What has Bioregionalism to Do with Discipleship? a ★★★★★book review

Early Christians asked themselves, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” wondering about the relationship between the Christian faith and pagan philosophy. Today many Christians raise a similar question: “What does my faith have to do with the environment?” Western Christianity has imbibed a functional Docetism since Constantine, placing salvation outside of creation’s realm. We’ve also been bequeathed the medieval Doctrine of Discovery, and Industrialization’s anthropological assumption which has enabled colonization and the exploitation of our natural resources (5-6). We’ve commodified our land and resources and a major divide continually grows between our Christian faith and our lived environments. We are now at a critical juncture in which human persons are making a major impact on our world. It is time to re-place Christian discipleship within our ecosystems.

9781498280761Ched Myers is well known for his theological activism, his work as an educator, and for his political reading of Mark’s gospel, in books like Binding the Strongman, and Say to this Mountain.  He is co-director, with Elaine Enns, of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) where he advocates Christian engagement in the realms of peace, justice, and radical discipleship. At a 2010 meeting of the Bartimaeus Institute, he introduced the term ‘Watershed Discipleship’ as a way of impressing the importance of bioregionalism for North American churches (xvii), In this anthology, Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice Myers draws together essays from a dozen activists and scholars who share his vision for bioregional faith. He frames this collection with introductory and concluding essays of his own.

What does Watershed Discipleship mean? Myers describes the term as a triple entendre:

  1. It recognizes that we are in a watershed historical moment of crisis, which demands that environmental and social justice and sustainability be integral to everything we do as Christians and citizen inhabitants of specific places
  2. It acknowledges the bioregional locus of an incarnational following of Jesus: our individual discipleship and the life and witness of the local
    church take place inescapably in a watershed context
  3. And it implies that we need to be disciples of our watersheds. (2).

The essays in this volume engage the realms of theology, history, biblical studies, social science, and environmentalism; however, each essay is also autobiographically rooted.  The authors describe how they’ve come to care for their own watersheds. They are cognizant of the human and environmental crisis we face, attentive to their places, listening well to what their watersheds have taught them.

Rose Marie Berger‘s poem, Prophecies from the Watershed Confederacy, stands at the beginning of the book, Denise Nadeau writes the forward. In chapter one, Katarina Friesen essay reflects on current Christian missions, and her experiences on missions and growing up as a Missionary-kid. She explores how the medieval Doctrine of Discovery has shaped conquest politics and contributed to a ‘dis-placed’ understanding of mission. She argues us to redirect missions toward our own watersheds:

As a church, we need a framework whose transformative potential adequately counters the oppressive history of forced conversion of land and people, a resurrection way of liberation for all people and land more powerful than the death legacy of colonialism.
As a people marred by placeless theologies, our challenge is to repent of Watershed Conquest through practicing Watershed Discipleship. We are being commissioned home, through the power of the One who will be with us “to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20b).

David Pritchett examines the city, showing how the urban grid has historically been ‘used a tool of the colonization, control and alienation of citizenry, in order to efficiently move goods and military assets across the landscape” (54). Pritchett draws inspiration from the book of Daniel, on how contemporary city-dwellers may subvert the urban grid’s hegemony. He gives contemporary examples of subversion such as urban art, de-paving parking lots (which contribute to urban watershed problems), and food mapping.

John McRay provides a theology and a biblical vision of the Kingdom of God and salvation as a ‘transfigured earth’ (60). McRay explores the biblical narratives of Jubilee, Jesus and Elisha-Naaman story, articulating a ‘hermeneutic of reinhabitation.’ He argues, “Our best chance for justice and peace is to enact Jesus’s blend of Jubilee and watershed transformation. Like Naaman, we must learn to move from profane control to holy conversation through acts of reinhabitation”(72).

Lydia Wylie-Kellermann tells her story of caring for the Detroit River watershed, the place of her baptism. She describes the fight for clean water in the city and its effects on the poor and marginalized.  Erinn Fahey, also in the Detroit Watershed, is a water engineer.  In her chapter, she explores the contradictions between the discipline of engineering and her vocation as a green engineer. Sarah Thompson interviews Atlanta community organizer, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, discussing environmental racism and ecojustice in the Atlanta Watershed, the next stages of the civil rights movement, and the witness of Christian Peacemaker Teams in violence reduction around the world.

 Matthew Humphrey calls evangelicals away from a posture of abstraction to one of action for inhabited bioregions. Humphrey lives in the lower Mainland of British Columbia. He discusses the [North] American lack of place (“Americans have careers not places”) He reads the story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard against the displacement of Aboriginal Canadians (in Indian Residential Schools) and the history of displacement of Native. Humphrey encourages us to inhabit our place, and become ‘settlers’ allies’ for ‘the sake of the land and its inhabitants’ (121)

Sarah Nolan interviews Erynn Smith and Reyna Ortega of The Abundant
Table project in Ventura County, CA, discussing their experience as organic
farmers and activists and the challenge of trying to practice agriculture which offers alternatives to the destructive farming which surround their community (138)

Sasha Adkins maps the disaster the problem of plastic from a public health
perspective and the damage it does to bodies and global watersheds calling us to examine our spiritual problem of disposability. Victoria Machado discusses the confluence between bioregionalism and the Catholic Worker movement (i.e. the local and contextual
nature and mission). Tevyn East and Jay Beck explore the Carnival de Resistance— a traveling carnival and school of transformation which promotes environmental justice and sustainability. They contend art serves watershed discipleship by supporting cultural transformation and spiritual recovery (181). Myers concluding essay explores the need for a theological and hermeneutic recovery, and the need to re-place our church practices

This is a rich collection of essays. I was familiar with the concept of Watershed Discipleship from Todd Wynward’s Rewilding the Way (also a great book). This book highlighted the perspectives and actions of a dozen theologians and activists. Two major themes jumped out at me as I read these essays. First, they underscore the importance and meaning of place. Missiologists and church planters talk about Incarnational ministry, but they seldom challenge the assumptions bequeathed to us by urbanism, Industrialism, and the Doctrine of Discovery. By conceiving of discipleship bioregionally, the authors in this volume are cognizant of the relationship between persons and their ecosystem (as well as their built environment). This opens fresh possibilities for what mission ‘in place’ means. It doesn’t involve simply asset-mapping a neighborhood for human services. It means understanding food systems, the impact of human communities on Creation, and how environmental problems impact people, particularly the poor and the marginalized. Mission in place means caring for both the community and creation within your bioregion. This is missiologically significant.

Secondly, I appreciate the hopeful tone of these essays. Because of the impact humans have on their environment, many books on environmental justice are kind of bleak. However, each of these authors believe social change and a more responsive relationship with Nature is not only desirable, but possible. They allow their faith and the eschatological vision of a restored creation to inform their thoughts and actions. The overall tone of this book was inspiring, getting me to think about what I can do in my own watershed (a region I’m new to and know little about).

I recommend this book to anyone who wonders about the relationship between our environment and faith—our bioregion and the life of discipleship. You will get a sense of what others are doing in the realm Christian creation care. Several of these essays open new avenues for Christian mission. I happily recommend this book and give it five stars. -★★★★★

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book from Cascade Books (an imprint from Wipf & Stock) in exchange for my honest review.

Vegangelism Expolosion: a book review

Vegangelical: How Caring For Animals Can Shape Your Faith is a rare book. Evangelicals may be  known for their social concerns, but care for animals doesn’t usual make a blip on our radar. But this book is rare for another reason. Sarah Withrow King has written a book that is warm, accessible and challenging and theologically robust. She is an animal rights activist who has worked for PETA and is now the deputy director of the Sider Center of Eastern University and the codirector of Creature Kind. She has a masters of theological studies from Palmer Theological Seminary. In Vegangelical she weds social concern with astute theological analysis.

240_360_book-1935-coverPart one of King’s books explores the theological foundations for veganism and animal care. Rather than start with the dismal reality of how animals are treated in our culture (and trust me she gets there) she begins with an exploration of what it means to be made in the image of the Triune God (chapter 1), the biblical concept of dominion and stewardship (chapter two), and the biblical injunction to love the other (chapter three). In part two, King explores our relationship with animals in the home and wild, our use of them in research and for food and clothing.

King builds her case for animal care in our being made in the image of the Triune God. This means she explores what kind of God the Trinity is and the implications of what it means for human persons to be like this God. This involves an examination of history of sacrifice in worship of this God, as well as trajectory of the Cross. “How can God—whose nature is to be in relationship and who desires that the work of his hands be restored—insist that humans kill animals as a condition to their approach, when the act of killing is the ultimate severance of relationship between victim and killer, between killer and the killer’s self (for surely everytime we take a life we turn further inward)?” (47). She argues that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a visceral reminder of the broken relationship between God and Creation caused by human sinfulness. However, “Jesus’ sacrifice restored the break and bridged the deep divide that sin created, so we no longer need to feel the blood on our hands, we no longer need to break a neck, we no longer need to be the cause of fear and suffering in our approach to God” (48).

King’s look at the concept of dominion and stewardship includes what it meant for God’s people to ‘fill the land and subdue it’ in the Old Testament. While the language of dominion and subduing implies domination and control to modern ears, King advises that we view human dominion in light of both what it means to be created in God’s image and God’s intent for creation (61). When we do this, we are drawn to protect, cultivate the earth in order to ensure the flourishing of all life. King concludes her theological case for animal care bu insisting that we think of it in terms of care for the other. Quoting Volf, “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model of how human beings should relate to the other” (72), King argues that the implications of this challenge extend to our care for the animal Kingdom as well.

The second half of this book explores the ways humans use (and abuse) our animal neighbors. This includes cruelty to pets, a billion-dollar-breeding industry which results in the commodification and objectification of animal lives, circuses, animals, hunting, animal vivisection and experimentation, and the inhumane treatment and environmental impact of using animals for our food and clothing. King shares her own story of moving towards veganism and animal activism and how she has learned to navigate these issues as a person of faith.

For the past several Lenten seasons I have done a meatless (or near meatless) Lent. I have done so while also exploring some of the issues that surround our industrial agricultural complex, the treatment of animals and consumerism. As a result our family has reduced our intake of meat, though there are ebbs and flows in our practice. I like a good burger and meat is the centerpiece of family feasts. As I read through Veganelical I am convinced that people like King who take a courageous, counter-cultural stance against the comodifaction and abuse of animals occupy the moral high ground. I know some of the issues but don’t live up to my ideals. I feel the prophetic challenge  to live more consistently by King’s book. I am not totally where she is at,  but I think she is right to raise the issue and root her concerns biblically and theologically. I am a sympathetic reader even if I read parts of this book while eating a fast food taco.  I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from Book-Look Bloggers and Zondervan in exchange for my honest review.

Born (Again) to Rewild: a book review

Environmentalism and Jesus both call us to oppose the dominant cultural mode of consumption and affluenza. However most of us Christians  are not all that radically different from our neighbors in what or how much we consume. Some of us deny our world is in an ecological crisis where most of us respond to the inconvenient truth of global warming, the destruction of ecosystems, and rising tides with just a little bit of green washing. We care. So we recycle our plastic bottles, drive electric cars, buy organic food™ but our consumption rages on.

9948Todd Wynward is both a Christian and an environmentalist. He is a wilderness guide, founder of a wilderness-based charter school, a member of an intentional community and a leader in the Mennonite denomination. In Rewilding the WayWynward borrows the concept of ‘rewilding’ from conservation biology (the idea of turning land back to nature, to allow the ecosystem to be restored). Rewilding the Jesus Way means bringing the Christian faith back into connection with the earth and allowing vitality come back to a faith that has been tamed by technology and corporate industrial culture (11). Wynward hopes to steer the way between total reunification of the world and conspicuous consumption and paint a picture of watershed discipleship (discipleship that responds to this watershed moment in history, cares for our watershed, and treats our watersheds as Rabbi).

Rewilding the Way unfolds in three parts. Part I describes our current predicament of affluenza, distance from nature, and the lack of outrage for the current cultural malaise. Part II describes seven paths to wild your way: (1) steer by inner authority, (2) rely upon radical grace, (3) embody enoughness (4) lead through meekness, (5) cultivate a divine insecurity, (6)embrace the unraveling and (7) trust in the service. Part III outlines the work ahead and highlights some of the initiatives that are bringing together faith, radical discipleship  and creation care.

Wynward points to church initiatives and ecological activism to unfold these practices. The book teems with stories from both spheres, as well as drawing lessons from the Bible. I found a lot to chew on in this volume. Wynward simultaneously calls us towards a holy discontent with where we are, and trust in God and contentedness with what we are given (embodying enoughness). I am in a moment of in-between-ness wondering what God has next for me an my family and Wynward’s words and practices touch  something in me and make me hunger for more of God’s Kingdom and the redemption of all of creation.

I really liked the way Wynward re-imagines the words of the Lord’s Prayer, taking them from a passive voice to this:

Father of Everything,

Your presence fills all of Creation.

Again today, your kingdom has come.

Again today, I join my will to your will to make earth as in heaven.

Again today, you’ll give us the bread we need for your daily work,

and you’ll show mercy to us just as much as we show mercy to others.

Again today, as we face times of testing, you’ll be with us in our trials. (63).

He doesn’t offer these as a scholarly, literal translation, but as meditation of the meaning of Jesus’ prayer for us as we pray this and follow him. The book is full of other fresh reads of scripture and insights (Wynward regards Ched Meyers and Richard Rohr as mentors in the way, and their insights can be seen throughout). I give this book four stars and recommend it for anyone frustrated by where the Christian faith fails to intersect with care for the physical world. Wynward is one of the good guys who sees the intimate connection between the Jesus way and the rocks and trees, and skies and seas of this, our Father’s World.

Note: I received this book from the author or publisher through SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.



Let Creation Rejoice: a book (p)review

The evangelical faith I was reared was full of eschatological predictions. We knew Jesus was coming back. Many expected it to be soon and most expected a radical shift from this material age to a heavenly kingdom. There was little concern with creation because this ‘world was passing away.’  Today, the churches I’ve been a part of still look forward to Christ’s return but there is a greater enthusiasm for creation care. These days the doomsayers tend to be environmentalists and activists  warning us about the effects of overpopulation and our wanton use of the world’s finite resources. But does our Christian hope speak to our current ecological predicament?

In Let Creation Rejoice (IVP Academic-forthcoming) authors Jonathan A. Moo and Robert S.White give a compelling argument that we have hope in the midst of our ecologically brokenness. Moo is an assistant professor of New Testament at Whitworth and  White is a Cambridge professor of geophysics.  Their combined expertise enables them to examine the scientific evidence for overpopulation, the loss of bio-diversity and climate change, as well as biblical passages which address our attitude and responsibility to the created order.  Creation groans with us under the effects of human sinfulness (Rom. 8:22). It also awaits the renewal of all things (Matt 19:28).

Moo and White unfold their argument over the book’s nine chapters.  Chapter one introduces the topic, various Christian responses to the environment and provides a map to the chapters that follow. Chapter two and three explore the broad scientific consensus around environmental problems such as overpopulation and the loss of biodiversity (chapter 2) and climate change (chapter 3). While climate change (aka, global warming) is controversial among a few, vocal opponents, Moo & White regard it as a given but also attempt to answer the skeptics.

Chapter four provides an overview of the biblical hope–the gospel and the future. Moo & White eschew  models that either denigrate the physical world in favor of eternity or seek to replace Christian eschatology with the idea of ‘God’s grace breaking into the present’ (82).  Both these approaches are at best, sub-Christian. The value of creation is affirmed in Genesis 1 (God called creation, ‘good’ and ‘very good’) and the gospel presents us with God’s plan to redeem the world in Christ. Our hope is that Christ came and will come again to restore that which has been lost. Models of Christian engagement with the environment which are not rooted in this biblical hope have nothing ‘Christian’ to offer. As Moo and White write:

There are two apparent opposite dangers that we must avoid if we are to be faithful to what the Bible teaches about the gospel and the future. The first danger is to assume that biblical hope is of the “pie in the sky, by and by” variety that limits concerns with this world and shuts down engagement with the difficulties and challenges inherent to living here and today. Such an assumption is often linked to views of the gospel as something all about me, as something that speaks only to my own existential crisis or answers only to my individual plight as a sinner before a holy God. We have begun to see that though this a popular caricature of Christian belief, it does not reflect the biblical perspective of the gospel taken as a whole. . . .The opposite error is equally seductive, however. This is to give up on biblical hope in the face of its despisers, to suppress the reality of our own rebellion against God and our need for his mercy, and to assume that Christian faith can be reduced to a pattern of living in the present that gives no consideration to the future.  (94-5).

Chapters five through eight take a closer look at Bible passages which address creation and our attitude towards it. Chapter five examines what the Old and New Testament tells us about Creation’s future–affirm its value and linking its fate to our own (114). In chapter six Moo and White examine 2 Peter and passages that seem to describe the earth’s cataclysmic destruction. They argue that rather then emphasizing the destruction of the created order, these passages lay emphasis on God’s judgement of human sinfulness (122). Our response shouldn’t be to fail to care for creation but to put on the righteousness and virtue befitting citizens of Christ’s future kingdom. If God’s kingdom is breaking in, it should effect how we steward the earth. Chapter seven describes Jesus’ parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 and his coming like a ‘thief in the night.’ Moo and White argue that Jesus’ critique of the rich fool’s greed and self-absorption has implications for own treatment of the environment (136). Chapter eight looks at John’s cosmic vision of the New Heaven and earth and how we find our proper stance toward creation in the worship of God.

Chapter nine concludes the book by exhorting us to have hope, to watch and pray for creation and allow our eschatological hope to inspire us to loving and a joyful response to our ecological crises. An afterward lists several Christian organizations which are working in the area of creation care.

Let Creation Rejoice is an important contribution for Christians wondering how to respond to the environment. I have several friends working creation care, sustainable farming and environmental advocacy (I live in the Northwest, this is not unusual). It is unfortunate that care for the environment requires an apologetic among some evangelicals (my tribe). Moo and White provide such an apologetic building  their case scientifically and biblically. I highly recommend this book to environmentalists and skeptics who feel their is ‘no need to polish the brass on a sinking ship.’  I appreciate how even-handed and thorough Moo and White are for such a short book. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★!

Thank you to IVP Academic for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Let Creation Rejoice is due out in June 2014. You may pre-order from IVP or Amazon.

Yes We Should: A Book Review

Often Christians lag behind the wider cultural when it comes to social change. This is felt most acutely in the realm of the environment. Suspicions about secularism and New Age spirituality have caused many conservative Christians to dismiss the environmental movement. Advancing a controversial claim among some environmentalists, Dan Story argues that Christianity and the Bible provide the best framework for environmental stewardship.

Dan Story wrote Should Christians Be Environmentalists? with three purposes in mind.  First, he wanted to encourage environmental stewardship among Christians by providing a bible-based theological framework for creation care (11). Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic for Christian environmentalism against claims that Christianity is the ‘root cause’  of environmental problems (a thesis famously argued by Lynn White in 1967 but also several others) (11).  Lastly he wanted to encourage Christians to use their concern for creation as a point of contact for evangelism(12). Story succeeds in each of these objectives. Along the way he manages to reference a good deal of  academic literature regarding theology and the environment yet remain accessible.

The book divides into three parts. In part one, Story assesses where we are as a culture in our approach to environmental concerns. He argues that the materialist underpinnings of secular culture provides no real basis for long term environmental stewardship, he challenges the notion that Christians are responsible for environmental crisis and the notion that other religions are ‘more in tune’ with the environment. But he also makes clear that humans have made a significant impact on the earth and that we are all responsible for  mismanaging natural resources and causing damage to our world. In  part 2 he provides a Bible-based theology of nature (through the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Stewardship. Story describes the trajectory of the Biblical story (from Eden to (re)New(ed) Earth), the way human ‘dominion’ has been misunderstood to mean exploitation rather than stewardship and how the ‘fall’ has caused us to use and abuse the earth selfishly and greedily. In part three he focuses he advocates Christian concern for the environment (from the biblical framework he just sketched).

My only  major critique of this book is the title. Certainly Story is cognizant of the fact that many Christians have been wary of the environmental movement, but this is not really a book which explores if Christians should be environmentalists. Instead it is a book which advocates strongly for creation care and stewardship of the environment from a Christian perspective, provides an apologetic for Christian involvement because of anti-Christian environmentalism and discusses the evangelistic opportunities we Christians will have if we care for the earth. Exploring whether or not a Christian should be involved in environmentalism is not an open question in this book. Story is emphatic, you should. Part of me wonders if Should Environmentalists Be Christian? would have be a more apt and provocative title.

Titles aside this is a good introduction to environmental stewardship Christian style and I happily recommend it. Because Story does write out of conservative Christian conviction, he is able to make a compelling case for Creation care to a segment of Evangelicalism which still regards environmentalism with suspicion.  This might be a good book for a book group or a church small group.

Thank you to Kregel Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.