The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Some of the ways that evangelical organisations are taking up the global challenge of implementing creation care as a mission task.
Pollution and the death of man (1970) was Francis Schaeffer’s response to criticisms made during the 1960s that evangelical Christianity lacked a theology of proper care for the environment. Schaeffer argued, to the contrary, that the causes and solutions to the crisis were adequately explained in Scripture.
Over the following fifty years of reflection on the care of creation, evangelical theology has become much better equipped to outline and recommend appropriate responses to current environmental crises. Since Pollution and the death of man was published, evangelicals have issued, for example, An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation (1993), formed the Evangelical Environmental Network in 1992, and played major roles in other similar networks. Gradually, evangelicals began speaking with an authentic voice and finding a welcome within the various movements, social and broadly Christian, which were actively engaged with environmental issues.
However, much of this was usually labelled ‘Christian ethics’ and included in discussions of justice, peace, public theology, faith and science, etc. Very few evangelicals were making the connections between creation care and mission. The 1993 Evangelical Declaration, for example, recommended ‘deeper reflection on the substantial biblical and theological teaching which speaks of God’s work of redemption in terms of the renewal and completion of God’s purpose in creation.’
That reflection really only emerged when the re-invigorated Lausanne Movement met at Cape Town in 2010 and issued its Cape Town Commitment. The four page section ‘We Love God’ s World’ unambiguously declares ‘Creation care is a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ’ and continues, ‘persons… society, and… creation; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.’ Two years later, the WEA and Lausanne issued the joint Jamaica Call to Action (2012). It outlines ten action steps which it follows with a Call to Prayer. It is available in nine languages.
Obviously, the production of statements by global evangelical bodies is no guarantee of reflection and action by grassroots mission agencies in Europe. As a result we decided that for this edition of VISTA we needed to showcase some of the ways that mission agencies are taking up the global challenge of implementing creation care as a mission task.
MN combines the former Dutch Evangelical Alliance and Evangelical Missionary Alliance (EZA), operating jointly as MN since May 2015. MN’s Church and Society’s work includes responsibility for Creation Care Issues. ‘Green Church’ and ‘Environmental Stewardship’ resources were published in 2011. In 2012 they published an article by Peter Siebe on ‘Christ and the Climate’, which acknowledges the influence of the Micah Declaration on climate change, the 1993 Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation, and the Oxford Declaration on Climate Change (2002).
MN co-operates with the Micah Sustainable network in the Netherlands, focusing on environmental justice. The network publishes four local church resources: Dag Schepping?! (Creation Day?!), Verwondering (Amazement), Levenkunst (Life), and Buitengewoon! (Extraordinary!).
BMS WORLD MISSION
Since 2010, seventeen projects have qualified for grants from the BMS Eco Challenge Fund, receiving a total of nearly £27,000. ‘Each project needs to meet the exacting standards of the Climate Community Biodiversity Alliance to ensure it benefits the local community and protects wildlife as well as absorbing carbon dioxide.’ Eco-ovens, tree-planting schemes, educational materials, and solar -powered phone chargers have all featured in these grants.
A monthly ‘Worth Saving’ email contains ‘links to thought-provoking articles, creation care prayer points, world-changing actions and organisations doing good things to fight for a sustainable future.’ Future Shape helps local churches to explore creation care issues from a biblical perspective, in partnership with Climate Stewards.
In addition to the monthly creation care points, an annual focus on praying for creation care this April encouraged prayer in the wake of the December 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21) and for the 195 governmental signatories who pledged to reduce emissions following COP21. A year in advance of COP21, the BMS magazine Catalyst was devoted entirely to the climate change theme. BMS World Mission staff have been routinely carbon-offsetting since 2008.
SWISS EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE
In 2007 the SEA acknowledged the need to address Climate Change with the publication of Herausforderung Klimawandel (Challenge of Climate Change) through its working group, AKU (Association of Climate, Energy, and Environment). The AKU produces an e-newsletter, offers energy advice for Churches (Energieberatung für christliche Gemeinden) through a network of energy consultants, and publishes a guide for churches and member agencies that helps them assess the impact of their activities, ‘Event organisation and environmental impact’ (2010).
The AKU hosts meetings, provides information, motivation and networking and is positioning itself as the voice of the evangelical public on climate change and environmental issues. On the basis that God created the earth and his people are called to manage what he has given them, the AKU seeks to promote a return to a faith in the triune God that involves social, economic and environmental dimensions. The AKU carried out research at Explo 15, a Swiss Christian Mission and Discipleship Conference, hosted by Agape Europe. Interviewees were asked to indicate their level of agreement with each of ten statements.
In mid-2014, the new International Director of OM, Lawrence Tong, was asked about trends and shifts in global mission. His response started with a reference to Creation Care and the 2010 Cape Town Commitment’s statement that creation care was an integral part of Christian mission. He continued, ‘When I share about OM’s efforts in organic farming in China and Nepal, it surprises some that OM is already in that arena. But there is so much more we can do in setting an example for Christians everywhere. If I was to dream about a future OM ship, it would employ renewable energy to the extent that the ship itself would make a statement anywhere it went about caring for creation.’
GLOBAL CONNECTIONS (UK)
GC tackles creation care issues as one of 47 ‘Mission Issues’. It has available a total of 18 resources covering ‘natural’ disasters (3), climate change (10), sustainability (3), and globalisation (2).
A number of creation-care agencies (Operation Noah, Climate Stewards) along with organisations like Tearfund (which partners with the Church of England’s Climate Justice Fund), offer support to mission agencies trying to find a way to turn a vision for creation care into policy. It’s not always easy. Many of the larger mission agencies we investigated appear to lack any commitment to creation care as an expression of their mission activities. Of course, sustaining such a vision requires resourcing. OM, for example, in the face of traditional areas of OM’s mission activity, including evangelism, mentoring and discipleship, relief and development, church planting, and justice, struggles to identify creation care as one of its Key Focus Areas.
Others, such as CMS, have well established partnerships with creation care networks through which mutual advantage is gained. CMS seconds Dave Bookless to A Rocha International, for example, and through this partnership produced PlanetWise DVD and CDROM (2008) to accompany Bookless’s book Planetwise.
LAUSANNE MOVEMENT AND WORLD EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE
Since the Jamaica Call to Action of 2012, the WEA and Lausanne have been working out their shared conviction that ‘Creation Care is indeed a “gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ”’ and that, secondly, ‘we are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation.’ Further regional Conferences are planned. In South Asia, Sept 2016, the UMN (United Mission to Nepal) will partner with the WEA and Lausanne. A European Conference is planned for October 2016.
At a joint special event on the 6th June, in central London, the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network will launch Creation Care and the Gospel, a book that is likely to remain a vital resource for evangelicals seeking to find a way through the complexity of issues that have found their way to the heart of a new commitment to care for creation and understand it as an essential focus for the mission of God.
Rev Darrell Jackson is Senior Lecturer in Missiology at Morling College, Sydney.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of Vista magazine.