The Ecology of the New Testament – review
The Ecology of the New Testament: Creation, Re-creation, and the Environment, By Mark Bredin, November 2010, Biblica Publishing, 223 pages, ISBN 978-1606570111, RRP £11.99
Mark Bredin’s book is different from many other books concerned with the environment. It is an exegesis of major parts of the New Testament with an examination of what they have to say to us regarding the environmental issues we face today. The author is a New Testament theologian and his study of the Bible is profound, throwing up fresh insights on this subject. He looks in turn at the life and teaching of Jesus – especially concerning the Kingdom of God – the letters of Paul and of James, and the ecological teaching of Revelation. This book is worth buying for his study of the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer alone. Throughout, he follows three key words – creation, fall and redemption (which he re-interprets as ‘re-creation’).
After an overview of the current ecological crisis and the way the world is being despoiled by human activity, Mark turns to what he calls ‘cosmic justice’. Justice is a major theme of the Old Testament and of the teaching of Jesus. He shows, convincingly in my view, that biblical justice is a concern not just for the well-being of humans, but for the whole of creation. That idea underpins the rest of the book. In the process, he highlights a number of concepts that I found challenging – generosity and sharing in particular, but there are plenty of others.
The New Testament world was very different from our own: there were few industries to pollute, and certainly not the same population pressures that we face in our day. Nevertheless, perceptive readers will compare the modern idolatries of western imperialism and obsessive free-market capitalism with the author’s description of the greed, wealth and power of 1st-century Rome.
Mark urges that we should care about creation because creation matters to God, but he makes no mention of the Incarnation. We know that creation is important to God because in Jesus he took the stuff of this world upon himself. I should like to have seen more consideration of Christ’s role in creation (Colossians 1.16ff), particularly with regard to healing (re-creation). The last century has seen science unlock the healing power of Christ embedded in creation. We know too that creation will heal itself, though at the cost of many species, and that must also be seen as the work of Christ. Sadly, Bredin always talks of creation as something in the past rather than ongoing. In the chapter on Food he failed to consider Paul’s dismissal of kosher rules and there was no mention of vegetarians or vegans, although meat production is consuming more land (and forests). He is concerned about greed, but fails to discuss fasting.
The book is well structured: each chapter has section headings and sub-headings with an appraisal of the ecological significance of his study and a summary at the end of each chapter. Questions are added for reflection. This is a book to read and to be challenged by, but also one to refer to again and again – there are copious footnotes and a seven-page bibliography. It is not at all heavy reading and would be ideal for group study and discussion. This book deserves to be widely read.
The Revd Keith Williams is a retired Anglican vicar and former rural dean of Wakefield. He is a member of Christian Ecology Link and a volunteer speaker for Christian Aid.