Last year’s host of environmental crises prompted the Wall Street Journal to proclaim 1988 “the year Earth screamed.” With severe drought and heat, fires at Yellowstone National Park, medical-waste pollution, and continuing concerns about acid rain, ozone depletion, and other environmental crises, the Earth complained so loudly Time magazine named it “Planet of the Year.”

And according to Calvin DeWitt, a leader in the Christian ecological movement and director of the Mancelona, Michigan-based Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, Christians likewise began en masse last year to hear the “earth groaning” (Rom. 8:22).

DeWitt says Christians “have become increasingly aware that this issue is one of direct importance to them,” and have also begun asking how they should respond. In addition, Christian Bible scholars are developing an increasingly sophisticated theological framework on which to base ecological concerns (see “Ecology Theology,” p. 41).

DeWitt first began to suspect a trend in August of 1988 when he received a request from a Christian radio station in Detroit to discuss the greenhouse effect from the perspective of Christian stewardship. Not long after that, he was featured on a Christian radio station in Carson City, Nevada, and on Family Radio, which has an international audience.

According to DeWitt, a conference last year with the theme “Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of the Creation,” (CT, Nov. 18, 1988, p. 74) helped bring Christians with environmental concerns to the fore. “In February,” he said, “I was receiving up to 35 letters a week from pastors, theological professors, and others who’d heard the radio broadcasts or read the CT article.”

Even the secular press has apparently noticed that evangelicals are ready to play a role in environmental stewardship. DeWitt recently got a call from National Public Radio indicating its interest in covering the topic of evangelicals and the environment.

“Christians seem to be realizing that stewardship of creation is a critical concept in our belief system,” said Ronald Kroese, director of the Land Stewardship Project. Kroese’s organization works with churches and other groups to promote farming methods that preserve the environment.

Like DeWitt, Kroese is convinced of a trend toward Christians addressing environmental problems. “Several denominations have asked me to participate in committees whose goals are to meet the environmental issues head-on,” he said. Another indicator of the trend, Kroese noted, is that grants from churches to support the work of the Land Stewardship Project are on the rise.

The Au Sable Institute, which seeks to inform the Christian community and the general public on how to be better stewards of creation, lately has also received more offers of financial support, some of them unsolicited.

The institute offers college courses in the fields of science and environmental stewardship. When it was launched a decade ago, it was associated with just four Christian colleges. It now works with the entire Christian College Coalition, which consists of some 80 institutions.

“Ten years ago,” DeWitt said, “there was such a minimal interest that a Christian who was concerned with stewardship of creation would feel rather helpless, very lonely, and probably be driven to join the Sierra Club and just forget about trying to integrate Christianity and environmentalism.”

DeWitt suggested that recent environmental crises have forced many Christians to examine the Scriptures. And he said he has found that when Christians read the Bible with “ecological eyeglasses,” they find a theology of creation leaps out at them. “In light of our new understandings in ecology,” he said, “we see the whole of the Scriptures proclaiming the kingdom in an ecological vision.”

By Kristi G. Streiffert.

Ecology Theology

An analysis of the sermon content at most evangelical churches might lead one to conclude the Bible has little or nothing to say about ecology. In fact, at the recent forum “Contributions of the New Testament to Christian Environmental Stewardship,” University of Wisconsin graduate student David Wise said that in his extensive survey of literature on this topic he found only six significant New Testament-based writings on the environment, only one of which was written after 1972.

Serving as the centerpiece of the forum, held last month at the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona, Michigan, was the simple, stark question: “Considering creation’s degradation, what would Jesus do?” The Bible scholars and theologians who met to address this question agreed that despite the dearth of literature, the New Testament is far from silent.

Said Ronald Manahan, professor of biblical theology at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, “The work of the Last Adam, Christ, must be seen to be as broad as the reach of the damage of the First Adam. The work of Christ impacts all human relationships: those with God, with others, and with the creation. If the calling of the Christian is to live out salvation, then one must be about stewardship.”

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Building on this theme, Loren Wilkinson, professor at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and editor of Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources, argued that salvation through Christ is more than a “merely personal transaction.” Wilkinson called for the church to recognize that “the reconciliation between persons and their Creator is incomplete if it does not include a reconciliation with the creation from which they are also estranged.”

Raymond Van Leeuwen, associate professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids (Mich.), similarly maintained that “in our justified situation, we are restored to Adam’s position of steward of the earth on behalf of the Creator.” Said Van Leeuwen, “Because we share in Christ’s resurrection righteousness, we are responsible for the care of creation.”

In the forum’s final presentation, Gordon Zerbe, a doctoral candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, concluded that care for creation “is and must be part of the heart of a New Testament theology of redemption.” In articulating a Christian ethic of creation stewardship, Zerbe stated, “Care for creation is explicit, and destruction of creation is a sin.”

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