Ten Principles of Christian Earth Stewardship

April 24, 2016 § 5 Comments

Christian theologians began addressing the destruction of creation in a serious way after Rachel Carson published her landmark book Silent Spring in 1960. For my first book on earthcare, I read a lot of these books and began synthesizing the main common themes. I found ten such themes.

The first several principles define God’s relation to creation as its Creator. Principle four—the central principle of Christian earth stewardship—defines the human’s proper relation to creation. The rest of the principles define the human’s proper relation to God vis a vis creation. Together these principles define a covenantal triangle, a three-way set of mutual promises and obligations, though these Christian theologians mostly ignore God’s side of the covenant and focus only on ours.

Here are the ten themes or core ideas I found in this literature:

  1. “The earth is the Lords”: God is the sovereign proprietor of creation—not humans. (Ps. 24:1)
  2. “Behold, it was utterly good”: God’s creation is inherently good.n (Gen 2:4)
  3. “The heavens are telling the glory of God”: The creation glorifies God; therefore so should we, especially in our earth stewardship. (Ps. 19:1)
  4. “Have dominion . . . “: We are given dominion over creation, but only in trust as stewards. (Gen 1:28)
  5. “A little lower than God”: Among the creatures, we humans enjoy the privilege of God’s special favor. (Ps 8)
  6. “Because they worshiped the creature rather than the creator”: We worship the transcendent Creator, not the creation. (Rom 1:25)
  7. “I am establishing my covenant with you”: Covenant is the rightful context for our earth stewardship. (Gen 9:8)
  8. “Open your hand to the poor”: Responsible earth stewardship calls for social justice. (Deut 15:11)
  9. “The time has come . . . for destroying those who destroy the earth”: We are called to responsible earth stewardship; harming creation is a sin.
  10. “The creation waits with eager longing”: Salvation in Christ offers the prophetic promise of a new covenant with creation. (Rom 8:19)

Writers supported these principles with biblical proof texts. Soon I will provide a document with the passages I found either in my reading or in my own research. I reviewed it briefly and saw some problems with it; I haven’t looked at it in a while.

A lot of these Bible passages don’t really work very well, in my opinion. A lot of the time, you must argue from inference and stretch the meaning pretty thin, at that. The most glaring case are those supporting the idea that destroying creation is a sin. This is the key claim of Christian earth stewardship, and yet nowhere in the Bible does it say this outright.

All Christian theology must work within the basic framework of its sin-salvation paradigm, in which the basic human problem, not just spiritually, but in all human spheres, is sin, and the irreplaceable solution is salvation in Christ. So Christian earth stewardship theologians must add bad earthcare to the already long list of sins, a list that is dominated by things that have been on the list for millennia and have been more clearly defined in the Bible.

But I am getting to my critique. For, after writing most of this book, I came to the depressing conclusion that the book led to a dead end, that Christian earth stewardship was itself a dead end, and that some new approach was required. I felt I had to start over, after years of research and writing.

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§ 5 Responses to Ten Principles of Christian Earth Stewardship

  • Hi Steve –

    Thanks for this thoughtful summary.

    I think you’re exactly right, in concluding:

    “A lot of these Bible passages don’t really work very well, in my opinion. A lot of the time, you must argue from inference and stretch the meaning pretty thin, at that. The most glaring case are those supporting the idea that destroying creation is a sin. This is the key claim of Christian earth stewardship, and yet nowhere in the Bible does it say this outright.”

    A few points to consider:

    1) humanity is neither capable of nor on the road toward “destroying Creation” — at most we’re in the process of destroying Creation’s capacity to be so extravagantly welcoming to the likes of us — surely the stars and even planet Earth will continue even if humanity decimates Eden.

    2) it might be worth looking in detail at biblical stories about humans deliberately “destroying Creation” — that story about the foxes with their tails on fire, running through the fields of the enemy comes to mind — also the numerous stories involving “korban” where the enemy’s physical means of support is to be destroyed along with the enemy people.

    3) the BIble has God, from time to time, destroying aspects of Creation on which humans depend, via plagues and floods and whatnot, the Flood itself being paradigmatic.

    4) “Christian earth stewardship was itself a dead end” — I don’t think so, at least not necessarily — it seems like a more robust idea of “sin” might help connect the dots — surely squeamishness about invoking the s-word inhibits environmentalists from embracing their key insight that squandering Eden is Wrong with a capital W, and indeed Wrong precisely because it tramples on divine intent…

    Thanks again! I have to confess I don’t always read your posts very carefully but this one really grabbed me!

  • treegestalt says:

    Getting ‘destroyed’ is probably some sort of sign that what one has been doing, in this case, ‘destroying’ the Earth, is not approved of…

    “Sin” probably isn’t a very helpful category, the way most people think of it — but it is supposed to mean ‘a miss’, an example of not-getting-it, rather than (as it’s typically taken) doing a bad.

    If you see the basic human problem as being out-of-touch, of not getting it — & this salvation as getting back into tune — that interpretation of Christianity would work. Meanwhile, of course, we’ve got this nasty energy-addiction that only a higher power could help us overcome…

    • barbarakay1 says:

      I agree with treegestalt

    • Thanks for this thought-provoking reply, treegestalt. I really appreciate it.

      “Getting ‘destroyed’ is probably some sort of sign that what one has been doing, in this case, ‘destroying’ the Earth, is not approved of…”

      hmmm…. that’s the way Christian environmentalists seem to want to connect the biblical dots, but I agree with Steve — I don’t think it’s that straightforward….

      ““Sin” probably isn’t a very helpful category, the way most people think of it — but it is supposed to mean ‘a miss’, an example of not-getting-it, rather than (as it’s typically taken) doing a bad.””

      would you agree that environmentalists that “destroying the Earth is a bad”? is there a better word than “sin” for “doing a bad”?

      It’s been years since I made the study, but “missing the mark” from an archery metaphor is only one of many ways the Bible speaks of sin/doing a bad.

      “If you see the basic human problem as being out-of-touch, of not getting it — & this salvation as getting back into tune — that interpretation of Christianity would work.”

      I like this a lot, and I think it could work pretty well with early Quaker takes on the biblical narrative and sensibilities, especially if one is comfortable with speaking of Jesus Christ / the Spirit as being That with which one wishes to be in touch / in tune.

      “Meanwhile, of course, we’ve got this nasty energy-addiction that only a higher power could help us overcome…”

      hmmm….. yesssss…. well, “energy-addiction” is pretty much addiction to DOING stuff — travel, making things, bustling about… I’m so glad you said energy-addiction rather than fossil fuel addiction….

      What a wonderful response to Steve’s wonderful post!

      • treegestalt says:

        David Bohm (reflecting Krishnamurti’s influence?) used to talk about ~something about the way our civilization “solves ‘problems'” that produces “solutions” that are also problems, [ie as in a certain old song, in which “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…”]

        Out of touch people do out-of-touch things, which often enough do involve evil motives and certainly produce evil results, though I wouldn’t really describe this as ‘an inclination towards evil’ in our ‘nature’ — more a lack of “imagination” (as Ursula LeGuin uses the word, not heedless ‘make-believe’ but the capacity to intuit how things must work & will look in practice, without playing “What will happen if I push this?” or trampling anyone without noticing.)

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