I got this question from a reader. An answer could take up a book — or a series of books — or at least a chp in a book, but I’ll give it a few lines.
Does the gospel include somehow not only good news of God renewing all of creation in Jesus, but also in living it out the call to humankind in Jesus to again be stewards of earth?
We begin with a problem. For most people, the gospel means the ABCs, simple basics of how we get saved. So, the gospel means God loves us, Jesus died for us, and we will spend forever with God in heaven. For others the gospel refers to the theological robustness of how we are saved, so it will take on a thorough explanation of thinks like justification by faith and double imputation, or things like sanctification and personal transformation into holiness, and for others it begins to sound like the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gifts and charisma.
Without denying the vital significance of robust theology of how salvation works, we need to realize that such terms and ideas don’t naturally lead to concern for the world and, more importantly, neither do they lead to the concern the prophets have with an earthly salvation and manifestation of God’s redemptive glory, or to brilliance of the redemption of all creation in Romans 8, and I’m thinking of these lines:
8:18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 8:19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope 8:21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. 8:23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
And I’m thinking also of Revelation’s grand and glorious vision at the end of heaven coming down to earth for the new heavens and the new earth.
That is, many times the way we conceive of the gospel as personal salvation from our sins — and limit it to that — does not lead us to the robust way the Bible conceives of what God is doing in this world. And the “gospel,” after all, is the good news that God is doing this work in Christ. Sometimes this is call cast as “spiritual” vs. “earthly” — and that is just too dualistic and hierarchical for the Bible’s message.I’m quite convinced, at the same time, that many get wound up in environmentalism and start to get mushy in their thinking and the next thing we’re staring at something that looks a lot like panentheism or even pantheism. But, their extremes shouldn’t lead us into dualism.
Instead, we need to reframe how the Bible actually teaches the gospel. I want to quote just one text — and much more could be said, and I take this text to be a paradigmatic “gospel” text in the New Testament:
2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
2:9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –
2:11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
At the heart of the gospel itself is the declaration that Jesus Christ, the one born of Mary, the one who emptied himself to the point of the cross, the one who died with us, instead of us and for us, and the one who was exalted, is Lord. This status of Jesus Christ is the consummation of the status designed for humans in Genesis 1:26-27, where humans are made to rule and mediate on God’s behalf in this world.
So, is creation care part of the gospel? Indeed. We are called to rule and mediate, on God’s behalf, but we messed this up and God did just that — rule and mediate — in his Son, and he is now Lord and Mediator over all and for all. He is Lord over all, including creation.
Hence, I would say that creation care is inherent to our central calling: we rule today in Christ.