The basic thesis of this book is: “If Jesus consistently prioritized the forgotten people of the world, and if it is becoming increasingly clear that the well-being of all people on this planet – especially the poor and those on the margins – is inextricably entangled with the health of the whole created order, it is not a stretch to imagine Jesus calling Earthcare a central aspect of discipleship today” (104).
For some, this may at first appear to be a huge stretch of Biblical interpretation or an overreaching attempt to apply uncritiqued progressive values to contemporary Christianity. For others it will seem obviously true without much need for the authors to expound. But, whatever camp you find yourself on, or perhaps somewhere else on the spectrum, this book will be useful in answering the question of, “What basis do evangelicals have for caring for or not caring for the Earth?”
In the discussions I have had with Christians from a variety of traditions our ability to answer questions about the church-environment relationship was founded on political or philosophical arguments rather than on Scriptures, church traditions, or theology. What this book does, in its amazing depth of research, is gather together thousands of years of theology and tradition into a single place so that people who are not full time academics can have a foundation in Christ for believing and practicing the care of non-human nature. You can tell that this book was coauthored by teachers (good teachers) in their ability to organize and present such complicated material in a manner that is approachable and enlightening. As good teachers often do, they allow you to engage with the material as deeply as you would like. If you only want what they say, you can just read the main text. Or, if you would like to go deeper, this book can take you months (as it did me) while you go down the rabbit hole of interesting footnotes. Or, you can take the questions brought up in the tension points and have something to ponder and discuss for years to come.
One my favorite parts of the book were the inclusion of tension points. When the authors could not agree on how to or if to include different topics (stewardships, evolution, gendered language, politics, etc.) they include a separate section that lifts the curtain behind their process and asks questions that includes oneself in the act of discussing these issues. They are a great starting point for further discussion among friends that can prove to be very fruitful, especially if you find yourself in disagreement. These tension points, and the spirit of honesty, faithfulness, humility, and community in which they were done are a great example of how members of the Church can engage in these and many other topics without allowing disagreements to produce fractions.
Another highlight for me in the book was their ability to combine a strong call to practical and concrete action while maintaining grace. No one is exempt from perpetuating oppressive systems that harm the whole of Creation, its what sin does. However, we need not be ashamed of our brokenness, nor take on the full burden of responsibility for redeeming it, that’s what God does. However, that does not absolve us from continuing to do good. I am most reminded of Burdened Virtues by Lisa Tessman, in a non-ideal world there are still actions, big and small, that matter. They matter on a number of different levels, but they require action, not mere theory. This book does well to illuminate the brokenness in the world, motivate us to move beyond theory, and give us hope in doing good even when we cannot reach the destination on our own. I do not need to be ashamed that I negatively impact the environment through my lifestyle, but I can learn to conserve water, consume less, and recycle more. When I get good at that I can take whatever step appears to be next. There is joy in the practices that deepen our love for God and our care of Creation.
One aspect of the book that was difficult for me was that I was more familiar with secular ethical philosophy than theology, I often found myself disoriented due to this. Their premises were familiar, but their references were nearly all from Christian thinkers. I found myself wondering where these arguments fell in the broader discourse of environmental ethics. When I did have the time and resources to follow their references it made it better for me. As best as I can figure out, the authors take a contemporary formulation of Care Ethics (most similar to that of Virginia Held) and apply it to the environment. The theological backbone of their project mainly serves the purpose of motivating evangelicals to buy into their imperatives. In the end, I am glad that they focused on theological sources, it served their purposes well and it broadened my understanding of this as a theological issue, not merely an ethical one.
I loved this book. I am sure many others will too.