Environment

Book Review of For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care

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Sarah Mazengarb

In his book, For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian Vision for Creation Care, theologian and professor of ethics Steven Bouma-Prediger claims that we, as God’s creatures and image-bearers, are called to understand the true Christian vision for creation care and respond in the way we live by demonstrating gratitude and care for this beautiful earth.  Bouma-Prediger offers a critique of the Christian role in ecological problems and the poor reading of scripture that led to it, and a new vision for creation care grounded in the goodness of creation and the Christian identity.  While some of his exegesis is not quite satisfying given the controversial nature of the issues, Bouma-Prediger is generally successful in challenging previous biblical interpretations that may have contributed to contemporary ecological problems.  For Christians with little exposure to the biblical case for creation care, Bouma-Prediger’s appeals for creation care based on both God’s goodness witnessed in the beauty of creation and on fundamental Christian identity are transformative. 

Bouma-Prediger starts by identifying our place in creation, arguing that if we do not know our place, we will not know what to love, and therefore how to care for it. Bouma-Prediger’s beautiful description of three natural habitats (forest, mountain, and lake) draws us into his world, allowing us to use his lens to appreciate afresh the beauty of the planet on which we are “placed” and for which we are called to care as Christians.

Bouma-Prediger then discusses the seriousness and diversity of the earth’s ecological issues and the role Christians have played in all of this ecological mess.  In particular, he exposes the dualism inherent in some scriptural interpretation and faulty eschatological exegesis, emphasizing how these have contributed to the lack of a vision for creation care.  This section stands in sharp contrast to what comes before, where we are shown how deeply we are connected with the world and its beauty, that we may be tempted to despair that Christians could have gotten things so wrong. 

However, Bouma-Prediger then draws a deeper connection between Scripture and ecology, and proposes a theology and ethic of earth care, starting by encouraging us to ask who we should be rather than what we should do.  This helps us understand that God calls us to be his image-bearers and therefore to live as his representatives and earth’s stewards.  Expanding on the kind of people we should be, he says our earth care should be based on the development of our character and the practicing of ecological virtues.  Virtue informs vision, and vision shapes action.  He highlights that our motive for earth care should come from love and gratitude to God rather than a feeling of obligation to follow a set of rules.  Building on this he then outlines ten reasons for earth care, the final one being the book’s title, for the beauty of the earth.  He closes his argument by drawing the reader back to the creator God and the hope that he offers in the midst of ecological chaos.  We can act to care for the earth as part of our Christian vision, “as part of our piety, our spirituality, our collective way of being authentically Christian” (179). 

By giving a logical and coherent argument with deep theological and cultural understanding, Bouma-Prediger achieves his purpose of persuading the Christian reader to develop a healthy vision of creation care.  We are left in little doubt throughout the book both of how connected we are to creation, and how we need to embrace creation care as a lifelong pattern and response to the biblical mandate.  We are taken on a journey that is both realistic and sensitive to the ecological situation, and left with a sobering impression of what is going on, but we are not left without hope. Bouma-Prediger gives realistic suggestions for how Christians are to respond to this newfound vision for creation care.  The wonder of the beauty of this earth that is depicted throughout certainly draws the reader in, and it would be surprising if one could finish this book and remain unmoved by the beauty described.  One is given a scriptural understanding of the mandate for creation and armed with a fresh vision to take responsibility in the care of our earth.

Having grown up in a church where creation care was never taught, I am impressed by the honesty with which Bouma-Prediger acknowledges how Christians have been at fault for the current ecological situation by failing to maintain a healthy vision for creation care, and how we need “ongoing repentance” (68).  I appreciate the effort he takes to address this neglect of Christian responsibility, honestly discussing the failures of the Church in the past, particularly around faulty exegesis of the biblical commands in Genesis 2 to rule and take dominion.

I am also impressed by the way Bouma-Prediger suggests we ask not what we should do but who we should be.  Many books addressing the ecological crisis are full of ‘to-do’ lists.  Bouma-Prediger goes deeper, offering a unique way to approach ecological issues that is sustainable and full of vision.  As people understand who they should be—in relationship with God and the world around them—they will begin ‘to do’ what needs to be done, but it will be founded in love and gratitude rather than obligation.

There are certainly some problems with Bouma-Prediger’s book.  Although he comes from an impressive theological background, as a developing theology student I am a little disappointed with his exegesis of some scriptural passages, such as 2 Peter 3.  Although I agree with his conclusion that the earth will be ‘found’ and not burnt up, I find the defense that his exegesis is supported by the most recent Greek translation is weak on its own.  I would have liked him to explain further why it is the best fit and to have explored other elements significant to exegesis of such passages, like genre (in this case, the possible relevance of the apocalyptic genre), considering it is such a prominent and ‘sticky’ passage for many contemporary Christians.  Although this is only a minor issue, it could lead the reader to question Bouma-Prediger’s exegesis of other biblical passages in his argument for creation care.

Even so, For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian Vision for Creation Care successfully combines a critique of exegesis that has stifled creation care with a new vision based on God’s goodness in creation and on Christian identity.  In doing so, Bouma-Prediger’s book serves as a very useful approach to Christian ecology, an approach that will be very effective as Christians continue to develop a new paradigm for their interaction with the created world.  

Source: Marketplace Institute



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