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Issue 06

Book Review: The Wonders of Creation: Learning Stewardship from Narnia and Middle-Earth

Ricardo Cardenas

Ricardo Cardenas and his family reside in Commerce City, Colorado, where he is the branch manager at Anythink Library and the lead pastor of Calvary Commerce City, a new church plant in their community. Ricardo is an Associate Fellow of the KLC. Photographs by the author.

The stories we read, including fictional ones, have the power to move us in profound ways. This is a foundational point in Kristen Page’s The Wonder of Creation: Learning Stewardship from Narnia and Middle-Earth.

Dr Kristen Page is a professor of biology at Wheaton College (where this book’s material was originally presented in a series of three lectures) who has travelled the world studying human impact upon nature. Her vocation has shaped her passion for creation care, but Page’s love of nature is not limited to this world alone. She is also a lover of nature as encountered through various literary worlds, including within C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Page’s love for fictional worlds feeds her love for nature in this world, and within these lectures a central question she poses is: “[Can] literary landscapes teach us to see creation in a new way and possibly even motivate readers toward environmental stewardship?” (9).

In part one of three, Page addresses this symbiotic relationship between natural and literary landscapes and their ability to feed and inspire one another. Readers who are drawn to the grand fictional landscapes created by Lewis and Tolkien are often “awakened to the beauty of the created world in which they live. Accordingly, they may begin to care about the conservation and protection of the landscapes surrounding them” (12). Lewis and Tolkien serve as her conversation partners throughout this work because for Page, these authors are excellent examples of individuals who allowed their love for natural landscapes to spill over into the fictional worlds they created which have captivated so many (18–19). 

Isaac Grünewald, In the Realm of Fantasy

Christians ought to learn from the examples of Tolkien and Lewis about how to read both literary and natural landscapes, but Page’s exhortation is that Christians should not stop there. Instead, her hope is that Christians should learn to take more seriously our stewardship of creation. She notes that this is especially true since conservative evangelicals in the United States are the least likely demographic “to regard environmental protection as necessary or even biblical” (31). According to Page, healthier doctrines of creation and the incarnation should drive Christians to a better understanding of the role we have to play in creation care (32).

With this, Page leads us into part two of the book, which is mainly focused around lament. This is the most challenging portion of the book, primarily because it is the most convicting. Page spends a good amount of time sharing evidence for our reasons to lament which include: over-consumption of resources (chiefly by wealthy Westerners) (48), human-caused contamination of food and natural resources (50), and the fact that the worst environmental issues tend to primarily affect those in society who are poorest (55–58). Since this is the case, issues related to creation care are not merely about taking better care of the environment, they are also a matter of learning to love our neighbours better.

With this, Page moves into her third and final portion of the book where she provides the antidote to what ails us. This section is less of a “how-to” chapter, and is more about character formation. For Page, our healing can and should come primarily through wonder and humility. If Christians are going to become better stewards of creation, nothing short of total transformation will suffice. A more robust care for creation starts with awe: “Wonder begins the transformative work. As we pay close attention to nature, we are more likely to notice wonderful aspects of God’s amazing creation. We will learn more about the Creator and begin a transformation toward stewardship based on a virtue of ecological wonder” (98). Along with this, wonder leads to a sense of humility as we recognize our place within creation (103). With these two heart postures in place, Christians can move to a healthier stewardship of the creation that God has entrusted to us.

This work by Page is valuable and worth pondering, especially among Christians who have often neglected this topic in their discipleship. While there is plenty of Lewis and Tolkien within these pages, they play more of a secondary role to start the conversation about creation, stewardship, and wonder; this book is not an exhaustive systematizing of their thoughts as they apply to creation care. That said, I think this is an appropriate place for them in this discussion. Page’s expertise in this area is well worth our careful attention, and her exhortations, though convicting, are necessary for us to hear. As a pastor with minimal expertise on this subject, I found these lectures to be challenging, but also inspiring. I do not yet have an answer to the question of how the church can better equip our people to be better stewards of creation, but with Page, Lewis and Tolkien as our trail guides inspiring us toward wonder, I believe we can take important steps in addressing this issue. As Page suggests, however, we cannot make progress without the church leading the way in lament and humility.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Evening