First up on my list of 28 notable books that offer a Christian perspective on the Environment, Food, and Simple Living is by Scott Sabin. Scott is the Executive Director of Plant With Purpose, a San Diego based Christian mission organization. This book is important in the way it makes the compelling case for a holistic approach to Christian mission that includes reforestation and sustainable agricultural practices as expressions of the Kingdom of God.
The book tells the story of how Plant With Purpose started in 1984 out of desire to help the poor in the Dominican Republic, and the organization quickly realized that simply giving food was not enough. They looked upstream and saw that "the people were without food because deforestation made the land too poor to farm. The people themselves had caused much of the deforestation."
He notes that the rural poor make up 80% of the 840 million chronically hungry people around the world. He also points out that the plight of the rural poor leads them to be the largest cause of deforestation in the world. Large scale agriculture (15-20%), logging (10-15%), and cattle ranching (20-25%) are not nearly as destructive as the rural poor who account for 35-45% of deforestation around the world. The book offers a compelling account of the desperate cycles of poverty that lead people to cut down trees, even when they know it will be catastrophic in the long-run. Sabin disrupts simplistic notions of helping the poor, even pointing out that the ubiquitous donations of free clothing and grains, undercut local markets and reinforce patterns of poverty. He offers a wonderful reminder that the best way to help people in need is to empower them to help themselves.
Alongside the story of the organization is Sabin's personal conversion story, not only to acknowledging the complex nature of poverty, but also to an appreciation for the complex nature of God's work of redemption in the world. He says:
Like many evangelicals I was taught to substitute my own name into John 3:16, "For God so loved Scott that he gave his only begotten Son..." While that tells an important truth about God's love, it is less than the whole truth. I was substituting my name for the word kosmos. Kosmos means all that God created; the universe.
In the end, he calls the American church to get over lingering suspicions about science and political agendas, and "Get into the game." He says there is plenty of common ground to be found between environmentalists and the church, and there is much the church has to offer the environmental movement. Tending to Eden helped me understand the challenge of helping the world's poor, and in doing so, it helped me see more clearly the connections between care for the environment and the Kingdom of God. I highly recommend it.
Sustainable Traditions has an interview with Scott and Sustainablog has a review. Scott was kind enough to write an endorsement for Year of Plenty, which includes a chapter about our family's experience in a Thai village that is sponsored by Plant With Purpose. Go here to watch a video about their work in Thailand.