Inhabiting Eden – Review
Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis, by Patricia, Tull, November 2013. Westminster John Knox Press, 204 pages, ISBN 978-0-66423-333-4. RRP £11.99 (paperback)
Patricia Tull has performed a useful service for the whole Church in the writing of this book. She has recently retired from being Professor Emerita of Old Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and with formidable scholarship and originality she displays the relevance of Old Testament study to our current environmental predicament. Two quotations from the first chapter illustrate the purpose and direction of the book. “There can be no change in action without changes in perception of who we are and to whom and what we owe allegiance.” “If we remove some modern blinders we will find the Bible says a great deal more than we think about our ties with the rest of creation, ties we must now reclaim, ties that will not only lead us into restoring our surroundings, but into joys that consumer culture cannot offer.”
The book is ideally suited for a course of study; each chapter ends with questions for discussion but also suggestions for action springing out of the study under the title “Try this at home”. It is eminently readable in a homely style and full of fresh insights and interpretations of the biblical text. One limitation is that it is primarily for the American market with all its illustrations and stories taken from the American scene, but that aspect of the book can be very useful for us this side of the pond in enabling us to understand more fully the environmental struggle in the United States.
After an introductory chapter the next two chapters deal with the stories in the first four chapters in the book of Genesis – the wonder of creation seen through the eyes of the writers of Chapter 1, and then the Fall and the first murder. “In two generations the fruitful covenant between humans and the earth is broken.” “It is the quality of the soul that is at stake in Genesis 3 and again in Genesis 4. It is also the quality of the soil” (Genesis 4 vv 10 to 12). The chapter then quotes Hosea and Isaiah repeating that essential connection. Chapter 4 of the book – “Commerce and Contentment” – follows the well trodden path about where true wealth lies but the familiar arguments are enhanced by appropriate biblical references and powerful ecological insights from around the world. Subsequent chapters raise questions about food (a challenging section about manna) and our relationship to animals quoting Genesis, Leviticus and Isaiah.
The book seems then to change gear and we are asked to wrestle with issues which require social, economic and scientific thinking. The chapter -“Environmental Fairness” – invites the reader to struggle with the ecological effects of advanced industrialisation. “Our Children’s Inheritance” explores the effects of, and attitudes to, the rise in CO2 and man-made climate change and the time scales involved. And finally we are given a vision (Micah, Jeremiah and Isaiah) and a choice, and the chapter’s title is “Living within our Means”. The relevance of these chapters is challenging and immense.
Tull writes for the lay reader, or readers, (lay theologically and scientifically), but her scholarship and breadth of vision emerge in the copious notes and the formidable bibliography. She is challenging groups to find fresh inspiration in Old Testament study, which can lead to practical environmental action. Her challenge presents a wonderful opportunity.
By Canon Peter Dodd