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Book Review: Mere Environmentalism

The “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign, based on a Christian worldview, launched in 2002 for the purpose of reducing fuel consumption. With so many similar faith-based environmental groups such as the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the Evangelical Climate Initiative, how can Christians discern which initiatives are biblically sound? Steven F. Hayward, the F.K. Wyerhauser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, addresses the theological flaws found in both Christian and secular environmental groups in Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World. This text outlines a proper biblical understanding of the relationship between human beings and the environment. Hayward’s thoughtful analysis makes it clear that extreme environmentalism is at odds with Christian principles. He sees the number one problem with conventional environmental groups as “too much zeal and not enough thoughtfulness.” Several theological pitfalls in modern environmental though exist today. Whether this means human beings are viewed as animals or nature is worshiped in place of God, Hayward argues:
“…the environment is fundamentally a philosophical or spiritual problem, concerning basic questions of human nature itself and humankind’s relationship to the natural world.”
Hayward’s carefully discerned analysis connects a biblical worldview to the modern environmental movement by stressing a clear distinction between man and nature, man’s responsibility of ruling over nature, the difference between “dominion” and “conquest,” and the abundance to scarcity change that take place after Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden. These important theological distinctions must be made to form a scripture-centered foundation to sound policy solutions. In policy debates, Hayward sees the general problem is that conventional environmentalism overwhelmingly favors big government solutions rather than market-based solutions. To properly integrate sound theology and policy, he argues,
“…real solutions to environmental problems need to be compatible with individual liberty and democracy if they are to be sustainable.”
Hayward suggests property rights are a compatible solution and should be at the center of faith-based environmental discussion. With property rights, trade-offs are accounted for and human beings are given the proper incentives to care for God’s creation. To end, Hayward outlines ways in which believers are to live out their faith in environmental stewardship while having a spirit of humility towards policy solutions. Mere Environmentalism presents Christians with a deeper understanding of the human being’s place in the natural world and how biblical principles should influence environmental policy.