According to many Christians, all “environmentalists” are tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberals who care more about the environment than people. According to many “environmentalists,” Christians take their biblical mandate to “exercise dominion” over the earth to such an extreme that they unthinkingly (or perhaps even knowingly) abuse the creation for their own selfish purposes. In his new book, Should Christians Be Environmentalists? (Kregel, 2012), author Dan Story says both views are unhelpful, exaggerated caricatures. Story sets out then to: 1) “encourage godly environmental stewardship by systematically developing a Bible-based theology of nature,” 2) “ present an apologetic to anti-Christian environmentalists who claim that Christianity is the root cause of environmental exploitation and degradation,” and 3) to “explore the potential evangelistic opportunities embedded in Christian environmentalism.” (11-12) Story’s desire is to bring light, rather than just heat, to the discussion by actually looking at evidence.
The evidence Story evaluates is twofold. In Part One, he evaluates the evidence regarding the nature of the modern “environmental crisis.” He counters claims that Christians are primarily responsible for the crisis with evidence showing that all of humanity – those from every culture, religious background, etc. – have contributed to the current situation. He also evaluates scientific data to show a realistic, rather than alarmist, picture of the current environmental situation. The picture Story paints is balanced, appropriately noting the significance of some of the major environmental issues (Climate Change, Pollution, Habitat Loss and Extinction) while avoiding (un)scientific hyperbole.
In Part Two, Story examines the biblical evidence. He looks at the issue of Christian environmentalism from within the larger biblical framework of creation, fall, and redemption. In so doing, Story constructs a “Bible-based Theology of Nature.” Further, he examines the biblical teaching on stewardship in general in order to show how Christian stewardship applies to creation care in particular.
In Part Three, Story proceeds to show the ethical implications of the biblical teaching. He looks not only at the progression of “America’s Emerging Ecological Conscience” but also important practical questions like “Is Environmental Exploitation Sin?” In what is arguably his farthest biblical stretch, Story connects three elements of Jesus’ life and teaching to the Christian’s responsibility for caring for the environment. The final two chapters, however, are tremendously helpful, offering practical suggestions to churches not only for engaging members both corporately and individually in creation care-related ministry, but also in using creation care as an intentional platform for sharing the Gospel with those who do not know Christ. Story seeks to live out his own advice in a final section that recounts his personal journey from non-Christian environmentalist who advocated for the environment for its own sake to a Christian environmentalist who now passionately pursues creation care for the sake of the glory of the One who created it all in the first place.
Some aspects of the book certainly stretched me personally. I am still trying to decide if the internal pinch was more from the author’s occasional over-reaching attempts to make his point, or simply from the sting of conviction felt because of the accuracy of his claims. Perhaps it was some of both. Overall, this is a very needed book in the environmentalism discussion. Demonstrating the research of a scientist, the biblical fidelity of a theologian and the winsome persuasion of an apologist, Dan Story has done a great service to the Body of Christ. He has given us research-based data, a biblical critique, and a plan for a God-honoring way forward. So, in a word, “yes.” Christians should be environmentalists, to the glory of God.
(FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for writing this review.)