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A Review of
Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis
Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A.J. Swoboda
Paperback: Baker Academic, 2014
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Reviewed Maria Drews
A couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture by Elizabeth Kolbert, a New Yorker staff-writer and author of the New York Times’ Bestseller, The Sixth Extinction. For an hour and a half, she outlined our world’s mounting crises of climate change, ocean acidification, and invasive species. So many of us arrived to hear the undeniably bad news that they scrambled to fill the halls outside of the auditorium with extra seats.
A few weeks later, I attended a lecture by journalist Naomi Klein, recent author of This Changes Everything, a journalistic exploration of climate change and capitalism. At the end of her lecture, she stated that she thought climate change was a spiritual crisis. Al Gore had expressed a similar sentiment when he received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, saying, “The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”
For years, scientists, journalists, and even politicians have been our greatest ecological prophets, defining our global reality, calling us to action, and even admitting the spiritual nature of humanity’s plight. Within Christianity, Wendell Berry, Ellen Davis, Bill McKibben, and others have been leading the charge for decades, but too often they have been voices crying out in the wilderness instead reflecting theology and action swelling up from our churches and communities.
Seeing the need, Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A.J. Swoboda have joined together to write Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis. The title accurately describes the far-ranging nature of this introductory text, drawing on theology from across Christian traditions, church history from the early church on, and the whole of the biblical narrative. How does orthodox Christianity’s practice of athleticism show us how to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle? How does our doctrine of the Trinity inform our view of ecology and our mission as Christ followers? How does Jesus’ embodied humanity, care for the poor, and cruciformity show how we relate to nature as disciples? Our doctrine of sin, salvation, or eschatology? Instead of building a singular argument for Christian engagement with ecology, the authors seem to explore every possible platform from which to build an evangelical ecotheology.
After what seems like an overwhelming breadth of topics covered in the first two parts of the book, the authors turn to the practice of environmental stewardship, ecojustice, and rooted living in part three. The authors call for a reorientation to our place in the created order, as embodied creatures awaiting a new creation, acting as a community of embodied spirituality, grace, and repentance in the midst of our global economic and industrial realities. They cover some standard ecological practices, such as learning our ecological footprint, cutting down on our waste, and curbing consumerism and consumption of resources, but they also make creative connections to the practice of centering prayer, keeping the Sabbath, and addressing racial oppression. The authors also outline communal practices for the church, including greening the church, leadership, and worship. This section is necessary because, as the authors say, “A thoughtfully constructed Christian ecotheology must lead to a renovated spirituality and practice.” Without embodied practices, especially communally embodied practices, it is hard to see the value or veracity of ecotheology.
If you are looking for a robust theology of creation or a concise primer on themes of ecology in Scripture, this book will either disappoint or overwhelm. But if you are looking for an introduction to all the ways Scripture, church history, theology, and diverse traditions can inform our faith and practice when it comes to living reconciled to creation as the body of Christ, a book that can be shared with both curious friends and skeptical community members, then this book is for you. The authors state, “With notable exceptions, evangelical and Pentecostal voices have been curiously missing from the broader ecotheological conversation. In large part, this book is attempting to invite the diverse range of evangelical strengths to the ecological table.” To this end, I think this book is a great success.
My biggest wish is that Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology was less of an introductory survey of ecotheology and more of a prophetic call to the church. We are not living in an ecological vacuum, where our ecotheology can be modestly laid out for the church to consider. The people of God must live and write in our context of ecological crisis. Today, our ecotheologians must also be our prophets, boldly defining our global reality and even more boldly proclaiming God’s call through it.