Earthkeeping and Character

Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic

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Steven Bouma-Prediger
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Baker Academic
    , November
     2019.
     208 pages.
     $24.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780801098840.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The ecological crises of our planet seem to worsen by the day. We are continually bombarded with news of wildfires, natural disasters, droughts, famines, and wars started over finite resources. Climate scientists continue to warn us that we are nearing the point of no return in many ways—that is, if we have not already arrived there. To such bleak news, many are tempted to respond with hopelessness, a lack of faith that things can change, or with simple apathy. Perhaps these are appropriate responses, given such immanent and worsening ecological degradation linked to past and current human action. But Steven Bouma-Prediger does not think this is the case and offers a different perspective that utilizes the Christian tradition to call humanity to action. Bouma-Prediger’s work Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic offers not only an ethical framework for Christians to understand themselves as earthkeepers, but also gives very practical ways to live out ecological virtues, while warning against their corresponding vices.

A refreshing voice in the realm of ethics, Bouma-Prediger maintains a particular focus on ecological virtue ethics “by drawing on the rich resources of the Christian faith tradition” (3). But before diving into the details, he sets the stage with a brief review of common ethical theories and a history of virtue ethics. This discussion does not shy away from technical language and includes fair critiques and rebuttals of major ethical theories, including his own starting point, virtue ethics. Though some who are new to ethics may have a difficult time wading through this terminology, Bouma-Prediger is clear and concise. This clarity and brevity continue throughout the work, while the author simultaneously avoids the pitfalls of curt or sweeping assumptions. In this, Bouma-Prediger lands on a succinct and cogent point from which the remainder of the work follows: “who we are” determines how we act (15).

Following the introduction, each chapter is bookended by stories that help to drive the major content home. Bouma-Prediger’s use of story helps to ground the reader in reality, rather than simply offering abstract ideas with no practical application. While this may seem unnecessary to some readers, Bouma-Prediger’s prose is elegant throughout, and many will consider his reflections a treat. After the introductory tale that prefaces each chapter, Bouma-Prediger describes two traditional virtues and their corresponding vices. He references Christian scripture and tradition to illuminate these virtues and vices in a way that is palatable for those familiar and unfamiliar with the Christian tradition. This discussion is then followed by an ecological hermeneutic of the ethical virtues. Each virtue is paired with an example of how it is embodied by a wide variety of historical figures, such as naturalist John Muir (46–49), Green Belt Movement founder and activist Wangari Maathai (9799), and youth worker and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (120–122).

Well-resourced and inclusive of many voices, Earthkeeping and Character weaves together the words of theologians and ecologists with the works of poets and activists. Bouma-Prediger’s approach is rounded and fair, while offering a novel way to understand the Christian impetus to care for the earth based on our being. His work is hope-filled, but not in the kind of way that presumptuously expects a deus ex machina solution to ecological crises (119). Instead, such hope is action oriented; it requires real work on our part (112). And this is at the core of Bouma-Prediger’s work: the question of who we are and who we want to be, then using the answer to drive our daily lives in the direction of ecological awareness and action. Earthkeeping and Character is incredibly practical, making it an excellent primer for students new to virtue ethics. In addition, the clean and conversational prose makes this an accessible work for the eco-conscious layperson, whether they are of the Christian faith tradition or not.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rev. Adam Tobey is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
August 11, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Steven Bouma-Prediger (PhD, University of Chicago) is Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He also oversees the environmental studies minor and chairs the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee. In addition, Bouma-Prediger is adjunct professor of theology and ethics at Western Theological Seminary. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including For the Beauty of the Earth, is a former board member of the Au Sable Institute, and regularly writes and speaks on environmental issues.

Keywords: 

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