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Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees

by Lowell Bliss

William Carey Library

Reviewed by Brian Webb, sustainability coordinator, Houghton College; former director, short-term missions, New Mission Systems International

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES REPRESENT some of the greatest challenges facing the global mission movement in the twenty-first century. Widespread pollution, depleted natural resources, changing weather conditions, and population pressures (among many others) all impact the work of missionaries around the world. But for those called to share the gospel cross-culturally, discerning how to respond to these challenges is not always clear.

In his book, Environmental Missions, Lowell Bliss addresses the tensions between traditional church-planting ministry and environmentally-based development work by making a case for combining the two in environmental missions. With the zeal of a veteran church planter, Bliss identifies distinct new opportunities for gospel ministry offered by an environmental approach to missions. His account alternates between rich personal experiences, sound biblical exegesis, and practical solutions. Ultimately, Environmental Missions aims to define and legitimize a new category of missions.

Bliss begins by describing his own personal journey toward creation care—a journey equally rooted in scripture, an honest evaluation of science, and his own fourteen years of experience ministering in India and Pakistan. Chapter two forms the backbone of the book by suggesting a definition for what is an environmental missionary. In doing so, Bliss brings a biblical understanding of creation care into the context of global missions by interpreting the Creation Mandate in light of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

The next two chapters provide examples of an early environmental missionary (William Carey) and a potential environmental mission field (an unnamed creative access country in the Indian Ocean). Chapters 5–7 address the scriptural basis for environmental missions by appraising creation care in both the Old and New Testaments. Avoiding the confrontational style so commonly found in such discussions, Bliss provides a fair and balanced analysis to his biblical examination by being overly generous in his treatment of potential critics.

Chapters 8 and 12 provide practical suggestions for the praxis of environmental missions. This includes calling for a more intentional integration between gospel evangelism and the type of tangible work done by environmentalists and development professionals. Chapters 9–11 add theological depth to Bliss’ definition of environmental missions by integrating it with discussions of sin, the gospel message, and prayer. While humble in tone, Bliss remains unapologetically Christocentric, and even the most skeptical reader will be reassured by his emphatic inclusion of evangelism in the environmental mission paradigm. Ultimately, Bliss’ efforts to describe environmental missions as a legitimate new category of missionary service works. Not only does he effectively describe how environmental missions contributes toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission, but he also provides a biblically grounded justification for creation care ministry.

Check these titles:
Bouma-Prediger, Steven. 2010. For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Brown, Edward. 2008. Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. Sabin, Scott.

2010. Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God’s People. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press.

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EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 112 &114. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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