Trinity Journal 19 NS (1998) 139-162
Copyright © 1998 by Trinity Journal, cited with permission.
TRINJ 19 NS (1998) 139-162
THE FOUR MOST IMPORTANT
BIBLICAL PASSAGES FOR A
MICHAEL A. BULLMORE*
EARTH, sweet Earth, sweet landscape, with leaves throng
And louched low grass, heaven that dost appeal
To, with no tongue to plead, no heart to feel;
That canst but only be, but dost that long--
Thou canst but be, but that thou well dost; strong
Thy plea with him who dealt, nay does now deal,
Thy lovely dale down thus and thus bids reel
Thy river, and o'er gives all to rack or wrong.
And what is Earth's eye, tongue, or heart else, where
Else, but in dear and dogged man?--Ah, the heir
To his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn,
To thriftless reave both our rich round world bare
And none reck of world after, this bids wear
Earth brows of such care, care and dear concern.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
In the upper reaches of
evangelically based education center for promoting a Christian
environmental stewardship. The philosophy of the Au Sable Institute
reads in part as follows:
The Board, faculty, and staff of the Au Sable Institute confess that
God is owner of all. Humankind is not the owner of that over
which it has authority. Human authority is more that of trustee
than owner. The scope of this trust is global. Since all creatures
depend on the earth for life, health and fulfillment, stewardship is
*Michael A. Bullmore is Associate Professor of Homiletics and Practical Theology
140 TRINITY JOURNAL
the responsible use and care of creation. This is a clear and repeated
testimony of Scripture.1
It is the purpose of this article to focus exclusively on this clear and
repeated biblical testimony. While previous articles in this series
have attended to scientific, political, and historical dimensions of the
environmentalism issue there has been as yet no closely focused
examination of biblical material on the issue in this venue.2
It is not as though no biblical attention has been paid elsewhere.
There is an encouraging recent growth in both the amount and the
quality of writing addressing environmentalism from a more purely
scriptural perspective.3 Much of this material, however, has arrived
in the form of book-length treatments or collections of essays each
dedicated to various parts of the biblical witness. It is our belief that
it will prove useful to Christian teachers, and especially pastors, to
have a more compact and more easily accessed treatment of the most
essential biblical materials. Hence our focus on the "most
In their article "Evangelicals and Environmentalism: Past,
Present, and Future," Grizzle, Rothrock, and Barrett share the results
1As quoted in W. Granberg-Michaelson, ed., Tending the Garden: Essays on the
Gospel and the Earth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) vii. The present author has no
formal connection with the Au Sable Institute.
2Some may argue that the sequence here is backwards. In his excellent earlier
article "Bridging the Gap: Christian Environmental Stewardship and Public
Environmental Policy" (Trinity Journal 18NS ), F. Van Dyke speaks of writings
which focus primarily on the biblical and theological dimensions of environmental
stewardship as a "constructive first step" (p. 142). A few pages later he adds, "As
Christian witness in environmental stewardship has matured beyond merely
articulating what the Bible and Christian tradition say about the care of God's
creation, so this maturity has taken tangible form on many fronts. These have
included the production of writings by Christians with deliberate implications for
environmental policy" (p. 150). Late in his article and as something of a thesis, Van
Dyke states, "Ultimately, the reason and logic of the Christian position must be based
not on biblical data only, but on sound and original study, supported by the Christian
community, of the basic properties and behaviors of ecosystems, and by a clear and
first-hand understanding of the technical application of management practices toward
the solution of environmental problems" (p. 168). Clearly Van Dyke's concern is with
public policy, and so I understand his reference to a "Christian position" to be a
"position" assumed in the process of formulating public policy and encouraging
specific public action. Given this understanding, I agree with his thesis and applaud
its intent. But leadership in such public thought and action is the responsibility of
relatively few people. For Christians more broadly considered whose responsibility it
is to think and behave in a Christian manner, the "reason and logic" of their Christian
position (i.e., world view) must be unapologetically grounded in biblical data only
and simply find corroboration in professional scientific study. Thus our present effort.
3See, for example, Granberg-Michaelson, Tending the Garden; C. B. DeWitt, ed.,
The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament? (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1991); F. Van Dyke, D. C. Mahan, J. K. Sheldon, and R. H. Brand,
Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental
InterVarsity, 1996). Mention should also be made in this connection of the charming
booklet, ideal for family use, The
Teaching About the Creation (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1992).
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 141
of a national survey of pastors in which the participants were asked,
"What are the most important obstacles to further development of an
effective philosophy of creation that involves appropriate
environmental concern and action by evangelicals?" The most cited
"obstacle" (identified by well over half the participants) was "the
lack of teaching and preaching on the environment, particularly the
failure to develop a robust theology of the creation."4 This lament is
voiced repeatedly by those committed to getting a responsible
Christian presence felt in our society as it addresses issues of
It is therefore the intention of this article to be something of a
primer for pastors and teachers who have a desire to include as a
part of their larger ministry of public instruction and
encouragement, truth concerning mankind's responsibility before
God toward his creation (a desire we would want to encourage in all
pastors and teachers) but who to date have not had the opportunity
adequately to study and process the potentially overwhelming
amount of material dedicated to the subject. In short, this article
gathers and begins to operationalize the foundational biblical
thought necessary for a faithful Christian proclamation regarding the
At this point it may be necessary to address a fundamental
question. Why is it important to preach and teach this? Shouldn't we
concentrate our limited time on the more pressing concerns of the
gospel and Christian life? While the "environmental issue" is one of
particularly poignant current concern about which Christians should
be able to think and speak from within a Christian perspective, if for
no other reason to engage in potentially productive discussion, if it is
considered separately, as some interesting topic, it does pale in
comparison to the importance of other Christian categories. It is only
when it is seen as of a piece with our larger responsibility before God
that it assumes the place of something worthy of our time and
careful consideration. A piece of history from the environmentalism
debate will be instructive for us here.
Soon after the emergence of "environmentalism" as a movement,
accusations were leveled against Christianity, blaming it for the
current ecological crisis.6 As a Christian voice began to be raised on
the issue of environmentalism, much time was spent refuting these
accusations. It now appears that those accusations, at least in some
scholarly quarters, are being retracted. However, at least some
Christian writers were willing to own some blame. In response to the
attempt by some Christian writers to place the blame at the feet of
4R. E. Grizzle, P. E. Rothrock, and C. B. Barrett, "Evangelicals and
Environmentalism: Past, Present and Future," Trinity Journal 19NS (1998) 21-2.
5See, for another example, Van Dyke, et al., Redeeming Creation, 148, 175-6.
6Most notably, though by no means exclusively, by L. White Jr., "The Historical
Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," Science 155 (
obligatory reference to this article in virtually every Christian treatment of the issue.
142 TRINITY JOURNAL
irresponsible Christians in order to protect Christianity as a set of
ideas, James Nash insisted,
It will not do to draw a neat distinction between Christianity and
Christendom, between the faith itself and perversions of it by its
practitioners. That distinction may be formally or logically true, as I
agree, but it is facile and unconvincing when applied to history. We
cannot so easily distinguish between the faith and the faithful.7
Despite Nash's warning, my attempt in what follows is to focus
on "the faith" as set forth in the Scriptures, independent of its
practice by Christians. By so doing I am seeking to contribute to a
more faithful expression of true Christianity by those who call
themselves Christian. The fact that many Christians have become
captive to a world view that unduly elevates economic progress
makes it absolutely necessary for Christian pastors and teachers to
address the matter head-on-and for better or worse the issue of
environmental stewardship is integrally involved in this clash of
world views. Thus, preaching and teaching a Christian
environmentalism can, in our day, play a significant role in
facilitating the movement of people away from lives of self-interest
and toward an earnest devotion to a Christian way of life, and must
occupy a place in the total teaching of Christians to pursue and
honor the accomplishment of the purposes of God in his earth. The
mandate to care for the earth, a mandate fundamental to man's being
and seminal in his relationship to God, has not been abrogated.
Environmental stewardship is therefore a matter of both Christian
obedience and Christian piety. And, it is our confidence that a clear
and straightforward teaching is presented in Scripture upon which
morally responsible teaching and action can be based.8
Before we look at the biblical passages chosen it may be helpful
to speak a word regarding the selection process. There is an almost
inexhaustible number of passages which might be treated in
connection with a discussion of a Christian environmentalism. The
Psalms alone are filled with references to God as Creator and in
relationship to his creation. The Prophets contain repeated references
to the network of issues related to justice and human greed, a major
one being that of land use. Many biblical writers, in both Old
Testament and New, speak with an eye toward a future in which the
transformation of creation figures largely. However, within this
abundance, a fairly well-defined canon of Scriptures emerges which
7J. Nash, Loving
Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (
Abingdon, 1991) 72.
8That H. P. Santmire does not share this optimism is suggested by the title of his
book The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985). See especially pp. 8-9. I am proceeding under the
conviction that the Bible does provide clear instruction regarding our responsibility
toward creation from which principles instructive for thought and life can be
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 143
provides, though in basic form, a complete theology of creation.
While other passages will be referred to in the discussion, the four
passages selected are sufficient to the task.
II. THE FOUR BIBLICAL PASSAGES
A. Psalm 104
One might expect an attempt to articulate a biblical Christian
environmentalism to begin with Genesis 1 and its majesterial
statements of the foundational truth that God is the Creator. While
that truth deserves pride of place, we will use Psalm 104 to highlight
it. For in this psalm we find not only the assertion of the truth that
God created the world but also the expression of corollary truths
such that the psalm presents a more fully developed picture of the
relationship that exists between God and creation. Thus it brings the
reader to a more heightened awareness of the response appropriate
to the foundational truth it declares.9 It might even be argued that if
one had to choose but one passage to support a Christian
environmentalism it should be this psalm; and if one had to choose
but one verse it would be Ps 104:24. "How many are your works, O
Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your
The contribution of Psalm 104 might be summarized as follows:
1. God created the earth and all things in it, and he
continues to sustain the earth and all things in it by the
loving exercise of his sovereign power.
2. The earth and all things in it belong to God by virtue of
his creative work, and all things find their reason for
being fundamentally in relation to him.
3. The earth and all things in it were created perfectly--
each creature in itself and the entire creation in its
4. Even after the entrance of sin into the created order this
perfection still shines through so as to be perceivable by
man. Thus, creation continually bears witness to the
perfections of God and promotes in man praise toward
While the foundational truth of God's creative work operates as
an underlying assumption throughout most of Psalm 104, there are a
few places where the psalmist explicitly asserts it (e.g., vv. 5-6), and
9There is a fairly obvious structural parallel between Psalm 104 and the creation
account in Genesis 1. This parallelism supports our decision, for it argues that Psalm
104 is a self-conscious attempt to interpret and flesh out the Genesis account. For an
this parallel, see, for example, D. Kidner, Psalms
InterVarsity, 1975) 368.
144 TRINITY JOURNAL
at a moment of culmination in the psalm he breaks out with the
passionate declaration to God, "Thou hast made. . ." (v. 24). Clearly,
the heavens and earth exist as a result of the exercise of God's
sovereign creativity. The unique emphasis of this psalm, however, is
on God's sustenance of his creation. "He makes springs pour
water. . . . He waters the mountains. . . . He makes grass grow. . . .
The trees of the Lord are well watered" (vv. 10, 13, 14, 16). And after
providing a representative cataloging of some animal denizens of
forest, mountain, badlands, and sea, the psalmist summarizes,
"These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time" (v.
27). All creatures are completely dependent on God. When God
provides, his creatures are satisfied (v. 28). When he "hides his face,"
they are terrified (v. 29). When God sends his "Spirit," there is new
life (v. 30). When he takes breath away, life ceases (v. 29). Here is a
significant extension of the Genesis account. Yes, creation exists only
because it was called into existence by God. But it continues to exist
only because of the continuous care of its Creator.
Second, growing out of this primary claim of the text is the
implication of theocentricity in creation. By virtue of having been
created by God, all creatures belong to him. They are, says our
psalmist, "your possessions" (v. 24); "his works" (v. 31). "The earth is
the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for
he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters" (Ps
24:1-2; emphasis added). But not only have all creatures been created
by God, they have been created for God as well, and thus they find
their primary reason for being with reference to him. This is a point
of no small significance in the current discussion regarding
That God finds pleasure in his creation is a consistent testimony
of Scripture. It is this that motivates the psalmist's desire, "May the
Lord rejoice in his works" (v. 31). But can it be said that this pleasure
of God in his non-human creatures is a sufficient explanation for
their being? It is one thing to find pleasure in something that exists.
It is another thing to say a thing exists for that reason.
There is no question that creation exists, at least in part, for the
purpose of nourishing mankind. "He makes. . . plants for man to
cultivate-bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the
heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his
heart" (vv. 14-15). But does this reference to man exhaust the non-
human creatures' reason for being? Or, to ask it positively, does non-
human creation find any reason for being, independent of man?
Psalm 104 suggests it does. Before we examine that suggestion,
however, it will prove useful to consider the opposing position.
Representative of this position is Thomas Sieger Derr, who
willingly describes himself as an "unreconstructed"
anthropocentrist.10 Derr is positioning himself vis-a-vis the
10T. S. Derr, J. A. Nash, and R. J. Neuhaus, Environmental Ethics and Christian
Humanism (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) 17.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 145
biocentrism which dominates much of secular environmentalism
and which holds "nature" or "the life process" as the primary value.
Against this, Derr is reasserting the conviction that man is decidedly
above nature and that nature exists to sustain human life.11 As a
"Christian" humanist Derr is quick to add that man is made for God
but he is adamant ("unrepentant" he says) in his anthropocentrism.
Man's needs are a sufficient explanation for the existence of non-
While Derr, and others like him, are right in distancing
themselves from the biocentrism of secular environmentalism for
explicitly religious reasons, their mistake is in not distancing
themselves far enough. Derr would no doubt affirm a theocentric
world view, but within that world view, I would argue, there needs
to be a theocentric view of non-human creation.13 Nature certainly
was made with man in mind but man's needs are an insufficient
frame of reference entirely to explain creation.14 Only God can
supply such a frame of reference.
Our psalm, along with other passages (Job 38-41 in particular),
speak to the fact that creation does not exist solely for the sake of
man. In his speech to Job, God clearly implies that some creatures
exist simply for his own delight.
Look at the behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
What strength he has in his loins,
what power in the muscles of his belly!
His tail sways like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are close-knit.
His bones are tubes of bronze,
His limbs like rods of iron.
He ranks first among the works of God.
While God may not be chuckling gleefully as he provides this
description, it is evident that he is taking great delight in a prize
12A virtually identical stance is taken by E. C. Beisner in the article which
appeared earlier in this series, "Imago Dei and the Population Debate," Trinity Journal
18NS (1997) 173- 97.
13Derr does acknowledge the possibility of some value in creation beyond
human nourishment, but he is unwilling to speculate as to exactly what that value is,
"not being privy to the mind of God" (Environmental Ethics, 140, cf., p. 23). I will argue
that, because of the presence of certain passages in our Bibles, it is not necessary to
14One might be more attracted to this position if by "man's needs" was meant
more than just food and shelter. Certainly man has a need to have his soul uplifted,
and we know that God created the heavens and the earth in part to achieve that very
purpose (see Psalms 8 and 19). However, even with this expanded definition of
human need, it remains an inadequate frame of reference satisfactorily to explain the
reason for creation's existence.
146 TRINITY JOURNAL
creation and is happy to point out "how utterly and awesomely
useless (to us) are some of the creatures he has made."15 After
extending his point by means of a similar description of "leviathan"
(41:1-10), God emphatically declares, "Who has a claim against me
that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me" (41:11;
emphasis added). Against Job's presumption God is graciously
offering the reminder that he does not owe man anything.
While somewhat less dramatically, our psalm makes a similar
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the pine trees.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the coneys.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number-
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
(vv.16-18, 20-22, 25-26)
Here we are shown that it is not just man's needs, certainly not
his physical ones, that explain God's manifold creation.16 Apparently
God has a vital interest in scurrying pikas, nesting storks, tiny
marine creatures, and the prowling nocturnal animals of the deep
forest and jungle. He has given them each appropriate shelter and he
15Yan Dyke, et al., Redeeming Creation, 49.
16Of particularly charming interest is this reference to a frolicking "leviathan"
(probably in this case a cetacean). One might argue, especially upon observing the
great benefits that several human cultures have derived through whaling, that the
primary reason for the existence of whales is the provision of food for man. Certainly
God has provided for man in this way. But what is this reference to frolicking? The
word translated "frolic" speaks of laughter and merry-making-sporting whales of all
things. Of what value is that to man, especially considering all the frolicking that goes
on out at sea unobserved by human eyes? (That man in his ships has the occasional
opportunity to observe such sporting is only another blessing of God.)
It should also be remembered in this connection that having already brought the
entire animal kingdom into being God then told Adam and Eve that every plant and
fruit-bearing tree was theirs for food (Gen ). That God made the same provision for
the animals only highlights the fact that animals were not on the menu. Of what
practical use to man were the wild animals during the period up to God's declaration
to Noah that "now" meat was for eating too (Gen 9:3)?
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 147
satisfies their bellies with "good things" (v. 28). And all this interest
is for the creatures' own sakes without reference to man's physical
sustenance.17 In fact, the psalmist makes a point of drawing a sharp
line between the economy of these beasts and the economy of man.
"The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. The sun
rises, and they steal away: they return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening" (vv. 21-23;
emphasis added). A life unrelated to the needs of man is forever
going on. Therefore, any ardent anthropocentrism must be radically,
perhaps categorically, qualified. Though man is undeniably the focus
of God's creative and redemptive work there is an almost
overwhelming fecundity to life that simply cannot be explained by
reference to human nourishment and comfort. Again, only God can
supply an adequate frame of reference. It is precisely this
theocentrism that will rescue us from the greed or indifference that ;
so easily invade an anthropocentric view. Keeping God at the center
of the universe will help us to behave.
The third major contribution of Psalm 104 has to do with the
perfection of God's creation. It is in v. 24 that this emerges most
powerfully. "How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you
made them all" (emphasis added). This reference to divine wisdom
operating in the making of "all" of God's creatures speaks of the
perfection inherent in each different species. Every animal and plant
species that exists owns perfection as a result of the exercise of God's
wisdom in creation. John Calvin wrote,
God has been pleased to manifest his perfections in the whole
structure of the universe. . . . On each of his works his glory is
engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that
none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their
But the conceptual pressure from the larger message of the
psalm tells us that not only was each individual species made
perfectly but that God's wisdom is seen in the perfection of the way
individual species relate to each other to form biotic communities
occupying well-defined life zones.
17The beginnings of an argument for a Christian environmentalism are found
here. Since God loves and cares about these creatures, and since being a Christian
means embracing and reflecting God's values, then it follows that we too should care
for these creatures. Nash puts it this way: "Ethically, since fidelity to God implies
loyalty to divine valuations and affections, we are called to image the values of the
ultimate Valuer--indeed, to mirror the love of Christ toward all God's beloved, not
only humanity" (Environmental Ethics, 108). This should not be read to imply that we
love non-human creatures equally with humans. Instead the quality and quantity of
our love should "mirror" that of God's. This way, as Nash more succinctly puts it,
"Respect for biotic interests. . . is theocentric respect for the biotic values of God" (p.
of the Christian Religion (2 vols.; ed. J. T.
148 TRINITY JOURNAL
He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the pine trees.
This careful ordering of ecosystems is, says the psalmist, a
demonstration of divine genius.
Closely related to this third contribution, in fact flowing out of it,
is the fourth, which speaks of the impact of the perfection of the
creation upon man. By the time the psalmist took up his pen, sin had
psalmist is not unaware. He speaks of prowling lions roaring for
their hapless prey (v. 21). He knows that terror and death are
common among man and beast (v. 29). He does not avert his eyes
from the destruction of earthquake and volcano (v. 32). He openly
acknowledges the existence of wicked men (v. 35). He sees that
nature is, in fact, "red in tooth and claw." Nonetheless, he observes
creation and cannot restrain his praise.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty. (v. 1)
How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all. (v. 24)
May the glory of the Lord endure forever. (v. 31)
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. (v. 33)
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord. (v. 35)
Despite the intrusion of sin and its marring effects there remains a
powerful and clearly visible witness in creation to, as the apostle
Paul puts it, the "eternal power and divine nature" of God (Rom
-20). The heavens still declare the "glory of God" and the skies
still proclaim his "handiwork" (Ps 19:1). Particular characteristics of
God are revealed in his works. The author of Psalm 104 could
actually see evidence of God's wisdom and wealth. Therefore he is
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 149
drawn to praise God for these specific attributes. Herein we see the
doxological value of creation.19
Psalm 104 presents more than just propositional truth. It models
for us the response appropriate to our discovery of God's manifest
presence in creation. As God's people are moved to cry "Glory!"
when they observe the thunderstorm approach from over the
one of God's eagles soaring the thermals (Prov 30:18-19); so should
we respond with appropriate humble praise when creation points us
beyond itself to an all-wise almighty God.
There are clear environmental implications here. If "all" of God's
works were made with wisdom, then each one has the ability to
speak to man of that wisdom. Thus every loss of species is a
diminution of man's opportunity to observe the perfection of God. In
John's vision of the heavenly throne he hears the elders sing to the
Lord, "You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, for
you created all things" (; emphasis added). Any destruction
of creation removes from man a cause for giving honor to God.
Every species, every ecosystem, reveals the wisdom of God and thus
exerts a powerful doxological influence.20 We must remember that
God also told at least all the birds and all the marine creatures to "be
fruitful and increase in number" (Gen ; emphasis added). Thus
we must find a way to co-exist with these creatures in a mutual
fruitfulness, one which recognizes and honors the wisdom of the
Lord and lets "all things, their creator bless."21
19John Calvin captures this so marvelously when he speaks of creation as "this
most beautiful theatre" of God's works (Institutes 1.14.20).
20To this doxological influence might be added an evangelistic influence. Aldo
Leopold, the beloved patron saint of the environmental movement, was not without
religious leanings and a certain level of biblical literacy. In his journals he wrote,
"What value has wildlife from the standpoint of morals and religion? I heard of a boy
once who was brought up an atheist. He changed his mind when he saw that there
were a hundred-odd species of warblers, each bedecked like to the rainbow, and each
performing yearly sundry thousands of miles of migration about which scientists
wrote wisely but did not understand. No 'fortuitous concourse of elements' working
blindly through any number of millions of years could quite account for why warblers
are so beautiful. No mechanistic theory, even bolstered by mutations, has ever quite
answered for the colors of the cerulean warbler, or the vespers of the wood thrush, or
the swansong, or--goose music. I dare say this boy's convictions would be harder to
shake than those of many inductive theologians. There are yet many boys to be born
who, like Isaiah, 'may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the
hand of the Lord hath done this.' But where shall they see, and know, and consider?
In museums?" (Round
River: From the Journals of Aldo Leopold [
Northword, 1991] 246).
21Derr's backhanded dismissal of efforts to protect endangered species by
reference to two(!) cases of marginal relevance is both surprising and disturbing
(Environmental Ethics, 72). That habitat depletion and fragmentation at the hands of
human greed are endangering species is an incontestable fact. What is even more
disturbing is this statement made in reference to environmental choices we face:
"There is, moreover, very little of specifically or uniquely Christian content to such
decisions" (p. 76). For that to be true the word "Christian" would have to have a very
slim definition indeed.
150 TRINITY JOURNAL
B. Genesis 1-2
Given the fullness of Psalm 104 and its unique relationship with
the opening chapters of Genesis, we will find, as we turn to those
chapters, that much of their ground has already been covered. Thus
we will treat a good part of the contribution of Genesis 1-2 in a more
brief and summary form. There is one contribution of these chapters,
however, which stands, in order of importance, second only to the
statement that God is the creator of the universe. A primary concern
of theology, much more, of a Christian environmentalism, must be
that of determining mankind's proper place and role before God in
the context of creation. It is in addressing this concern that Genesis 1-
2 delivers its greatest value.
The contribution of Genesis 1-2 might be summarized as follows:
1. God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in
2. All that which God created he pronounced good, i.e., it
existed exactly as he intended it.
3. Of all his creation God created only man in his own
image, thus causing man to occupy a position distinct
from and above the rest of creation.
4. God blessed both human and non-human creation by
imbuing both with powers of procreation and
encouraging both to exercise those powers liberally.
5. God gave to mankind the responsibility of mastery over
non-human creation, and he commanded him to exercise
that mastery toward the preservation of, and fuller
realization of, creation's goodness.
With reference to the first of these truths, not much more can be
said than what Gen 1:1 so starkly announces out of the silence: "In
the beginning God created. . . ." As many have observed, the
profundity of these first five words of Scripture is almost without
comparison. Only the great biblical statements of God's redemptive
act, as found in places like John and Rom 5:8, match the
magnitude of this opening claim of the Bible. The first two chapters
of Genesis give us two well known accounts of the creation history,
each with a measure of detail, but their first truth is that all creation
came into being because God called it into being.
God's creative activity was not without intentional design. When
the Genesis account so regularly communicates God's observation of
the "goodness" of his work (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), it is telling us
that things have turned out exactly as God wanted them. This is not
to suggest to the reader of the account that some other possibility
existed, i.e., that God might have botched it. These references to
creation's goodness are not primarily there as a commentary on the
quality of God's creativity and power. These things are assumed.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 151
The references are there simply to tell the reader, and rather
emphatically, that the creation perfectly is what God intended it to
be. Each thing stands in its proper relationship to God, and each
thing glorifies God by being exactly what God intended it to be.22
What did God intend creation to be? While the answer which
Genesis 1-2 supplies to this question does not account for the entirety
of God's intention for creation, it does speak very concretely of a
specific part of God's intention. Apart from its repeated use
throughout Genesis 1, which we have already noted, and apart from
its use in the designation "the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil," the word translated "good" appears only twice in its positive
sense (cf. the "not good" of Gen ) in Genesis 1-2, and these two
occurrences tell us something about God's intention for creation by
telling us something about how creation is "good."
"Now the Lord God had planted a
garden in the east, in
and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made
all kinds of trees grow out of the ground-trees that were pleasing to
the eye and good for food" (Gen 2:8, 9). Clearly the writer of Genesis
to understand that these trees God made to grow in
were designed with man in mind. He very intentionally made the
fruit of those trees to be visually attractive to the human eye, tasty to
the human palate, and nourishing for the human body. A few verses
read that there is gold in the
Pishon flows and that "the gold of that land is good" (v. 12). Two
other mineral substances are subsequently named, and each of these
three substances has the distinction of being considered highly
valuable by man. These things (and in particular the gold) are
"good," the clear implication being that they are good by virtue of
their usefulness to man.
By these two more casual references to the goodness of certain
parts of creation the author of this account gives us some
understanding of God's design for creation. God intended at least
some parts of creation to be specifically for human nourishment and
use and these parts are good in that they are what God intended
them to be.23
The third significant contribution of Genesis 1-2 begins to move
us in the direction of defining man's unique role in creation. While
we will deal more fully with that specific role below it is necessary
here to establish the distinctiveness of human creation. Robert Meye,
in his essay "Invitation to Wonder: Toward a Theology of Nature,"24
22It is this that explains passages like Psalm 148, where all of creation, including
"lightning and hail, snow and clouds, . . . mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all
cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth
and all nations, . . . young men and maidens, old men and children" (vv. 8-12), is seen
as capable of praising God.
23About the intention of some other parts of creation and about the intention of
creation as a whole we have already spoken under our treatment of Psalm 104.
24In Granberg-Michaelson, Tending the Garden, 30-49.
152 TRINITY JOURNAL
observes several details from the Genesis accounts which serve to
highlight the uniqueness of man.
1. Creation on the sixth day, after all other creative work
had been accomplished (Gen ).
2. The unique language with which the divine decision to
create [man] is announced. Instead of the impersonal
imperative "Let there be," there is a divine statement in
the first-person plural: "Let us make man in our
image. . ." (Gen 1:26).
3. The creation of humankind in the image of God (Gen
4. The special emphasis upon human creation as
community: "Male and female he created them" (Gen
5. The unique manner in which humans, male and female,
are formed-the former from the dust of the ground,
with the breath of life breathed directly into his nostrils
(Gen 2:7); the latter with a rib taken from the side of
Adam (Gen 2:21-22).
6. The granting to humankind of dominion over all things
including all animals, no matter how strong or grand
they might be (Gen ).
7. Humankind's being granted the responsibility of
naming the animals, which are brought before Adam by
God himself (Gen 2:19-20).
8. Above all else, God's direct relationship with and
address to humankind as the unique crown of creation
(Gen 1:28ff.; 2:16ff.).25
It is by virtue of this uniqueness and distinction, especially as
represented in the imago Dei, that man finds himself "a little lower
than God and crowned with glory and honor" with "all flocks and
herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of
the sea" put "under his feet" (Ps 8:5-8). To the implications of this
position we will return momentarily.
But first a brief word about the fourth contribution of Genesis 1-
2. It has already been observed that God's command to "be fruitful
and increase in number" was spoken not just to man.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and
let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God
created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving
thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and
every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was
good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number
25Ibid., 28. This is not Meye's complete list.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 153
and fill the water in the seas and let the birds increase on the earth." And
there was evening and there was morning-the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures
according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the
ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was
so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the
livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move
along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was
good. (Gen 1:20-25)
The persistently repeated reference to each "kind" of animal tells us
that God's blessing and his earnest encouragement continually to
produce offspring was addressed to individual species. The writer
takes pains to let us know that God clearly had every "kind" in
mind. God blessed, he states, "every winged bird according to its
kind." Unless we want to accuse God of duplicity, the only
conclusion that can be drawn is that it is possible for man to be
fruitful and multiply and each animal species to be fruitful and
multiply at the same time. One should not negate the other. On the
contrary, part of man's responsibility is precisely to preserve the
God-intended fullness of creation. Historically what has stood in the
way of this preservation is man's wrongful exercise of his dominion,
a subject to which our passage now bids us turn.
The discussion of man's role and responsibility toward creation
grows out of two well-defined moments in the Genesis narrative.
Then God said, "Let" us make man in our image, in our likeness,
and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air,
over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that
move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in
number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea
and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves
on the ground." (Gen 1:26-28)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to
work it and take care of it. (Gen 2:15)
It is clear from these passages, especially the first, that man has
been given some form of supremacy over the rest of creation. What
is in question is the nature and purpose of that supremacy.
Proponents of some form of Christian environmentalism have
rightly accused their detractors of focusing too exclusively on the
"dominion" passages in Genesis 1 and failing to honor the
contribution of Genesis 2. On the other hand, some Christian
environmentalists have been guilty of a too quick conflation of these
texts, such that "have dominion" has been made to equal "take care
154 TRINITY JOURNAL
of."26 While certainly Gen 2:15 should inform our understanding of
Gen 1:26-28, it needs to be noted that these two passages are not
addressing the exact same point. Each needs to be understood on its
own terms, and each needs to be given freedom to make its
contribution to the larger issue of man's responsibility toward
In their historical overview of the relationship between the
Christian church and environmentalism, Grizzle, Rothrock, and
Barrett list the "subjectionist perspective" as that which has defined
the church's stance toward the environment for most of its history.
They suggest that this position derives its primary inspiration from
Gen 1:28, seeing it as "a call to bring the non-human environment
into subjection for the purpose of facilitating human expansion."27
While clearly the terms "rule" (rada) and "subdue" (kabas) speak of
mastery, and clearly these words spoken to man make of man a
creature of singular status commissioned to exercise a God-given
authority, the subjectionist position is, just as clearly, a result of
misinterpreting these words. The call to rule over and subdue
creation simply cannot bear the meaning "strong, forceful
subjugation,"28 given the context in which these words are spoken.
God told Adam and Eve to "fill the earth and subdue it" by which he
meant that man should exercise his God-given authority (i.e., "rule")
over the earth as he gradually came to occupy more and more of it.
And certainly, especially after the Fall, some of this exercise of
authority would have to find expression in "forceful subjugation,"
for after the curse the creation would possess a resistance to man's
dominion.29 But it is one thing to exercise physical and technological
prowess over a garden or a cow or a grouse or a trout. It is
something very different to "rule" in this way over all "the fish of
the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that
moves on the ground." Just how does one "forcefully subjugate" the
great host of neo-tropical warblers?30 How the Arctic Tern with its
almost unbelievable pattern of migration? And why would one want
26While pointing out a case of the first error, S. Bouma-Prediger comes
dangerously close to committing the second. See his, "Is Christianity Responsible for
the Ecological Crisis?" Christian Scholar's Review 225 (1995) 149-50.
27"Evangelicals and Environmentalism," 6.
28This is Beisner's conclusion in "Imago Dei and the Population Debate," 184.
29I am somewhat surprised by Beisner's apparent assumption that even before
the Fall, creation is "something whose spontaneous tendency is to resist dominion"
(ibid., 185). I believe Van Dyke is more accurate when he says, speaking of God's
instruction to Adam to subdue the earth, "In a world without sin, we are not unkind
to Adam to point out that this would have been neither a difficult nor an unpleasant
task" (Redeeming Creation, 91).
30While at first this brings to mind an exercise in futility, it is becoming
increasingly clear that man can, indirectly, exercise that kind of power. But it is
necessarily destructive of the creatures in view, and the Bible defines that kind of
dominion as sin.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 155
Not all of creation was created with man's physical needs in
mind, and so significant portions of creation will not require this
kind of subjection. And, as we've already observed, God's aim in Job
40-41 is to point out precisely our inability in many cases to rule in
this way. Yet God clearly tells Adam to "rule" over all the creatures.
While that rule may, and does, include some exercise of physical and
technological force, clearly it speaks of something larger than that.
Those who equate "dominion" with "subjugation" have committed
the logical error of mistaking a part for the whole.
What then is meant by God's instruction to man to "rule over"
creation? Fundamentally it is an announcement of the conferral of
authority. Man is to act as the head of the household and is
responsible to see that the household runs well and that all members
of the household continue to function according to their God-
appointed roles. While the exercise of that authority does include the
freedom to use creation appropriately to sustain and nourish human
life, man must not so exercise his authority as to be harmful to God's
intentions for all creation. In fact, he must sometimes exercise his
authority to protect and preserve God's creatures from human
subjugation. His job, in short, is to function as God's steward and as
such to continue to keep what God has created in conformity with
his purposes and will for that creation. It is not primarily for our
own well-being that we rule over creation but for God.31
Theologian and OT scholar William Dyrness has provided
helpful direction in our effort to define human dominion. First, he
makes the observation that the commission of the man and the
woman to have dominion over creation must be understood in the
context of God's ordering of the world to be fertile and productive,
and his encouragement to man to enjoy that particular goodness.
Second, he explores the meaning of the command to "rule" by
comparing it to the demands placed on Israelite kings. He writes:
Since the word ["rule"] is that generally used of the rule of a king, I
believe the key is to be found in the unique conception of "rule"
that is developed in the Old Testament and that is specifically
to accumulate large amounts of gold, . . . Here is an organic rather
31There is, as one might expect, a persistent anthropocentrism operating within
the subjectionist position. Indeed, they are virtually synonymous. Hence, Derr, even
though he is willing to use a term like "stewardship," defines it as "preserving this
world as a habitat fit for humanity" (Environmental Ethics, 32). "The steward's task,"
says Derr, "is responsible development" (p. 22) and it is clear that by development he
means that which better serves mankind. The line between appropriate use and
exploitation is a hard one to fix and an even harder one upon which to find wide
agreement. For this reason I have a deep reluctance to affirm the use of the word
"development" in an attempt to define stewardship, especially given what the word
connotes in our day and even more because of the damage done to the environment at
the hands of human "development." Again, if we could factor human greed out of
human development we would be on safer ground.
156 TRINITY JOURNAL
than strictly monarchial view of kingship and ruling, . . . The rule
that men and women are to exercise over creation, then, is one of
servanthood, as a brother or sister "rules" over others in the
Then, bringing his two ideas together, he summarizes:
If my thesis--that human dominion is best seen in the ideal
righteous rule of the king would issue in a productive and fruitful
environment, both human and nonhuman. And in Psalm 72, the
great hymn of praise for the righteous king, this is precisely what
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness. . . .
Let grain abound throughout the land;
on the tops of the hills may it sway.
Let its fruit flourish like
let it thrive like the grass of the field.
This rule is both a reflection of God's own righteous rule and an
expression of God's purposes for all who bear his image and
exercise his dominion. . . . Clearly, goodness and fertility are
assumed to be natural characteristics of the earth, and the man and
the woman are merely to facilitate and enjoy this bounty.33
In a similar vein, essayist Wendell Berry has supplied a helpful
categorization. He speaks of two possibilities in man, "exploitation"
and "nurture." Because of the usefulness of these terms to our
discussion I will allow
Let me outline as briefly as I can what seem to me to be the
characteristics of these opposite kinds of mind. I conceive a strip-
miner to be a model exploiter, and as a model nurturer I take the
old-fashioned idea or ideal of a farmer. The exploiter is a specialist,
an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is
efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter's goal
is money, profit; the nurturer's goal is health--his land's health, his
own, his family's, his community's, his country's. Whereas the
exploiter asks of a piece of land only how much and how quickly it
32W. Dyrness, "Stewardship of the Earth in the Old Testament," in Granberg-
Michaelson, Tending the Garden, 53.
33Ibid., 54. So tied is man's exercise of dominion to the preservation of creation-
wide fertility that God set down laws by which his people were to maintain an
ecological sensitivity in their cultivation of the earth. The instruction to give the land a
Sabbath rest (Lev 25:1-5) is only the best known of these laws.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 157
can be made to produce, the nurturer asks a question that is much
more complex and difficult: What is its carrying capacity? (That is:
How much can be taken from it without diminishing it? What can it
produce dependably for an indefinite time?) The exploiter wishes
to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible: the
nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work,
but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The
competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer
is in order--a human order, that is, that accommodates itself both
to other order and to mystery. The exploiter typically serves an
institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household,
community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers,
quantities, "hard facts"; the nurturer in terms of character,
condition, quality, kind.34
God commanded man to "rule over" creation he commanded him to
do so as a nurturer, not as an exploiter.
It is in the light of this understanding of Gen 1:26-28 that the
more specific responsibility given to Adam as recorded in Gen 2:15
makes most sense. Adam is placed in the garden to serve ('abad) and
preserve (samar) it. He is, in other words, to exercise his dominion
over the garden by managing it so as to preserve it, to enable it
continually to achieve those purposes God has for it. Thus his
dominion is one of service, serving-cultivating and protecting--the
creation and thereby serving the creation's owner.
C. Gen 9:8-17
The contribution of Gen 9:8-17 is single and simple but essential
to a Christian environmentalism.
God has established an everlasting covenant with all living
creatures of every kind wherein he has promised never
again to destroy them by the waters of a flood.
The covenant contained in Genesis 9 is usually understood as
presenting a promise to Noah and his family and through them to all
their descendants. In fact, theologians are wont to refer to this as the
Noachian covenant. It would be more aptly designated as the
Creation covenant, for in it God makes abundantly clear that his
promise is for every living creature.
Perhaps the most striking formal feature of the covenant is the
remarkable density of repetition. In the space of these ten verses
there are eight occurrences of the word "covenant," three references
to the "sign" of the rainbow, three repetitions of the promise to
"never again destroy by flood." Propositionally speaking, the entire
Sierra Club, 1977) 7.
158 TRINITY JOURNAL
passage could be reduced to the space of one verse without any loss
of content. The actual length of the covenantal pronouncement is due
to a prolixity of passionate emphasis, and the thing that is
emphasized above everything else is that this covenant is made with
"all life" (kol basar), with "every living creature" (kol nepes hahayya).
Nine times God reiterates this point, and it is clear from the
emphasis they receive and the positions these reiterations occupy
that God wants the point to be clear.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish
my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and
with every living creature that was with you--the birds, the livestock
and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with
you--every living creature on the earth. I establish my covenant with
you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood;
never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." And God
said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and
you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all
generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it
will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in
the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and
all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become
a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the
clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between
God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." So God said
to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established
between me and all life on the earth."
As Steven Bouma-Prediger observes, "This everlasting covenant,
God's first and original covenant--before the covenants with
Abraham or Moses or David--is with all creation."35
Clearly God is communicating through this covenant that all
creation matters to him and that it is his determination to preserve it
without diminution. And as the covenant speaks of God's solemn
intention to preserve creation, it also begins to communicate, in an
anticipatory way, his intention to redeem creation. Here someone
may protest and accuse me of over-interpretation. After all, the
covenant merely promises that there will never again be destruction
by flood. Further extrapolation is unwarranted. But the covenant
does speak beyond its own explicit promise. At minimum it says that
God sees bird and beast as worthy of covenantal protection. He is
not reluctant to group them with humans under one covenant. This
itself speaks more broadly than the limits of the specific promise
might at first suggest. But, more than that, it can be legitimately
inferred that this covenant is representative of God's long-term
intention ultimately and finally to redeem all of creation. This is an
"everlasting covenant" (berit 'olam)-like the ones made with
35"Is Christianity Responsible for the Ecological Crisis?" 153.
BULLMORE: CHRIS11AN ENVIRONMENTALISM 159
Abraham and with
It would seem strange for God to make such a covenant to preserve
creatures from destruction by water and to express that covenant so
poignantly, only to let them be destroyed by some other means. If it
tells us anything, Gen 9:8-17 tells us that in God's covenantal
economy, the destiny of every living creature is somehow linked
with ours. It is precisely this point that the apostle Paul picks up in
our final passage.
D. Rom 8:18-23
While it is in the climactic movement of the final chapters of
Revelation that the hope of Christian environmentalism finds its
most poetic and perhaps most eloquent expression, it is in Paul's
letter to the Romans that the theological context for that hope is most
clearly set forth. The primary contribution of Rom 8:18-23 can be
summarized as follows:
1. Nonhuman creation was cursed by God as a
consequence of man's sin. This curse has profoundly
affected all of creation by keeping it from realizing
God's original intention for it.
2. However, the condition in which creation presently
exists is temporary, for at some point in the future, in
connection with the glorification of the children of God,
all of creation will be set free from the curse and the
ongoing effects of man's sinfulness and will enjoy a
glorious renewal of its ability to be as it was created to
The controlling reference point for Rom 8:18-23 is, without
question, the fall of man into sin as recorded in Genesis 3. It is this
that provides both the historical and theological context for our
passage. When Paul tells us that "creation was subjected to
frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who
subjected it" (v. 20), he is making a somewhat veiled but no less
certain reference to God's chilling judgment on Adam recorded in
Gen 3:17: "Cursed is the ground because of you." Though Paul
simply refers to "the creation" in his first three references to it (vv.
19, 20, 21), in his fourth reference he speaks of "the whole creation"
(v. 22) and by so doing communicates that no part of creation has
been left unaffected by man's sin.36
Paul presents two specific consequences of this curse on creation.
First, creation was "subjected to frustration" (v. 20). We have already
36By "creation" Paul refers to all of sub-human nature, both animate and
inanimate. For an overview of the history of exegesis on this point and a defense of
the conclusion here stated see C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary
Epistle to the Romans (2 vols.;
160 TRINITY JOURNAL
observed that when God created the heavens and the earth and all
that is in the earth he did so with specific intentions for his creation.
In his cursing of creation God is purposefully frustrating his own
intentions such that creation is kept from fulfilling the purpose of its
existence. Creation therefore groans as a woman painfully and
precariously halted in childbirth. But more than just being halted in
the realization of the purpose of its existence, creation also finds
itself falling apart in the meantime. It is in "bondage to decay" (v.
21), the very opposite of its original condition of fertility and good
health. In short, creation was devastated by man's sin.
And as man continues to sin he continues to bring havoc on
creation, both by his own direct action and by inviting the judgment
of God. This is the consistent witness of the OT prophets.
Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a
charge to bring against you who live in the land: "There is no
faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There
is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break
all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the
land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the
field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying." (Hos
"I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth," declares
the Lord. "I will sweep away both men and animals; I will sweep
away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. The wicked will
have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the
earth," declares the Lord. (Zeph 1:2-3)
"My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless
children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing
evil; they know not how to do good." I looked at the earth, and it
was formless and empty; and at the heavens and their light was
gone. I looked at the mountains and they were quaking; all the hills
were swaying. I looked and there were no people; every bird in the
sky had flown away. I looked and the fruitful land was a desert; all
its towns lay in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. (Jer
Especially in this last passage, with its haunting references to the
creation narratives of Genesis, we face the specter of the possible
undoing of the physical world because of sin. The consistent
testimony of Scripture is that creation suffers and is out of whack as
a result of man's sinfulness.37 It is in "eager anticipation" of its
"liberation" from these consequences that creation presently "waits,"
37This fact forces us to a more nuanced understanding of human stewardship
which: 1) takes into consideration the cursedness of creation; and 2) recognizes that to
the duty of preserving creation must be added the duty of restoring creation.
BULLMORE: CHRISTIAN ENVIRONMENTALISM 161
and it is to this future redemption of creation that Rom 8:18-23
speaks most eloquently.38
The images Paul uses to speak of this future redemption are
powerfully emotive: the removal of an absolutely frustrating
encumbrance, liberation from a killing servitude, the successful
completion of a seemingly endless travail. But it is in his phrase
"glorious freedom" (v. 21) that Paul strikes the most potent chord,
for here he speaks of the return of creation to a state in which it can
once again freely and perfectly fulfill God's purpose for it and by so
doing participate in the general glory which will one day be
revealed, not only in us, but as the controlling characteristic of
Christ's eternal kingdom. Creation personified sees its destiny as
inextricably linked with ours. On the day when we are revealed as
sons of God (v. 19), and glory is revealed in us (v. 18), the day when
our bodies are redeemed (v. 23), creation too will experience
redemption at the hands of the one "by [whom] all things were
created" and "through [whom] all things" will be reconciled to God
This article began with a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
which laments man's carelessness toward the earth. It ends with
appropriate and serious concern enjoined by the first, an optimism
which arises out of a God-centered confidence that creation will not
be a casualty of human history but instead will be ultimately
renewed under God's tender redemptive care.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like the shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
38It is important to point out that Paul's primary focus in Rom -25 is on the
coming glory of believers and the confident expectation they can have in that future
hope. However, one simply cannot dismiss the concern with creation in this passage.
There is a theological perspective which wants to do this. Representative of this
perspective, which limits the history of redemption to the history of human
redemption, is Derr, Environmental Ethics, 31-2. For a fuller representation and critique
of this perspective see Santmire, The Travail of Nature, 3-7.
162 TRINITY JOURNAL
And for all this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
2065 Half Day Rd.
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org