Humanity will find some spirit to guide its environmental concerns. Will it be Christian?

In March 1990, in Seoul, South Korea, I attended an international conference on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation sponsored by the World Council of Churches. I heard many persuasive claims about the way Christians had distorted humanity’s mandate to have dominion over the Earth—the consequence of these distortions being a ravaged creation. I became concerned, however, when I noticed that no one had mentioned the fact that human beings have an exalted status within creation, in that they alone are created in the image of God.

So I proposed a one-sentence addition to the document we were debating. From the floor, I asked that we add a sentence affirming that, as we confess these misunderstandings, we nonetheless “accept the biblical teaching that people alone have been created in the image of God.”

The drafting committee promptly accepted the addition but dropped the word alone. I pointed out that this undercut the basic point. Are trees and toads also created in God’s image? When the drafting committee remained adamant, I called for a vote. And the motion lost! At that moment, a majority of attendees at this important convocation were unwilling to say what historical, biblical theology has always affirmed: that human beings alone are created in the image of God.

As my experience illustrates, in today’s environmental movement there is a lot of theological confusion. Actress Shirley MacLaine says we must declare that we are all gods. Disciplined but unchastened Catholic theologian Matthew Fox says we should turn from a theology centered on sin and redemption and develop a creation spirituality, with nature as our primary revelation ...

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