My review of Mere Environmentalism, a small book by conservative writer and policy analyst Steven Hayward, is now appearing in Flourish magazine. It is a helpful, but incomplete, view of Christians in environmental work, which presents the clear distinctions between the worldview of Christian believers and secular environmentalists.
An excerpt from my review:
Hayward also presents a strong defense for the Christian imperative of environmental stewardship; brief but equal to many of the efforts in recent books by Christian environmentalists. He gives a fine exposition of the fundamentally divergent views of Christians and secular environmentalists:
“The biblical understanding of humans and the natural world differs in fundamental ways from many “mainstream” environmental views. Christianity places humans—made in the image of God and therefore sharing, to some extent, God’s creativity—at the center of creation, whereas most secular environmentalists exalt the natural world in such a way as to make humans a subordinate part of nature, and often as only destructive of nature.
For Christians, the most fundamental distinction is not…between humans and God, but between nature and supernature—i.e. the omnipotent God. Christians will revere the things of the natural world ultimately because of their connection with, and glorification of, their Creator, while secular environmentalists reverse this or even worship nature solely for its own sake.”
This important distinction recognizes God, not nature or even humans, as the central character in the creation story and the focus of admiration.
After half a decade working in the heart of the evangelical environmental movement (my involvement is now avocational after my recent move to direct communications at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews), it was disheartening to read Hayward’s ignorance of the breadth of the movement. I try to correct this:
While Hayward has written much about the environmental movement, he appears unaware of recent developments in the Christian component of the movement. His exposure seems to be limited to the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), and even then to the organization’s founding documents. EEN was perhaps the first recognizable evangelical actor in the modern environmental debates, but it has its roots and life among evangelical progressives. And although EEN is thoroughly evangelical, it remains active mostly in climate policy.
Hayward seems unaware of other evangelical groups that might appeal broadly to evangelical centrists and conservatives. For instance, the global, holistic ministries of Plant with Purpose (mentioned in the book’s endnotes only because of an article by the organization’s director, Scott Sabin, in an EEN publication) appeal to evangelicals across the spectrum. The most active evangelical outreach to young people is done by the partner organizations Restoring Eden, Renewal, and Creation Care Study Program. The most recent major statement on the environment is a widely supported and publicized statement on creation care created in 2008 by the Southern Baptist Environment & Climate Initiative. Flourish encourages Christians in protection and restoration of the environment that bring honor to the creator and help individuals and families thrive. The new Terra Dei Institute for Environmental Policy facilitates conversations that include policy proposals cited favorably by Hayward, and brings new attention to the need for a stronger pro-life ethic in environmental policies.