The experiment that inspires Year of Plenty is one that grows out of a frustration with consumerism as well as a hunger for a sense of connectedness to place and people. Through an accessible and self-aware narrative, Craig Goodwin sketches his family’s year-long journey in sustainable living. Goodwin weaves personal experience with theological reflection (most of which is inspired by Wendell Berry)—an approach that leads him to articulate a rule for living the Christian faith in the midst of a culture and theology that has accommodated consumerism. As Goodwin explains, the rule is less a hard boundary and is more accurately seen as a reorientation to the kingdom of God present in our world. Against this backdrop the family’s explorations into the homegrown, the local, the used and the homemade offer a glimpse at the convergence of theology and practice.
As a result of both style and content, the book lends itself well to small group study and discussion. The author’s intent is to make a case for a Christian voice in issues of consumption and creation care by means of personal experiment and reflection rather than theological treatise. This does not preclude the author from exploring a “theology of plenty”, where his reflections eventually lead. The book seems to read better as a personal commentary with theological reflection on hyper-consumption rather than the development of a theology. Its strength is in demonstrating a relationship between reflection, theology, and practice through a personal narrative. But as far as developing a theology, Year of Plenty lacks depth for those who cannot tear up their lawn and turn it into a garden or build a chicken coop in their backyard.
As it is, a distinct conversation about hunger, the effects of climate change, or food justice issues is simply beyond the scope of this book. The passing references to these issues serve as a means for understanding how faith is integrated with this personal journey of sustainable living. This strategy works in the author’s favor by making the book more accessible than if it were just a theological project. On the other hand, Year of Plenty illustrates a sense of urgency in the author’s personal life, but is not forceful enough in articulating a sense of urgency for the church. Goodwin offers a critique of traditional dualist theology and advocates for a more holistic one, but this is done in the context of his personal reflections on his family’s experiment. This has the advantage of allowing the reader to make his/her own connections. It has the disadvantage of not being able to speak to a variety of entry points into the sustainability conversation and the urgency required for the church to engage in a deeper theology.
Yet Goodwin reaches a conclusion that is accessible as any for his audience—our decisions and practices, both economic and personal, are matters of faith. Because these are matters of faith the importance of making connections among sustainability and hunger, climate change and food justice are necessary and crucial to the development of a deeper theology in a world of plenty.
Goodwin’s blog: www.yearofplenty.org
Craig L. Goodwin
2011 Augsburg Fortress