The summer after my junior year of college I took a job as a youth ministry intern. One of the summer events was a trip to Colorado to do a weeklong hike up one of Colorado’s 14,000 foot mountains. Our guides were well-trained climbers and they cared deeply about the forests. Up until that time I spent very little time thinking about the environment. I was a consumer; if everything was going to burn up then why should I care for the earth. While we were at camp, at about 11,000 feet, we were asked to leave the forest as it was when we arrived. Many things changed for me on the mountain and one of them was my care for the environment. Several years later, the national media really began to push “green initiatives.” My wife and I started to recycle and make other life changes to protect the environment. What began as a good practice has developed into an important theological issue for me. New creation theology calls us to be stewards of all creation because God’s salvation is concerned with all of creation.
In 1967, Lynn Wright Jr. argued environmental degration was an indirect product of Christianity, which he labeled the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. Salvation has largely been described as personal salvation in the west, so saving souls have been the leading mission. The bible teaches us God is concerned with each individual’s salvation, but it also invites a deeper reflection about God’s saving work. Christopher Wright points out Paul includes creation in the saving power of the cross. He says, “It is vital to see here that the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, is the means of reconciliation of creation to God, not only of sinners.” Colossians 1 and Romans 8:19-24 show the whole creation is involved in God’s redeeming work.
If Paul’s vision of the gospel is as wide as creation itself our mission has to reflect the length and breadth and depth of the gospel. Our mission is not only to save souls, but we must become a people who usher in God’s creation. This does not mean we are doing the building, it simply means we have to fully accept our roles. From the beginning God gave humanity a special role. Male and female were to fill the earth, to subdue the it, and to rule over the rest of the created order. A misunderstanding of these ideas has led to humanity forcing its will on the natural order, but this was not the intent of God. God chose humanity to rule over creation within his reign. God has enlisted us to act as his stewards in the project of creation. And following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, he has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, he equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track. The incarnation and the cross teach us that dominion is not a matter of power, but sacrificial self-giving love. The church is to go to the places where creation is groaning, following God as he puts all things right.
New creation theology compels us to live as a witness to God’s grand salvation. We serve the environment because the mission of God so invites. Growth in a concern for the environment helps us embrace the fuller mission of God. To see ourselves as co-workers in God’s work would help some see themselves as part of God’s story. The ecological crisis is something that should concern us because we are called to act out the future in which we hope. We cannot stand by as some exercise unrestrained dominion on the created order, and we cannot stand by as our global neighbors are left without water. The crisis is not only a global problem, so we need to be a community that takes a take a lead in caring for our environment. The discipline allows us to glorify the creation, as well as force us to slow down and remember that God is the sustainer of our lives.