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A Faith Encompassing All Creation, reviewed by Stephen Vantassel

Tripp York and Andy Alexis-Baker, eds., A Faith Encompassing All Creation: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Care for the Environment, The Peaceable Kingdom Series (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014).

A Faith Encompassing All of Creation is the third book in The Peaceable Kingdom Series. The editors state that the purpose of the series is “…to challenge the pervasive violence assumed necessary in relation to humans, nonhumans, and the larger environment.” The first book addressed human violence (i.e. war) and the second humanity’s relationship with animals (see my review at http://pneumareview.com/a-faith-embracing-all-creatures-reviewed-by-stephen-vantassel/). This volume takes on the larger task of providing a Christian basis for protecting and restoring the environment.

The book includes articles from 18 authors representing, Catholics, Anabaptists, mainline denominations, and even a few that didn’t declare their sectarian position.. While the authorship list suggests diversity, the diversity is not as broad as it may appear at first glance. For, with perhaps one or two exceptions, they are ideologically bent towards the more progressive and socially aware elements of their respective communities

The articles fall into two categories, the philosophical and the issue based. The philosophical papers discussed how Christians should understand their relationship with the environment. Reading the articles as a whole leaves readers with the following points: 1. A metanarrative that God created the world with humans and nature in environmental harmony. Man’s sin destroyed that harmony, which Christ will ultimately repair. 2. The Bible is a mixed document containing good and bad (or irrelevant) teaching on the environment. The key is to find the right passages and ignore the wrong ones or at least reinterpret them to obtain the right conclusion. 3. Humanity has devastated creation. The degradation of the environment is not only an affront to God but also threatens our continued existence. Finally, human greed, capitalism, and arrogance are responsible for our abuse of creation. Only by recognizing that God wants us to care for creation and shed our ethic of domination and consumption can we begin to repair the environmental damage we have caused.

To those familiar with the topic of Christian environmentalism, most of the information is not new. However, the article by Johnson, which calls us to reconsider the traditional stewardship model for understanding humanity’s relationship to creation, was unusual. Though I am not convinced by her argument, I think it deserves thoughtful reflection. I commend the editors for including Pope Benedict XVI’s message for it was the only paper that explicitly (and correctly) emphasized that environmental concerns flow from respect for our fellow humans.

Issue-based articles focused on specific interpretations of scripture (e.g. Jesus cursing the fig tree) or human activities (e.g. morality of zoos). Boers rightly explained that it is too simplistic to think that technology will always resolve environmental situations. Technology can cause new problems as it resolves old ones. The article should be read by all who are overly optimistic about the promise of technology. On the other hand, I was saddened that several articles discussed issues whose answers should have been obvious to any biblically literate Christian. But upon further reflection, given the biblical illiteracy within modern Christianity, it is understandable that authors felt compelled to explain that care for creation does not require worship of creation, that Christ’s curse of a fig tree doesn’t mean we can kill all trees, and that the apocalypse doesn’t justify destroying the earth in the present.

Despite the aforementioned positive elements, the book contains many weaknesses. First, it lacks sufficient practical advice to guide our actions. Too often the authors resort to platitudes like, ‘care for creation’, without helping us distinguish use from abuse of the environment. Second, several authors fail to engage the bible on its own terms. They don’t seem to consider the possibility that environmental degradation may be partly attributable to corrupt governments and cultures not sufficiently infused with a Judeo-Christian worldview. In addition, at least one author travels the blind path of dethroning humanity thinking that if humanity’s status is lowered, we will care for the planet more. Finally, many of the articles would have benefited from reading more broadly. Deeper research would have helped them define terms and more tightly refine their arguments.

The editors clearly wanted this book to help readers work toward achieving the Peaceable Kingdom. Unfortunately, this book fails to provide enough guidance to clearly point readers in the right direction.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Vantassel

 

Publisher’s page: http://wipfandstock.com/a-faith-encompassing-all-creation.html

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2015

About the Author: Stephen M. Vantassel, Ph.D. theology (Trinity Theological Seminary), M.A.T.S. Old Testament (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), B.S. Biblical Studies (Gordon College), is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, U.K. and Assistant Editor for the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics. His dissertation on the role of animals in Christian theology was published in expanded form in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009). He lives with his wife in Lewistown, Montana. He regularly posts articles at kingsdivinity.academia.edu/StephenMVantassel.

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