NOTE: This review was written for the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and appears in its March 2007 issue (vol. 59, No. 1, pp. 71-72). I thank the American Scientific Affiliation for permission to reproduce it here. It has been slightly reformatted for this webpage.

Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action

Author: J. Matthew Sleeth
Date: 2006
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT
ISBN: 1-933392-01-0
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


Review

J. Matthew Sleeth writes with a convertís zeal about how he and his family gave up their wasteful American lifestyle for what at times seems like an obsessive pursuit of a more Earth-friendly way of life. Sleeth was a successful physician when he heard Godís call to creation stewardship. He now works full-time to convince Christians that caring for creation should be a priority. This book (and his website servegodsavetheplanet.org) is a distillation of what he advocates in his ministry.

While examples are woven into the book, it does not give a systematic account of environmental degradations. Perhaps Sleeth assumes readers are already aware of pollution, global warming, etc. Instead, he starts with an exhortation for individuals to become agents of change for Godís purposes. This is followed by a chapter about why Christians should care for Godís creation, providing good answers to common questions and objections.

Most of the chapters concern specific areas of life, using the experiences of the author and his family to describe how we can be better stewards of creation. Topics include excessive consumption, our need for physical work and Sabbath rest, television, raising children, food choices, household habits, holidays, energy use, medicine, and population. A final chapter reminds readers that all must be done in love, and that part of loving our neighbors is caring for the planet we all share. Useful Appendices contain a personal energy audit, practical advice regarding appliances, and a "Let it begin with me" prayer list with suggested ways to ask God to help us change things for the better.

There is much that is good about this book. It is written in an engaging and accessible style, and it is full of practical advice. The author does a good job of walking the fine line of conveying the seriousness of our problems while encouraging readers that there is hope and that Godís people can make a difference. A more difficult line is the one between conviction and guilt; the book is so effective (at least for this reader) in revealing our selfish, wasteful lives that some readers might be overwhelmed by guilt. To his credit, Sleeth mostly takes an encouraging tone rather than promoting guilt trips. Finally, unlike most environmental books (even Christian ones), its Evangelical bent is clear throughout. Many Christians will listen to this creation-care message who would never listen to Al Gore.

Nevertheless, I hesitate to recommend the book because it seemed like every few pages I noticed an erroneous statement, a sweeping unsupported assertion, an oversimplification, or a dubious Biblical interpretation. For example, unsubstantiated assertions are made about "chemicals" in the environment being responsible for increased cancers in humans and pets. Sleeth repeats the nonsense that life contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He says that the Book of Revelations predicts nuclear weapons and television.

As I was shaking my head at this, I was reminded of Rick Warrenís The Purpose Driven Life. Both books are sometimes shallow, make sweeping overstatements and generalizations, and sometimes use Scripture in questionable ways. Then I thought about how many people read Warrenís book. Maybe Serve God, Save the Planet isnít for readers who value nuance, careful argument, and learned exegesis. But it may well reach a mass audience, and it is the masses who will need to change if the church is to be a positive force in creation care. If just half the people who read The Purpose Driven Life would read this book and be moved to live differently, the positive impact on Godís Earth would be substantial.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are the opinion of the author of this review alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Review originally written November 2006, published March 2007.
Page last modified March 10, 2007