Eco-Reformation: A Review



Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril is offered on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in the hope of helping to create a paradigm shift for change similar to the one that Martin Luther started with his ninety-five theses, one that this time would center on ecological justice.  The sixteen essays in this volume are written by leading English-speaking Lutheran scholars and offer a wide variety of perspectives and analysis.  Among the disciplines represented in the collection are biblical studies, systematic theology, history, ethics, and pastoral studies.

The concept that holds the wide range of essays together is the need to reform our relationship with God’s creation. This is in keeping with the declaration by the Lutheran World Federation [LWF] that the year 2017 would commemorate the Reformation with three themes, “Salvation —Not for Sale; Human Beings—Not For Sale; Creation— Not for Sale.”   Perhaps, somewhat ironically, but as a sign of the ecumenical shift that has happened since the sixteenth century, the new eco-Reformation voice that calls to Christians “today like that of the 1517 Luther” is Pope Francis, whose environmental ideas are referred to explicitly in seven of the essays as well as the foreword and preface (xii). His encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home is referenced in this volume more than the LWF themes and is, in many ways, implicitly the linchpin of the book. The encyclical’s call for all people to “dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” and its critique of industrial capitalism, modernity, climate change, and care for creation weave their way through and connect the various discrete essays in Eco-Reformation.

As in any collection of this kind, the pieces vary in strength and depth of analysis, though all of them have something to offer readers. Individual essays will have strong appeal to different audiences. Pastors and other worship leaders will find much to consider in Lisa Dahill’s challenge to “rewild” the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist, as well as in James Vigen’s suggestion of using the seasons of Advent and Lent as times both to take stock of the suffering and injustice on our earth, and to focus on bodily health by understanding that climate change “is the largest public health crisis we have ever faced as a species, as a planet” (238). Those interested in ethics will appreciate Larry Rasmussen’s push to move beyond an anthropocentric mindset and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s appeal to respond to the structural sin revealed in both racism and climate change.  University administrators and others involved in planning a liberal arts curriculum will be intrigued by Ernest Simmons’s call to rethink all education as an “ecologically entangled education” that prepares students for planetary citizenship (213). Although directed toward a Lutheran audience, David Rhoads’s “A Theology of Creation” will call all systematic theologians and professors of religion to rethink an Eco-Reformation that is “as mind-bending a challenge in perception as the first Reformation was for people of its time” (4). Community organizers and other eco-justice workers will find Victor Thasiah’s “Religion, Forestry, and Democracy in Rwanda after Genocide” an excellent illustration of the ways in which specific environmental actions—in this case a reforestation program—can also help bring about larger political changes.

Perhaps the most broad-based and widely appealing essay in the collection is Norman Habel’s “Ninety-Five Eco-Theses: A Call for Churches to Care for Earth.” This is a wonderful critique of twenty-first-century Christianity as it finds itself awakening to the “cries of our wounded planet” (273).  Dividing his theses into ten key principles—of continuing reformation, cosmic ecology, earth as sanctuary, nature as revelation, eco-hermeneutics, restorative justice, being earth beings, eco-mission, deus crucifixus, and eco-reformation mandate—Habel sketches out for us what he thinks an eco-reformed faith might look like in our time.  In doing so, he puts an unspoken challenge before all readers who care about eco-Reformation to create similar “ninety-five eco-theses” statement for themselves so that each can then declare: “Here I stand.  I can do no other.”

About the Reviewer(s): 

Susan G. De George is professor of philosophy and religious studies at Pace University.

Date of Review: 

October 13, 2017