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Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice

Steven Bouma-Prediger
Published by Baker Academic in 2023

Every spring, around graduation time, my family goes dumpster diving at the nearby university.  Our intent is not to acquire, but rather to reduce waste and provide low-cost clothing, bedding, small appliances, and household goods for our community by donating cleaned and repaired items to our local second-hand stores. Over the years, I have been disturbed by the steadily increasing amount of waste and the cost and quality of items being discarded. This has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in the square footage per student in the dorms. Rooms that 20 years ago held 6-7 students now hold 4. Formerly, many students did not have a car for their first year or two; in the last few years I have seen students drive from one end of campus to the other and many students use electric scooters to get around campus rather than walk. 

It is amazing to me how quickly we normalize changes like these. It simply becomes the water we swim in to throw away microwaves and mini-fridges that were new 4 years ago. That, rather than wash and donate the bedding and clothes we don’t want to transport to our next residence, we just throw them away. The hopeful side of me thinks that if we can this quickly normalize increases in waste and per person consumption, maybe we can normalize reductions as well. The more realistic side recognizes that these increases have happened during the same period of time that we have become increasingly aware of the damage we are doing to the earth and the risks that this damage presents.

We need a reset; a reframing, reordering, reorienting, redefining. A remembering. In his latest book, Creation Care Discipleship: Why Earthkeeping Is an Essential Christian Practice, Steven Bouma-Bouma Prediger presents us with a clear and concise argument that such a reset is no more and no less than embracing a holistic vision of discipleship. He draws the reader into a deeper understanding of who we are and who we are intended to be as disciples of Christ, the Logos[1], through whom and for whom all things were created[2].

In the first chapter, Bouma-Prediger presents several convincing arguments as to why this book is important and provides a succinct overview of the rest of the book. The chapter opens with an exposition of Luke 4:14-30. Here we are presented with Jesus announcing himself as God’s anointed messenger, sent to “proclaim and enact the Year of Jubilee.” (pg.2). This work is “not only about justice for the oppressed but also about caring for animals both domestic and wild. It is not only about liberty for the incarcerated but also about cultivating sustainable farms. It is not only about rest for human laborers but also about rest for the land.” (pg.3) Bouma-Prediger argues that disciples of Jesus should be interested in the same work that Jesus was about.

He goes on to argue that we have forgotten that the earth is the Lord’s, a divinely created and ordered whole to be cherished, cared for, and celebrated, rather than a morally neutral, unsacred set of resources for us to exploit. Remembering – literally reconnecting ourselves to our responsibility – is not only an essential part of connecting to our Creator, but also to each other. Our forgetting is at the heart of many of our social, physical, and environmental problems. Perceiving our relationship to creation as a one-way street impoverishes us spiritually and physically. It is an egocentric and anthropocentric view of the world that is fundamentally at odds with our professed Christocentric and servant-hearted faith.

Further, he argues that this is a poor witness from a church who claims a cosmic, loving Creator. Christians should be leading in Earth-keeping, rather than skeptical and marginal participants in ecologically informed cultivation, restoration, and conservation.

The remainder of this short chapter is dedicated to explaining the title of the book and laying out the structure of the chapters. He explores the definitions of several key words often associated with Earthkeeping and explains why many of the words we use fail us in our arguments for the integral nature of Earthkeeping as part of our discipleship. 

He includes one of my favorite quotes from Wendell Berry; an argument against the use of the word environment, “…But ‘environmental’ means that which surrounds or encircles us; it means a world separate from ourselves, outside us. The real state of things, of course, is far more complex and intimate and interesting than that. The world that environs us, that is around us, is also within us. We are made of it; we eat, drink, and breathe it; it is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. It is also Creation, a holy mystery, made for and to some extent by creatures, some but by no means all of whom are humans…”

This first chapter is critically important for understanding the book as a whole. It sets the tone for the remainder of the book and clarifies the trajectory of the chapters. Without it, the chapters and meditations would have a strong tendency to feel a bit choppy. Bouma-Prediger describes the book as a kind of distillation of many talks and lectures that he has given and it has a bit of that feel. It is a densely packed resource full of expositions of key passages of scripture, elegantly stated arguments from diverse authors, and clearly developed positions and perspectives. 

Chapter 2 presents a biblical vision of Earthkeeping through a series of short stories and reflections drawn from both New and Old Testament texts. 

Chapter 3 is an obvious follow-up with ethical and theological reflections based in the broad Christian tradition exploring themes of creatureliness, sanctification, restoration, and completion.

Chapter 4 is an ecumenical buffet of Earthkeeping perspectives from around the world. 

Chapter 5 calls us to informed and skillful practice.

Chapter 6 closes with “…our calling to follow Jesus as aching visionaries who joyfully work to bear witness to God’s great good future of shalom.”

This last chapter was particularly refreshing for me. It reminds us that “Shalom is nothing less than the creation-wide realization of God’s intention that all things flourish.” Bouma-Prediger cares about words. If that word, shalom, has become trite or cliched for you, you need to read this chapter. It will return the word to you renewed. 

As in his other books, nothing in his use of scripture feels forced. Bouma Prediger is a careful exegete who extensively references his writing and connects ideas and themes to a broad selection of Christian writers and thinkers from across time, genres, disciplines, and geography. 

This book could serve well as part of a church education program, within an environmental studies course, or simply for personal reading – though I expect the author would encourage communal engagement. This book is easily taken in pieces, yet coherent and organized. The frequent use of stories, the clear and focused language, and the frequent and descriptive headings within the chapters make it very accessible. The book is focused and concise, but it is clear where to go if you want more.

[1] John 1:1

[2] Colossians 1:16

Jeff Ploegstra

Jeff Ploegstra earned his BA in biology from Dordt University, MS in biology, MAT and PhD in science education from the University of Iowa. He joined the biology department at Dordt in 2009. His research interests include population genetics of native prairies, perennial crop development, and probiotics.

One Comment

  • Dean Van Farowe says:

    Thank you Jeff! I especially appreciated the Wendell Berry quote you shared, and this one from Bouma-Prediger: “Shalom is nothing less than the creation-wide realization of God’s intention that all things flourish.”