"Love in this world doesn't come out of thin air. It is not something thought up. Like ourselves, it grows out of the ground. It has a body and a place." So writes Wendell Berry in his breathtaking novel Hannah Coulter. If any four sentences can sum up the core thesis of Craig G. Bartholomew's Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (Baker Academic), then surely it is these.
Bartholomew, a professor of philosophy, religion, and theology at Redeemer University College in Ontario, has written what ought to become the introductory book for evangelicals interested in issues of place-making. While other evangelicals have written well on issues of land use and conservation—Lisa Graham McMinn and Megan Anna Neff's Walking Gently on the Earth: Making Faithful Choices about Food, Energy, Shelter and More (2010) comes to mind—Bartholomew's book engages more comprehensively with what the Bible has to say about place. For that reason alone, it is likely to appeal to a broad swath of readers, including many evangelicals.
American Christians often struggle to understand the role of place in Scripture. Like much of Western philosophy generally, many recent forms of American evangelicalism marginalize or ignore the particular settings within which divine and human dramas unfold. We assume that place is trivial, merely incidental to the Bible's core message of salvation. And then, predictably enough, we read Scripture in such a way that our assumptions are confirmed. To such unwelcome habits, Bartholomew offers a bracing resistance.
The Geography of Redemption
Bartholomew attempts to define place in the book's opening pages, but the concept tends to resist tidy definition. For most of us, the term conjures up highly ...