Friday, 6 July 2012

Book review: Caring for Creation

A book review by bethyada on Caring for Creation written by Dick Tripp.

I was given a copy of Caring for Creation by Avery Bartlett Books for review. Caring for Creation is book #23 in Dick Tripp's series Exploring Faith Today. I have not read any other books in the series; the titles cover a range of issues on Christian theology and Christian living. Tripp, now retired, worked in the Anglican clergy. Judging by various comments in the text and his appeal for conversion in the conclusion, it appears that his beliefs are reasonably orthodox and he has a strong desire for men to come to follow Christ. He runs the website Exploring Christianity which I have not reviewed.

Caring for Creation is Tripp's adjuration for Christians to both pay attention to environmental issues and address them. The book is roughly divided into 3 sections; he starts with giving an overview of the recent environmental movement and Christian involvement over the centuries; followed by the main section—an overview on how he sees the Bible addressing environmental issues throughout its pages; and then an appeal to the church to act. There is an extensive Scripture index.

Some minor niggles: The style could be improved upon. Topical flow was hesitant at times. An extensive number of quotes were included. There were a substantial number of assertions. The footnoting was inadequate (quote references included inline, and an appended reading list); several statements would have benefited from reference and this lack makes it difficult to critique. Nevertheless, these are relatively minor issues and it was a reasonably readable book. This is not my complaint.

What is commendable? Tripp rightly identifies that environmental issues are addressed by Scripture. The Christian worldview touches all of life: living, dying, art, politics, science, law, etc. Most issues are moral issues, thus it is important to know what the Lawgiver allows and proscribes. Our current concerns may seem modern but antiquarian biblical revelation is contemporary revelation. Quoting Bradley in the introduction,
Greening Christianity does not involve grafting it onto some alien philosophy but simply restoring its original character.
But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Several current crises are noted in the opening chapter, all of which could demand a book in themselves. Tripp identifies: Climate change; Ozone loss; Waste; Water; Overfishing; Forests; Hunger and poverty; Animal and plant extinctions; Air pollution; Acid rain; Topsoil erosion; and Desertification. I concur with several of these, though it seems that some are not real issues, some are potential issues but may not be crises, and some do not seem to be primarily environmental. They are important because the rest of the books assumes them. But people who have sympathies for a pleasant earth are on both sides of these questions; to assume predominantly Politically Green conclusions as are commonly encountered is to beg the question.

What does he get right? He made several points that I think are correct. The vastness of the universe testifies to the majesty of God (p.74), we need to trust God daily (p.30), and it is God who ultimately provides for man and animals (p.76). The Christian doctrine of the Fall is the most reasonable explanation for our situation (p.87). Our actions cannot help but affect others (p.26), and local community action is often better than central governmental action (p.29). Activities may have unintended consequences, such as transferring a species to a new environment (p.24) (though this action may also be beneficial). People can exaggerate the suffering of creation (p.62). And in modern society, scientists have taken the place of priests and this (presumably philosophical materialism) has made us consumerists (p.32).

Unfortunately I think Tripp concedes too much to the environmental movement. Further, and of more concern, is much of his biblical reasoning for environmentalism.

Economic prosperity is frequently maligned as being ecologically damaging, yet often times it is not; it may be far less damaging to the environment, especially when comparative amounts of food is considered. Modern clean burning fuels produce far less soot and limit the requirement of wood for fuel.

Complaint is made about removing or damaging the resource base of the poor with regards to water, energy, food, and medicines (p.27); meaning streams, wood, gardens and plants. But how much better would the same poor be if these were replaced with clean water, cheap fuel, cheap food and effective medicines. Why is a farmer making small dams and ponds to ensure water for his crops deemed good, but a city building a large dam to ensure constant water supply for the residents bad? Sure, a government could be unfair in its distribution, but a subsistence upstream farmer could do the same by diverting water, using excess water, or polluting downstream water.

DDT is disparaged (p.35) yet the banning of this chemical must have been one of the worst decisions in the history of the modern environmental movement. It is by no means clear that DDT causes cancer or genetic damage. It may be considerably safer and cheaper than some alternatives. It is plausible that the banning of DDT has negatively impacted the fight against malaria and that the death rate is now higher than had we continued to use it. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas frequently have bad consequences.

Water and pesticides are only two examples of several, but these are important to get right as more than half of childhood deaths in the developing world are caused by infectious diseases; the biggest three being pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

The larger concern is the questionable exegesis of Scripture in places. A couple of examples will suffice, though I had several concerns. On the prohibition of the tree of knowledge of good and evil Tripp writes (p.31),
When God set up humans in the Garden of Eden, though providing them with abundance, he did set limits on their use of available resources (Genesis 2:16,17).
I had not previously seen this interpretation ever proposed, though have encountered it since. That man should limit what he takes from the earth—regardless of the veracity of this proposal—just does not exist in this verse. The tree was a test of loyalty and faithfulness, it was the sole limitation for the man and woman, and it was not off bounds because of limited resources. Such an interpretation comes from prior opinions concerning appropriate use of the earth's resources. It may not be original with Tripp, but it is transparent eisegesis.

Later Tripp comments that the word “world” in John 3:16 is the Greek “kosmos” and that this means universe, not just the world of people (oikoumene). But this reasoning ultimately works against him as John also uses “kosmos” in 1 John 2:15,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Context is important. Clearly the latter verse alludes to coveting and living for temporal things. This does not mean that Jesus only loves the people, but the scope of “kosmos” in John 3:16 needs to be expanded and defended. “World” has a semantic range. What is the semantic range of “kosmos,” and does “world” or “universe” better convey this? Tripp has several other word studies that may suffer from the same contextual problems, such as his suggestion that “work the earth” in Genesis 2:5 means “serve the earth” (p.81).

Contrasting Christianity with other worldviews on caring for creation, Tripp concludes with these words,
Christians have reasons that are more profound and satisfying as they are based on the truth of the God who really exists, humans as they are intended to be, and the world as it really is (p.144).
Which is very true. Which makes it deeply ironic that much of what Tripp presents in the book as the problems and solutions of current environmental issues are not that different from popular environmentalism; and the latter frequently subscribes to these false worldviews. True, Tripp's foundations differ profoundly, but one would therefore expect that the issues identified and solutions offered would frequently be divergent. Interestingly he quotes a study showing congregations that have the greatest commitment to biblical authority and inerrancy were the least concerned about ecology (p.43). It is difficult to know what “concern” means here, or what the issues were; but it is well worth contemplating that people with high regard for the Bible lack concern for the things that fill green secularists and pagans with fear .

Tripp is correct to identify Scripture as the foundation for Christian Ecology. I disagree with some of his text choices and several interpretations he offers. Despite Tripp's admirable concern for the lost, I cannot recommend Caring for Creation for people wishing to gain a better understanding of these issues.

2 comments:

  1. It tends to be consistent that those on the left argue that you either agree with them 100% or you hate such and such, whether it be the poor or the environment, or something else. Liberals have trouble believing in the possibility of their being another solution, and maybe even a better solution, to a problem. Occasionally someone who is generally conservative may believe them on some topic or another.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi JCF. The book did sympathise with some politically left leaning ideas, but it seems that Tripp's theology is orthodox.

    It seems to me that conservative Christians in the US tend to be politically right (what I would call centrist). In NZ, theologically conservative Christians having left leaning political sympathies is quite common.

    ReplyDelete

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