The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament?
ed. Calvin B. DeWitt. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991. 156 pages.
These two books have a similar mission-to awaken and enlighten Christians and other concerned people about how the teachings of the Bible are relevant for an environmental ethic. Earthkeeping is a comprehensive overview on Christian faith and our planet’s health, while The Environment and the Christian is intended as a guide to help Christians and churches apply biblical principles to environmental issues.
Dr. Calvin B. DeWitt, an editor for one book and a contributor in the other, is a strong advocate for the principles in the books. “Christians can apply Jesus’ method of listening, responding, and, most of all, forgiving, in the attempt to be responsible in creation. Through it they can creatively build a movement of the meek so effective that no one could long ignore it.”
Originally published in 1980, Earthkeeping has been the leading source of information on the relationship between environmental crisis and Christian faith. Edited by Loren Wilkinson, professor of philosophy and integrative studies at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, the revised version is presented in textbook format (not with separately authored chapters) even though it was produced by a team of scholars which included a biologist, a physicist, a philosopher, and an economist.
Earthkeeping updates such scientific topics as the greenhouse effect, ozone layer, toxic wastes, rain forest destruction, and oil spills. Also examined are cultural and religious developments (the Gaia hypothesis, “Deep Ecology,” the “New Age” movement, animal rights, “speciesism,” environment and economics, and ecofeminism). A useful summary of guiding principles and an appendix entitled “What You Can Do” follows a survey of Biblical teachings about creation and stewardship. The revised bibliography, along with the indexes of subjects, names, and Scriptural references, is valuable to anyone studying the relationship between Christianity and the environment.
The Environment and the Christian is based on papers presented at the 1989 AuSable Forum at the AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies, Mancelona, Michigan. Seven authors with scientific and theological backgrounds present essays that relate Scripture to major environmental problems. Between DeWitt’s preface and epilogue are five essays “Christ as Creator and. Redeemer” (Loren Wilkinson), “Christ as the Second Adam” (Ronald Manahan), “Christ’s Resurrection and the Creation’s Vindication” (Raymond C. van Leeuwen), “The Kingdom of God and Stewardship of Creation” (Gordon Zerbe), and “Creation’s Care and Keeping in the Life of Jesus” (Vernon Visick). David Wise presents a “Review of Environmental Stewardship: Literature and the New Testament” as an appendix. New Testament implications are explained in a way that add perspective to the more frequently discussed Old Testament commands. The major themes, “Christ as creator” and “Seek the Kingdom,” answer to species extinction, global toxification, habitat destruction, and cultural subversion. Rightness and integrity are the cornerstones of this perspective.
Both Calvin DeWitt (University of Wisconsin) and Loren Wilkinson are respected scholars in scientific and theological circles, and the other authors and team members have all been active in addressing questions of faith and the environment. Of note to Mennonite readers are the names of Gordon Zerbe (Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Manitoba) and David Wise (Lancaster Mennonite High School, Pennsylvania).
The strength of both books lies in the breadth of perspective that comes from the team approach in writing and research. Both books are documented with literature from both theology and science and thus make good references for further study.
Along with the strengths of the multi-author approach, however, come some weaknesses, such as repetition and the loss of a sequential flow of information. For non-academics, the theological and historical accounts may be slow reading although the insights gained are well worth the effort. To argue points of scientific or theological difference, however, may be fruitless in view of the seriousness of the problems we face. We are in an environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions. Action, more that words, is needed.
The major contribution of both of these books is that they are harbingers of an absolutely vital element in solving environmental problems, namely, religious faith. It must inform and motivate us not only in preparing for death but in how we live. The Bible offers Christians the motivation to be part of the solution rather that the problem when it comes to the environment. These two books offer some of the best guidelines available for beginning a new and right relationship to Creation.