Micah D. KIEL, Apocalyptic Ecology: The Book of Revelation, the Earth, and the Future. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2017, pp. 188. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0814687826. Reviewed by Wilburn T. STANCIL, Rockhurst University, Kansas City, MO 64110. 


In many ways, this book is counter-intuitive.  For most who read the Book of Revelation, there is little that might inspire one to adopt an environmental ethics.  From the breaking of the seven seals to the outpouring of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, the Book of Revelation chronicles one ecological disaster after another.  Can this book point to ecological hope and lead to environmental activism?  Micah D. Kiel believes it can.

Kiel, associate professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport Iowa, has a twofold aim in this book (p. 19).  First, he argues that Revelation’s depiction of the destruction of the earth can be explained by looking at the writer’s context.  Second, he wants to show that Revelation can make a positive contribution to the environmental concerns of our day, inspiring us to actively protect the earth we now live in.  

Kiel shows how earlier apocalyptic literature, specifically, the first 36 chapters of 1 Enoch, addressed environmental degradation to animals, agriculture, and forests as a result of the constant warring of the Hellenistic kings. He refers to this literature as an “environmental critique of Hellenistic empire and its wasteful creation of ‘civilization’” (p.  52). In like manner, Kiel believes Revelation is a critique of the Roman Empire’s devastation of the environment through mining and animal spectacles. For Kiel, the issue is allegiance and power (87). God’s claim to power and control trumps that of Rome’s. 

In a very interesting chapter, Keil explores four illuminated manuscripts of Revelation—three Medieval and one modern (The Saint John’s Bible)— to discover how these artists depict the natural world. The results are mixed. Some of the artwork graphically depicts the destruction of the earth, while some invites contemplation of the natural world.  Kiel’s book includes several color photos of two of the illuminated manuscripts.

For Kiel, the take-away from the Book of Revelation is its challenge to the way we live. He argues for a genuine paradigmatic shift in how we conduct ourselves. The writer of Revelation, he quips, would “scoff at our claims to save the earth by recycling, composting, driving a Prius, and taking shorter showers” (p. 88). Most of the discourse today, Kiel believes, “falls to platitudes and things we do to make ourselves feel better” (130). Since all of life is interconnected (what Kiel calls “environmental entanglement”), and since God is the source of creation, we are called to develop different patterns of living, not those fostered by the economic priorities of empire.  

Even if one is not completely convinced that the Book of Revelation provides an “apocalyptic ecology,” Kiel has made an important contribution to the growing literature on theology and ecology.