A Book Review from Books At a Glance
Anyone familiar with New Testament studies will recognize the contribution that Doug Moo has made to evangelical scholarship. Not everyone, however, is equally aware that Doug’s son Jonathan is also a reputable scholar. Jonathan has made significant contributions to the church’s literature on the relationship between theology and the environment. Doug and Jonathan are, as a result, very well-equipped to coauthor Creation Care.
This book is divided into three parts. The first part frames the discussion and identifies key questions that need to be examined. The second part uses a biblical theology method to examine the canonical material that is relevant to the topic. Lastly, the third part moves from theology and biblical exposition to application. How we care for God’s creation is a theological issue with massive practical ramifications for both worship and witness.
In terms of exegesis and tracing out a sound biblical theology of creation, the Moos do an exceptional job. Their treatment of the key passage in Genesis 1:26-28 is highly accurate and does not betray being driven by an agenda of either the right or the left. Anyone who has read other books about the Bible and nature will find the same familiar texts covered (e.g. Psalm 104; various texts in the prophets like Hosea 4:1-3, etc.), but the passages are still treated in an interesting, accessible, and convincing fashion. For readers who have never worked through what the Bible says concerning the natural world, this book is a good place to start.
One particular example of careful scholarship occurs in their treatment of 2 Peter 3:10. They argue—rightly, in my opinion—that the verse is best translated with the words “will be found” or “will be laid bare” rather than “will be burned up.” They are in good company in this view: consulting recently published scholarly commentaries will reveal that this view is amply supported and reasonable. Their contention is that this present world will be purified rather than annihilated, and that there is continuity between the present natural order and the one that God will bring about in the new heaven and new earth. On a broader exegetical level, their handling of the key passage of Romans 8:19-22 is also excellent.
In the end, it is difficult to find fault in their analysis of the biblical texts. (It is always possible to quibble over unimportant details, but on balance all of the textual expositions are extremely helpful.) This, however, is not overly surprising. After all, it is rather difficult to maintain that a reading of the Bible reveals that God doesn’t care about his creation! Christians are not likely to say that it doesn’t matter if we pollute the air, poison water, or are cruel to animals. Evangelical Christians do disagree, however, over the current health of the environment, the potential for human-generated (i.e. anthropogenic) damage, the issue of climate change, etc. They also disagree about where creation care should fit in our priorities for spending time, money, and energy.
It is in the third part of the book, then, where evangelicals will begin to find themselves either agreeing or disagreeing with the Moos. Their position is that we are in an environmental crisis, that climate change is a real phenomenon which is mainly caused by anthropogenic factors, and that Christians (as well as others) need to make changes in their thinking and lifestyle in order to address these realities. In theory, our own views of these issues will be based on our understanding of contemporary science rather than on textual exegesis, since the Bible doesn’t speak to our current impact on the environment or mention climate change in the 21st Century. In practice, however, a good argument can be made that the views of many people on these issues is actually more based on political alignment than on real study of the science.
This is one area where the Moos are gracious but could push much harder: They say that they know climate change is a controversial issue, but the truth is that there is no controversy amongst the vast majority of climate scientists who track the data. This does not mean that climate change is occurring, or that it’s anthropogenic, or that the consequences will be catastrophic—but it does mean that there is an extremely strong consensus in the scientific community. To reject climate change is to say that virtually all of the scientists working in this field are wrong. Perhaps they are. Certainly there are numerous evangelicals who think that virtually all of the scientists who work in biology are wrong about evolutionary theory. It would be very easy for the Moos to be dismissive of those who disagree with them at this point, but they are charitable. They are clear about their own position, but they are respectful of those who disagree. As a result they are able to provide a clear and strong articulation of their own position—with attending recommendations—while avoiding alienating readers of good-will. If nothing else, the third part of this book should generate reasoned discussion. Readers across the spectrum of accepting or denying the validity of the claims about anthropogenic climate change will find much to ponder.
Readers who do not agree with their application should still be able to recognize the quality of the biblical and theological exposition. For those who take a different view on climate change (or other environmental issues), the Moos provide a counterpoint which is at least worthy of respectful engagement. For those who agree with them on the state of the natural world, this book will bring a chorus of agreement from beginning to end. Regardless of one’s final conclusion about their practical recommendations, there is enough in this book to make it a profitable read for anyone interested in God’s view of his creation, and in our human responsibility toward it.
Steve West is Lead Pastor at Crestwicke Baptist Church in Guelph, Ontario, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Toronto Baptist Seminary.
Buy the books
Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World