Stewards of Eden, What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters by Sandra L. Richter, IVP Academic, 2020. See HERE.
In recent times I am trying to read more books by female Bible scholars. They are out there, but unfortunately you may have to search a bit. There are more female scholars than we realize, and it is sad they aren’t more assigned reading in seminary classes, or that they aren’t more known and read by lay folks, as certain male scholars are. Sandra Richter has been on my radar for several years, primarily because of The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament. That book is on “my list” but when I saw Stewards of Eden I just had to get it, as the environment increasingly, and highly, concerns me.
In the introduction she addresses the question: Can a Christian be an environmentalist? It is sad, really, that this is even a question! But it is. Of course, Christians should care about the environment – it is God’s creation and in Genesis humanity was told to steward creation, not pillage and destroy it. But Christians (evangelical at least) who are concerned about the environment can be viewed suspiciously. How have Christians gotten so lost on this issue? Richter offers 3 reasons, and the first one really nailed it:
“One reason is certainly politics. Not kingdom politics, but American and international politics. I think that most would concur that the traditional political allies of the church are not the traditional political allies of environmental concern. If you are pro-life, it is also assumed that you cannot be pro-environment. If you are a patriot, you supposedly cannot be a conservationist. Or to be more forthright: in the United States, if you are an environmentalist, it is assumed that you are a Democrat, and Democrats, supposedly, are not pro-life. If you are a Republican, it is also assumed that you cannot be pro-environment. In other words, somehow environmental advocacy has been pigeonholed into a particular political profile and has become guilty by association.” – page 2, bold added
This book is only 112 pages, with an additional appendix of practical ways for Christians to get involved in caring for the environment. Note that it is published by the academic branch of IVP. However, it is very readable, and I think the interested lay person will appreciate it, especially since it is a brief book. Yet the book does assume a basic understanding of certain concepts that are likely unfamiliar to the average lay person. Adding several sentences of explanation, here and there, could have made it more accessible to a broader audience. Yet, my critique is really unfair, as it is published by IVP Academic after all. And I do think interested lay people can read and understand the book just fine, even if certain concepts are unfamiliar to them.
Being an Old Testament scholar, Richter does focus more on the Old Testament, but does, of course, bring in the New Testament, and God’s greater plan for this world. Jesus will return and bring to completion the plan set forth in Eden. I appreciated her fair and balanced approach in chapter 7 (about the New Testament) about how modern Christianity drifted away from concern for God’s creation. I have too often, frustratingly, observed dispensational premillennialism given ALL the blame. Richter does place some blame there, but also brings in multiple other influences that have contributed. This was a breath of fresh air for me.
The multiple chapters on the Old Testament were fascinating, primarily because she not only considers passages we’d expect (like the creation narrative) but other less familiar passages, and passages we’d quickly read without giving them much thought. Richter’s familiarity with the ANE culture as an Old Testament scholar gives her unique insight that is valuable and relevant to creation care. I was surprised how certain, seemingly unimportant passages were actually brimming with significance!
These chapters are not just about Bible times, but Richter brings in modern abuses of God’s creation such as factory farming, industrial agriculture, and mountaintop removal coal mining. I was already familiar with many of the abuses, as I’ve become more concerned about the environment in recent years, but it is nonetheless disturbing. So…a warning that some content in this book will be disturbing and unsettling, especially if it is all brand new information for you.
One reason that some of this may be new information is that we in the West are largely sheltered from the global degradation of the environment, that often affects the poor and marginalized the most. (As believers we should have special concern for the poor and marginalized.) But even things that take place in our own nation, such as factory farming and mountaintop removal coal mining, are hidden from us. As I once read about factory farming (not in Richter’s book): “the meat industry depends on our ignorance to conduct its everyday business.”
I recommend Richter’s book to you and will close with the last sentences of Stewards of Eden:
“The Introduction of this book asked the question: Can a Christian be an environmentalist? My answer is, how could a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, redeemed and transformed by the second Adam to live eternally in the resurrected Eden, be anything else?” – page 112
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