May 5, 2007

saving God's green earth

Genre: Nonfiction
Author:tri robinson

Note to my non-Christian friends: Though this book probably won't interest you, the review might be worth the read. If there's a Christian in your life who is anti- or apathetic to environmental issues, this book might make an interesting (maybe even provocative) Christmas or birthday gift. ;-)

We cannot be excused when we have not at all considered God in His works. He does not at all leave Himself without witness here. ... Let us then only open our eyes and we will have enough arguments for the grandeur of God, so that we may learn to honor Him as He deserves.” -- John Calvin

John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis of Assisi, even Saint Paul believed that the natural world is a reflection of God’s own nature. In the first chapter of the book of Romans, Paul writes that “God’s invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature” can be “clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” In fact, Paul even suggests that perhaps nature is the greatest evangelist, allowing people who may never meet a missionary to see in nature a reflection of God, just as a mirror shows a reflection of a face -- imperfect, but very close to the original none-the-less.

One might think, therefore, that Christians would be at the forefront of conserving and protecting God’s creation. In fact, the second chapter of the book of Genesis says that “God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” One could make the argument that man was made with the purpose of caring for the rest of God’s creation. And certainly there are many Christians who have taken that call to heart. They ask questions such as “What Would Jesus Drive?” and they seek to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” But there are others who feel that environmentalism is either a distraction caused by Satan or a movement started by and for pantheistic earth worshipers (and therefore is something Christians should steer well clear of).

Tri Robinson hits the issue of Christianity and the environment head on. With quotes from many famous Christians (such as the one from John Calvin above) as well as large fistfuls of Scripture, Robinson walks the reader through five key reasons why a Christian should be an environmentalist:

1) God has provided the planet and all that is on it as a resource and provision for humanity. Proper management of this resource must be sustainable, keeping future generations in mind. The planet is a blessing. God made it to be a sanctuary for life and therefore it should be treated with consideration.

2) Nature is "a portrait of God's beauty." In fact, Robinson points out that "it's in nature that we oftentimes see not only the beauty but also experience the real presence of God." To damage this portrait that God has created of himself is to dishonor him and to endanger our own credibility in the eyes of humanity.

3) Caring for the environment can be a means of missions work. Many of those who are hardest hit by environmental degradation are "the least of these." Rather than receiving God's provision through his creation, they suffer without clean water and with ravaged soil -- the results of a misuse of the planet. By restoring the environment, Robinson says, we help to restore "the neglected assurance of God's abundant presence" as reflected in the provision of the earth.

4) Caring for the environment can be a means of evangelism. What environmentalist would take even a moment of their time to listen to the gospel from the lips of an SUV driving, pesticide spraying, disrespecter of God's creation? How much more readily might they be willing to listen when they see that a Christian's faith permeates every area of their life?

5) The renewal of God's creation is the last of a widening circle of renewal that God works in his creation, starting within the hearts of individuals and rippling out through our bodies, our homes, our communities, and the world.

Robinson intersperses each chapter of this book with examples of present day Christians who have felt called by God to take environmental concerns seriously. He understands that there are political and social pressures within the church that can be daunting, but he devotes an entire chapter to encourage the reader to heed God's call to care for the environment. (It's a powerful chapter, in fact, on having the courage to take the first step in obedience to any call which God has placed upon us, not just a call to care for the environment.) The final two chapters of the book provide practical guides for practical responses, first in terms of education and then in terms of taking action.

I have written several short essays on the topic of Christianity and the environment and therefore have given quite a bit of thought to the topic. I was pleased, however, as I read this book that though much of what Robinson wrote was old hat to me, there were also several points that he made and connections that he pieced together that were either new to me, or said in such a different way that they took on a beautiful new nuance. Robinson understands his audience well (He's a pastor of a church in Boise, Idaho.) and is gentle on his reader (who may feel a little panic-y when approaching this topic) and yet he doesn't hold back on his challenge to the reader to take seriously the care of God's creation.

In my opinion, however, this book, while a good place to orient yourself perhaps on *why* you should care for the environment, doesn't go very far into *how* you can care for the environment. Recycling is mentioned several times as well as reusing canvas grocery bags and getting involved in helping the National Forest service in projects. But there is little or no mention of sustainable farming practices, chemical pollutants or reducing our footprint. In terms of what one can *do* to change their lifestyle to make it more earth friendly, there simply isn't that much information. Then again, I don't believe that was the point of the book. As a springboard it's wonderful. As a guidebook from then on out, I'd recommend reading such books as Sidewalks in the Kingdom, Omnivore's Dilemma, or .... well, the list is enormous. (Feel free to add other good books in your reply.)

This book is an easy read and would be well suited to discussion groups. It is full of Scriptural references and may be appropriate therefore for a Sunday School class or Bible Study group.

I strongly recommend other Christians to read this book. If you're not a Christian, but know someone who is (and who isn't environmentally conscious) this might be a great book to hit them over the head with (or you could just get them a copy for Christmas).