A Christian Worldview on the Environment in Mere Environmentalism A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World, a Book by Stephen Hayward

Last Updated: 13 Mar 2023
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Stephen F. Hayward seeks to "outline a distinctive Christian perspective on the environment and provide a framework for Christians to engage environmental issues and environmental activists who approach the subject from a conventional secular viewpoint" in his book entitled Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World (Hayward 2). This paper will attempt to show the effectiveness of Hayward in address ing his own thesis and demonstrate the weaknesses in Biblical interpretation and what is excluded from the discussion.

Hayward is effective in demonstrating the history and worldview of the environmental movement and how this relates to Christians. Particularly helpful was the attempt to establish "what is distinctive about a Christian approach to an issue" (Hayward 8). He argues and establishes the place of the environment being "fundamentally a philosophical or spiritual problem," making it clear why the Christian insight is so important to the question of environmental activity (Hayward 19). He shows how some thinkers have even suggested Christian thought as the problem, suggesting other religions or systems of Christian thought as being the solution to environmental problems (Hayward 43). The insight into responses in and outside of Christian thought was helpful and balanced, looking at everything from "cultural tendencies" to "extreme variations" (Hayward 16). In general, the reader is left understanding a wide range of perspectives about the nature of the environment being a philosophical dilemma and familiar with the economic and political side of the issue. For all that Hayward did effectively in the book, he was ineffective in use of Scripture, especially given that the title claims to offer a "biblical perspective." The biblical perspective seems to be the weakest part of the book.

Hayward referenced Scripture intemittently, but there were three chapters dedicated to the discussion of certain passages. The first, "Begin at the Beginning: Humans and Nature in Creation" was rather short, so some of the errors may have been omissions in the interest of brevity. In this chapter, Hayward established a "hierarchy of nature," showing that "the beginning of Genesis makes clear..that...humans, being created in the image of God, hold an exalted place in the hierarchy of nature- below the angels but above the mute beasts of the field" (Hayward 28). This is not necessarily wrong, however, it is hard to see how this idea that man is below the angels is found in the first few chapters of Genesis. There is conflicting evidence about whether this idea is in the Bible. While the author of Hebrews interprets Psalm 8:5 in Hebrews 2:7 to say that Jesus was made lower than the angels, the passage itself only talks about being lower than Elohim, a common Hebrew word for God.

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To the contrary, Christians are told that they will take part in judging the angels in I Corinthians 6:3. This is not a major issue for the book or in terms of theology. The idea is referred to a couple of times in preceding chapters, but the emphasis is certainly on the more clear idea that man is above the beasts of the field. Nonetheless, this does illustrate a severe weakness in terms of how the Bible is used: a point that is not evident in the cited Scripture and is to some degree up to debate is stated and assumed and then assumed to be Biblical henceforth. Another example is found in the chapter entitled, "Liberty and the Environment: The Sobering Parable of Joseph and the Israelites in Egypt." In this chapter, one of the longest in the book, Hayward interpreted the story of Joseph in Egypt in light of the economic consequences. While the principles drawn out are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, using Scripture to do so seems dubious. Even with ample waming given beforehand, which is not a common waming among commentators using Scripture for economic thought saying that it is "not intended to supersede the traditional teachings" this seems to have little bearing on how he himself does use the passage.

In the end, he comments of the passage that "Above all, the story of Joseph's Egyptian regency points to the peril of how willing dependency on centralized political solutions can lead to the voluntary surrender of individual liberty" (Hayward 79). Such conclusions drawn do not seem in line with the wamings about superseding the clear theological meaning given at the start. In fact, in the conclusion of the book, Hayward notes as a reason Christians should engage in environmentalism is because of a "specialty" that comes from a "different perspective...that derives from the Christian faith" (Hayward 84). While the perspective and insight Christians have in how they see the environment in light of faith is deemed important, in this chapter Hayward borrOws extensively from a non-Christian for insight into the passage. He cites extensively from Leon Kass, introduced as "author of a major commentary on the Book of Genesis" and this is the only voice offered besides his own (Hayward 74).

Kass, however, is a humanist who seeks to "read [Genesis] as a philosophical classic in the same way one would read Plato or Nietzsche" as Publishers Weekly notes (The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis"). In his conclusion, Hayward himself describes what he has written as "preliminary reflections" (Hayward 82). While the book is succinct and certainly a profitable read, it certainly is lacking in many regards. It scarcely presents a "biblical perspective" as it states in light of the major shortfalls in Biblical interpretation noted in this paper. Nonetheless, the purpose he established in the introduction to the book was well enough supported. A framework was indeed established for interaction of Christians with environmental issues and the secular world, and the Christian reader will be given extra perspective, but not necessarily from interpretation of Scripture itself as the book initially presents itself.

  1. Hayward, Stephen F. Mere Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2011. Print. "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis." Amazon. N.p. Web. 18 Apr 2013. <http://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Wisdom-Reading-Genesis/dp/0226425673.

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A Christian Worldview on the Environment in Mere Environmentalism A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World, a Book by Stephen Hayward. (2023, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-christian-worldview-on-the-environment-in-mere-environmentalism-a-biblical-perspective-on-humans-and-the-natural-world-a-book-by-stephen-hayward/

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