How should Christians think about creation care? More importantly, should Christians even bother with creation care? What is the state of the Earth? What does the Bible say about these issues? These are the primary topics which Steven Bouma-Prediger turns to in his work, For the Beauty of the Earth.
We are on Earth, and it is a place full of the glory of God. For the Beauty of the Earth (hereafter FBE) begins with a call to marvel at creation. Bouma-Prediger traces the beauty of the earth through ecological inter-connectedness of animals, plants, and geography in mountains, forests, and lakes. It is truly astounding to think of how the world interacts as a unit; it is still more fascinating to reflect upon how even the–to use a Biblical phrase–“least of these” has an extremely important part to play. I was reading this book while on a camping trip, and it was wonderful to resonate with FBE’s discussion of the wonders of the natural world. But what’s the point?
Bouma-Prediger notes that “We care only for what we love” (21). If we do not love the Earth, we will not care for it. Moreover, he points to the interconnections found throughout the world as a reflection of the importance of all things to creation. He draws ten primary points of importance, including a rejection of the notion that things can be “thrown away”–all things go somewhere; the fact that our actions never affect just one thing; the finitude of resources on the Earth; and the amazing complexity of Creation (19-20).
Having reflected on our place on Earth, FBE asks: What is the state of planet Earth? Put simply, it is not good. Population is booming while per-capita grain production has not increased, the extinction rates are vastly larger than ever in the past, deforestation is cutting down state-sized holes in the world forests (which leads to a decrease of plants capable of producing oxygen), water consumption is increasing exponentially, topsoil is eroding more quickly than it can be produced, and more.
Bouma-Prediger is careful to present a significant amount of documentation for the claims made in FBE. Consider “Global Warming”- there is an observable upward trend in the average global temperature. There is a real consensus on this topic, although there are always who will disagree with a consensus. It is important to note that “Global Warming” is something of a misnomer because it does not reflect the complexity of the issue. “Climate Change” is a better description, which captures the full range of the impact on the planet.
These issues remain controversial, but those who wish to deny humanity’s impact upon the planet must contend with all the lines of evidence. Bouma-Prediger notes that “The real scientific debate is not over whether global warming is real, but rather is over how much and how fast average global temperature might rise, whether other factors in the climate system will counter or amplify a temperature rise, and what the specific effects will be” (52). [2014 edit: it is interesting to observe that there seems to be some increasing skepticism among scientists over the phenomenon of global warming.]
Finally, he notes that the news is “not all doom and gloom,” for there are many bright spots regarding our care for the Earth as well. Unfortunately, “the case is overwhelming that we humans are responsible for the damage to our home planet” (55). The question it raises is: what now?
The charge has been made that Christianity is bad for the environment. That is, Christian belief tends to denigrate creation and thus should be rejected, for it cannot provide answers to the ecological crises discussed above. Bouma-Prediger presents a number of ways this objection can be stated and responds accordingly. The complaint ranges from charges that Christian eschatology entails a lack of concern for the current creation to (a very interesting) complaint that because a Christian worldview helped the rise of science, which has itself been the source of many things which harm creation, Christianity is to be blamed for the current crisis.
Bouma-Prediger offers multiple responses. Most importantly, the notion that there is any single root cause for our current ecological crisis is hard to sustain. He offers other responses related to eschatology and more. Christian theology, he argues, in fact gives extremely solid motivation for creation care.
Interestingly, at one point he notes that perhaps substance dualism could be divorced from Christianity (a thesis against which I have argued here). His argument is brief and largely just notes that there are other strands within Christianity which do not rely upon this substance dualism.
Finally, in an interesting spin, the charge is made that materialism actually denigrates the environment. In particular, materialism in the form of economic materialism: when wealth drives worth, the environment will suffer, period. Now, the book does not make the charge that this is the only or even the root cause of our crisis; instead, the point is that when one does value economic gain over other ends, the environment will suffer.
The Question for Christians
Clearly, the most important question is whether or not there is any reason for Christians to care about creation. Interestingly, Bouma-Prediger places this section towards the middle-end of the book as opposed to the beginning. In it, he offers an analysis of several Biblical texts to show that Christians should care for and about creation. Central to this is his conclusion that “Individual creatures and the earth as a whole have an integrity as created by God and as such have more than merely instrumental value” (136). When we view creation as a gift from God–a good gift–we see that no individual part of that creation should be denigrated or seen as merely an instrument.
He goes on to offer a number of ecological vices of excess and deficiency regarding a number of areas related to theology and ecology. These include addiction, belief in autonomy, and more.
A Vision for Creation Care
Finally, Bouma-Prediger presents a brief vision for creation care. He places this squarely within the context of the vice list and Biblical theology. Christians are to act in humility, wisdom, and virtue. As such, they are to care for that which God has given them and be aware that one should not destroy that which sustains oneself. Christians are called to emulate God’s benevolence and love for all creation as illustrated throughout the Biblical text. As such, to be dismissive of individual species or parts of creation does not line up with a Christian worldview.
There are many more themes found throughout FBE and in particular in the area of Christians and the environment. Overall, the book is an astounding, life-shifting read. It raises one’s awareness of the integration of their beliefs with the world around us. It is amazing to immerse oneself in a sense of place–be that a forest, mountain, lake, or elsewhere–and realize that this is truly a great good which God has created for us to enjoy. As embodied creations of God, we are to honor those other created aspects of His plan. We are to care for His creation. The book is commendable in its scope, erudition, and groundedness in those concerns which Christians would perhaps be most interested in. It comes highly recommended.
For the Beauty of the Earth.
Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”
Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals- I write about creation care from a number of perspectives offered at a recent panel of prominent evangelical thinkers in this area.
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