In several lengthy discussions that I’ve had with friends and colleagues over my new interest in environmental stewardship, inevitably we begin discussing the stereotypes of environmental activists. Being raised in West Texas my whole life, I haven’t really encountered very many individuals that would be classified as environmental activists, but I’ve certainly heard my fair share of disparaging political epithets: hippy, environmentalist wacko, tree hugger, ecoterrorist, econazi, etc.
If you have a personal conviction to care for God’s creation and feel that abuse to the environment is tantamount to desecrating a temple of God then you may be offended by such terms. I wouldn’t blame you. But there is also the very real concern that environmental activism might be concomitant with the deification of nature. Some of the people I talk to have reminded me that the much of the theology of popular environmentalism comes from humanism, paganism and pantheism
As a friend stated on the last blog entry,
It's too bad that over the last 2-3 decades, environmentalism has been appropriated by a mainly leftist political crowd and propped up as a kind of secular religion. Environmentalism is for everybody, and conservatives have a lot to bring to the table on this issue. Christians too.
I believe it is possible to respect God’s creation in the same way that we respect other temples of God without deifying them and treating them as a god, outright. We are called to sanctify the church, the altar of God, and even our own bodies.
So, instead of beginning with the love of nature and its beauty as a motivation of environmental stewardship, I think the best place to begin is in Scripture. After all, the love of the outdoors has not come naturally to the “indoorsman” city-boy that I am. If I do end up an environmental activist (yikes, that still scares me) it will be as one who moved from environmental indifference to environmental concern as a result of my faith and not as one who started out concerned about the environment and added my faith to the reasons for that concern.
By the way, I am still deliberately avoiding any statement or position on the many hot-button environmental issues such as climate change, over-population, deforestation, etc. My reasoning goes back to the fact that the starting place for creation care is the stewardship of God’s world out of respect and honor for Him. Concern for nature and the world God created seems to be one of our responsibilities as God’s children with or without a crisis on our hands.
Below are several passages that I’ve begun meditating upon that deal with humanity’s relationship to creation and creation’s relationship to God. Please note that relating any of these passages to environmentalism can only be done in an honest and accurate interpretation of Scripture. The most basic of principles that I hold to when interpreting scripture is that a passage cannot be made to say something that was not intended by the original author. It must fit into the context in which it is given as well as in its genre. The application of Scripture to our lives must flow out of the original meaning to the original audience.
The following were collected and compiled by the Evangelical Environmental Network and Creation Care Magazine. You can download the original document from the Evangelical Environmental Network. These will serve as a devotional guide for the next few entries on environmental stewardship.
Jesus Christ’s Relationship to All of Creation: Creator, Sustainer, Reconciler, Consummator, true Imago Dei, Heir of all things, Lord
Creation Declares the Glory of God
The Old Testament Proclaims God as Creator
The Earth is the Lord’s
- Colossians 1:16b
- Hebrews 1:2
- I Corinthians 10:26
- Psalm 24:1
- Leviticus 25:23
- Deuteronomy 10:14
- I Chronicles 29:11-12
- Nehemiah 9:6
- Isaiah 66:1-2
Christian Love and Justice
- Colossians 1:20
- II Corinthians 5:14-21
- Philippians 2:4-8
- Luke 4:18-19
- John 13:34
- I John 4:7-8
- Matthew 25:34-45
- Luke 6:31
- Micah 6:1-4, 7-8
- Jeremiah 22:3
- Psalm 72:1, 12-14a
- Matthew 22:37-40
God Provide for and Desire’s Sufficiency and Contentment for the Rest of Creation
- Psalm 104:10-30
- Genesis 1:20-25
- Genesis 6:19-21
- Genesis 9:8-17
- Exodus 23:12
- Leviticus 25:1-7
- Job 38:39-41
- Job 39:5-8
The Interrelationship Between Humanity and the Rest of Creation
- Psalm 65:1, 9-13
- Psalm 104:13-15, 21-24
- Genesis 1:24-31; 2:1
- Genesis 2:7-9a, 15, 19-20a
- II Chronicles 7:13-14
The Rest of Creation Harmed by Humanity’s Sin
God’s Future Kingdom: a New Creation
At Wayland, there has been an increased emphasis on the need to "go green". I'll admit to having inherited a very West Texas conservative viewpoint on the environment. I'll even go so far as to admit not giving it much thought at all and just taking for granted the natural resources that are available to me.
So, what is a West Texas conservative viewpoint on the environment? Allow me to attempt to describe what I think it is and please don't necessarily take the following as truth or even a fair representation of what I currently believe. And while this is by no means universal in this part the world, it’s certainly not uncommon.
If I can afford it, I can use it. If it's on my land, then I can do with it what I want. The climate change issue is too controversial. In spite of a vast scientific consensus among climatologists, the issue has become so politicized that I doubt the integrity of the scientists involved in the debate. Is it warming, is it cooling, is it natural, is it man-made? I don't know because I haven't paid close enough attention. But if I allow myself to fall along party-lines, like I do on so many issues, then it may or may not be warming but it's unlikely to be caused by man."
Of course, climate change isn't the only issue. There's deforestation, there's the massive extinction of animal life on the planet, there's a significant decrease in the availability of fresh water, there's pollution, and so much more. If you listen to most environmentalists, we are doomed. If you listen to the rest, we are at the very least at a crisis in human history. The vast number of humans on this planet have reached the point that they are a geologic force changing the landscape, the ecosystem of the oceans, and the atmosphere.
Are these real issues? Should I really be concerned? I honestly haven't decided yet. But I have a renewed interest in finding out what I believe.
At Wayland, we've had a couple of guests to our campus within the last two weeks, both of whom are founders of the organization called Care of Creation. It is their goal to make Christians aware environmental issues and to promote their involvement in helping to become stewards of the environment. Also, at Wayland we have begun an Environmental Stewardship Bible Study in which several faculty and staff members are participating. In preparation for participating in the Bible Study, for attending the talks by our guests, and for completing a two-day workshop on environmental stewardship, I've begun doing a lot of reading in this area.
I have chosen to use my blog to document my journey down this road. I may very well end up where I started but most certainly, by the end, I will have made some decisions and will have reached place where I can reasonably defend my positions. Here is a brief survey of some of the questions that have arisen in my thought process about which I hope to reach a conclusion:
- Does the Bible provide a foundation for environmental concern within the believer?
- There is clearly a call to exercise dominion over creation and a reasonable case can be made that we should not abuse and destroy God's creation. Where is the line between cultivation and abuse?
- Free markets are amazing for the development of new ideas to deal with societal and even environmental problems. But they seem to be inevitably entangled with the problem of greed. Free markets have polluted the environment and lead to the deposition of toxic chemicals into drinking water and caused major illnesses because of their disregard for people and their ultimate regard for the bottom line. Is the free market the best and sole solution to potential environmental crises?
- Is the alleged environmental crisis important enough to be a central ministry of the church or do we need "to keep the main thing, the main thing"?
Here's something I already know: We are called to be stewards of many things as followers of Christ: stewards of our lives, stewards of our talents and gifts, stewards of our families, and stewards of our finances. God is creator and this world was deemed "good" by Him. We should take care of this Earth, a gift that He gave us to live on. The resources of this world are a gift and we are to be stewards of the Earth just as much as of our lives, family, finances and homes.
There is much, much more to come.