Monday, April 9, 2012

Review of David Horrell's The Bible and the Environment

The Bible and the Environment: Toward a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. By David G. Horrell. London, UK: Equinox Publishing, 2010. Pp. x + 161. Paper, $26.95.

David Horrell presents a study focused on the ecological implications of various biblical texts. He seeks to reshape Christian theology and ethics in a way that produces human action in order to foster peace and well-being for the world. Part I discusses interpretive issues related to scripture in light of the ecological crisis. Chapter 1 summarizes the question of climate change and introduces the way scholars have implicated the Christian worldview. The doctrines of creation and eschatology are two points of particular concern. Horrell offers an ecological hermeneutic that reorients the way scripture is read in light of these issues. Chapter 2 offers a brief survey of three different environmentally-focused readings: (1) a positive “green” message; (2) a resistance to the environmental agenda; and (3) a mix of positive and negative, i.e., a positive message in some points, and resistance at other points.

Part II, the longest section, surveys the texts that impinge the most on the ecological debate. Chapter 3 surveys interpretive options with regard to the dominion language of Gen 1:26–28. Horrell concludes that these texts have an “ambivalent legacy” (p. 35). They can be taken to support principles of ecojustice but also claims for humanity’s unique position over nature. Chapter 4 discusses the fall and flood texts from Gen 3 and surveys their problematic nature for both resistance and recovery readings. Particularly insightful is Horrell’s recognition of the inclusive nature of the covenant made with humanity and the earth in Gen 9:8–17. Chapter 5 focuses on the interconnectedness of the earth’s community as seen in Ps 104, the way creation is involved in praise in Ps 148, and the way God’s speeches in Job 38:1—41:34 de-center humanity. However, Horrell rightly notes that only interpretive creativity can make these texts meaningful for a “contemporary ecological theology” (p. 55). Chapter 6 discusses the ecological perspective of Jesus’ teaching. Horrell is not convinced that specific texts (e.g., Matt 6:25–34) can be successfully leveraged for an ecotheology, although principal structures combined with prophetic material may prove instructive. Chapter 7 investigates whether or not Rom 8:19–23 and Col 1:15–20 support an ecotheological agenda. God’s salvific focus does include creation; however, Horrell warns against a direct application of these texts in an environmental theological and ethical system. Chapter 8 considers eschatological texts from Isaiah, Joel, and Revelation in which creation is viewed as renewed and at peace. Horrell doubts that there is much positive ecotheological use in these texts. There is too much discontinuity in the transformation, and God’s agency is required. Chapter 9 surveys eschatological texts in which cosmic destruction is in view (e.g., 2 Pet 3:10–13). Horrell sees in these texts examples of uncertainty with regard to the various eschatological perspectives in the Bible. One option, however, is clearly not acceptable: “that the exploitation of earth should simply continue apace in view of God’s imminent rescue” (p. 114).

Part III lays out Horrell’s suggested ecological hermeneutic, one that allows biblical diversity to remain while offering a rationale for preferring one text over another. Chapter 10 builds on Conradie’s idea of doctrinal lenses as a heuristic framework for developing an ecological hermeneutic. This re-reading includes (1) historical and exegetical work; (2) engagement with Christian traditions; and (3) dialogue with the scientific community (pp. 125–26). Chapter 11 surveys the appearance of ecological re-readings. Horrell’s theological lens, with the exception of its anthropocentric focus and theological language, coheres closely to the “Earth Bible Team’s ecojustice principles” (p. 137). He concludes by offering an eschatological vision of reconciliation and peace as motivation for current ethical practice and other-regard relative to the environment.

Although Horrell’s book is hermeneutically important within the emerging field of ecological hermeneutics, I am slightly more convinced by Hilary Marlow’s “ecological triangle.” However, Horrell’s robust consideration of the nonhuman in the dialectic may suggest a set of interpretive bi-focals building on both Marlow and Horrell as a way forward. Now that the ethical transgressions of a few have called theories of climate change into question, Horrell’s balanced approach is a welcome contribution to the larger debate concerning the way the biblical tradition may join this vital conversation on human-caused climate change at the beginning of the third millennium.

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