In the previous two newsletters, I outlined seven rationales for why Christians should care about the environment. They are all compelling, but if the church is going to get folks talking about creation care and motivate increasing numbers of us to take our roles as stewards of the earth more seriously, we need more than secular arguments with a Christian gloss. We need robust theological and biblical reasons to care for creation. The final three rationales Steven Bouma-Prediger offers—as detailed in the penultimate chapter of For the Beauty of the Earth—are specifically theological. So, without further ado…
Reason 8: “God Says So”
Bouma-Prediger believes we have a divine command to care for creation, rooted in Genesis 2:15, which he translates as: “God created humankind to serve and protect the earth.” We are commanded to keep the earth and all that is on it in the same way God promises to keep us in the Aaronic blessing. This includes sabbath not just for us but for every created thing. It eschews exploitation so as to preserve the land’s fruitfulness.
For those of us who strive to be obedient to God, this rationale is straightforward. The critic might question our criteria for determining which commands we follow and which we ignore. Why follow a sabbath for land in Leviticus 25 when we don’t follow Leviticus 19:27-28 regarding our hair styles, beards, or even tattoos? It’s not like this is one of the 10 Commandments. Even if we resolve this tension, even if we accept the command to serve and protect the earth, how do we discern God’s will in specific situations? These are complex questions (and we should be talking about them in church).
Reason 9: “God’s Concerns Are Our Concerns”
Building on the concept of imago Dei, this argument states that we are called to show the kind of care that God exhibits and have dominion over creation in the way God has dominion over us, “with care and compassion, remembering his covenant of love and listening for and hearing the cries of the suffering and the oppressed.” Bouma-Prediger argues earlier in his book that because God’s care and compassion extend beyond humans and since God provides for all creatures, this should also be the scope of our concern.
Perhaps we can all agree that we are image-bearers who exercise dominion over life on this planet. And most of us understand dominion (radah in Hebrew) to be more about stewardship than about using creation solely to meet our own needs and desires. But a critic might note again that the imago Dei privileges humans over the rest of creation. If God values us “more than lizards or conifers… so should we.” Furthermore, a critic could argue that God’s concern is first and foremost about saving souls and feeding and healing those in need. Advancing those agendas should matter more than rescuing an endangered species or protecting the forest.
Here Bouma-Prediger states, “Care for the earth should never be construed as somehow anti-people.” Even more, since each part of creation is interdependent on other parts, caring for creation really is pro-people, even pro-life. It is how we will sustain ourselves (including, per reason seven, the poor and oppressed) into the future.
Reason 10: “For the Beauty of the Earth”
This rationale can be described as the “grateful heart argument.” The idea is simple: “Care for the earth and its inhabitants is a fitting response of gratitude for creatures who experience God’s bountiful and gracious provisions.” An old hymn states it well, saying for all that God provides, including the beauty of the earth, “Lord of all, to Thee we raise; this our hymn of grateful praise.”
From the title of his book, we can assume that Bouma-Prediger finds this to be the most compelling argument. He writes: “Grace begets gratitude, and gratitude begets care.” This planet is filled with beauty and includes what every lifeform on it needs to survive. This is grace indeed.
After citing Calvin on the glories of creation and the Heidelburg Catechism on gratitude as our motivation as Christians, he notes that the only legitimate criticism he finds for this rationale comes from those for whom creation is not seen as a manifestation of divine grace. But I think Christians would all agree it is a pretty impoverished understanding of creation to not see “hill and vale, tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light” as gifts from our Creator.
...Eschatology—the idea that our ultimate destiny lies in heaven, not on earth—for many suggests that creation care is only of secondary importance. Bouma-Prediger responds in this BioLogos article.
...Are you considering preaching on creation care? This lectionary based resource may help you.
...The Lausanne Movement has produced this 12-part video curriculum that offers a global perspective on caring for creation.
The Cumulative Case
Like Bouma-Prediger, I have offered these 10 reasons (in similar, but not identical order) “not merely to explain or analyze these arguments.” Rather, I offer them “to present a cumulative case for earth-care.” Utilizing ethics, science, scripture, and theology, these arguments paint a picture of why this is so important. Whatever motivates us—care of self or neighbor, scientific knowledge or biblical authority, red or blue politics, our parents or children, fresh air or retail therapy—there should be at least one rationale that resonates for each of us.
Beyond Katharine Hayhoe’s exhortation that we talk about it, I have not yet addressed what to do if we feel obligated to act. There are many ideas and resources out there—steps we can take as individuals and as churches, communities, and beyond. Science for the Church’s standard model, which pairs pastors and scientists, can help your church begin to sort through all the possibilities.
But for now, as trusted church leaders, in gratitude to the God who put us in charge of this beautiful earth, let’s begin to talk about it. Use these rationales, their strengths and weaknesses, in small groups, sermons, and fellowship hall conversations. Write about them in newsletters, sing about them in worship, and pray about them together and alone with God.
The cumulative case is strong; let’s take the first step as a church and let those inside and outside our buildings hear us talking about it.
And once we are talking, let’s begin planning our second step.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.