Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril. Edited by Lisa E. Dahill and James B. Martin-Schramm. Foreword by Bill McKibben. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016. 283 pp.
An informal group of theologians, teachers, pastors, and lay people in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has issued an urgent call to Eco-Reformation on the occasion of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril is a scholarly response to that call. The core conviction of this collection of essays is that a gospel call to ecological justice “belongs at the heart of the five hundredth anniversary observance of the Reformation in 2017” as a “central dimension of Christian conversion, faith, and practice . . . into the foreseeable future.” The editors Lisa Dahill and Jim Martin-Schramm clarify that Christians will need to work “in collaboration with others among the world’s diversity of religious and spiritual traditions” (xii). Drawing on critical biblical, pastoral, theological, historical, and ethical perspectives in the Lutheran/Christian tradition, these essays seek to “constructively advance the vision of a socially and ecologically flourishing Earth” (xiii).
Eco-Reformation includes an impressive array of fifteen essays and concludes with Norman Habel’s “Ninety-Five Eco-Theses: A Call for Churches to Care for Earth.” Let me highlight a few of these essays. In the first, “A Theology of Creation,” David Rhoads calls for a new Copernican revolution that shifts the focus of the church to Earth-friendly and creation-centered theologies and practices. Larry Rasmussen develops the theme “Creation—Not for Sale,” one of three key themes for Lutheran World Federation’s observance of the global 2017 Reformation anniversary. Jim Martin-Schramm utilizes insights from German Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Church and the Jewish Question” (1933) to reflect on how the church is being called to respond to the climate question. With the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis Bonhoeffer struggled to discern the church’s responsibility when the state does not fulfill its responsibilities. In Terence Fretheim’s analysis of Genesis 1–2 he arrives at a relational model of creation emphasizing that God and all God’s creatures play “key roles in the creative process” (126). He understands creation not as a finished product, but as a dynamic process. Barbara Rossing encourages preachers not to shy away from apocalyptic texts but to embrace the message of hope in them that “the world is about to turn” (140). She challenges attempts to use the Book of Revelation to support the notion of leaving Earth behind to get to Heaven. Revelation 21–22, the final two chapters of the Bible, are clearly about the renewal and healing of Earth. Lisa Dahill calls for the “rewilding” of Christian spirituality. Christian ecological conversion compels us to re-immerse ourselves in the natural world. Along these lines she argues for the restoration of the early church’s practice of baptizing in local waters. Victor Thasiah, who teaches at California Lutheran University, highlights what an important first step the planting of trees has been in moving toward sustainable development, democracy, and peace in the aftermath of war and genocide in Rwanda. The Lutheran Church in Rwanda has played a vital role in that movement.
All these essays are written by scholars in our Evangelical Lutheran tradition and will appeal to other scholars who are concerned about the ecological crises we face. But they are also a wonderful set of resources for people of faith, clergy and lay, who want to address ecological concerns in a thoughtful way. As Dahill and Martin-Schramm affirm, “where this volume ends, readers’ own testimony begins” (xviii). Eco-Reformation is a gift to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to the church as a whole, and to all who are seeking “grace and hope for a planet in peril.”
Dr. Mark S. Brocker
St. Andrew Lutheran Church