In an oft-told version of the story, Christianity is given much of the blame for our current environmental crisis. The belief in a transcendent creator God, together with the theological claim that we are created in God’s image, we are told, has led to a culture of mastery and dominance. We imagine that we, like God, can transcend nature, often with blithely destructive effect. Because of this, Chris­tianity—and religion more generally—is often left out of histories of the American environmental movement. To many, Chris­tianity has destroyed our world, and it certainly can’t help us save it.

The wonderfully rich new study Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism, by Mark Stoll, who teaches history at Texas Tech University, attempts to complicate this story. Although we may want to question some of Stoll’s conclusions, his book might prove to be necessary for finding a religious way into a sustainable future.

Stoll tells a story of Reformed Chris­tianity in America that is inspired by his discovery of a shocking piece of empirical evidence: in what Stoll calls its “glory days” (from 1910 to 1920), nearly all the leaders of the American conservation movement were lapsed Presby­terians, and when that era of conservation gave way to the contemporary environmental movement, it was again lapsed Presby­terians leading the way. Inherit the Holy Mountain provides a historical narrative to explain the importance of these lapsed Presbyterians.