I had never heard of Dr. Matthew Sleeth before he visited my church. One of the Sunday school classes was reading his book The Gospel According to the Earth. I will confess that I was skeptical of the title and the subject for a variety of reasons I won’t go into at the moment (complicated subject), but when he came to speak I found him quirky and interesting so picked up two of his books: Reforesting Faith and 24/6.
I started reading Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us About the Nature of God and His Love for Us almost immediately and it was the
fourth fifth book I finished in 2020.*
Yet we’ve mostly missed how God has chosen to tell His story–and ours–through the lens of trees. There’s a tree on the first page of Genesis and the last page of Revelation. The Bible refers to itself as a Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18).
Every major Biblical character has a tree associated with them. Jesus himself says he is the true vine (John 15:1). A tree was used to kill Jesus–and a tree is the only thing the Messiah ever harmed.
This is no accident. When we subtract trees from Scripture, we miss lessons of faith necessary for our growth.
This is the rare book that connects those who love the Creator with creation, and those who love creation with the Creator. It offers inspirational yet practical ways to express our love for God–and our neighbors–by planting spiritual trees and physical trees in the world.
After reading it in fits and starts, the chapters are pretty short, I found it to be a very earnest, and at times interesting, but too anecdotal devotional of sorts focused on trees.
Dr. Sleeth moves through scripture pointing out the near constant connection between important moments and trees, bushes, seeds, etc. all the while extolling the planting of trees as a spiritual gift to the planet and our neighbors.
The connection between trees and theology, even if he seems to force it a few times, is the clear strength of the book; a you might be surprised just how often this symbol is used in scripture. But I found it choppy and not particularly deep for the most part. It jumps from story to story, perspective to perspective, too often and never seems to settle into a narrative rhythm or focus. It might have worked better as a daily devotional where each day contains a connection with scripture and a story from the author.
Publishers Weekly had a more positive take:
Personal anecdote and observation appear throughout (the author’s favorite tree, for instance, is a 500-year-old Cathedral Oak outside a church in Lafayette, La.) making this case for environmental sustainability resonate on a personal level, as well. Christians looking to reconnect to the natural world will relish Sleeth’s passionate call to Christian stewardship of the Earth.
For those worried that Dr. Sleeth might come off as a radical environmentalist or overly political, he’s not. It strikes me that planting trees is something people from all perspectives can get behind. And from what I can tell, he has orthodox theological beliefs if that matters.
Despite my occasional frustration with the choppy nature of the book’s structure, it was a quick and easy read and brings a unique perspective to the issue.
*I’m trying to read 100 books in 2020, hence the x/100 in the title of these posts