In Serve God, Save the Planet, J. Matthew Sleeth, MD conveys a philosophy I hope will become more common as time goes on. I predict this book will startle environmentalists when they realize it is an evangelical Christian calling for such drastic changes, and it will startle evangelical Christians to hear one of their own sounding like such a radical environmentalist and defending his position from the Bible!
The first five chapters expertly lay out a Biblical defense of "creation care." From that point on, the chapters deal with various issues and how and why we should make changes. The pastor who loaned me this book warned that the author gets more and more radical as the book goes on. He does. He is radical in the same way that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is radical. Dr. Sleeth has harsh criticism for various aspects of our culture and it will be too harsh for a lot of people, but I’m not convinced he’s wrong.
The author's personal story is inspirational, although I wished he'd plugged a few holes. The marketing brags of Dr. Sleeth downsizing from his old house to a smaller house that is the size of his old garage. He writes about it, but never actually gives the square footage of his new house, so I don’t know whether to be impressed or not! My family's house could fit inside the garage of the house of one of my relatives, and it’s just under 1300 square feet. It might be on the small side, but I don’t think we deserve environmental brownie points for it! Dr. Sleeth also makes a big deal about how he got his electric bill down to $20/month. Some of the ways he did it are certainly admirable, but he never says how he heats his house. He gives a useful "energy audit" sheet that can help people figure out how much energy their lifestyle uses. I wish he'd given a sustainable goal, though. I did it on us and we came in at about half the national average. I doubt that’s good enough, but I don’t know what is. (The real purpose of the "audit" is so you have a starting point to cut down from.) I felt that in some cases his practical suggestions didn’t go far enough, but some of what he said will stick with me. For example, in describing how to live with less things he said, "If you don’t use them, you don’t need them." I can clean out a lot of drawers and closets with that one! However, the practical stuff really isn't the strength of the book.
Dr. Sleeth uses illustrations from his medical missionary work to give a picture of what it is like in the rest of the world and how our daily choices can make a difference. The second time I read the book, I felt like I really "got" what he is trying to say, but that is largely because I’ve "been there." I participated in third world missions trips as a teenager and I’ve seen scenes like he describes for myself. And I had to read his book twice to "get it." In my opinion, this (along with the first five chapters) is the most valuable message of the book. I’m afraid it could be lost on readers who can’t relate to his illustrations.
I think in America our lifestyle is so out of whack with the rest of the world that it’s going to be a process for anybody that decides to take global issues seriously. It occurs to me that the more money one has, the more difficult it is to live a simple life. Dr. Sleeth is farther along in the process than most and he challenges commonly held assumptions. It is especially significant that he addresses the church, since evangelicals have been slow to realize how crucial these issues are.
My recommendation: Read it. And tell me what you think!