Sandra L. Richter. Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says about the Environment and Why It Matters. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. 168 pages. $22.00 (paperback).
In Stewards of Eden, Sandra Richter (Robert H. Gundry Chair of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA) provides a biblical theology of environmental stewardship, concluding that “[t]he earth is the Lord’s and all it contains; you may make use of it in your need, but you shall not abuse it in your greed” (108). Richter seeks to shift environmental concern from the framework of political ideology to biblical theology. Her study traces God’s creation-related instructions to humanity from Eden, to Israel, and to the new covenant community. She demonstrates that principles of creation care are embedded in every phase of redemptive history. At each stage, she moves from discussing stewardship principles as practiced by God’s people in the past to how those principles have been marginalized or ignored in the present.
Richter points out that environmental stewardship has import that expands beyond plants and animals to human society. Whether it is the loss of a family farm or the forced urbanization of Haitians, failure to steward creation well results in the “victimization of the poorest of the poor” (80), violating the consistent biblical instruction to care for the orphan and the widow. Underlying Richter’s study is her conviction that while Christians “readily recognize the disastrous effects of the fall on human relationships,” they rarely “reflect on the effects of human rebellion on the garden” (13). She points out that God is concerned with reversing the effects of sin on both human relationships and the created world and that environmental stewardship is part of that redemptive work. For this reason, she concludes the book with suggestions on how to become better stewards of the environment as a means of participating in God’s redemptive plan.
Overall, Richter provides a strong case for more careful consideration of the Christian responsibility to steward creation well. The politically charged nature of environmental care makes this topic challenging to tackle. Still, Richter provides both a careful examination of the biblical texts and guidance for a measured response. One area of potential weakness is her rather limited treatment of the objection that environmental concern is unimportant (and perhaps even a distraction from true gospel ministry) because God will destroy the earth in the end. Richter does engage with this objection (ch. 7), concluding that “the New Testament is teaching us that ‘heaven’ is this very earth resurrected, healed of its scars, and washed clean of its diseases” (104). However, some may remain unconvinced that the end of God’s redemptive plan is simply the restoration rather than destruction of the current planet and its replacement by a new creation.
Nevertheless, Stewards of Eden will serve as a helpful starting place for conversations and ideas about how Christians might engage with environmental concerns. This book is not particularly academic and would be well received on a popular level, making it an ideal resource for churches interested in cultivating a more robust perspective on creation care.
CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. CBS book notices are not full academic book reviews. The present book notice was written by Aaron Downs, a Ph.D. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.