Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World, Douglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.
Summary: An survey of the relevant scriptures concerning how we might think biblically and theologically about the creation and our role in it, and the relevance of this teaching to current environmental concerns.
Many discussions about the environment get caught up in arguments about scientific findings and public policies. Often Christians end up fighting each other about these matters as well. What the father and son team of Douglas and Jonathan Moo offer is a study that takes us back to first principles. As Christians, our actions in the world ought not be informed fundamentally by talk radio, political party positions, or scientific papers, but rather biblical teaching, and the wisdom principles that arise from that teaching that we seek to humbly and prayerfully apply to all the activities of our lives.
This work serves as a kind of sourcebook for thinking about caring for creation. The authors begin by asking what we mean by the care of creation and contend that this ought matter to us because it matters to the God we love. They then explore how do we develop a theology of creation, and how we understand the evidence of scripture in light of theology, culture, and science. They suggest a “roundabout” model where understanding of text and these influences feed into each other.
The next seven chapters, the majority of the work, develop the teaching of scripture. They begin with the beautiful world God has created, that it is his and our beginning posture is one of joining all his creatures in worshiping his goodness. They turn to our place as members, rulers, and keepers of creation. In discussing dominion and the idea of subduing the earth, they suggest particularly the idea of “bringing the earth under the appropriate rule of those who bear God’s image,” a task that becomes even more urgent in a post-Genesis 3 world. This involves abad and shamar, working and caring for God’s garden. They explore Israel’s relationship to the land, their homeland, and yet owned by God and thus a gift and not a possession. Their use is shaped by sabbath and jubilee, as they trust God to sustain them in the land.
At the same time, they discuss the impact of the fall on a creation “subject to frustration.” All creation suffers because of our rebellion against God, yet the context of Paul’s reference is that God has acted to redeem and reconcile both us, and the creation. The incarnation reveals God’s care for the material creation. God in human flesh in the person of Christ reveals what it means to properly rule in God’s world as his image bearers, and died and rose to inaugurate the renewal of God’s loving rule through his reconciled creatures. They are part of the new creation accomplished through the resurrection of Christ that not only means new life for those who believe but a new heaven and a new earth. They deal with 2 Peter 3, often understood as “it will all burn,” and used to denigrate our care for what will be destroyed, and contend that this passage is best understood as speaking of refining and not destroying fire, consuming all that is dross and evil, preparatory to the new creation.
The last part of the book is a reflection on the relevance of this biblical material in our present time. They propose that caring for creation is an integral part of our gospel. They affirm our role as stewards accountable for good care of the creation, that is also shaped by the realization that our care for creation also is an act of caring for people, and their flourishing. Understanding the biblical teaching leads us into wisdom, which involves knowing and doing, using all of our knowledge of the world, much coming from science, to care for the world in ways that acknowledge God’s ownership, the earth’s goodness, is just toward all God’s creatures, in dependence upon God.
The authors include a chapter briefly summarizing current environmental challenges that require our caring attention: the loss of biodiversity, deforestation, the plight of the world’s oceans (depletion of fisheries, destruction of coral reefs, etc.), soil loss and developing sustainable agriculture, and our changing climate. They are measured in their treatment, providing peer-reviewed data. They conclude with the importance of putting creation into our teaching of new creation and putting ourselves into the creation. They commend five ways in which we might be AWAKE to caring for creation:
- Attentiveness to the creation and its suffering.
- Walking and de-emphasizing mechanized transportation.
- Activism, often beginning in our own churches and communities.
- Konsumerism: learning to step back from excess to enough.
- Eating, through choosing food grown sustainably.
While others have covered this ground, Douglas and Jonathan Moo bring strong evangelical credentials and careful treatment of biblical texts to this task with a strong commitment to biblical authority. Because of this most of the work is formulation of the Bible’s teaching. It might be faulted on being short on practical recommendations, yet what this allows is for the reader to reflect on the theology of creation care and determine their own response, perhaps side-stepping politicized discussions.
I would love to commend this work for adult education in churches. The difficulty is that this is a more academic work than I sense many adults in the church willing to engage in an adult education program. The issue is less comprehensibility than comprehensiveness. The treatment of the biblical material is thorough and lengthy, more appropriate for a college or seminary level course. It also would be a good resource for a creation care task force in a church or Christians concerned about the environment who want to think Christianly about their activism. The authors do help us see what is distinctive about a Christian concern for creation and balance proper dominion with care and serving of the creation. They help us understand both how fallen human beings are the problem, and offer hope that as redeemed and reconciled new creations, we can care for God’s good world in anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.