My Father's World
With the My Father's World teaching series I've attempted to lay a foundation for thinking biblically about creation. Without wanting to get lost in the weeds of specific issues, I've tried to create a simple framework to engage with creation concerns.
1. God, through Christ, created the heavens and the earth and tasked us to rule and subdue (Genesis 1, esp. vv26-28).
2. God values his creation (Genesis 1:31), and we are tasked with caring for something God deems valuable (Genesis 2:15). Consequently, Christians do not need a crisis to care for the world. As God keeps us (Numbers 6:24-26), we care for creation.
3. Creation concerns are relational concerns first and foremost because the fall negatively impacted our relationship to one another and the creation (Genesis 3).
4. Christ reconciled all things to himself (Colossians 1:15-20), and the hope of renewal applies to creation too (Romans 8). God will make all things new (Isaiah 65 and 66; Revelation 21), and that process begins right now as 'new creations' (Galatians 6:14-15; 2 Cor. 5:15-20) live out the values of the new creation, values summarized by Peter as 'holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11).
Joseph Sittler wrote, "Unless the reference and the power of the redemptive act include the whole of man's experience and environment, straight out to its farthest horizon, then the redemption is incomplete." J. B. Phillips once challenged believers with the line, "Your God is too small." If the vision for our life only includes people, our people, then our redemption is too small. Christ's redemption impacts all things, and the task of the Christian is to live that out in a way that makes a positive impact upon all things, including creation.
This weekend Pastor Weston Stutz of Captivate Church will look at how Jesus lived out this grander vision. Hebrews 2:5-11 points out that the one to whom all of creation was subject 'subjected' himself (2:5, 8) so that in the humiliation of his death, the penalty of sin would be paid through the vindication of his resurrection, the power of sin would be defeated. Through Christ, humanity would no longer be subject to the controlling power of sin and, by living as the new creation that they have become, could demonstrate the values of the new kingdom. God's intent would be for them to usher in His rule and reign where they live and while they live. John perfectly sums up how to achieve such a goal: "in this world, we are like Jesus" (1 John 4:17).
N.T. Wright wrote, "If you want to know the meaning of creation, look at humans, but if you want to know the meaning of being human, look at Jesus." Only as we live like Jesus can we ever hope to push back our preoccupation with ourselves. Unfortunately, such a self-centered preoccupation stands at the heart of many (though not every) ecological challenges our world faces.
You may have seen the VW commercial for its new electric car, the ID.4. The tagline in that commercial goes something like, "Before it can change the world it has to change yours." My daughter recently purchased an electric vehicle, and she echoes that sentiment. The switch to electric has required a fundamental rethinking of the way she plans a trip. When she went electric, she didn't just change cars; she changed the way she lives and moves.
Coming to Christ requires a fundamental rethinking of how we live and for what we live. If we ignore the full scope of Christ's redemption, we are guilty of making redemption too small.
Some Next Steps
While it was never the intent of this series to get into the weeds, I want to seize the opportunity to point you toward further reading. What follows are books and materials I have found helpful as I've made my way through this series. These five recommendations are a small sample of what's available.
1. Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World ©2018 by D.J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo.
This is an excellent general resource on the topic. We planned to have Dr. Douglas Moo in to speak on this topic just as COVID hit. This book goes into the issues I tackled far more thoroughly than I could. The book is deep without being heady, and it's thorough without getting you lost in the weeds. It takes a few trails that I don't find necessary, but all in all, this is a great resource.
2. Christ and the Created Order ©2018 by Andrew B. Torrance and Thomas H. McCall.
This is more of an academic book. Looking at the theological, biblical and historical, philosophical, and scientific perspectives, the editors invite experts from various fields to share their thoughts on creation. The intent is to advance the conversation through the lens of the incarnation. It's undoubtedly more academic, but there are some real nuggets here, like Ruth M. Bancewiz's chapter (16). I found myself positively inspired by these words:
"God the Son became an embryo, and submitted to the same processes of development that we all went through. As Mary became a mother for the first time, God assumed humanity in all its organic fragility and gave dignity to biological material like nothing else could. When Jesus walked the earth, he became part of the ecological network of creation, using the same genetic code as every other living organism, the same cellular machinery, and the same vital organs as so many other animals. In coming to Earth, Christ was truly one of us and submitted to the same laws of physics that affect every particle of the universe, but he was not bound by them." (p.278)
Some chapters are hard work, but others are simply inspirational.
3. Plundering Eden: A Subversive Christian Theology of Creation and Ecology ©2020 by G.P Wagenfuhr.
I had a love/loathe relationship with this book. I loved the fact that the book's heartbeat was the importance of redemption and reconciliation (chapter 11) and a call to embrace the kingdom fully. Wagenfuhr is clearly on a mission to get people to live counter to the destructive philosophy of the world. I applaud that. That said, I found myself at odds with him at numerous points. He labels humanity as cosmic parasites and seems to support the view that sin mangled the image of God (something I'm not convinced it does). His call for Christians to flee the city (chapter 12 onwards) and the system that feeds her is why the book title has the word subversive When referencing the prayer for God to give us our daily bread, he writes:
"I do not seriously think Jesus is asking us to pray that God would work through the complexities to provide enough money to buy food to eat on a regular basis. This is not dependency upon God, but upon the human system, which is full of anxiety. The feeding of the five thousand reveals the kingdom of God by the abundance come through sharing under the authority of Christ." (p. 159)
There's so much one could say in response to that. Still, it illustrates where Wagenfuhr is heading—out of the cities, out of the technological landscape, and into the wilderness where we'll live dependent upon God, not the corrupt world system. This is a book for those who like seeing where some ecologically-minded conservative thinkers would lead us.
Wagenfuhr needs to show that his (subversive) conclusion is the logical end of the Scriptures to get where he lands. He tackles some meaty themes to do so, and while some of his thoughts are genuinely brilliant, other aspects of the book raised my eyebrows a little. In chapter 10, temptation and sin, for example, he complains that our understanding of temptation and sin is driven more by Paul than Genesis. He invites us on a journey into Genesis but promptly jumps to the synoptic account of Jesus's temptation to frame the Genesis story. I understand why he'd bring Jesus's and Adam and Eve's temptation together, but he didn't need to get me to move away from Paul to achieve the satanic angle he wanted me to embrace. He could have done a word study on 'subdue' and show the need for an enemy in the land for the word to work consistently throughout the Old Testament. At least that would have been consistent with what he said he was going to do. This is pretty symptomatic of the way the book unfolds. At essential junctures, I found myself wondering how he got there from here. His argument felt a little stretched. There again, maybe I thought that because I didn't like where he was taking me? There's a lot of Christ and the kingdom in this book, which I applaud. However, I do not like where he ends up. He's got a vision for the church, but one wonders how we reach the world in the cities when saving the planet requires us to escape them?
4. Ecology, Virtue, and Ethics: An Introduction to Christian Environmentalism ©2014 by K. D. Blanchard and K.J. O'Brien
Written for those who already believe that humanity is called to take care of God's creation, the authors suggest a value-driven approach to caring for creation. From the outset, there's a little confusion with the intent of the book. On page 3, they say, "This book is for Christians who already believe that human beings are called to take care of God's creation, but who struggle with the specifics of how to do this in private and public life" (emphasis mine). Yet a few pages later, they write: "This is not a book of straightforward answers to environmental problems, because complex problems to not have simple solutions, and because virtue ethics is about who we are before it is about what we do" (p. 9, emphasis mine). If you are like me, you often read a few pages of the introduction to see where the book is going to go and if you like where they say they are heading, you buy it. However, if you purchase this book for specific answers, you will be disappointed because there are none.
This book uses a values-driven approach to problem-solving, and they have a somewhat unique approach. The authors suggest seven virtues as a means to tackling seven specific ecological problems.
1. Prudence – to tackle issues of selfishness and stewardship.
2. Courage – to tackle fossil fuels and alternate energies.
3. Temperance – to tackle food production and personal consumption.
4. Justice – to tackle environmental injustice.
5. Faith – to tackle climate change.
6. Hope – to live between despair and presumption about the global population.
7. Love – to live between public protest and personal transformation.
They conclude by repeating the point that it's tough to know where to start on all of these issues. This reality, they say, is why infusing our lives with these seven virtues is the best thing we can do to care for creation positively. While not explicitly addressing the issues of how to impact creation positively, such a conclusion points to the main problem: "We can't change the world until we change ours." It's here that I feel we land right back at 2 Peter 3:11: "live holy and godly lives." The value of Blanchard and O'Brien's book is that they flesh out what that looks like in the context of creation care.
5. “Creation, Preservation, and Dominion—part 1,2,3” by A.S. Kulikovsky, Journal of Creation Volume 23:1,2,3 ©2009.
These three articles can be freely downloaded online. These articles tackle creational issues from a Biblical perspective, with each article building on the other. While I disagree with his conclusions and where these conclusions take him on specific topics (for example, his explanation of 'subdue' and 'dominion' allow him to treat the world as a resource in the way Wagenfuhr (above) critiques), I like the head-on way he tackles many of the issues we're dealing with today. There's not much in these articles that help us discern the specific things we can do, but they are helpful because they show how a theological basis can address more significant issues. Be warned, some of his illustrations are a little dated. For example, his first paper points to the Hoover Dam and the importance of damming the Colorado River. I read, just this week, of people questioning the validity of the Dam in light of the severe drought the Western USA is facing. My point is, when reading articles written over a decade ago, some of the observations feel a little dated. When that's the case, try and extrapolate the principles behind the illustrations. Kulikovsky is an excellent foil to Wagenfuhr.
Finally, and Specifically.
Through the series, it's been a joyful surprise to discover how many people are involved in caring for creation. I'm going to finish this blog by including suggestions I've received from our congregation. Be warned: these come to you as is—unfiltered—as examples of specific steps we could take recommended from people I worship alongside. As you discern what caring for creation looks like for you, think through what's written below.
1. Gardening, hunting, fishing, beekeeping, and wild foraging. All of these things reduce the impact of the large farming industry has on the environment through the heavy use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Not only is growing and procuring your own food an important aspect and skill for environmental stewardship it is also much healthier for you.
2. Using natural based fertilizer opposed to chemically manufactured ones and avoid using herbicides. Use cardboard and the sun to kill plants and weeding. Local gardening clubs or community gardens are a simple and easy option for those with little to no space. Not eating fast food due to large farming.
3. Recycling—and doing it the right way by rinsing and knowing what is and isn't recyclable. This can include normal plastics and paper products but also large items like carpet which if not recycled will sit in a landfill for hundreds of years before breaking down.
4. Using more glassware and other reusable products (reusable pouches, refillable K-cups) and removing plastics and paper waste from your home and life. This reduces landfill waste, logging, and buildup of plastics that take hundreds of years to biodegrade (i.e., paper plates, dryer sheets, plastic containers, napkins, detergents, K-cups, 1 time use items, plastic bags, diapers, etc.)
5. Gaining knowledge of the world around you and getting outside to see and experience why it is important.
6. Getting involved and volunteering your time with local parks, preserves, and nature centers to help with invasive species removal, education, clean ups, etc.
7. Buy locally made (or U.S. made) products to avoid the shortcuts other countries use in the manufacturing process of daily used products. This is also a humanitarian issue as slave and child labor is still alive and well overseas.
8. Using alternative energy sources for home and businesses (much more cost effective for businesses).
9. Creating habitat for native pollinators and wildlife by using solitary bee houses, bat houses, and butterfly houses.
10. Buy clothes second hand as the fashion industry has excessive water use, CO2 emissions, animal testing, waste and pollution (2700 liters of water to 1 kg of cotton).
11. Downgrading your home and possessions opposed to upgrading to bigger with less used space and waste (Francis Chan quote from Crazy Love: The concept of downsizing so that others might upgrade is biblical, beautiful...and nearly unheard of).
12. Composting food waste using compost bins or bio bins (worm compost).
13. Leave riparian zones at edge of ponds, rivers, and lakes as this helps reduce runoff and erosion and creates vital habitat to animals integral to maintaining a healthy ecosystem.