Keeping in Step with the Spirit

by Steve Studebaker

Creation Care as Christian Formation

My sister and I were in college and graduate school at roughly the same time. She earned degrees in environmental science and management and I in ministry and theology. Her work concentrated on tending the earth and mine on the church and “souls.” I thought I had pursued a higher calling than her and frankly thought her somewhat crazy for trying to “save” the spotted owls and old growth forests. However, now I believe she was hearing the groans of the Spirit within creation and “[keeping] in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

Many Christians will have little trouble considering their religious and moral activities of prayer, Bible study, and fasting as empowered by the Holy Spirit and acts of Christian formation. But fewer evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of Christian formation. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation is a way the Christian can “keep in step with the Spirit.” In other words, buying organic fair trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting (Philippians 2:12). What I want to suggest is that creation care is a way that the Holy Spirit enables Christians to foreshadow and in a real way participate in the ultimate renewal of creation (i.e., the New Heaven and the New Earth). Just as the activities that Christians typically classify as spiritual and moral are participations and foretastes of the everlasting kingdom through the Spirit, so also are efforts in creation care. In short, creation care is a form of Christian formation and discipleship.

Often we limit the Holy Spirit’s work to the inner spiritual dimension of our lives. Yet, Scripture has a more expansive and earthy vision of the Spirit’s work. The Spirit who works in Christians and fosters their participation in the grace of Christ, which finds its fulfillment in the God’s everlasting kingdom, is also at work throughout the cosmos and will ultimately “liberate creation from its bondage to decay” and usher in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Romans 8:21 and Revelation 21:1).

The Spirit who is present and working in the Christian is present in and seeking the well-being of every part of creation. Christian formation is the process in which the work of the Spirit in the lives of people meets the presence and work of the Spirit throughout creation, both in its human and non-human dimensions. The inherent connection between human sin and redemption and the suffering and renewal of creation highlights the relationship between creation care and Christian formation The connection, on the one hand, between human sin and environmental suffering and, on the other hand, between human redemption and environmental deliverance indicates that when human persons experience liberation from sin, it leads to the renewal of the land and its creatures.

The theological rationale for creation care is the principle that the triune God’s redemptive program extends to all of creation and not just to the human “soul” and to traditional “spiritual” disciplines. The benefit of an expanded vision of God’s redemptive mission means that all of life is the arena for God’s redemptive activity, whether directed toward the traditional “spiritual” dimensions of soul care or more broadly toward creation care. A vision of the mission of the triune God that comprehends all of creation enables Christians to see creation care as a dimension of their Christian formation.

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