According to this article in today’s edition of The Arizona Republic, Harper Collins’ recently released Green Bible (NRSV) has been causing controversy among Christians. It appears that there are two key distinctive features: 1) the book itself is environmentally friendly – recycled paper, soy-based ink, etc, and 2) it is a green-letter edition – it highlights “the rich and varied ways the books of the Bible speak directly to how we should think and act as we confront the environmental crisis facing our planet.”
The goals of the publisher seem admirable, so why is there an apparent controversy? Beats me, but if you are interested, I’ll give you my opinion1. 🙂 First, printing a Bible (or any book) in an environmentally friendly manner is a pretty good idea. No controversy there (at least that I can think of).
But what about a green-letter edition of the Bible? There is certainly nothing wrong with helping readers of the Bible become more environmentally aware, is there? Well, believe it or not, those are actually tough questions. On one hand, yes, studying the Bible and discovering (and then applying) what it says about creation and humanity is a good thing. Very good, actually. And it is probably something we need to do more of.
But on the other hand, I think we need to be somewhat careful with theme Bibles (environment, men’s, women’s, spirit-filled, etc). The potential danger in all theme Bibles is that they tend to precondition the reader’s thinking (through colours, commentary, etc) to see the topic in the text, without actually equipping the reader to see the text on its own terms and in its own context. In others words, if we would learn how to read the Bible slowly and carefully, paying attention to what the text itself actually says, we would discover the richness of the Bible for ourselves and we would not need colours to determine the meaning for us. And in fact, I think I could argue that theme based Bibles tend to narrow our reading of the text, rather than deepen it; when reading a theme Bible, we typically let the publisher’s theme (colour, commentary, etc) obscure any other meaning or emphasis of a Biblical text, even the core meaning. For example, is the primary concern of Genesis 3 really about the environment? It certainly doesn’t seem that way from the text itself, and if we read it as a “green text” only, we will completely miss the primary meaning of the passage. Even though a theme Bible’s colour may be very helpful in one passage, it may be equally damaging in another.
So … when it is all said and done, what do I think? Well, it seems that the Green Bible deserves full credit for raising the profile of how the Bible wants to speak to humanity’s roles and responsibilities within creation. That is a message that needs to be heard. However (and this is an important “however”), we need to read theme Bibles carefully and critically, and not be so distracted by the possible “theme” that we forget to read the text itself on its own terms. Let the text, not the publisher, determine meaning.
What do you think? What has been your experience with how the Bible talks about the environment? Post some comments below, and let’s talk about it …