by Jim Furnish
"The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord " Psalm 33:5
It was July 4, 1976, our nation's bicentennial, and I was backpacking in the Never Summer Mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. But despite the park's name summer was here and the last vestiges of alpine lake ice heralded its arrival. As I approached the shore, I could swear I heard the faint tinkling of chimes. Closer inspection revealed that the gently lapping waves were causing the edge of the ice sheet to break into long crystals, perhaps 1518" long, causing the crystals to"rub elbows", creating a beautiful, haunting symphony that to this day chills me. It was as if God was taking pleasure in His creation and allowing me to secretly listen, too. I have never again witnessed this. The beauty of the moment was a poignant testimony to God's blessing us richly with this world.
A Gathering Storm
This was an impressionable time in my life. At 31, I had been employed by the U. S. Forest Service for nearly ten years. I was entertaining doubts about an agency that seemed to show too little appreciation and respect for the splendid natural resources entrusted to it. I believed in God, but I was not yet a Christian, and had many questions and concerns about who Christ really was. As one who had a deepening affection for nature, it bothered me that I seldom heard Christians speak passionately about caring for God's creation. God was, inevitably, to gently meet my deepest longings.
God saved me about 25 years ago, and I feel so blessed by His unmerited grace. The road of progressive sanctification has been a long and sobering one, although filled with joy. I departed the Forest Service in 2002, resigning after 34 years, as a "critical lover," no longer able to abide policies that I believed to be both professionally and spiritually bankrupt and objectionable. It seemed the Forest Service an agency assigned the enviable and weighty stewardship responsibility for a spectacular 8 percent of America " was stuck on a logging treadmill, when the public we served seemed to be screaming for greater sensitivity and focus on clean water, abundant wildlife, naturalness, and "re-creation."
I remain a fervent advocate of using natural resources, but doing so with a tender, humble, and careful approach " and with an abiding appreciation for God's inscrutable creation. I've witnessed far too much excess, greed, and arrogance resulting in exploitation and environmental degradation.
It seems only natural to me that as my heart wakens to the depth of God's gift to me in Christ, that I also see the natural world through new eyes and seek to care for the Earth wisely. I think of it this way - love the Creator, love His creation. The cross of Christ rightly belongs at the center of my faith experience, but I yearn to hear preaching and earnest discussion on our fundamental obligation to know, appreciate, and steward the Earth in God-glorifying ways. I seldom do.
My Christian faith and environmental advocacy came about over time, but I did not begin there. I'd like to describe elements of the odyssey. This is my story of how faith and environmentalism developed and intertwined.
How I Evolved Within the Forest Service
I became a Christian while living in Wyoming in the late 1970's. I'd been in a comfortable seat on the "Good People Go To Heaven" train, until I had a pivotal encounter that led me to understand my profoundly sinful nature and my desperate need for a savior. This awakened an awareness of my own sin and caused me to reassess what I was doing with my life and chosen profession.
The Forest Service has a wonderful mission caring for some of our country's most beautiful and valued lands. Following World War II, the agency had begun an aggressive logging and roadbuilding campaign to help meet demand for the housing boom. The campaign was predicated on a concept of "regulation" - wild, natural forests could betamed through management to provide wood products on a predictable and reliable basis. The favored logging technique was "clearcutting," the removal of all trees from a site. It is an efficient technique, but research has shown that the resulting tree plantations bear little resemblance to a forest. It is also esthetically shocking and offensive to sensibility.
The Forest Service is involved in many other activities that make use of the land, such as grazing, mining, and recreation (like ski areas, many of which - for example Vail, CO " are on public land). In almost every case, sharp battle lines have been drawn as to how much is enough. There are inevitable concerns about the role of commerce and suggestions of improper alliances with industries involved in profiting from access to public resources. Thus, working for the Forest Service involves balancing resource stewardship with consumption.
It is apparent to the most casual observer that this world we live in is based on consumption. Consumption is essential for survival. God has made it so. Yet, the amount we consume and the manner in which we consume distinguish between greed and conservation, gluttony and sufficiency.
Clearcutting trees smacked of greed and gluttony. Dare I say it, it seemed sinful to me. And I was questioning my role and participation in further clearcutting. Increasingly, I became convicted of the notion that there must be better ways to meet our needs for wood products, ways to carefully select a few trees for harvest while retaining a wellfunctioning "forest." And I was provoked by loud public voices expressing disgust and distrust of the Forest Service. I was provoked and challenged by the passion of the environmental movement. It seemed they cared more about national forests than I did. I was confronting an ideological struggle that was gripping the entire agency.
This conflict reached its zenith in the Pacific Northwest because of legal challenges that the Forest Service was causing the demise of the spotted owl. Speaking broadly, the Forest Service was accurately portrayed as clearcutting old-growth forests that were home to spotted owls. Unless interrupted, this course of action seemed to have a certain outcome: no more owls, as well as the loss of countless other species uniquely associated with oldgrowth forests. In 1991, a courageous federal judge, William Dwyer of Seattle, intervened and timber harvesting of national forests plummeted.
Christianity and the Environmental Ethic
Largely lost amid all the legal battles was an emerging voice from the religious community that asserted the spiritual values of forests and their associated life forms - most notably the salmon that returned to the rivers to spawn. The rivers could be thought of as the lifeblood of the land. As both owl and salmon populations dropped precipitously, surely this was telling us something about a lack of wisdom in traditional forestry practice. Might God be seeking to arouse the faithful to fight for His creation?
Although it was seldom discussed openly, the spiritual component of the controversy seemed the deepest and most compelling to me. Were traditional forestry practices "wise"? Were they respectful of basic soil and water resources that support all life? Was collateral damage to owls and salmon acceptable as long as the timber economy didn't have to count those "costs"? There seemed to be mounting evidence that old dogma about how to manage forests was, for all practicable purposes, bankrupt. Traditional thinking had created a morass and was unlikely to solve anything.
The parallel here with Christ challenging the religious traditions of his day was striking to me. Christ sought to have the church adapt to a new truth, thus saving itself in the process. But the religious leaders of his society responded to the threat by rejecting the messenger, the Messiah.
Organizations commonly struggle with change, and I felt I was witnessing the age-old truth that people tend to get attached to comfortable methods and will ride them all the way to the bottom. Even when necessary, people don't let go of the past easily. Regrettably, the dialogue among agency leaders focused on how to reduce negative environmental consequences while retaining as much of the timber industry as possible, thus minimizing job losses. How ironic that even foresters can't see the forest for the trees at times.
Largely neglected was probing the deeper question as to whether policies based on activities redolent of greed needed to be replaced wholesale, rather than just "tweaked" a little here and there. I believed the only way to clean up the train wreck was to lay a new track. This new track would require radically different approaches to managing forests. I actually set out to build such a "new track" and am pleased to report that, 10 years later, the train is traveling at a nice clip to its new destination. I am even more grateful that environmental groups in Oregon (and beyond) now point to the Siuslaw National Forest, where I was Forest Super visor, as a place where true reform worked. They ask why more national forests aren't willing to undertake similar reforms.
I believe that God has seen fit in his love to provide a natural abundance so long as we care for his Earth properly. Simply put " you can have golden eggs, but you can't kill the goose! Whereas many environmentalists I know seem to worship the creation itself, we Christians are called to worship the Creator, and, as is fitting, lovingly care for and respect his creation.
The term "sustainability" has taken on a new cache, but the principle it speaks to in stewarding God's creation is an ancient one. Whether it's in forestry, agriculture, water supply, or power generation, there is a constant tension between the forces of greed and gluttony on the one hand, and humility and conservation on the other. When God gave man dominion over His creation, the responsibility was not to be abused.
I believe the Christian community has a responsibility to advocate for sustainability and sound stewardship. At present, the "Christian Right" is most often characterized as being probusiness and anti-environment, as if the biblical admonition to exercise dominion over the Earth was equated with taking whatever we want no matter the consequences.
Seen more biblically, however, basic principles of humble stewardship include:
Far from being extreme, I believe wedding Christianity with environmentalism is biblical and just plain right. I spent a career learning that this is possible. I am pleased to join my voice with other Christians to proclaim this.
Editor's Note: Jim Furnish is the former Deputy Chief of the U. S. Forest Service and currently serves as aconsultant.
by John Elwood
Yesterday morning, the mail brought Rev. John Stott's final book, "The Radical Disciple." Within hours, Barbara brought me the news that Stott was dead.
Not everyone knows Stott. The more secular readers of the CR, and others of you who follow other religions, might not have heard of him. But many years ago, when I was a high school boy, two Christian writers stood as pillars of guidance for young people exploring the gospel. Of course, there was C.S. Lewis with "Mere Christianity" and dozens of other works. But next in line was John Stott, rector of All Souls Church in London, whose "Basic Christianity" became the authority for living in relationship with God.
Forty years later "The Radical Disciple" arrived at my door (see it here). Writing by hand at age 88 in 2009, and keenly aware of the shortness of time to give us his final, parting guidance, Stott said this:
"Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective; choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority."
And what are those costly areas of life that Stott insists that we bring under the authority of Christ? He mentions eight. But principal among them is "the care of our created environment." Care for creation.
Among the core issues of creation care, Stott puts human-caused climate change as the most important. "Of all the global threats that face our planet," he writes, "this is the most serious."
How can Christians ignore the perils of environmental degradation, and even resist those who labor to protect the earth? Stott confesses that he doesn't know. Citing a younger writer, he says:
"It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they contribute to it."
Well, Dr. Stott, we share your bewilderment. But today, we honor the memory of your life, and the ways you have enriched and guided us. We thank God for lending you to us all these years. And we rededicate ourselves to the call to discipleship so close to your heart.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.
re-posted with permission
John Elwood is the author and publisher of The Clothesline Report that deals with the effects of environmental degradation and climate change.
By Lowell Bliss
I don't remember who first introduced me to this spiritual discipline, but for a few years now, I've found profit in tying a portion of my prayers to random items that I might see during the day. For example, whenever I see a sparrow I let fly a quick prayer for financial provision. (Matthew10:28-31 reminds me how a loving Father cares for little birds and little families.) You can also tie prayers to seasonal sights. It's the height of summer and watermelon are ripening on the vine in our garden. Whenever I see a watermelon, I pray for the Kewat people of Varanasi, North India. While I explain this strange connection, let me invite you to join me in these environmental missions prayers. The Kewat are dear people, badly in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Kewat caste are the "boat people" of the Ganges River. In Varanas itself, they occupy a neighborhood just over the wall from where my family lived for ten years. (In other words, they were our neighbors in every way you could imagine Jesus using that word.) For millennia, the Kewat have fished the river, feeding their families with enough catch left over to sell in the bazaar. But in 1975, the Indian government built the Farraka Barrage downstream in the state of West Bengal. The hilsa fish, which used to swim 850 kilometers and more upstream to spawn, were hindered from traveling as far as Varanasi. The hilsa was the Kewat's main crop and suddenly it was gone. The Kewat had to scramble forother means of livelihood. They tried their hand at weaving silk sarees, a craft for which Varanasi is world-famous, but a different people group, the Ansari Muslims, have a monopoly on saree manufacture and wholesale in Varanasi. Many of the Kewat lapsed into unemployment and widespread alcoholism.
Every year during the summer, right before the monsoon flooding, the Ganges recedes and exposes an extensive sandbar on the east bank across from the city itself. Technically this temporary land is the property of the Maharajah of Benares, but he has granted sole farming rights to the Kewat. The Kewat"men, women, and children"dig rows in this sediment-rich sand. They work in khad, dried cow manure. Those who can afford it, lay irrigation pipe to pump water from the river. Then they plant watermelon, cantaloupe, and long stringy form of cucumber called a khukri. Some of the men and boys sleep out on the sand at night to prevent theft. This form of farming doesn't provide a great deal of income, and some years the crop gets wiped out early by an unreliable monsoon, but it's something.
And so when I see a watermelon growing in my garden in Kansas, I remember the Kewat. There are only a handful of Christian believers among these Hindu people. One of our old teammates, a young lady who for her own protection I'll call Grace, has established a small school program and clinic for the Kewat kids. So please join me in praying for Grace as well.
(As a quick little aside, you may have heard the politics of environmentalists compared derisively to watermelon: "dark green on the outside, red on the inside." My random prayers for the Kewat are my fun way to turn this saying on its head. I'm not a communist; I'm a Christian. And if I'm a watermelon, then I'll be a praying one.)
Lowell Bliss is an environmental missionary, the director of Eden Vigil, and the publisher of the Environmental Missions Prayer Digest available at www.edenvigil.org. Just this month, an answer to prayer itself, he has sent the manuscript of his forthcoming book Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees to the publisher.
by Jonathan Merritt
The following was first published by Christianity Today (November 2010)
Mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining is the biggest environmental problem you've never heard of. A common procedure in the Appalachian region, MTR uses explosives to blow up to 1,000 feet off the tops of mountains to extract layers of coal buried within. Coal companies often push the remaining rock and soil into surrounding valleys, destroying streams"and, often, the lives of destitute people"below.
Enter Deep Down (Forward Films), a documentary that attempts to expose the problem of MTR by hanging human flesh on a complex environmental issue. The film, airing on the PBS series Independent Lens, centers on Beverly May and Terry Ratliff of Maytown, Kentucky, neighbors on opposite sides of the same literal"and philosophical"mountain.
When Miller Brothers Coal Company offers to lease their land for MTR, May turns them down, but Ratliff considers signing on. He's a carpenter with no health insurance or retirement income, so it's easy to understand his interest in an offer of $75,000 to lease six acres.
May sees MTR as an "abomination" that should be outlawed because of its effect on the quality of water, the safety of homes, and the peace of communities. "You're not supposed to blow the top off a mountain and dump the rock and the rubble into the nearest creek," she says. But Ratliff sees mining as a necessary evil to sustain a region that runs on coal.
Rather than punching through a list of statistics or slapping viewers with jarring scenes of devastation, Deep Down approaches the issue in a deeply personal way, looking at lives rather than landscapes, with passionate pleas for a better approach to coal mining.
Especially interesting are the film's theological undertones. An early scene depicts a piece of mining machinery affixed with a JESUS IS LORD banner, a sign of the intersection of theology and creation care.
On one side are those who hold a traditional dominion theology, which asserts that God gave humans the earth solely for their benefit. "I feel God put coal and other natural resources here for a purpose," says Samuel Maggard, vice president of Miller Brothers. "That purpose is for energy requirements and jobs." One woman from a coal-mining family adds, "God gave us resources to use, and coal is one of them" . Texas has oil, Idaho has potatoes, and we have coal."
When faced with the environmental consequences, some respond by saying that God made the earth so resilient that humans could never inflict permanent damage. "No matter how bad we're screwing it up, it will come back," Ratliff says.
On the other side are those who believe that caring for creation is a stewardship mandate from a God who retains ownership of the earth and wants all of life"not just humans"to flourish. As May puts it, "There's a document at the county courthouse that says I own 21 acres on Wilson Creek. But I don't think I own it. Not in the sense that I can dispose of it. It is not a refrigerator. It is not a pair of socks. It's not mine to dispose of. It is mine to take care of, and to protect, and to enjoy, and then to pass on to the next generation"hopefully in better shape than I got it."
The connection between their theologies and their positions on MTR clearly diverge. And this is how mountains become more than just mountains. They are testaments to the glory of their Creator. They are home to some of our nation's poorest citizens. They are rapidly becoming environmental battlefields. More importantly, they are points for theological reflection, which energy-loving Americans cannot afford to ignore.
re-posted with permission
Jonathan Merritt serves and teaches at Cross Pointe Church in Atlanta Georgia. He is also the author of the Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010) and has written many articles in nation-wide magazines. To read more of his work, check out his blog here.
by Tri Robinson
A few days ago a low flying government airplane slowly circled around Timber Butte and through our surrounding foothills. I thought it was conducting the annual winter elk count but later discovered that it was hunting for a small pack of wolves that had killed two young cows on a neighboring ranch. Everyone in the area was on the alert keeping a watch out for their own stock. A little more fuel was added to the ongoing debate concerning the introduction of Canadian Gray Wolves into our state. The increasing wolf population throughout Idaho has created intense controversy over the past ten or so years drawing environmentalists, hunters (especially elk hunters), cattle and sheep ranchers, and politicians to a heated table of intense debate. It has become a polarizing issue; one in which there is difficulty finding middle ground. You either passionately love the wolf or you intensely hate him, and with the exception of a few that is just the way it is. Everyone seems to have an opinion, some being convinced they are essential to the balance of nature while others credit them with devastating entire herds of deer and elk. Living on the side of Timber Butte has given us a perspective that is not nearly so black and white, and in the final analysis I really don't know the answer. I do know I love the idea that I live in a place where wolves can roam freely, but on the other hand would be pretty upset if they killed our livestock. I believe however the controversy over the wolf is rooted out of an ideology much deeper than most of the surface arguments commonly heard.
We have only observed wolves a couple of times up here in the eight or so years we've lived in the area. But, we are constantly aware of the hazards and presence of predators of every type. We have suffered the loss of our barnyard friends to raccoons, badgers, bobcats, foxes and coyotes, and even birds of prey. Besides the carnivores, the deer and elk regularly help themselves to the hay field as well as the orchard. The battle over preserving our food sources from the many diverse populations of hungry wild animals is a way of life here. It is a problem that we've accepted, always believing that it is simply one of the many challenges that comes with country living. Now, I'll be the first to admit self-defense is sometimes a necessity, but mostly for us experiencing the constant presence of wildlife has been a privilege far more than a curse. When we decided to develop a self sustaining homestead it was our intention to live more with the land than off it. There is a difference; a difference which is rooted in a deep inner conviction of stewardship.
When we first started to develop the ranch I knew the only possible way we would be able to successfully have a vegetable garden was to build a fence around its perimeter high and strong enough to hold the deer and elk at bay and tight enough to discourage rabbits, ground squirrels and gophers. I also knew from past experience that we would need a bombproof poultry house to combat the constant nocturnal break-in attempts of hungry varmints; especially during those winter months when field mice are scare and tunneling moles are safely hibernating in their small pockets beneath the ice and snow. I accepted the fact that we would either have to fence in the orchard at a greater expense, or plant enough fruit trees with the attitude that it would be okay to share a little produce with the deer. It didn't help matters that when we chose a south facing hillside to plant our orchard we overlooked the fact that it had been a habitat that served a thriving population of ground squirrels and gophers. They had moved in long before we decided to take dominion over the place. In addition to that we had no way of knowing we would be fighting a seasonal war with clouds of invading grasshoppers that were programmed to eat everything on Timber Butte to the ground nearly every summer. Over the past few years insects and predators of every type have invaded us by air, by land and from under the ground. In some ways our life here has been more equivalent to a war zone than to the tranquil homesteading lifestyle we had idealistically envisioned. Yet, it was our choice to build a homestead on land which served as a wildlife habitat long before we decided to come along. So where is the balance? What is right when it comes to this belief that we are not at war with nature but called to be a functional part of its balance? How can we be in step with it rather than on it?
Only a godly perspective and attitude will discover the middle ground of stewardship. The idea of living off the land rather than with it is rooted in an attitude of entitlement. This attitude says, "Living in nature is my right and I will take from it all that I can no matter the consequence." It is a self serving perspective that motivates the use of toxic chemicals to combat unwanted pests and noxious weeds and other chemicals to stimulate the growth of the things that are wanted. It is generally short sighted and does not consider long range impact on such crucial matters as wildlife welfare, top soil restoration, and ground water quality. The other attitude, the one that demonstrates a desire to live with the land, is one that endeavors to be in harmony with God's intent for his creation. This perspective looks for organic and sustainable solutions for crop production as well as predator and insect control. It is far more challenging and generally more expensive, but it is a demonstration of far sightedness and integrity. It is an attitude of stewardship which is rooted from a heart of gratitude and an appreciation for God's amazing provision. Stewardship removes us from the idea that we are the center of our world and reminds us that we are merely temporary visitors who have been given the great privilege of experiencing life, and maybe even owning a little land - which in reality we are just borrowing while we are here.
When it comes to stewardship I'm not an idealistic environmentalist; I keep a loaded shotgun hanging on the wall ready to take out any over aggressive coyote with a chicken in his mouth. But, I still see myself more as a grateful visitor to the land rather than an entitled lord over it. I am not a believer in the idea of "manifest destiny", the entitlement attitude that nearly brought extinction to the buffalo and beaver, not to mention the American Indian. This is the only earth we will ever have and it is a gift from God; a gift that he told us to use but not abuse. That has been our heart as we endeavor to develop a small non-invasive homestead at Timber Butte. It's our intention to develop it in such a way that it might serve the needs of our family without overly interrupting the natural life that inhabited it before we arrived. It is an attitude that motivates the choices we make and the actions we take. It is our sincere desire to live with the land rather than to live off it.
Tri Robinson is the senior pastor of Boise Vineyard, in Boise, ID. You can check out his adventures at Timber Butte here. Among many endeavours he is the author of Saving God' s Green Earth, which you can find at our Creation Care Store.
Losing my religion---and regaining it through Creation Care
Hi, my name is Anna, and I'm an environmentalist. There, I said it. (You can't get better until you admit you have a problem). As a green-minded Christian, I am frequently misunderstood. Although more people of faith are acknowledging our biblical mandate to be stewards of the earth's resources, this thinking is far from mainstream and action lags even further. With today's polarized political rhetoric, few realize that faith and the environment are not competing interests, but complementary.
Environmentalism is not the enemy. In fact, green is the glue that can pull us back together.
I don't remember when I stopped believing, but I remember when I started. It was the last day of Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church when I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. This event, like I imagine my Methodist christening was nine years earlier (at least for my parents), was full of promise. I think most folks who experience such rites of passage hope they will bring them closer to God, and much of the time they do. The problem for me was not the ceremony. It was what to do after that.
As I matured, I tried to be a team player but was disillusioned by some kids' overzealous, even hollow certainties and judgmental attitudes. It seemed backwards, and I felt my faith waning. Still, there were times I wanted to believe. The counselors at Sky Ranch Christian camp, for example, were so pure and faithful. And yet, I couldn't see how the enlightened few in this idyllic setting tied back to the people in the pews back in Dallas. Inconsistencies, denominational divisions, hypocrisy, and ignorance - who needed it? By the time I turned twenty, I was done.
Is this how it goes losing one's religion? In my own private world I kept Jesus. I just didn't want the rest. As Gandhi explained it, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians."
Then something happened - not a flash of divine inspiration but a slow and steady awakening. At age 31, expecting my first child, I felt a tugging to resurrect my faith and return to the church. It was so clear that I couldn't not respond. This time I was determined to give it a fair chance and took it upon myself to read the Bible in full. Reading it with intentional open-mindedness, I began to understand certain truths. Contemplating in the park, I drew spiritual strength from nature. Reading thinkers from Matthew Sleeth to Brian Mclaren challenged my views about humankind's role here on earth.
Six years after that initial burst of enthusiasm propelled me down this path, I can see how the daily, often mundane acts of sustainable living provided the bedrock foundation for my burgeoning faith. Creation care is faith in action. More than a bridge back to my own faith, it has been a bridge to other people. The crisis that looms came about from the lie that we are separate individuals. The beauty in this is that God, in his infinite wisdom, is showing us that we do in fact need each other.
Eco-consciousness is a gift and to expect everyone to have it is to be disappointed. Today I've learned to be little more creative, to grow a thicker skin. I've come to realize that greening the church must be an inside job. As a change agent, I am a legitimate part of the body, not an aberration. I've even experienced firsthand how rejection can actually prepare the way for new opportunities to worship, to teach, and to learn.
Maybe we were never supposed to get fat and happy in our church buildings, and maybe it's okay that I still don't know where I belong. Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. He said love thy neighbor as yourself. Life as a Christian environmentalist is consistent with this. Reaching out to other people " even those from other faiths " is a good thing if it helps us do the job of restoring the earth. In fact, I'm beginning to believe this was the point all along.
by Daniel James Levy
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
I have always found this passage intriguing, yet almost contradictory in its nature, until around two years ago. Growing up in Christian fundamentalism (there is not a negative connotation attached with this), I had an inadequate view of biblical eschatology; due to this view of eschatology, I never found a reason to take care of the environment. Everything that I was taught on biblical eschatology was interpreted through the framework of Tim LaHaye's Left Behind dispensationalist views. This ingrained within me a view of the world which in turn will one day end in some kind of cataclysmic explosion, which of course included some kind of nuclear missiles, huge machine guns, and the death of trillions of people and animals. After this, God will one day blow up the entire cosmos, just as He spoke it into existence. I remember vividly leaving my youth group one Wednesday night when I was 15 years old, the youth pastor talked about trying to lead people to Christ, to make the world a better place, and so on, but it never made sense in my head. "Why if this world is getting dramatically worst day by day (as his theology taught) would I labor to bring a difference here and now, if it will ultimately do nothing", I said to myself. So when Jesus said He feeds the birds of the air, I could never make sense to why He does. The only reason it could be, was of course, for me.
Things have changed; through much study and tedious laboring in the area of biblical theology as a narrative, I have developed an eschatological view that makes sense with the whole of Scripture as a story. My theological indicative, now, is that God is not laying this world to waste; God loves this world, and one day, in the words of the prophet Habakkuk "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." From this verse and the context, an adequate description of what one day, the Lord will do to the earth, is where I have derived a lot of my eschatological views (also, of course, because of themes presented in Isaiah, Daniel, Matthew, Colossians, and Revelation); this, is a theology of restoration, hope, and renewal. How do the waters cover the sea? The waters are the sea. God, speaking through His oracle Habakkuk is saying that one day, He will be all in all, yet other than the all. God is saying that He is restoring the world not through a third party means, but by the radiance of His glory. Because of this ethic of the renewal of the heavens and the earth, I strive now by God's Holy Spirit in preparation of the full manifestation of God's kingdom. Due to this theological indicative, I think that we are God's image bearer's have a duty to take care of the environment, furthermore, I find this is consistent and harmonious with a biblical view of narrative-covenantal eschatology.
Stassen and Gushee in their book, Kingdom Ethics, present statistics regarding the degradation of the environment, different ethical approaches to taking care of the environment, and lastly, their theological position.
To begin, Stassen and Gushee present the reality of the problem. We, though we are called to be God's stewards in the world, are not doing a grand job at it. The degradation of the environment is so terrible that "every day the worldwide economy burns an amount of energy the planet required 10,000 days to create." Furthermore, because of the backlash of the mechanical industry "several forms of childhood cancers have risen sharply in the last fifteen years in the United States: brain tumors are up more than 30 percent, leukemia is up 10 percent, and testicular cancer is up 60 percent. Cancer is now the second leading cause of childhood death." Our lack of stewardship, greed, and selfishness (which Jesus clearly condemns in Matthew 6) has caused a cancer in the planet, that we, as God's image bearers, are responsible for.
The creation ethics presented by Stassen and Gushee were intriguing in, Kingdom Ethics. The authors present different normative ethical approaches to this matter. I will list these and briefly explain them.
The first creation ethic presented in their book is the anthropocentric approach. The anthropocentric approach places humans at the center of concern; this view is explicit and thoroughgoing in its logic in stating that God created the universe for us, and we have dominion over it. The only passion and drive for maintaining creation is for us presently and furthermore, future generations. This view states that only humans have intrinsic value and utilities such as land, air, and water, only have worth according to their utilitarian value in relation to serving human good.
The second view presented is the biocentric approach. The biocentric approach affirms that not only do creatures have intrinsic value, but also affirms they have equal value to humans. People who hold to this creation ethic normally hold to a Buddhistic, Daoistic, or Hindu worldview. This philosophy undermines biblical theism because it explicitly states that God is creation (which seems to be quite the vocabulary contradiction). This view proposes a philosophy that states God is not other-than us, rather, he is us. People with this ethic normally worship the creation, rather than the creator.
The third approach mentioned, is the theocentric approach. This view rejects both the anthropocentric and biocentric approaches. The theocentric approach puts an explicit emphasis on all of creation finding its worth and value by being within God's community. Furthermore, it teaches that God is not just creator, but He is also sustainer, which shows that He thoroughly cares for creation. Interestingly, certain proponents of this view hold to a theological indicative which is contra revelation in Holy Writ, by stating that the earth will one day be destroyed; this conviction is derived by the second law of thermodynamics.
The fourth view presented is the process and feminist approach. This view, briefly, puts an emphasis on the transcendence of God (in the sense that He's greater than and sovereign over the creation), but that God, is also dynamically involved in creation by developing and caring for it by moving it towards its future. It puts a thorough emphasis humans being mandated by God to care for creation.
The fifth and last view presented, is the view that Stassen and Gushee hold to, and I, furthermore, would agree with them in it. This view is entitled the covenantal perspective. This perspective, which is endorsed by scholars such as N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, and Jurgen Moltmann puts an emphasis on the covenant God made with all creation after the flood (the sign being the rainbow) and that Israel's covenant with God includes duties (as the true humanity) to maintaining the non-human creation. It states that we are participants with God in the taking care of the environment and that we, being apart of God's stewards within the world, are supposed to be a reflection of His nature in the world, which includes His care for the creation.
In conclusion, a video that I watched, New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, proposes a thought. He gives the example of a person moving into a far away country, this person does not learn the language when we he/she is already there, the person is supposed to learn it now, so that upon arrival this person is already at home. It is so with the kingdom of God. We are now living and preparing for the full manifestation of God's kingdom. Therefore, let us, as the people who are living by the ethic of the living Triune God, radiate with His love for His creation, by the Spirit, through the Son, and to the glory of the Father. So that in this action, people will see who He is through us, and lastly, so that we will be at home when the time comes that God's oracle foresaw; the time when "the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea."
What do you think? Is it important to take care of the environment? Join the discussion.
Grace and peace,
Stassen, Glen, and David Gushee. Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2003. Print.
by Scott Sabin, Executive Director, Plant with Purpose
When I first got involved at the interface of Christian development work and the Christian environmental movement fifteen years ago, voices were few and the audience skeptical. Thankfully, that is rapidly changing. There is a ground-swell of Christians who see care for creation as a vital part of their walk with Christ. However, as I talk to people, I still hear three common myths, which I will address in turn.
MYTH 1: ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN WILL CAUSE YOU TO WORSHIP THE CREATION INSTEAD OF THE CREATOR
I have always found this puzzling. Wilderness and nature have the opposite effect on me. My involvement has taught me about the incredible intricacy and complexity of God's creation, reminding me of His attributes and my own humble place. "What is man that you are mindful of him?" (Ps. 8:4). It is probably no accident that so many of us became Christians while at camp, where, as we learned of God's love for us, we could look up and see that "the Heavens declare the glory of God." (Ps. 19:1). Or where, as we sat in humility, like Job, somewhere inside us a voice asked "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" (Job 38:4). For centuries, creation has been understood to be part of God's general revelation, something that He called good, and which according to Paul, provides enough evidence of Him to leave us without excuse.
Indeed, I have never met a Christian who was tempted to worship creation. Instead I have met many Christian biologists and ecologists who have helped me to rediscover awe, wonder and mystery in creation, and to see the signature of the Creator in unexpected places. Far from straying from the Bible, one of the things that surprised me was how much these scientists used scripture and relied on it in their understanding of our role in taking care of the earth.
MYTH 2: YOU CAN'T CARE ABOUT BOTH PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
At Floresta, it was our concern for the poor and hungry that led us inevitably towards caring for their environment. In our affluence, Americans have often been shielded from the consequences of our environmental decisions. If water is scarce or contaminated we can pay to pipe it across the country and purify it. If soil is degraded we can pay for fertilizers and amendments. The cost of seafood goes up, but you can still find your favorite delicacy. Because we are buffered from direct feedback, we tend to forget that the environment is our life-support system.
But the poor immediately feel the effects of environmental degradation, whether through drought induced by climate change, chronic diarrhea due to contaminated water, malaria epidemics exacerbated by deforestation, or myriad other examples. Any response to the needs of poor people that hopes to be sustainable must consider the environment. Conversely, in the developing world, any sustainable conservation effort must consider the needs of the poor. I hope to be exploring this relationship between poverty and the environment more deeply in future issues of this magazine. People and creation are part of the same system, and intimately connected.
MYTH 3: DEEP DOWN THIS IS ALL ABOUT A POLITICAL AGENDA.
There are policy issues with immense bearing on the health of creation, which I believe that we should take very seriously. However, much of what is going on around the globe transcends politics, or defies easy political classification.
For example, environmentalism is often depicted as being against private property. Yet at Plant with Purpose we have found ourselves advocating for property rights. Poor farmers who have the right to use wood and products from trees they plant will be much more likely to plant and care for them in the first place. Similarly poor farmers are more effective stewards of land that they are assured of being able to use in the future. But in other situations, government protection might make most sense.
The idea that stewardship and conservation are part of a liberal agenda seems ludicrous in much of the developing world. I remember the shock on our Dominican director's face when I first tried to explain the suspicion with which many of our American donors regarded the environmental aspects of our work. The issues just don't line up the same in Latin America or Africa. Being free of the political baggage that we carry here in the US, many of our brothers and sisters of in the developing world are way ahead of us in their understanding of stewardship.
Americans who are not ready to change votes or party affiliations can still be good stewards and creation care advocates. There are dozens of lifestyle choices that have nothing to do with politics. All of us can live more simply, drive less, recycle, buy food locally, etc. In our churches we can bring attention to the scriptural basis for stewardship"many Bible studies exist. We can encourage our churches and workplaces to reduce their own consumption and waste. And we can support organizations like the Evangelical Environmental Network, A Rocha, Care of Creation, or Plant with Purpose, which balance the focus on politics by working directly in endangered or vulnerable corners of creation.
God has called all of us to be stewards of the earth and in so doing to love our neighbors. There is a place for all of us to respond to Him.
Scott C. Sabin is the executive director of Floresta, a Christian nonprofit organization that reverses deforestation and poverty in the world by the transforming the lives of the rural poor (www.plantwithpurpose.org)