By Jim Doenges
The three Rs
The “three Rs” have for many years been a mainstay for the individual application of an environmental stewardship ethic: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
We can reduce the amount of water we use by installing low-flow fixtures. Compact fluorescent bulbs, energy-saving appliances, and increased insulation reduces the energy consumption of our homes. We can reduce the mistaken belief that satisfaction comes in accumulating possessions. Ever see a U-haul behind a hearse? (See Ecclesiastes 5:10-12.) Likewise, reusing and recycling things not only saves money but also reduces impacts to the environment.
Today, we might add additional "Rs" – refuse and reject. We may refuse or reject incessant advertising lies that try to entice us to believe that more consumption of bigger and newer things will bring us greater happiness and fulfillment in life. We can also reject the false beliefs that would elevate the created world above the Creator and make us idolaters.
We might add restoration to the list of "Rs" and support those who are working to mitigate and make right aspects of our degraded environment: polluted streams, degraded wetlands, denuded soils, fouled air, devastated fisheries, lost forests, and the list goes on.
We can easily feel overwhelmed by the scientific evidence of the degradations of creation around the world and the suffering they produce. Just as the restoration, redemption, and reconciliation of a right relationship with God through Jesus provides the only coherent worldview, we need a new framework that goes beyond the traditional three "Rs."
A Christian environmental stewardship framework could help us deepen our faith, be more obedient to God’s Word, and understand how our actions can help the poor and glorify God.
The three As
A talk with Calvin DeWitt provided me with such a framework. Calvin DeWitt is the former director of the AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies. He has a Ph.D. in ecology, has taught at the University of Wisconsin for many years, and has written and spoken about Christian environmental stewardship extensively since the 1980s. Already familiar with his work, I jumped at the chance to meet with him several years ago when he was a guest lecturer at Denver Seminary, located not far from my home in Colorado.
In both his writings and during my talk with him, Dr. DeWitt explained that most people in the United States and western Europe have become alienated from the Creator and God’s creation. (I term this "Creation-Deficit Disorder" – CDD.) It is difficult for people to make informed decisions or act rightly about the real world that they really do not know or understand. Therefore, many will first have to become aware of creation and its God-declared goodness. Once people have gained awareness, they can naturally respond with a greater appreciation, and from appreciation on to action for stewardship.
Dr. DeWitt provides a helpful framework:
1. Awareness. We are not likely to take action for something we don’t appreciate, and we can’t appreciate something we are not aware of. When so much in our busy lives competes for our attention, the natural aspects of creation may not even seem real to us. Print, celluloid, or digital representations of butterflies, snowflakes, sunsets, starlit skies, and mountaintop views are just faint echoes of real things meant to be experienced vividly. We must consciously make ourselves aware of creation. Awareness involves seeing, listening, locating, and identifying. In biology classes at all levels of education, students often are given assignments to draw what they see. That is because in order to draw something, you must look at it carefully and in so doing get a greater understanding of it. Awareness means intentionally planning the time to enter the natural world with an attitude of expectation, thoughtfulness, reflection, and peace. Only then will we see the creatures many of us sing about in the doxology "praise God, all creatures here below."
2. Appreciation. Awareness is not an end in itself. The more we learn and discern about that which God originally deemed was "good," the more we will marvel at its aesthetic, utility, and existence. We will gain an increased tolerance and respect, and much of what we will discover we will esteem and cherish. We can marvel at how our air and water are purified, and how plants make food energy from sun energy. We will be awed by the beauty of things both large and small. We will also learn to relate aspects of creation with aspects of God’s word, such as the divinely ordained hydrologic cycle and living water.
3. Action. Initially, our heightened sense and understanding may mean more appropriate uses and decisions about use of creation (such as the three Rs). But our stewardship can bring us beyond appropriate uses to responsible care of what remains, and to restoring what has been abused or degraded in the past. Our actions will be grounded in the biblically based caring and keeping of what we hold in trust, such that we will strive towards providing the land and creatures with their time of Sabbath rests, and preserving creation’s fruitfulness and thus its ability to sustain the peoples of the world.
Christian environmental stewardship – as image-bearers of God – is a central, joyful, satisfying aspect of our task here on God’s earth. As communities of God’s summit stewards, our churches and our lives can be vibrant testimonies that glorify our Redeemer and Creator, as the Body of the one who made, sustains, and reconciles the world. "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Revelation 4:11). (See also John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1).
Jim Doenges, a resident of Littleton, Colo., is Climbing For Christ's director of Summit Stewards and the coordinator of the Front Range Chapter. You can reach Jim by e-mail at jdoenges@ClimbingForChrist.org. This story originally appeared in the Climbing For Christ quarterly, The Climbing Way (Volume 4, Summer 2006).