"Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why it Matters"-A Book Review
Updated: May 30, 2020
Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why it Matters. By Sandra L. Richter. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2020. 158 pp. $14.99, softcover, ISBN 978-0-8308-4926-0.
It can be purchased at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Stewards-Eden-Scripture- Environment-Matters-ebook/dp/B07V5WWMSQ/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=stewards+of+eden&qid=1590759774&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
This pre-published review is scheduled to appear in a Fall issue of The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and should be available @ https://www.etsjets.org/JETS
Reviewed by Roger D. Duke
Note: The review is posted here because it is in keeping with the theme of the invertedchristian.com web page. The radical nature of New Testament followers of Christ
have all things of their life inverted!
Sandra L. Richter currently teaches Old Testament at Westmont College. She obtained her PhD from Harvard University. Richter is also “a member of the Committee for Biblical Translation for the NIV” (back cover). She is noted for her “significant environmental theology” attested by “the Bible’s witness.” A former monograph, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, stands out of an array of historical, societal, and economic articles demonstrating her refined expertise of ancient Israel.
Richter employs each chapter of Stewarts of Eden as apologetic and polemic. She asserts humanity’s God-given mandate “to care for the land, domestic and wild creatures, and people on the margins.” She is also uniquely gifted as a storyteller. When her scholarship, storytelling, and “well informed . . . present-day environmental challenges” (back cover) are woven together; the reader holds a primer and enchiridion sure to provoke further reflection into creation care.
Richter takes up five themes as apologetic: “sustainable land use, humane treatment of livestock, care for the wild creatures, respect for the flora and fauna of our leased land, and care for the widow and orphan . . . reiterated from Eden to the new Jerusalem” (107). These loosely correspond to the chapters which make-up the volume’s ethos. She employs a parallel between Adam and Israel, that demonstrate how both were constituted under suzerain obligations. Jehovah was “lord of the manner” and gracious land giver. Adam and Israel were only vassals on the land; as such were to obey the stipulations of the gracious creator/owner (9, 11, & 16). God was the lord, Adam, and Israel only vassals. Both arrangements were initiated by God for His glory. Both were to be faithful stewards of the land which in turn would bring God glory.
The core message of Israel’s covenant, “If you will honor me as God, your only God, I will make you mine forever” (30). They were formerly a slave-people. The covenant was formally ratified by the giving of the Sabbath. The gracious suzerain gave them a day of rest, worship, and refreshment. To see how radical this idea was, contrast it with the idol-worship of their neighbors. The nations around them were constantly doing things for their gods. While Israel’s God was constantly doing and caring for them.
Each chapter is laid out in Socratic method: First, Richter asks a question like “What does the Bible say.” Her answers come from the suzerain’s instructions. This is then contrasted with a “What will we say?” and/or contemporary case study answer. Here she details how we present-day vassals have violated the suzerain’s creation mandates. This done to our own detriment and that of the planet.
Richter’s thesis is striking from the first page: “The subject matter of this book is . . . one of the most misunderstood topics of holiness and social justice in the Christian community today,” the “Environmental Concern for the Christian” (1). She then poses the question, “Why has the church, historically the moral compass of our society gotten so lost on this topic?” [italics added] (2). She offers three answers:
First: Politics. “Christians are first the citizens of Heaven” (2) and not just American Evangelicals.
Second: Social concern. “We don’t see how unregulated use of land and water by big business decimates the lives of the marginalized” (3).
Third: “[T]he theological posture taught by many in the church” (3). The conversion of souls is not the main thing but “the only thing.” Soul-saving should not be juxtaposed with environmental concerns. “My objective . . . is to demonstrate via the most authoritative voice of the church’s life, that of Scripture, that the stewardship of this planet is not alien or peripheral to the message of the Gospel” (3).
A further consideration and recommendation:
First, her polemic against the idea “saving of souls.” It should not be separated from creation care. She builds a strong case throughout the volume that they are not to be parsed out but are conjoined in the Gospel.
Second, the breadth and depth of this volume should be considered by various audiences. All Believers, from the Academy to Christian “environmental crusaders” will benefit from Richter’s insights. Hopefully, it will cause some to pause and reconsider creation care ethics and practice. I did.
Roger D. Duke
Retired college professor, Free-lance Christian Writer, and Webmaster