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15 Biblical foundations of environmental stewardship

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Today is World Environment Day, the United Nations’ “most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.”

Though we may disagree on policy solutions, we here at the Acton Institute share the UN’s concern for the environment. In 2007 we published Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition as our primary source for religious thought on environmental stewardship.

The following list, compiled by Elise Hilton, gathers information from “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” an essay from the book that offers the Christian perspective on humanity’s place in nature.

Here are fifteen Biblical foundations of environmental stewardship:

1. God, the Creator of all things, rules over all and deserves our worship and adoration (Ps. 103:19—22).

2. The earth, and, with it, all the cosmos, reveals its Creator’s wisdom and goodness (Ps. 19:1—6) and is sustained and governed by his power and loving kindness (Ps. 102:25—27; Ps. 104; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, 10—12). Men and women were created in the image of God, given a privileged place among creatures, and commanded to exercise stewardship over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; Ps. 8:5).

3. The image of God consists of knowledge and righteousness, and expresses itself in creative human stewardship and dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26—28; 2:8—20; 9:6; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

4. The exercise of these virtues and this calling, therefore, require that we act in an arena of considerable freedom–not unrestricted license, but freedom exercised within the boundaries of God’s moral law revealed in Scripture and in the human conscience (Exod. 20:1—17; Deut. 5:6—21; Rom. 2:14—15).

5. These facts are not vitiated by the fact that humankind fell into sin (Gen. 3).

6. Rather, our sinfulness has brought God’s responses, first in judgment, subjecting humankind to death and separation from God (Gen. 2:17; 3:22—24; Rom. 5:12—14; 6:23) and subjecting creation to the curse of futility and corruption (Gen. 3:17—19; Rom. 8:20—21); and then in restoration, through Christ’s atoning, redeeming death for his people, reconciling them to God (Rom. 5:10—11, 15—21; 2 Cor. 5:17—21; Eph. 2:14—17; Col. 1:19—22), and through his wider work of delivering the earthly creation from its bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:19—23).

7. Indeed, Christ even involves fallen humans in this work of restoring creation (Rom. 8:21).

8. When he created the world, God set aside a unique place, the Garden of Eden, and placed in it the first man, Adam (Gen. 2:8—15).

9. God instructed Adam to cultivate and guard the Garden (Gen. 2:15)–to enhance its already great fruitfulness and to protect it against the encroachment of the surrounding wilderness that made up the rest of the earth. Having also created the first woman and having joined her to Adam (Gen. 2:18—25), God commanded them and their descendants to multiply, to spread out beyond the boundaries of the Garden of Eden, and to fill, subdue, and rule the whole earth and everything in it (Gen. 1:26, 28).

10. Two groups of interrelated conditions are necessary for responsible stewardship. In one group are conditions related to the freedom that allows people to use and exchange the fruits of their labor for mutual benefit (Matt. 20:13—15).

11. These conditions–knowledge, righteousness, and dominion–provide an arena for the working out of the image of God in the human person. In another group are conditions related to responsibility, especially to the existence of a legal framework that holds people accountable for harm they may cause to others (Rom. 13:1—7; Exod. 21:28—36; 22:5—6).

12. Freedom, the expression of the image of God, may be abused by sin and, therefore, needs restrictions (1 Pet. 2:16); but governmental power, necessary to subdue sin and reduce its harm, must be exercised by sinful humans, who may also abuse it (Ps. 94:20; 1 Sam. 8).

13. This means that it, too, needs restrictions (Acts 4:19—20; 5:29).

14. Such restrictions are reflected not only in specific limits on governmental powers (Deut. 17:14—20), but also in the division of powers into judicial, legislative, and executive (reflecting God as Judge, Lawgiver, and King [Isa. 33:22]); the separation of powers into local and central (exemplified in the distinct rulers in the tribes of Israel and the prophets or kings over all Israel [Deut. 1:15—16]); the gradation of powers from lesser to greater (Exod. 18; Deut. 16:8—11); and the vesting of power in a people to elect their rulers (Deut. 1:9—15; 17:15).

15. All of these principles are reflected in the Constitution of the United States. Also crucial to the Christian understanding of government is the fact that God has ordained government to do justice by punishing those who do wrong and praising those who do right (Rom. 13:1—4; 1 Pet. 2:13—14).


Associated Links

  • Natural environment
  • World
  • Natural World Museum
  • Environmental protection
  • Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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