Baker Academic, 208 pages
How does Christian faith inform one’s care of the earth? Too often, Christians have been justifiably criticized for our failure to conserve and protect the planet. Yet, the Bible points to God’s love for all creation and humanity’s interdependence with the rest of creation. Still, right knowledge does not always lead to right action. How does one become the type of person who cares for the earth in light of cultural, societal and economic pressures that make it increasingly difficult to do so? Steven Bouma-Prediger argues that the study of Christian ecological virtue ethics can help Christians not only know the right thing to do in relationship to the planet but become the type of people who act on their convictions.
Bouma-Prediger does not assume readers have prior knowledge in the study of ethics. He spends the first chapter carefully defining various approaches and common terms in the study of ethics (like teleology, deontology, virtue and vice). He also provides a helpful primer in the study of environmental virtue ethics. Bouma-Prediger’s goal in this book is to interact with environmental virtue ethics from a distinctly Christian perspective. He selects nine virtues to explore more fully: wonder, humility, self-control, wisdom, justice, love, courage and hope.
From there, the main body of the book reads like a textbook, each chapter structured the same way: exploring each virtue from a secular and a biblical perspective, defining what it means for the virtues to be “ecological” and describing moral exemplars of these virtues. The common structure as well as care in defining terms make the main body of the book a bit dry to read at times. I imagine church book groups getting lost in the technicalities of some terms.
Still, I appreciate how Bouma-Prediger brings back terms that have fallen out of favor in American society and successfully argues why we ought to care about virtues like temperance, prudence and frugality. Much in American society cultivates an obsession with consumption, acquisition and convenience. The vice of greed is destroying our planet, yet we continue to consume as if our greed did not matter. If this earth is going to be habitable for generations to come, we must recognize the value of self-control and simplicity.
The main strength of the book is its conclusion, in which Bouma-Prediger takes the knowledge he has been so careful to teach and explores how people are formed in these ecological virtues. People’s actions are shaped by what they practice over time. If people intentionally seek to be aware of the earthly beauty surrounding them, they will be shaped in wonder. Wonder cultivates love of place and motivates one to act in ways that nurture rather than plunder the planet.
So, the book’s conclusion offers examples of people and programs that have practiced virtues like ecological humility, wonder and love. After giving practical suggestions for building these virtues in oneself, the final pages conclude with a question: What about you? How are you going to practice these virtues? “Earthkeeping and Character” is not only a resource for learning, but a motivator for becoming the kind of person who cares well for the earth.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of congregational health at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church in Houston.