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Following Jesus in a Warming World: A Christian Call to Climate Action

Kyle Meyaard-Schaap
Published by IVP in 2023

Kyle Meynaard-Schaap seems like a nice guy. I have been one of several in a Zoom meeting with him but we had not met. I knew him a little because of his affiliation with Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) and a YECA leader whom I knew and admired. Hence, when RJ editor Jeff Munroe contacted me about reviewing “Following Jesus in a warming world…” I agreed because 1) I’ve been needing to read it, and 2) Jeff was going to send me a free copy (Dutch heritage ascending).

The book has an insider’s vibe. Meynaard-Schaap describes growing up in the politically conservative CRC/RCA orbit of self-satisfied white churches on every corner, vacation Bible school, and Christian school norms. He describes a young man’s disappointment with the church’s (his church, my church) missing-in-action response to climate injustice, despite Sunday-morning happy talk about “caring for creation.” He refracts this through his experience working with young people and finding commonality there. 

But here’s where it’s fraught. I share the same background. We are cultural kin. My faith too, is challenged by the fecklessness of Western Christianity’s (filtered to me through my CRC background) response to climate injustice. Meynaard-Schaap calls addressing climate injustice “the defining moral challenge of our time” (p. 6) and I agree. I, too, work with wonderful young people. Part of me wanted to hold the book at arm’s length a bit, to insulate against disappointment I half-expected. Part of me wondered if I could be sufficiently critical if I needed to be, given my investment in the topic, my mercenary attitude about moving the needle, and the nice-guy energy radiating from the author bio. This impulse would resonate with Meynaard-Schaap. 

My worries were misplaced. The overview is that “Following Jesus…” is a well written and thoughtful justification for a broader theology of love. Meynaard-Schaap tells us that he likes to tell stories to make a point and he uses the story-telling to great effect. Coal miner stories (chapter 1), Bible stories, his own story, leading to a renewed good-news story of redemption for all of creation. Nice-guy vibes aside, Meynaard-Schaap says what needs to be said out of his own experience and critique of North American evangelicalism, and the CRC/RCA orbit and its history. His argument is lucid and blunt while also direct and pastoral.  

The book’s background is informative but not exhaustingly so. Anybody who’s tried to read a report from the International Panel on Climate Change will understand the depth, breadth, and magnitude of primary scientific literature on climate topics. Meynaard-Schaap cites reliable summary resources and I recognized his source material while I was reading, which I found satisfying as a scientist. I am not a historian or a theologian or a cultural critic but I have little doubt that he is accessing those domains with rigor as well. 

Chapter 1 established that the climate crisis is a social justice issue with deep cultural connections to place and identity. It shows the complexity of the issue and the systems in place that impose injustice on those without money, power, or social capital.

Chapter 2 reviews the history of the church’s willful blindness, its indirect capture by fossil fuel interests because of affiliations with conservative politics and a theology that made the material world essentially disposable. Meynaard-Schaap identifies our disembodied faith as a “heresy” of modern Christianity (p.30, 54) and I commend him for making the brave point. There’s more to say here and chapter 2 could be expanded to a book of its own by connecting related legacies of a western preference for the false clarity of bright-line dualism, confirmation-bias capitalism (p.33), colonialism, and white-male supremacy. 

Chapter 3 is the beginning of Meynaard-Schaap ’s vision for a course correction and this is where the book really began to shine for me. The title (Recovering the Big Story) amplifies the story-telling craft in the writing. The Big Story is that of human responsibility and connection to creation as inseparable and that creation (lets just say “nature” here, to acknowledge a little mud between our toes) shares in the redemption promise. Themes include connection to nature, not merely as metaphor but as a granular physical and spiritual reality, where connection becomes responsibility motivated not by transactional command (the stewardship paradigm) but by love (p.46-48). These are emergent and transformative ideas in the world of Christian scholarship on the environment that, I suspect, will resonate with disaffected Christians. Meynaard-Schaap  traces the supporting biblical principles literally from Genesis through Revelation, buttressing the resonances. My notes in the margin: “Worth the price of admission!”

Chapters 4 and 5 further develop the vision of a renewed counter cultural Christianity, pointedly for the insider reader, arguing that addressing climate injustices is an act of evangelism and a pro-life imperative. 

Chapter 6 and 7 argue that activism to address climate injustices is an integral part of Christian discipleship, and paradoxically, there is joy therein. The seeming futility of making climate-friendly choices as a “primitive power of practice” (p.126) has value beyond the capitalist utility of expanding market demand for those choices (which is important, no doubt). But more so, it echoes Robin Wall Kimmerer’s1 related call for developing “everyday acts of practical reverence” (Braiding Sweetgrass, 2015). Doing good work not only benefits the beneficiary but also benefits the good worker but then begins to change the community vision. Here Meynaard-Schaap is wrestling with the need to transform a culture of indifference, which has been a common theme in environmental writing for decades and a Reformed paradigm. Calvin University and Western Theological Seminary (institutions from which he holds degrees) would be proud of his treatment.

Chapter 8 makes the salient and important point that Christians cannot ignore the political dimensions of climate injustice. We are embedded and therefore complicit in deep systemic injustices and that choosing to ignore political conversations for whatever reason is a privilege of wealth and comfort. Given the urgency, this willful ignoring is no longer tenable for or compatible with faithful thoughtful Christianity (p.135). He’s joining scientists, ethicists, other theologians (like the pope) and activists from around the world and shouting from the pages for Christians to get involved with an urgency contained in the imperatives of their own historic faith (p. 151,152). 

Chapter 9 champions Christian citizenship. Meynaard-Schaap revisits the point that climate activism (like the tepid “creation care” impulse) fails if it’s seen as a simple transactional piety. He argues for earth-healing as a community practice for Christians, a vocation (p.171), echoing Lynne White Jr’s argument that Western Christianity needs to rethink and re-feel its relationship to nature with guidance from within our own history (“The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” 1967). It’s a call for a radical and activist discipleship. Yes.

My nits are few. One is that Meynaard-Schaap throws bones to a nebulous non-partisanship (nice-guy energy) when the policy dimensions of addressing climate injustice are bleakly partisan – indeed that’s a major obstacle to making the systemic changes needed (which he writes about). Also I wanted more exploration of a connected Christian spirituality that existed before Christianity was hijacked (and exploited) by Western Enlightenment hegemony. To be fair though – the latter nit was not the point of the book.

Following Jesus in a Warming World is radical in a positive sense, challenging and prophetic. It offers a vision of thoughtful Christianity that understands the urgency (or at least begins to) of this historic moment and every thoughtful Christian should read it. I placed it on my (very) shortlist of the most important books on the topic and I will use it in my teaching this summer at the Au Sable Institute. I might assign it outright (which may be the most powerful endorsement a professor can give). 

That said, and despite the insider vibe, it could be read as an apologetics of sorts. Hence, it is more broadly pertinent and should be read more widely. The skeptics ask: “why should a faith that is so culpable with climate injustice have continued relevance?” Here’s the answer. We aren’t there yet but we can see the direction more clearly now.

Please read it.

Timothy Van Deelen

Timothy Van Deelen is a professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.


One Comment

  • Kris VH says:

    Hi Tim –
    Thanks for this review! We had the opportunity to meet Kyle at a recent “listening session” for Christian farmers discussing the Farm Bill in West Michigan last fall, and also heard Deb Reinstra’s interview with him on the Refugia podcast. I was impressed with his passion, and though I don’t know what will come of our discussions on the Farm Bill and small farmers with a passion for caring for their land and employees, I applaud his efforts to get people together, talking, and contributing to the process. I’m adding this book to my “want to read” list…