A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues

Martin Hodson, Margot Hodson

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Martin and Margot Hodson's deep commitment to the critical issues that their timely book addresses shine through each chapter. It is very comprehensive and we are all the beneficiaries of their years of educated engagement at both personal and professional levels with the challenges faced by God's good earth and so by us all. We belong to a human community which must now come to terms with new ways of living: extremely rapid environmental changes now impact us ever more directly, and in this book we have a comprehensive guide us towards some of the ways forward we must take. It is accessible, practical, even hopeful, and its biblical wisdom means it is indeed a Christian guide to environmental issues.
Peter Harris, Founder of A Rocha

Content

Environmental sustainability is a major issue in society today. While Christian response was generally slow in the 1980s and 90s, concern has grown rapidly in the 21st century across the Church. In this book two environmental experts consider eight of the key contemporary issues, offering eco-tips to enable practice response as well as Bible-based reflections to deepen understanding. Among the issues covered are climate change, food, biodiversity, and population - and the relationship between environmental problems and issues relating to world development.

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Endorsements

Martin and Margot Hodson's deep commitment to the critical issues that their timely book addresses shine through each chapter. It is very comprehensive and we are all the beneficiaries of their years of educated engagement at both personal and professional levels with the challenges faced by God's good earth and so by us all. We belong to a human community which must now come to terms with new ways of living: extremely rapid environmental changes now impact us ever more directly, and in this book we have a comprehensive guide us towards some of the ways forward we must take. It is accessible, practical, even hopeful, and its biblical wisdom means it is indeed a Christian guide to environmental issues.
Peter Harris, Founder of A Rocha

A valuable resource to help understand how we can live together for the good of all creation on this one planet with its finite resources. As such this book looks straight in the eye of the most serious set of environmental challenges humanity faces. Drawing together in accessible ways scientific evidence, biblical reflection and practical ideas it will provoke you to better think, act and pray for the renewal of creation.
The Rt Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Dudley

Margot and Martin Hodson combine their biblical and scientific expertise to give us an engaging study-to-action guide. They explain the big environmental issues simply, illustrate the solutions with inspiring vignettes from around the world, point us to the biblical view for reflection and empower us with practical tips for the next steps we can take. As a Christian activist for social justice and a healthy environment, I long to see Christians everywhere demon - strating their love of God by standing up for the environment in their communities and globally. This book will help to fire up that movement. I'm praying for a Christian philanthropist to donate a boxful to every church in the UK. That might be the single most important thing they could do for God and humanity!
Andy Atkins, Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth (2008-2015) and Advocacy Director, Tearfund (2000-2008)

Author info

Dr Martin J. Hodson is a plant scientist and environmental biologist, who writes and speaks widely on environmental issues. His recent publications include Climate Change, Faith and Rural Communities (with Margot Hodson) and Functional Biology of Plants (with John Bryant). The Revd Margot R. Hodson ministers in rural Buckinghamshire. She has taught Environmental Ethics at Oxford Brookes University and has written several books including Cherishing the Earth (with Martin Hodson), and Uncovering Isaiah's Environmental Ethics, as well as writing for BRF's Guidelines notes.

Reviews

Church Times 22 April 2016

Dr Martin and the Revd Margot Hodson have been a husband-and-wife team leading the way in Christian environmental studies for some years. He is an academic plant biologist, she a "busy vicar" in rural Buckinghamshire, having previously been a college chaplain and lecturer at Oxford Brooks University. Both are closely linked with the Christian environmental organisations A Rocha and the John Ray Initiative.

A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues is an accessible pocketbook providing a basic Christian perspective on many of the issues of concern to environmentalists today: how are we going to reverse the damage that human life and consumption is doing to the earth - and, therefore, to our own livelihood and that of other creatures?

The book uses autobiographical anecdotes from the Hodsons' joint travels on sabbatical in Spain, and individually in various other countries. It includes short stories from colleagues and friends. There are biblical reflections on nature, covenant, salvation, God's sovereignty and human responsibility, sabbath and sustainability, exile, incarnation, and resurrection and hope. It says very little on human sin and selfishness, and divine judgement.

The biblical reflections (together with some usable "eco-tips" for sustainable living) are woven into scientific and historical material on great issues in sustainability: biodiversity, climate change, water, population and consumption, energy, soil, food, and development. Each chapter ends with some resources and questions for group Bible study, and leaders' notes are provided at the end.

The Hodsons' book will be a most valuable resource for congregational use. It could go a long way to making unnecessary the question that, puzzlingly, I have been asked too often: "Why have we never heard anything like this before?" And not only that: it could re-excite enthusiasm, joy, delight, and action in our Christian responsibility and privilege of caring for God's earth and giving a voice to all creation to sing God's praise.

David Atkinson, Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Southwark.


A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues is a modestly sized book, equipping readers to grapple with big issues, working well for an inquiring individual who seeks to connect faith with environmental concerns, and also as a good resource for church-based discussion groups.

One author, a plant scientist and environmental biologist, the other is a Church of England priest who ministers in a rural setting. Together they explore several pressing environmental issues, using a combination of personal experiences, local stories from across the worldwide church, and scientific and theological insights.

The environmental topics covered include the pressing, the popular, the less usual, and one that is often avoided in this sort of literature. The urgent question of climate change is addressed; so too are the popular topics of energy and biodiversity. Questions about water, food and soil are each given a chapter, as is population, a topic where controversy looms large and relatively little appears from environmental writers.

Each chapter begins by using story and science to explore the topic. Helpfully, science is regarded as resource, not a threat, and it is presented in a basic, balanced and accessible style. Then follows a biblical or theological reflection. The chapter on water, for example, is a way into considering salvation; God's sovereignty and our responsibility informs the exploration of population; incarnation and food are explored through ideas of local community and the building of relationships.

Each chapter concludes with some simple material for use in Bible studies; the Ten Commandments and biodiversity, climate change and Jesus' Parable of the Talents, soil as seen through prophetic visions of figs and vineyards. Refreshingly, scripture passages are not approached with the intention of uncovering some 'true', but previously overlooked (environmental) interpretation of the text. Rather, readers are invited to revisit some familiar (and less familiar) texts, ready for them to spark new ideas, insights and commitments, relevant to today's world.

Throughout, he authors' specific setting, experiences, and theological and organisational commitments are apparent but presented positively, hospitable to other perspectives; all part of what makes this an accessible resource for different people and settings.

Trevor Jamison, Environmental Chaplain, Eco-Congregation Scotland


Read a review Eddie Arthur, Director of Strategic Initiatives with Global Connections


Country Way magazine - January 2016

This is a book that should be read by all Christians who don't feel particularly clued up on key environmental issues. Drawing on their Biblical and scientific expertise, Margot and Martin Hodson have produced a straightforward and highly readable introduction. They combine stories and personal insights with up-to-date information, Bible-based reflections and practical eco-tips. It can be read individually or used by a group. Topics covered include climate change, food, water, soil, biodiversity, population and the relationship between these issues and world development.

We see God's love for the natural world throughout the Bible narrative and it is clear that care for creation in central to the Christian faith. As we edge towards potential "tipping points" on climate change - where a rise in temperature sets off changes that cause further temperature increases - we need to be aware of issues, the impact on the poorest communities on earth, and how we can be part of bringing change.

Jerry Marshall, CEO The Arthur Rank Centre,


Together; March-April 2016

This is a very helpful, informative and intelligent book that, in 10 easy-to-read but detailed chapters, considers the main environmental issues in such a way as to inform, engage and encourage change and understanding. There are so many ways this book can be helpful either to individuals or, more importantly, at a group level. Each chapter gives enough detail to highlight the issues without complicating them through confusing jargon. It offers a practical 'ecotip' that can be picked up by church and individual to make change that is not too onerous for anyone to be discouraged. The Bible study at the end of each chapter really makes this an easy to use church or small group resource. You could do the whole 10 sessions or just use certain ones at certain times, for instance just use the food section if starting a food bank scheme; at harvest use the soil section etc. This is a good starter into a very topical and important subject.

Melanie Carroll


Search; A Church of Ireland Journal Spring 2016

Having been, for forty years, very much behind the curve on environmental matters, Christian voices now seem to be increasingly prominent in the green movement. This short volume firms a good introduction to both current environmental issues and to reading the Bible from within a 'green' hermeneutic. It makes no pretence to be a work of serious academic scholarship, although the authors, a plant scientist and a vicar in rural Buckinghamshire, clearly have a deep understanding of the material. Its audience is the individual Christian and the church community who wish to begin to see the links between scripture and the environment and put some of the ideas into practice.

The authors are both very involved in A Rocha, the evangelical environmental NGO which began in Spain and Portugal, and each chapter begins with a personal account of visits to both A Rocha and other Christian projects. These are clearly designed to be a gentle scene-setting introduction to the more in-depth material which follows; but after several chapters, they begin to read somewhat like a US style 'informercial' with unsubtle product placement. The content of each chapter is much better, however, with the authors' scholarship coming through.

The chapters take each one of the global environmental challenges in turn and analyse clearly and succinctly the problems and their possible solutions. These are biodiversity, climate change, water, human population and consumption, energy, soil, food and development. The second part of each chapter looks at related biblical material, and this too is confidently handles. The connections made are apposite and well-drawn. For example, the climate change section leads on to look at the biblical covenants, made not just with humans, but also with the creation. Analysis of the importance of soil and its erosion and contamination is neatly linked with the biblical material on exile. They rightly criticise the traditional reading of scripture that 'God's creation is assumed to be a kind of wallpaper, his real interest being people'.

Refreshingly, the authors do not shy away from any of the big issues and they are unapologetic about coming down on a particular side. So there is no concession to the nonsense of young earth creationism or US promoted dominionism, and the discussion on human population growth and development advocates the provision of widely available contraception across the globe.

Particularly striking and creative is the analysis of the 2008 crash, caused by excessive risk-taking and borrowing without foundation - short-term thinking which has clear parallels in environmental destruction. As they point out, 'finances are recoverable; if the ecology of the planet crashes, it would not be quickly reparable'. Fracking is another issue that is fairly debated, with both sides being given a hearing: they acknowledge the difficulty in getting impartial facts on the environmental impact, but point out the basic problem with using another source of fossil fuels.

There is clear analysis on the use of GM crops: Martin Hodson rightly, in my view, sees the problem as being less about the actual science of modification, about which there is much Luddite scare-mongering, and more about issues of patenting and ownership, allowing a few companies to exert a near monopoly on seed production.

The recent flooding in Britain and Ireland comes of course too late for the book to analyse, but there is good discussion of the 2009 disaster in Somerset and criticism of the short term solutions being advocated.

Each chapter finishes with a bible study with questions for group discussion and a brief practical 'eco-tip'. The final chapter 'A Covenant for Hope'. Looking at the eschatological material, is a call to action undergirded by a realistic hope for the future, acknowledging that much has been lost, but much still can be remedied.

There are some quibbles and omissions: The authors' emphasis on the biblical material (the book is published by the Bible Reading Fellowship) means that some of the writers from the wider tradition are ignored: there is little from Teilhard de Chardin for example. The book must have been published before Laudato Si, but given the build up to the encyclical in recent months, it seems churlish to have omitted any reference to its likely significance. The 'Deep Green' movement, which sees humans as part of the creation, not separate from it, is too briefly and easily dismissed. Perhaps more seriously, it betrays its middle class English origins with little discussion of perspectives and theologies from the Global South, or indeed from eco feminist writers such as Anna Primavesi or Sallie McFague.

Nevertheless, as an introduction to the issues and a 'green' reading of scripture it is a very worthwhile volume: indeed for those with no knowledge of the subject, it would be my recommendation for a place to begin.

Andrew Orr


Evangelical Times - December 2015

Everyone says it! One of the biggest challenges the church in the rich Western world faces today is a consumerism that damages our spiritual lives, God's creation and the lives of the poor in many parts of the world.

This book is one of a growing number describing the impact our lives are having on the earth God created: how we are destroying biodiversity, producing energy in a way that is damaging our climate, using water irresponsibly, growing food in a way that threatens the soil, and creating an economic system that creates inequality.

The book is well structured around an analysis of each of these challenges. After looking at the scientific facts, it provides biblical reflection on the issues. Each chapter ends with 'eco tips', notes for group Bible study and references for follow-up reading.

Interspersed are personal reflections from the authors about their experiences in Spain where they spent a sabbatical writing this title. They are well qualified to write on this topic. Martin Hodson lectures on Christianity and the environment at Oxford Brookes, and has a background as a soil scientist. His wife Margot ministers among rural churches.

The authors set themselves a tough challenge, putting scientific information, theology, action and fellowship into one book. While the mix doesn't quite come off, it is a worthy read. On the plus side, it is environmentally sound.

The short, readable chapters are packed full of facts about the different issues and the 'eco tips' range from the small-scale and do-able to the more thoughtful and comprehensive. Having said this, the information is sometimes presented in a rather dull and academic way. I would have liked a bit more passion!

On the theological side, all the right messages are given. The backdrop is that God has made a covenant with his people to care for creation. However, the theological aspects are less well organised and harder to follow than the environmental information.

I was also disappointed that the authors did not stress that we are commanded by God to care for creation in Genesis. For me, care for creation is all about obedience. I feel that Christians need to wake up to this aspect of our discipleship.

Margot Hodson remembers, as I do, the excitement she had when reading Ronald Sider's Rich Christians in an age of hunger, a title that got Christians talking and acting.

The evangelical church needs another book like that one to change our behaviour towards the environment. Although this is probably not the one, it is a sound and encouraging read for those wishing to start thinking more deeply about environmental issues in relation to their faith.

James Hindson


Martin and Margot Hodson's deep commitment to the critical issues that their timely book addresses shine through each chapter. It is very comprehensive and we are all the beneficiaries of their years of educated engagement at both personal and professional levels with the challenges faced by God's good earth and so by us all.

Thameshead Benefice Gloucestershire November 2015


Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857463838
  • Published: 18 September 2015
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224
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