When I published my first book in ecotheology in 1970, Brother Earth, I was one of a very few theologians who were interested in this field. Things have changed, dramatically. More than fifty years later, hundreds of ecotheology works have been published in English alone, more than a few of them insightful and substantive. In my judgment, ours has become the golden age of ecological theology. But what to read, given so many options?
I continue to be asked that question. I would like to try to respond to it here, with this proviso: what follows must be a very select list. Since the turn of the century, indeed, I have had to come to terms with the fact that I myself could no longer keep up with all the publications in this, my own field. With that qualification, then, I recommend the following works as excellent ecotheology starters for those who have at least some familiarity with theological discourse and who are ready to dig in more deeply.
- Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’. To coin a phrase: this touches all the bases, theological, biblical, ethical, spiritual, and scientific. It is written – and written well – with a sharp grasp of our global crisis; and it is predicated throughout on solid theological analysis and reflection. I consider it to be one of the great ecotheological works of our time, if not the best. It’s available free, online.
- Daniel P. Castillo, An Ecological Theology of Liberation: Salvation and Political Ecology, 2019. Deeply informed by the great Catholic liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, this work is rich biblically and engaged contextually. Castillo will make you want to read liberation texts in the Bible (there are many!) all over again in order more forcefully to address today’s ecojustice issues. (Read my longer review here.)
- Elizabeth Johnson, Woman, Earth, and Creator Spirit, 1993, a short work written by one of the premiere Catholic theologians of our time. Drawing deeply on classical Christian traditions, Johnson challenges us to heed the driving impulses of the Spirit throughout our world, as we seek to respond to both global and personal eco-issues today. If you like this work, you’ll definitely want to read her longer and also stellar study, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, 2015.
- Kiara A. Jorgenson, Ecology of Vocation: Recasting Calling in a New Planetary Era, 2020. Many ecotheology works describe our current global crisis and then offer theological responses. This book does that, and more. It insightfully explores the personal link between the crisis and our calling as individual Christians to serve and to protect God’s good earth and the poor of the earth. I have believed for a long time that it’s critical for faith-inspired ecojustice activists to have a deep sense of their own calling. For this reason, in my view, this book is indispensable.
- James A. Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility, 1991. “Brilliant, comprehensive, systematic, and provocative,” said one reviewer. This well-written older study remains, in my view, perhaps the single best introduction to Christian ecoethics, even though it was written before climate change became the ethical issue of our time (see #6, below, for a theological work that addresses all the climate change issues theologically and in great detail).
- Michael S. Northcott, Peter M. Scott (eds.), Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives, This is a relatively short (179pp.) but comprehensive review of all the main Christian teaching points, from the Trinity to Christology to Eschatology, each focused on implications for responding to climate change; and written by theologians of international standing. Forget about what you may have once considered to be – boring theology. This book will sweep you off your theological feet.
Read any or all of these publications, as the Spirit may move you. In this our depressing time of global crisis, you will be, I believe, theologically enriched and spiritually inspired, at each step along the way.