Environmental crisis is a cliché whose connotations of divine judgment we no longer notice. But the term is apt for what is happening to the earth today. Habitats are disappearing and species going extinct at unprecedented rates. Artificial chemicals in ecosystems worldwide are lowering sperm counts and upsetting the gender balance of newborn vertebrates, including humans. The situation is grave even if we table the contested issue of global warming. Pioneering evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson even set aside his longstanding differences with fundamentalists over human origins to pen The Creation, a plea for conservative Christians to embrace their responsibilities as stewards of God's earth. Ironically, Wilson is preaching to the choir: a recent study by the Barna Group found that nine in ten American evangelicals would like Christians to care more actively for creation. We are turning green.
With the release of The Green Bible (Harper One, 2008), the Scriptures are turning green too—literally. This "green-letter edition," says its publisher, "is the definitive Bible for the growing creation care movement." Its green ink highlights more than 1,000 passages chosen by The Green Bible's editorial team to demonstrate God's involvement in creation, the interdependence of its elements, its response to God, and how we are called to care for it.
The Green Bible's packaging almost parodies itself: soy-based inks, recycled paper, and a stylish, earthy cotton/linen cover made through a process in which "all air is purified before exhausting into the atmosphere and all water is purified and recycled." Surely this was a marketing necessity; the publisher could not afford the charges of hypocrisy that would follow if it printed The Green Bible the way it prints … well, its other books. But The Green Bible is not a self-parody. It's offered as a serious Bible, with introductory essays by an ecumenical mix of voices such as N. T. Wright, Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Brian McLaren, and Barbara Brown Taylor, and an epilogue with topical studies and an environmental subject index. All these resources aim to orient readers to Scripture's concern for the natural world, along with its calls for social justice and poverty relief.
The real hook, of course, is the green-lettered biblical text. It mimics the wildly successful red-letter edition of the Bible that Louis Klopsch, the enterprising and philanthropic editor of the Christian Herald, invented just over a century ago. That edition's red ink symbolized "the new covenant in my blood" of Luke 22:20. How will swapping blood for chlorophyll color our reading?
Lest this sample seem unfair, let's start at the beginning, in one of the greenest books of all. The first chapters of Genesis feature a lot of green ink, including every word of chapter one and almost all of chapter two (though, oddly, only the first of Eden's four rivers, and not 2:24's concluding testimony to human family life). Yet the verdant primordial narratives of Genesis 1-11 blacken into the patriarchal narratives of Genesis 12-50, whose few green passages stand out peculiarly. They are 12:10 on famished Abram's journey to Egypt; 15:18-19 on God's covenant of land to Abram; reiterations of that promise in 26:3, 28:4, and 35:11-12; Jacob's confession that God is at Bethel in 28:16-17; and finally, Joseph's handling of prosperity and then famine in 41:47-49 and 41:53-57. These passages illustrate God's involvement and creation's interdependence, but not creation care as such. They show us that land in Genesis is basically a matter of tribal inheritance and wealth, neither for exploitation nor conservation, but residence and development. Countless other highlighting choices will mislead casual readers and confuse careful ones.