Is the Earth Valuable or a Resource? Quote to Ponder: Christopher J.H. Wright

Over the past months I have been doing some reflection on how Christians have understood the value of the planet and the rest of creation. As I have wrestled with this, Christopher J.H. Wright’s book, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, engaged this even further. The fresh insight that I received came with understanding that creation care can be Christian mission all on its own, and need not be driven by a human need. For instance, it is often discussed that if we do not do something to prevent global destruction on nature, that future generations will not have a suitable environment to call home. This is a fine motivation to serve the planet, but should not be the primary reason to work for ecology from the perspective of the narrative of God. Rather, ecology is our “first missionary commission” (415). Serving the planet is part of joining the mission of God!

Depending on the tradition in which you grew up, this may be a new and possibly ‘heretical’ thing to say. If what I said above un-nerves you a bit, it is probably because of the view of creation that you grew up with. It seems that we often have been taught that the earth doesn’t have intrinsic value, but rather is a resource that is going to be consumed and destroyed; and the only creation with value is the human family. Consider the following images I threw together that illustrate where creation gets its value:

Wright expresses that the earth must have intrinsic value:

“So the earth has intrinsic value—that is to say, it is valued by God, who is the source of all value. God values the earth because he made it and owns it. It is not enough merely to say that the earth is valuable to us. On the contrary, our own value as human beings begins from the fact that we ourselves are part of the whole creation that God already values and declares to be good…we take our value from the creation of which we are part, not vice versa. The earth does not derive its value from us but from its Creator. Accordingly, we need to be careful to locate an ecological dimension of mission not primarily in the need-supplying value of the earth to us, but in the glory-giving value of the earth to God.” The Mission of God, 399

What are your thoughts on this issue of value? Does the planet have intrinsic value? If so, what are the implications for mission and the whole of the gospel? If not, what do you disagree with Wright on and why?

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  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

    You’re right on target, Kurt. God’s command to Adam and Eve still stands to humanity today, though I think of Josh McDowell’s comment in a lecture on sexuality that I saw years ago: “newsflash–the earth has been replenished.”

    This theme permeates N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope” too. I don’t have it with me, but here’s an article in which he says some of the same stuff. Wright’s particular contention is that the post-resurrection followers of Jesus are to be about creating things that will participate in the “new heaven and new earth” that God is already establishing, and has been doing so since Jesus was raised as the firstfruits of it all. An excerpt:

    But, if you read the Bible, humans are called to be responsible, wise stewards over God’s world and when humans mess up, that means the world is in a mess. And the New Testament, whether it’s John or it’s Paul writing to us, is quite clear: The purpose of God rescuing humans from whatever fate they might have is not just for their own sake -– but for what God can do through people’s lives. The point of Christianity is how the world can operate through the lives of redeemed, wise humans.
    Once you get that into your mind and heart, then we realize that the tasks that God calls us to as human beings –- whether we’re called to dig wells in Africa or we’re called to write a string quartet –- the point is that God is calling us to tasks that are an anticipation of God’s new world. What we do here on Earth truly matters.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      Dan, thanks for your thoughts. I would like to hear you expand on the Josh McDowell comment.

      As far as Tom Wright, without his influence, I would have not understood this quote from another Wright. Both Wright’s are “right on” with this issue!

      Thanks for the link to the article and website! I have not ever been to that site before but it looks like it is full of great resources.

      • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

        Oh, it was probably a throwaway, I just think of it whenever I think about God’s commands to Adam & Eve. What McDowell said (as nearly as I can recall–we’re talking 25-30 yrs ago) is that of all the commands God ever gave to humanity, the command to A&E, and later to Noah’s family, to be fruitful and multiply was the only command we never had any trouble keeping! But then in reference to the Noachian version (Gen 9:1) he quipped that the earth had been properly refilled, so that particular need was probably no longer so urgent.

        Stewardship of the earth is clearly a major part of God’s intent for us (which was, after all, the point of your post). A good friend and I have been discussing a lot lately, the sense in which that stewardship was entrusted to the same part of God’s creation, to which he also conveyed the duty to bear his image. In the fall, man lost–to some extent–the fullness of the image of God he was to bear, and that has not been restored until Jesus. So part of our taking on our identity–that restored image of our creator–in the new creation (which is Jesus’ now-and-future kingdom) is to again take up the mantle of stewardship which we had cast off or stained or damaged.

        Kind of an interesting hybrid of eschatology and soteriology and ecology when I think of it that way, but I believe we may be on to something. . .

  • http://www.newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    “Depending on the tradition in which you grew up, this may be a new and possibly ‘heretical’ thing to say.”

    Well today I completely agree with you here Kurt, like you in part due to the influence of both Wrights as well as Wittmer and others, a number of years ago though it would have sounded like unbiblical hippy liberal crap.
    Part of that is the general view of creation and humanity’s role that many Evangelicals have, where the earth is here for our use, and we are what matters since we have souls etc. All very dualistic.
    The other reason for that mindset is eschatology I think. If you buy the pre-trib Left Behind sort of eschatological scenario, which many Evangelicals assume is biblical, then the earth is headed for a divine smackdown anyways and we’ll all be whisked away to heaven, so who cares what we do to it now? Why polish the rails of a sinking ship?

    As I’ve moved away from both those understandings I see things differently now to say the least.
    In fact, I am to the point where I get irritated with people for using the term ‘natural resources’ since it almost always is used in a context where the only reason the creation maters is because it provides us stuff we want, not because God made it and cares for it al on its own.

  • Jason

    Good post Kurt! I would like to second Mason’s comment on eschatology. How we view the end has huge implications on how we will act in the present.

  • http://achorusofehoes.wordpress.com/ Jon

    kurt,
    you are right on again…i’m going through Christopher wright’s book at the moment. Taking my time to read it. I found this article helpful though: http://www.ourrabbijesus.com/index.php/site/articles/would_jesus_go_green/

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

    Mason, you said my favorite thing of the day! “…though it would have sounded like unbiblical hippy liberal crap.” Hilarious! Also, I agree with what you have to say about how our eschatology greatly effects our ecology. Another great statement, “…the earth (in the view you disagree with) is headed for a divine smackdown.” Also, I agree that referring to anything as “resources” lessens the innate value that it has, whether creation or people. On another note: I was just thinking today of how terrible it is for people in ministry to refer to others who have gifts, abilities, or stuff as “resources”… they are people! Anyway, good thoughts my friend.

    Jason, good to see one of my best friends actually coming back to the blogosphere. You are right to recognize the importance of eschatology.

    And Jon, that link you provided is great! I enjoyed the read. Our friend Lois Tverberg is quite challenging and a great voice to have in our conversations! Also, enjoy the Wright book. I was challenged in many ways by what he had to say.

    • http://www.newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

      “how terrible it is for people in ministry to refer to others who have gifts, abilities, or stuff as “resources””

      That would be pretty upsetting for me as well. I’ve not heard those exact terms used to describe people, but I’ve seen people treated that way, they are good at teaching or speaking or organization or running the sound system so they are looked at as an asset to be utilized rather than a person to be valued apart from what they offer the church.

  • Sandra Oates

    I really found this interesting. Creation care is something that I am thrilled to see emerging in the church in a non-politicized way — presented in a biblical framework. I’m still improving on all of my efforts to go green, but I know I’ve gotten better.

    I’m looking forward to a book coming out on April 1 by Nancy Sleeth. It’s called, Go Green Save Green. Her husband wrote another book, Serve God Save the Planet, which is what actually got me started on these efforts.

    The website says Nancy’s book has “Hundreds of simple, easy-to-implement money-saving tips for going green at home and at the office.” I found it at http://www.gogreenthebook.com, so I’m trying to tell everyone about it. Her husband’s book really changed my life.

    I’ll be checking your blog again. Thanks so much!

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      Sandra, thanks for coming by the blog! Please come back and continue in our conversations! I just added the book to my amazon wish list! Also, you are right on in pointing out the need to build a biblical framework on this rather than a political one…

  • http://www.lfaya.blogspot.com/ A Young American

    While I agree that we have been commissioned to be good stewards of the earth, I do think some clarification is needed.
    (1) We aren’t to “serve” the earth. The earth is ultimately God’s, so while we are to take care of it, but that doesn’t mean we are to serve it.
    (2) “We take our value from teh creation we are a part of, not vice versa.” Actually, we take our value from the fact that we are created in God’s image and different from the rest of creation, not that we are a part of creation.
    We are definitely to be good stewards, but oftentimes, the earth becomes an idol and God takes a backseat to our efforts to save the planet.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      Thanks for adding your thoughts! Let me clarify a couple of things.

      (1) Your point about “serve” the earth has more to do with semantics. I would say that we indeed are called to serve the planet in a similar way that we are called to “serve” the poor and marginalized, sick and lame, and the church and nonchristians. We must serve the earth, not in the same way that we serve God as our Lord, but in the sense that we reflect God’s stewardly love towards what he has made. This leads into number 2.

      (2) I would argue that we do have value as humans but as part of the greater whole of the cosmos. Yes, we are the most valuable part of the creation, but this is not a license to destroy nature for convenience. We are called to be image bearers which means being in our properly created relationships: to God, Others, Creation, and Self. The image of God means that we reflect his love into the creation by caring for and appreciating the creativity of the Creator. Imagine (NT Wright illustration) that we as humans are designed as angled mirrors, reflecting the light of God into the creation… that is what image bearing has in mind.

      Finally, by no means do we want to promote that we worship the earth!!!!…in the same way that we dont want to make an idol out of traditions, the bible, or anything else for that matter. Our concern for the planet stems completely from God’s plan that he is “gathering up all things” in Christ, things “in heaven and on earth!” The church is called to join in this mission of the redemption of all things! This means redeeming humans who are lost and redeeming all creation.

  • JW

    I do not know how I arrived at this blog, but have quickly determined, I am in the wrong place. When you pseudo intellectuals get it all figured out, it may be too late. While I was here I searched for a meaningful discussion on the gospel and found none. Seems to be a lot of shallow thinking with many words clarifying nothing, maybe you should have been politicians.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      JW – I am sorry that our discussions do not fit your categories of ‘meaningful discussion.’ Nevertheless, thanks for coming by the site…

  • Dana

    Very interesting, and I agree. It makes perfect sense.

    Would I be oversimplifying it if I compared the earth to our bodies? (stop laughing, everyone.) It’s the first thing that came to my mind while reading this post. I mean, we’re called to honor our bodies, not because it will make us feel better or give us energy to play with our kids or be better spouses. We’re called to honor our bodies because God created them (more specifically, to house the Holy Spirit, of course).

    So I get your point. We’re not to care for the earth simply because it will benefit our lives or the lives of our kids and their kids. We’re to care for the earth out of respect for God’s creation.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go look up the definition of eschatology.
    :)

  • http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/ Jason Barr

    I know this is an old post, but I sometimes like getting new comments on old posts, it lets me know they still get read every once in awhile. Perhaps you feel the same way.

    I wrote a reflection for Earth Day on my blog ( http://absolutionrevolution.com/blog/2009/04/23/all-things-created-for-gods-pleasure-reflection-for-earth-day/ ) arguing that we should value the earth for its own sake because it has been created by God, for God’s own pleasure, keying on Rev. 4:11. After reading this post I thought you might enjoy it.


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