A Biblical Perspective on Humans and the Natural World
by Steven F. Hayward
“What Would Jesus Drive?”
This popular bumper-sticker inquiry is merely the most succinct expression of a growing interest in environmental issues among evangelical Christians. Beyond catchy bumper strips are a range of recently founded faith organizations with an environmental focus, such as the Evangelical Environmental Network and its magazine Creation Care, the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the Regeneration Project, and the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The prominence of the issue of climate change is the most visible aspect of environmental concern today, but there are broader issues at stake involving the uniquely Christian perspective that views nature through the biblical lens of God’s creation.
The purpose of this essay is to outline a distinctive Christian perspective on the environment and provide a framework for Christians to engage environmental issues and environmental activists who approach the subject from a conventional secular viewpoint. There are some important differences between Christian and secular perspectives on the environment. Christian environmentalism will be sometimes opposed to, sometimes parallel to, and sometimes harmonious with conventional secular environmentalism. Understanding the sources of these tensions and harmonies is crucial. There are many temptations and confusions to be avoided; there are many principles of action to embrace and celebrate. Christians who confront environmental issues can make a significant contribution to progress in solving ecological problems. Above all, this essay is intended as a starting point. It does not try to answer all questions or settle the most important questions definitely. Rather it aims to stimulate further thought about humans, our place in the natural world, and the glorification of God’s creation.
A deeper understanding of the subject should begin with a brief look at how the issue of the environment fits within the history of Christian social activism, and with reflection on the Christian understanding of humans and the natural world as it emerges from the Bible.