copy!

One of the hot debates today is over the extent to which we humans are negatively impacting the global environment. Many Evangelicals find themselves uncertain of where the evidence points. They think there's probably a problem but aren't sure how big it is and even if there is a problem, they're not sure how the Bible might guide us towards a solution. It's for this group (in which I would have included myself) that Keeping God's Earth: The Global Environment in Biblical Perspective is written.

The book starts with an introduction and an essay on the environment and eschatology. Then, four major ecological issues are tackled: cities, biodiversity, water, and climate change. Each of these four sections has two articles. The first is written by a leading Christian scientist in that field assessing the problem and the second is written by a biblical scholar providing the theological backbone necessary to help us address the issues raised in the prior essay (this was a very helpful format). The book closes with a concluding essay that synthesizes some of the conclusions drawn earlier and with an afterword that clarifies what it means for humankind to have dominion over creation.

Gauging by the level of the essays, the book is best geared towards the studious lay person, pastor, or student. The only exception may be Noah Toly's essay on 'Cities and the Global Environment.' I found that it was unnecessarily advanced at times given that the vast majority of those who read this book will generally be unfamiliar with environmental science (as I am). In fairness he did define technical terms when he used them, but their usage combined with his academic writing style made his essay harder work than necessary to get through. Overall, though, each of the essays did an excellent job of distilling their material in a nuanced, lucid, and accessible manner.

One helpful angle that many of the essays took was to show how the environmental crisis impacts human well being and the social justice aspects of many of our ecological problems. In particular, the essays that focused on science showed how often the poor get the short end of the stick, especially related to pollution of their environment and their inability to access safe water in many parts of the world. Another strength was the way the essayists attempted to undermine the strong current in pockets of Evangelical thought that believes that because we were given dominion over the earth that we can do with it and its inhabitants as we please. Our role as image-bearers, as God's representatives on earth, is to be an extension of his beneficent rule, and that being just rulers in the biblical sense requires that we look out for the vulnerable.

Most of the theological essays are fairly reserved in the conclusions they give. They serve as a good starting point for further reflection and leave implementation up to the individual. The eschatological focus of Doug Moo's and Christopher Wright's essays were particularly helpful (all in all I thought Wright's was the standout of the collection). I especially appreciated how Wright used eschatology to ground environmental ethics in the mission of God. If redeeming the cosmos is one of God's goals, then it must be one of our goals too, and it must be a goal that we pursue in its own right, not just as a subsidiary goal to evangelism.

Overall, Keeping God's Earth is a much needed resource for the ongoing discussion of environmental ethics. When you are done reading it you will be convinced of the centrality of creation care to the mission of God's people. For far too long we have sat on the sidelines or even fought against policies that would promote the health of the environment. Keeping God's Earth is an excellent resource providing us with the theological grounding we need to bring God glory by fulfilling our roles as image bearers exercising his benevolent kingship over all of creation and participating in his mission of redeeming all of creation.

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