"Stewards of Eden" by Sandra L. Richter. A Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Can a Christian be an environmentalist? Even more pointedly, is it possible for Bible-believe, Christ-loving, God-fearing people to be serious about the creation and environment? Sandra L. Richter, author, a member of the Committee for Biblical Translation for the NIV and who holds the Robert H. Gundry Chair of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, gives a resounding “yes” to that question. And her newly published 158-page paperback, “Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says about the Environment and Why It Matters,” printed on sustainably sourced paper, builds the case to back her “yes”. This volume is written for congregants and clerics alike, and is encased in Scripture, scholarship, and statistics.
Richter runs from protology (first things) to eschatology (final things) between these covers, to build a strong case that creation is not a discardable resource in God’s scheme. She investigates the garden of Eden, walks through the Mosaic Law, listens to Job, shows how the New Testament does not teach the annihilation of Creation but its resurrection, and ends in the new heavens and new earth. As the author lopes along through the biblical epochs, she brings her readers detailed information from outside the Scripture, some from the Ancient Near East and archaeological studies, and some from Appalachia. Richter is not afraid to address what she feels are horrendous practices in coal mining, poultry production, dairy farming, and more. As she notes, “I am completely convinced that the redemption of all creation is the gospel. Therefore, creation care is not merely a message of social justice, a wise approach to life on this planet, or a political action item. It is instead a life posture that reflects the character of God and embodies the telos of his plan” (111-2).
As an activist book, it is short on carefully thought out ways to bring changes that will keep economies and employment from imploding. Yet, of all my beefs with the book, my greatest is the elevating of one more item with “the gospel”. I agree that Christ’s redemptive work has cosmic implications, which she beautifully brings out in pages 100 through 104, and I have written about in “Gnostic Trends in the Local Church”. But to make it a matter of “holiness and social justice” (1), and to wrap it up as a gospel issue, makes me go a bit cold. Further, like so many other activist-driven issues, making this subject a principle area where the Church needs to move into the driver’s seat, and if the Church doesn’t it is MIA (1, 87-9), causes me some serious concern. So many “issues” are deeply important, such as human trafficking, sex trafficking, abortion, education, racism, and so forth. Each have activists who want to make their concern the chief concern of the Church. And though each problem is important and needs to be meaningfully addressed “as we have opportunity” (Galatians 6:10), none of them can take over the driving purpose of Christ’s Church.
The main strength of “Stewards of Eden” is the building a biblical case for the importance and value of creation and bringing out the ways Scripture shows this from protology to eschatology. The author has also, rightly, challenged the political loyalties that often get played on in this area. Whether we meaningfully care for the environment is not a Republican-Democrat, Liberal-Conservative divide, and should not have ever been. It is a subject we, as humans permanently tied to creation and who are part of creation, should care about. And, as Christians who take God and his Scriptures seriously, should be concerned with.
“Stewards of Eden” is a worthwhile read, especially for Christians of all stripes. It is important to shelve our political allegiances, read the book, listen, think and address the topic thoughtfully and practically. Richter has added some suggestions at the end of the book to help folks as they consider their next steps. Even with my stated and unstated beefs with the manuscript, it is a book I recommend.
Many thanks to IVP Academic. I requested the book to review, and they happily sent it without any strings or chains attached. Therefore, this appraisal is all mine, given without duress.
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