This week I was privileged to participate in the Contemporary Issues in Theology Forum hosted by Nazarene Theological Seminary. This annual conversation gathers academics, pastors, laypersons, and students into dialogue around developing issues in the world – a world to which we have been called as the body of Christ. The point is not some esoteric exercise that simply interests the participants. It is wholly about wrestling with how we can best equip the Church to proclaim the gospel in compelling and faithful ways. The subject this year was Stewardship and God’s Creation: Our Role and Responsibility in the Care of the Earth.
It is disappointing to me that upon hearing that title, many Christians (including pastors) dismiss the subject as irrelevant to the singular focus of “winning people to Jesus.” However, we need to consider the strong possibility that one of the major barriers we face to gain a hearing for the gospel, especially among millennials, is our historic lack of interest in matters of ecology.
If we believe the Bible as much as we say we believe the Bible, it becomes clear that this is not essentially a political issue. This is truly a theological issue and one that requires our careful attention, pastors. We believe that God created the world and called it good. We believe that humankind marred God’s good creation by our sin. We believe that God has not given up on the broken world, but that God is at work to redeem and restore.
This is most evident in our central belief that Jesus Christ, God’s only son, “was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” We believe that creation itself “waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21).
We face the profound challenge that many of our people have been shaped by an individualistic gospel and by an eschatology that majors on escape from this broken world. This kind of “sinking ship” mentality is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The whole of the story of God means to shape us as a people who not only anticipate the new creation but who participate in the new creation; the realization of the universal reign of God in Christ Jesus. If this is not true, then our sanctification means very little. When we confess our faith together, a climactic expression is “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” Ours is an embodied faith in every way. We are not Gnostics who seek to elevate the spirit and shun the material world. Creation declares the glory of God and part of our discipleship is to fulfill our God-given mission to steward the earth. We need to teach this to our people.
So here are some things that pastors can do to help our people understand and live into our calling as stewards of the earth:
- Become educated about ecotheology. A good place to begin might be the book we read for this forum: Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology by Daniel Brunner, et. al.
- Teach a robust and biblical view of eschatological hope. Teach your people that God will not dispose of this world but will redeem it and invite us to enjoy the new creation.
- Teach your people that bodies matter. This has profound implication for Christian discipleship including our sexuality, how we consume, how we resist idolatry, and how we care for the earth that God has given us.
There is so much more, of course, but I am simply saying that these issues should be and must be on our radar as pastoral leaders of congregations. Watch for developing resources in this area and feel free to share with me your questions or concerns. Let’s keep thinking and praying together about what it means to preach the gospel and what it means for people to be saved and sanctified. I am sure of this: it is no individualistic or escapist gospel. It is a gospel of forgiveness, freedom, and the renewal of all things.