Toward a Missional Ethic: Creation

I found this image online the other day. I think it probably expresses well the pervasive attitude from within the Christian community regarding the environment. The implication here is that I shouldn’t care about environmentalism so long as unborn babies are still being murdered. While I don’t believe the two issues to be diametrically opposed, the message is clear: most Christians consider the environment to be of peripheral, rather than central, importance.

This is altogether unfortunate. The dialogue surrounding environmental issues tends to be couched in political terms that amounts to little more than posturing by those seeking our votes. If you believe the Religious Right, global warming is nothing more than a myth; even the term “environmentalism” bears much political freight these days. In the past 30 years, environmental issues have gotten little to no play among conservative evangelicals, written off as a leftist or liberal political agenda. And let’s be honest: much of the political rhetoric regarding the environment does come from the left. So it’s little wonder most conservative Christians hit the snooze button when the political discussion turns to environmental issues.

But I’ve come to the point where I want to divorce the issue from the unhelpful political baggage and the posturing of politicians and recover it for the deeply theological issue I believe it to be. (Better said, I consider myself an environmentalist on theological, not political, grounds.)

In the beginning, God created, as the Scriptures say. And this creation was called good. And God gave His little image-bearers dominion over the created order. God called humanity into a partnership. The Creator enjoins the created to tend His creation. To me, this is the grounds for a missional ethic of creation.

As Wendell Berry says, even the term “environment” is misleading. It tends to put too much distance between us and where we live. It sounds as though we think of earth as simply a place where we happen to be camping. The Biblical image of creation is so much more than this. As Eugene Peterson says, “Creation is not something apart from us; it is part of us and we are part of it. We don’t own this place and so we can’t do with it whatever we wish. We are this place, an identity that we have in common with all our earth-neighbors.”

I’m not saying we should all become vegans or never use the resources God created. But I am arguing for a greater sense of stewardship and responsibility among God’s people when it comes to creation. All I know is, if I were God and I made something and called it good and gave it to you to take care of and you treated it like garbage, I’d be ticked.

Back to the image at the top of this post: if I were forced to choose, obviously the life of a child has infinitely more intrinsic value than a tree. Trees aren’t made in the image of God. But I don’t see why this has to be an either / or issue. For too long, the discourse regarding “moral issues” has focused too narrowly on a couple of issues. And while the abortion issue is near to my heart, too, I think Christians also have a responsibility to make good stewardship of God’s creation a “moral issue” as well when casting their ballots.

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6 Responses to Toward a Missional Ethic: Creation

  1. T.H. says:

    Jason -Thanks for articulating this so well. Tori and I are taking an increasing interest in ways we can be good stewards of this earth. I certainly don’t have all the answers on how to best do this. I guess we’re just trying to begin with the most immediate things – recycle and reuse, turn the lights off, walk/bike when convenient, and the like. It’s not that much, but it’s a start for two people who just a year ago didn’t really think that much about such things.BTW, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Romans 8:18 (ff).

  2. Sunny says:

    I think that this is well said! I don’t think that recycling or reusing or reducing is something that should be divided among the political lines. Since we have started recycling, I have been amazed at the amount of “recyclables” that we used to just throw away. It takes little to no effort to recycle – we just put it in a different can and you walk it out to the curb just like you do our trash can.I’m glad that more people have made an effort to conserve more energy and recycle. I really think that people are seeing what little effort it takes to Go GREEN!!!

  3. Jason says:

    TH,That’s where Sunny and I are at on this issue, too. We’re just trying to do some of the same “little things” that you are. It’s just good stewardship, in my opinion. The Romans 8 passage will have to wait, but I do have some thoughts there. A lot of my thinking on this lately has been the result of reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. A great read, by the way.

  4. Tori says:

    I clicked into the comments because I know if Taylor had read this then he would have definitely come in here and said AMEN!!! And what do you know my husband is commentor number 1. Taylor easily could have written this as it is something he has been mulling over a lot lately. Have you guys been talking??? Thanks for your thoughts!!! Oh, and I can’t wait to hear how your weekend with the kiddos goes. I loved your posts last time. I think it is great that you are doing this and allowing Sunny to get away!!

  5. Joshua Whitson says:

    Jason,A resounding AMEN from this corner. Just as with politics, it seems that “Christians” are to have a set response to the environment. Any dissenting voice is lost to criticism. Thanks!

  6. Jason says:

    Thanks, guys.

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