Ecology and the Gospel: What’s the Relationship?
Late last month, Scot McKnight raised these questions: Do you think ecology and the environment are part of the concerns of the gospel? Or, do they belong somewhere else? Does preaching the gospel involve eco-care? The questions were raised as McKnight pointed to a new collection of essays on the subject, Keeping God’s Earth: The Global Environment in Biblical Perspective (eds. Noah J. Toly & Daniel I. Block). It’s the first I’ve heard of the book, which means I’ve not read it. But since McKnight raised the question, I thought I’d throw in my two cents. That’s what blogs are for, after all, right?
The short answer is: “No!” The gospel is not about ecology. The gospel is about what God has done in Christ through his death and resurrection to reconcile sinful human beings to himself. The gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day, both in accordance with the scriptures. The important thing to see here is that the gospel is Christocentric, not ecocentric. The gospel is about Jesus and nothing else. If you look to the New Testament, you do not find the apostles and the early church calling people to creation care as a part of the gospel. Indeed, to say that the gospel requires you to do something to care for creation seems to come very close to importing some works into one’s response to the gospel. It seems to deny that the gospel calls for faith alone in the crucified and risen Christ alone. The gospel is about Jesus, not ecology.
However, this does not mean that creation care is not an implication, or perhaps even an effect, of the gospel. When people hear the gospel of Christ and are converted and reconciled to God, they are also immediately to begin bearing fruit for righteousness. They are to be in the process of becoming what God always intended them to be, namely holy and morally righteous. When we consider that God made the earth and called it good, and that God charged the first human beings with caring for the creation to make it bear fruit, then responsible stewardship of creation is clearly to be understood as living a life that accords with the gospel. So, as McKnight highlights by quoting Doug Moo’s essay in the book, evangelism and ecology are not an either-or. The question is not whether we should do either the gospel or creation care. Rather, as those who have been reconciled to God through the gospel of grace, we are responsible for being good stewards of the world which God has entrusted to us. So, while creation care is not the gospel itself, it is an implication of the gospel for faithful Christian living.
We must remember here that it is of the utmost importance not to confuse the gospel itself with the many and various implications of the gospel. The gospel of Christ is applied in every area of life whether social, political, ecological, ecclesiological, or other. But these many spheres in which the gospel directs our living are not themselves the gospel. We must continue to distinguish between the gospel and its implications, lest the gospel become so large and unmanageable that it is absolutely meaningless.
To sum up, the gospel is not itself a message of creation care, but creation care is not mutually exclusive with the gospel. The gospel is the message of God’s reconciling work in Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection. When we are reconciled to God, we begin to strive to live in such a way that God is honored. Given that God entrusted the creation to his human creatures to be good stewards of it, creation care is an implication of the gospel and the responsibility of the Christian.