Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Biblical Prophets & Contemporary Environmental Issues By Hilary Marlow Oxford University Press 2009

Review by Peter Lockhart

It was more by chance than good design that I came across the book by Hilary Marlow bringing some of the Biblical Prophets into conversation with contemporary environmental issues.

Given the title I had expected Marlow to begin her dialogue with the prophets straight out but was somewhat pleasantly surprised to discovery a different methodology.

Her opening words clearly set the reader in the direction of her project. "Human impact on the natural world is unsustainable and has costs for our survival and that of numerous other species." The introduction clear outlines her serious concern for the environment and belief that people of faith have a part to play.

I found the first chapter both captivating and elucidating as she gave a brief but insightful survey of the biblical interpretative history of the relationship between God, humans and the creation. Touching on the influence of Greek philosophy she moves into exploring various of the early Church fathers like Irenaus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine.

She moves though the middle ages including Francis of Assissi and Thomas Aquinas before engaging with the Reformers, particularly Luther and Calvin.

The first chapter set the scene for her move into more contemporary conversations in chapters 2 & 3 moving through Romanticism into Hegel, 20th century exegetical methods and the rise of creation theologies.

In Chapter 3 she begins to explore in more detail ecological hermeneutics defining the topic and adding a helpful critique along the way of approaches including the Earth Bible Project. Towards the end of this chapter she introduces the ecological triangle and explains her decision to engage with the prophets in the way she does. This explanation of her methodology is very helpful as she moves into exploring Amos, Hosea and Isaiah 1-39.

In each of these next chapters Marlow explores the use of creation metaphors and the implications of these metaphors for contemporary ecological issues. Her explorations do not feel forced or contrived by a genuine respect for the texts in the context whilst listening more deeply for what connections there may be.  Not being an Old testament scholar it is difficult to critque Marlow's work more effectively, sufficed to say I found her explorations helpful and enlightening.

Chapter 7 brings it all together recognizing connections and disparity arguing for the place of using the Old Testament as a place in which to find and explore our ethics as Christian people in relationship to the creation. As she moves towards her conclusion she quotes the 2007 Environmental Agency survey which identified 50 things which will save the planet of which the second on the list was "the role of faith communities and their leaders".

Overall, Marlow's book was a good read and whilst the chapters on the prophets themselves were interesting it was the preliminary survey of the place of the creation in church history and exploration of some of the current ecological theologies that I would most recommend. For me these chapters were a window into where we have been and where we are going on ecological issues and provided a solid context for Biblical engagement which leads to transformed thinking and even more importantly was of living.

The book is quite expensive ($120 from Amazon) so unless you are really committed to this field it is a lot of money to spend on a book.  There is a copy at Trinity Theological Library in Brisbane, which is where I found the copy I read.


  1. Ouch! I was all ready to whip over to amazon until I got to the last paragraph :-(

    And why does someone so concerned abou tthe environment not have an e- version, given how many people now read that way (or maybe the publisher wasn't converted by the book's content).

  2. Just read a really plausible novel called The Prophesy Gene. In the story the author makes a compelling argument that the biblical prophets weren't people anointed by God, but they were simply people with a rare gene that allowed them to share the memories of everyone whoever lived and also shared the gene. He didn't come right out and say that there is no such thing as God, but he suggested that the collection of all of these memories might be wha god really is. The author is Stuart Schooler. His website is and there is a link to a blog and a YouTube video (

  3. Thanks Annie, the book sounds very interesting. I have to admit when I consider the possibility of a gene that could give a random person 'collective' memory, with the inference that there is no God, I find it less plausable than the idea that there is a God. But as a way of explaining a gift from God scientifically, very interesting. If we are drawn into God's life and so also one anothers lives as well then the idea of a person having collective memory is an expression of what it means to be a person in communion with God and others. In fact i think the aim of anemnesis in the liturgy of the church is all about helping people recover the colelctive memory. Thanks for sharing. Peter