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Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters

Camden Bucey reviews Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters (IVP Academic, 2020) by Dr. Sandra L. Richter, the Robert H. Gundry Chair of Biblical Studies at Westmont College. In this book, Dr. Richter addresses humanity’s role as stewards of creation—those entrusted to care for that which God has placed in their charge. In exploring this theme, Richter addresses issues such as the ethics of sustainable agriculture, the consumer’s role within the supply chain, and even mining practices and pollution in light of Scriptural examples and biblical-theological themes.

Richter speaks about the old covenant people of God and their relationship to the land as renters or lessees rather than landlords. She addressees the land grant aspects of their covenant relationship to Yahweh in Deuteronomy. She then moves to a discussion of their tithing and offering practices, developing their responsibilities and dependence upon the Lord. The Sabbath rest required in and of the land is also an indication of practices that encourage sustainable agriculture (Exod. 23:10–12; Lev. 25:4–7). This may add dimension to the Lord’s statement to the people that by abiding by these laws, they shall prolong their days in the land (Deut. 5:33; 30:18; 32:47). This statement may refer to the Lord’s allowance for them to remain. In other words, by obeying the Lord, he would not exile them. Even though that may be the primary dimension, perhaps there is a secondary dimension referring to the viability of the land itself. If these laws have practical application for sustainable agriculture, then the people may not be “exiled” because they destroyed the fruitfulness of the land (p. 24).

Chapter three is titled “The Domestic Creatures Entrusted to Adam.” The author enters into a discussion of the Sabbath and its role in organizing and in a sense, restricting, man’s task. The Sabbath prevents man from becoming totally absorbed in the task of subduing creation (p. 30). This is placed within a larger discussion of the supply chain and the ethical responsibilities of producers and consumers within that economy. Old Testament law established and required a close connection between the Israelites and their livestock for example, particularly when it came to slaughter. They were allowed to slaughter the animals they raised, but according to Leviticus 17, they were required to consider the animal’s life and bring the animal before a priest first. In support of this point, the author references Jacob Milgrom, who commented that the method of slaughter in ancient Israel ensured the animal would be rendered unconscious and die a swift, humane death. Animal death always confronted the Israelites, but they were never to take it lightly. Most people today never give a thought to the lives and deaths of their food. I would venture to say that many young people might not even know their food was alive in the first place.

Richter then turns to the wild animals that God has entrusted to Adam. Responsibilities include the protection of habitat for species. She points to Deut. 22:6–7 as warrant for protecting native species. It demonstrates the principle of preserving the means of life and thereby upholding sustainability. Even during wartime, the Israelites were to consider the long-term effects of their treatment of creation. For example, Deut. 20:19 does not permit the Israelites to cut down the trees of a city or region they are besieging. They were permitted to each of the trees but not to cut them down. Many of the fruit-bearing trees of the region (e.g. olive, date) take as many as twenty years to reach full production. Destroying the trees in warfare would have implications for generations to come. One thing I greatly appreciated is the author’s skill in studying biblical examples such as these while prompting further thought for our contemporary context.

Overall, this is an important contribution to the theological communities served by publishers such as IVP Academic. Readers who prefer books that connect the dots on practical matters will appreciate the many case studies and examples the author provides throughout its pages. Some readers may experience a knee-jerk reaction to various portions of the book. Perhaps that reveals a greater issue: that we may be taking our cues on creational stewardship from the talking points and news cycles of our political parties and media outlets of choice rather than from Scripture. Whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusions on specific matters, you may be provoked to think more deeply about your principia and why you hold your specific views on these issues, if you hold any at all.

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Reformed Media Review is dedicated to reviewing books and culture from a Reformed and redemptive-historical vantage point. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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