Guest Blogger: Zen Hess
Following the recent release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Lauato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, various republican presidential candidates shared their opinions on the matter. Rick Santorum, for example, said that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists.” Many of us may resonate with such a statement — most of our pastors and spiritual leaders probably know very little about science. However, Pope Francis is a trained chemist and, more importantly, confesses that God created all things. Should Christians, and their leaders, who confess God as Creator not have great concern regarding the well being of all the things God created? This is the conviction of Brunner, Butler and Swoboda, who crafted Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker 2015).
The book is a thorough and readable resource for any learner — “whether in undergraduate, graduate, seminary or church settings” (p. 12) — who wants to understand why and how the ecological crisis relates to Christianity.
First, they name some of the problems the book is addressing, such as: “acute ecocrisis” caused by humans, the “church’s own internal strife,” the politicization of the ecocrisis, as well as a number of theological problems (p. 16-18). The authors hypothesize that each of these problems, either directly or indirectly, have hindered the Church from joining the ecological discussion; in addressing these problems, the authors clear the way for further ecclesiological dialogue on ecological matters.
Second, the authors provide an abundance of proofs for why Christians need to be concerned about the ecological crisis. Drawing from Scripture, theological doctrines, church history, sociological and scientific data, the authors make an exceptionally convincing case. At this point, however, one must remember that this is an introduction to ecotheology. I found myself, at times, wanting them to spell their arguments out in more detail. Yet, their goal is to introduce readers to why ecotheology makes sense within evangelical Christian theology — and that they have faithfully done.
Finally, the authors give a great deal of practical advice. Said differently, they tell us what to do with our theological knowledge. From forming “greening committees” in our churches to simply picking up trash, they give a number of ways to participate in lived ecotheology. I found their chapter on “Greening the Church” (ch. 9) to be a great deal of help in answering the question, “What can I do to start?” Their answer would be “start small.” Incorporate creation into worship services — perhaps through cutting flowers and making bouquets for the communion table or having a worship service outdoors. Then, with time and effort, we can move to greening our buildings and challenging wasteful practices within our congregations and communities.
Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology is simple in structure — it names problems and provides intellectual and practical responses to those problems. Yet, the issues it addresses are vast and complex. One complex issue, by way of example, is how environmental matters in general relate to matters of social justice. “Breaking the Bonds” (ch. 7) addresses this matter head on:
Ecological injustice for people of color and/or the economically oppressed stems from four things. The first is their disproportionate exposure to environmental evils, such as polluted air, fast food, unsafe neighborhoods, prejudice, and joblessness. The second is the unjust denial of environmental goods, like parks, public transportation, nutritional information, grocery stores with organic or healthy food, and clean air. Thirdly, these populations are more vulnerable or have less resistance than the “average” population to certain environmental evils. For example, a child’s level of “vulnerability” to toxic lead poisoning is often governed by a parent’s knowledge of and ability to pay for fresh vegetables (because a nutritious diet can decrease susceptibility to lead poisoning). The last factor is white privilege — a more systemic, less overt form of racism, and one to which most white people are oblivious. Privilege exists when one group has something valuable that is refused to others, not because they are undeserving but because of the group to which they belong. It is about how society undergirds unshared power arrangements and the lack of access to self-determining power (p. 165).
This quote merely scratches the surface of the complex relationship between ecology and social justice, and these four “things” could be broken down into hundreds of more intricate “things.” Nonetheless, despite the complexity of it all, the authors provide a helpful introduction to the matter of ecology and justice while also providing ample charts and diagrams to help embed the theories in real-life situations.
Overall, Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology hits the nail on the head for what it was written to do. It thoroughly introduces the reader to the relationship between ecology and theology and gives plenty of resources to study the issue further. It also gives practical advice, helping us put our knowledge to work. Finally, the book is written in a very accessible way and, because it does not rely on one systematic argument, it can be used in part or in whole for classes and small groups. For anyone seeking a point of entry into the ecotheological conversation, this book is worth picking up.