Creation Care and Renewal

Prologue: CNN survey shows rural Malaysians find haze level acceptable!
CNN conducted a nation-wide survey among rural Malaysians with the question, “What do you think of the haze?” The overwhelming answer from the Malay farmers was, “Asap tebal”.

To assist Malaysians who are confused by the discrepancy between hazy news and reality, Creation News Network invites its subscribers to read and comment on this Op-ed,  “Creation Care and Renewal” written by its chief correspondent, Ng Kam Weng

Precis: Creation is not to be rendered secondary in God’s salvation. Creation retains its integrity as the present sphere of human stewardship; it is the sacramental reminder of the hope for glory.
We see the whole of creation infused with God’s presence and, indeed, the creation itself is sometimes understood as the “temple of God” in the broadest sense of that expression.  We care for the creation precisely because God’s presence fills it and he has made it the dwelling place of those created in his image.  By caring for the “house” we honor the “builder of the house.”  Creation care becomes a part of what it means to love and honor God.

Related Post: Co-Creator or Priestly Steward: Theological Perspectives on Biotechnology and the Perfectibility of Man LINK


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We Love God’s World

We share God’s passion for his world, loving all that God has made, rejoicing in God’s providence and justice throughout his creation, proclaiming the good news to all creation and all nations, and longing for the day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea. (Psalm 145:9, 13, 17; Psalm 104:27-30; Psalm 50:6; Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23; Matthew 28:17-20; Habakkuk 2:14)
[The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession to faith and a Call to Action, Part 1:7, Lausanne Movement 2011] LINK

I. Theological Overview of Creation
The Cape Town Commitment correctly captures the cosmic dimensions of God’s salvation that were overlooked when modern theology directed its focus on the psychological and social-political aspects of salvation. This neglect was reinforced by modern thought that began with Descartes’ project which founded human thought on a cognitive agent who is divorced from the world. The subject-object epistemology culminated with Kant’s dichotomy between the phenomenal and noumenal world. Kant attempted to maintain human freedom through a self-legislating moral agent but this only reinforced the separation of man from his environment.  The end result, unfortunately, is an emaciated human being. As George Hendry writes, “The result of the critical philosophy is thus a double dichotomy: man as knowing subject is separated from the world of nature, and man as moral agent is separated from his own nature, which includes feeling, instinct, intuition, desire, as well as cognition and volition.”/1/

Biblical revelation, however, upholds creation as the theatre of God’s glory. It acknowledges that God is transcendent but he reveals himself through his mighty works of creation, providence and redemption. T. F. Torrance emphasizes that our knowledge of God is mediated to us in and through this world as the sphere of his activity toward us. Torrance writes, “We know God, then, in such a way that our knowledge (theologia nostra) is correlated with the world as his creation and the appointed medium of his self-revelation and self-communication to mankind. Everything would go wrong if the creaturely reality of this world were confused with or mistaken for the uncreated Reality of God, or if knowledge of God were cut off from the fact that it is our knowledge, that is, knowledge of God by us in this world.” /2/

Unlike modern thought that sees creation as a means to an end, a resource simply to be exploited, the Christian tradition does not regard creation as a temporary expedient. Early Christian theologians, beginning with Irenaeus have taught that creation and humanity will grow together to their final destination intended by God. Irenaeus emphasized that creation was created with the capacity to ‘mature’ to perfection and that the Incarnation was to further this development and not merely to save man from sin.  That is to say, creation is the vessel that man may use to navigate to his final destination. The significance of creation is seen only in the full light of its consummation. In this regard, the final destiny of creation goes beyond restoration to its pristine beauty, it will eventually enjoy an ontological uplift.

The Bible vividly describes how creation eagerly waits to share in the eschatological glory awaiting mankind (Romans 8:19-21). The eschatological expectation is described as the new creation where all will be perfect. To catch a glimpse of this new universe, three passages from the book of Isaiah, that is, chapters 11:6-10, 65:17-25 and 66:22-23 are most helpful. Indeed, Isaiah 65:17-25 contains perhaps the loftiest Old Testament description of the future life of God’s people.

Isaiah 65:17 starts with “Behold I…” to emphasize the amazing fact that God “will create”.  The Hebrew word bara does not always mean creating something out of nothing but frequently denotes a divine activity by which God brings forth something new from the old (Isaiah 41:20; 43:7; 54:16; 57:18)…Further, the perishing of the heavens and the earth does not convey an absolute destruction of substance but a vanishing of the world in its present, sin-damaged form. It is usually explained by the fact that they will wear out like a garment, be changed like clothing, wither like a leaf on a vine, or vanish like smoke (Psalm 102:26: Isaiah 34:4; 51:6). /4/

It is significant that the Greek word used to emphasize the newness of the new world found both in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 is kainos, which means new in nature and quality in contrast with the word neos, which means new in time or origin./5/  There will be both continuity and discontinuity between the new world and the present world. Although there is the idea of a complete re-doing of Genesis 1:1, this new world will be so radically transformed that even the more loftiest aspects of the former world will probably fade in comparison to the new glory.

New Initiatives
Calvin DeWitt offers us some helpful biblical principles concerning care of creation :
1) Principle of stewardship – As God keeps and sustains humanity, so humanity keeps and sustains creation. Creation is given to man out of  God’s overflowing goodness.
2) Sabbath principle – Creation must be able to recover from human use of its resources.
3) Moderation and enjoyment – The abundant gifts and fruitfulness of God’s creation must be enjoyed and not destroyed. Creation is to be enjoyed with gratitude as a sign our appreciation of God’s overflowing goodness.

Since the root cause of the church’s neglect of ecological stewardship is theological, there must be added emphasis on the doctrine of creation in the curriculum of Christian colleges and seminaries.

There should be no idealization of creation. Nature is experienced both as a foe (e.g., by primitive dwellers in the tropical jungle) and as a source of inspiration and nurture (e.g., beautiful Lake District, England). Economic development is inevitable but it must be carried out with respect for the environment and the careful preservation of traditional cultures and societies. The church must be in the forefront working with NGOs defending the rights of people who are displaced by callous entrepreneurs.

Ecology by definition is global. As such it would be inconsistent for the church and mission agencies to think they should or can address big issues like environmental degradation and renewal on their own. It would be unrealistic for Christians to form their own ‘Green Party’ but they should work together with NGOs in influencing governments to implement just and balanced policies of social development.

At the grass root level, church agencies should take initiatives to promote mid-size appropriate technology for the uplift of social life in the rural areas. This includes the setting up of agriculture cooperatives, consolidated farming and promotion of local electric power generators (small hydro-electric generators, wind-mills etc.) and human resource development (independent marketing of products in the agriculture sector and organization of labour unions in the manufacturing industry).

Question: there seems to be no controversy about social concern coming along-side evangelism as one of the wings of mission since the Grand Rapids Report on Evangelism and Social Responsibility (1982). Can the same social concern be extended to include specific economic assistance?

Finally, the initiative of “Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle” in the 1980s seems to have petered out.  Surely personal integrity requires consistency between what the church declares and how its members live in an ecologically responsible manner? Maybe it is time to renew initiatives to explore what it means for Christians to live a simple lifestyle.

II. Eschatological Convergence of Creation Care and Cultural Renewal:  Practical Application

Creation is not to be rendered secondary in God’s salvation. Creation retains its integrity as the present sphere of human stewardship; it is the sacramental reminder of the hope for glory. The book of Isaiah portrays life in restored creation (the new city of God) as one of excellent cultural achievement. It is a place where the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and nothing unclean shall enter it, but only the glory and honour of the nations (Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21:24-27).

Richard Mouw elaborates,

The Holy City is not wholly discontinuous with present conditions. The biblical glimpses of this City give us reason to think that its contents will not be completely unfamiliar to people like us. In fact, the contents of the City will be more akin to our present cultural patterns than is usually acknowledged./7/

This implies that creation care is not merely an idealized “position” regarding the natural order, but has implications for the whole of our life and practice.  As mission organizations and churches reflect on this issue, perhaps the following practical applications will help us deeper our biblical perspective on this important issue.

 

Moving from Environmentalism to Creation Care
The contemporary struggle over the environment largely takes place within a secular world-view.  The basic argument is that we are part of a fragile eco-system and must make concerted efforts to protect the larger system for the sake of all living things on the planet.  It is not that we fundamentally disagree with this argument.  Our point is that this argument is reductionistic and frames the whole issue in too small a frame.  Thus, I it is important that we help to re-frame this issue for the larger church and remind the people of God what “added value” we bring to this discussion.  We, of course, have the larger perspective that we are a part of a created order.  God has called us to be stewards of His creation and we take care of His creation as an act of obedience and love of God and neighbor.   We will, of course, have many “technical” shared outcomes with the environmental movement.  However, we bring a much larger frame to the broader discussion.  We understand that the universe cannot be reduced to mere mechanistic naturalism.  We see the whole of creation infused with God’s presence and, indeed, the creation itself is sometimes understood as the “temple of God” in the broadest sense of that expression.  We care for the creation precisely because God’s presence fills it and he has made it the dwelling place of those created in his image.  By caring for the “house” we honor the “builder of the house.”  Creation care becomes a part of what it means to love and honor God.

Re-claiming the Sabbath
We live and work in an increasingly 24/7 world.  No one takes time for reflection and renewal.  However, central to “creation care” is the church’s leadership in caring for those created in the image of God.  Humanity was created to enjoy Sabbath.  This was a day to pause and remember what the world was like before the Fall and the entrance of sin marred human existence.  The Sabbath is not inherently about “not working” per se, but about the church’s memory that God is at work in countless ways in which humans cannot.  The legislation in the Old Testament about not laboring on the Sabbath day did not constitute Sabbath, but it created space so that the Sabbath could be remembered and celebrated.

The Sabbath is our weekly opportunity to break our trust in work.  We all need a reminder – a weekly reminder – of how dependent we are upon God.  For most of us our work give us three things: first, it gives us our self-worth and credentials.  Second, our work gives us our sustenance which allows us to provide for our families.  Finally, work gives us a sense of independence.  All of these three things, kept in proper perspective are good things.  But the Sabbath is a vital, weekly reminder of the danger of trusting in our work too much.  The Sabbath is a gentle weekly reminder not to trust in our self-worth, sustenance and independence too much.  The Sabbath, in contrast, reverses all three of these and reminds us that our self-worth comes first and foremost comes from God, that He is our provider, and that we are totally dependent upon Him.

The church is the only movement in the world which occupies the Sabbath day as our central “real estate” but very seldom do we ever explain the real deeper purpose and meaning of the Sabbath.  It is important that the church do more to reclaim healthy life rhythms which will allow us to more fully live within the larger context of God’s work, not merely endless human activity.  Our own reclaiming of the Sabbath – even as the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week – will, in itself, be a form of proclaiming the gospel to the world.

Creation as a sign of the inbreaking New Creation
The final destiny of the people of God is the New Creation (Rev. 21).  However, the New Creation is not merely something tacked onto the end of human history after the created order collapses.  Rather, in the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the New Creation is already breaking in to the present order.  The future kingdom has been inaugurated, but is not yet consummated.  We therefore understand the creation as the theatre where signs of the future reign and rule of God are already breaking in to the present order.  This provides significant theological space for the church to celebrate the cosmic dimensions of God’s saving work.
In conclusion, I can do no better than to summarize the glorious vision of human destiny with the words of Anthony Hoekema, “The Bible assures us that God will create a new earth on which we shall live to God’s praise in glorified, resurrected bodies. On the new earth, therefore, we hope to spend eternity, enjoying its beauties, exploring its resources, and using its treasures to the glory of God.” /8/

Related Article: Co-Creator or Priestly Steward: Theological Perspectives on Biotechnology and the Perfectibility of Man

ENDNOTES

1. George Hendry, Theology of Nature (Westminster 1980), p. 37.
2. Thomas Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology (IVP 1982), p.25.
3. George Hendry, Theology of Nature, p. 188.
4. See Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics. Vol 4: Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation (Baker 2008), pp. 716-720.
5. See J. Behm, “kainos,” TDNT, vol3. Pp. 447-449.
6. R.J. Berry ed., The Care of Creation: Focusing Concern and Action (IVP 2000), pp. 60-73.
7. Richard Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching (Eerdmans 1984), pp. 6-7.
8. Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Eerdmans, 1982), p. 274.

**Written for the Lausanne Theology Working Group in preparation for a handbook on The Cape Town Commitment (2012).

1 thought on “Creation Care and Renewal”

  1. TQVM FOR THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE. GOSPEL BLESSINGS INCLUDE: ATONEMENT AND RECONCILIATION, THE SPIRIT AND ETERNAL LIFE, AS WELL AS GOD’S SOVEREIGN RULE (THE KINGDOM) AND GLORY. THE KINGDOM AND GLORY PART PROJECTS HUMANS NOT ONLY AS CHILDREN OF GOD, BUT ALSO AS CO-RULERS(CARERS) WITH HIM OVER CREATION, AS CAN BE READ IN THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE AND END PART OF THE BIBLE (GEN. 1:26-28; PSALM 8; REV. 22:5); WHAT A GLORIOUS GOSPEL, AND WHAT A SOLEMN TASK! THAT BEING THE CASE, CHILDREN OF GOD SHOULD TRY TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CREATION CARE AND DO MORE ABOUT IT AS WE SEE THAT IT IS THE CONSUMMATING PART OF OUR ULTIMATE DESTINY AND GLORY. GOD ABIDES.

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