by Lauren Crane
What is the role of believers in caring for creation?
The connection between God’s creation and God’s image-bearers was the topic of a recent conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Creation Care: A Theology of Creation Stewardship explored the historical approaches by Christians to creation care, the current need for good stewardship and the various issues associated with creation care.
The conference was sponsored by Southeastern’s L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and consisted of four major speakers in the field, followed by panel discussions of their lectures. Dr. David Cook, a Fellow at Green College in Oxford and Professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville and Wheaton College, opened the conference by addressing the need for creation stewardship from a theological standpoint.
“God gave value to creation itself,” Cook said. He said that human beings, as the highest part of the created order, can “reflect on creation and what we’ll do with creation. What makes us special? We were created by God for God. We are image-bearers. We were made from dust and destined for glory.”
Cook said that in the Garden of Eden, man and woman were in perfect harmony with the rest of God’s creation, until sin entered in. “We were created to care for that world. Now, it’s a struggle.
“We’re meant to show people how to live, in relation to God, to each other and to the world. We cannot do that apart from community,” Cook said. “As a Christian community, we need to partner with each other; we need to inspire each other.”
Calvin DeWitt, a conservationist and environmental scientist, said that as Christians, people should be concerned with truth-seeking. Looking at a number of the issues associated with creation and the environment, DeWitt said, “Earth is our home. There are so many things we have yet to uncover, and we have to do it with diligence, precision, awe and wonder. I’m interested, not in how I’d like the world to be designed, but how God put it all together.”
DeWitt said the proper human response to creation can be found in Genesis 2:15, which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
This is the created order, DeWitt said, that man should care for the rest of creation, and there is great value in the creation order.
There are many who say the passage in Genesis wrongly sets man against creation, said Steven Bouma-Prediger. Bouma-Prediger is a professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion Department of Theology and Ethics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Speaking on some of the arguments against Christians in terms of environmental care, he looked at the reasons people often give for why Christians are not more concerned with the environment and what believers can do to refute those ideas.
“Many believe that Christian eschatology underwrites the exploitation of the earth,” Bouma-Prediger said. This idea that in the end times, believers will no longer be concerned with the earth, but solely with heaven, is what many non-Christians see as a stumbling block to Christians being involved in creation care. “The focus on the falling away of the earth encourages exploitation of this temporary planet, they believe.”
“Problems abound with these arguments,” he said. “In God’s good future will the earth be destroyed?Biblical eschatology affirms the restoration and recreation of creation.The eschatology is not that the believers will stay up in the air – they will go out to meet the Lord and escort him back to this domain.”
Saturday morning of the conference, Rusty Pritchard, a resource economist and the president and co-founder of Flourish, an environmental stewardship organization that equips churches to care for creation in ways that love God and help people, closed the conference by offering suggestions as to how Christians ought to respond to the creation care issues.
“I have become convinced more and more that the way we live is not just unsustainable, or bad for the planet, but it’s less than human,” Pritchard said. “God delights in his creatures. How can we delight in creation if we pay them no mind? Creation stewardship functions best when it arises organically from a love and respect for creation, but this passion is not self-generating. Somehow, in our fallen state, we don’t automatically love the things that God created good. This is a judgment on us, and not on God.
“We have to cultivate a love for the creatures God created,” Pritchard said. “Do we look at creation? Do we examine it? Do we live in it? Most of us don’t . We need to move – not from respect to reverence (for creation) – but to start with a different “r” which is regard.”
“We have not always been good stewards of the Earth,” Bouma-Prediger said. “Our beliefs and practices have not served the earth, but spoiled them. Maybe we ought to start and end with confession and repentance.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.