Announcement from Matthew About New Book

IMG_4140My son-in-law, Zach, gave me my Father’s Day present a little early this year. Before we moved into our townhouse, a large tree had died along the fence line dividing us from the neighboring apartment building. We got permission from our homeowner’s association to replant a tree. There was only one problem: a humongous stump–about three feet in diameter–was in the way.

That’s when it comes in handy to have a son-in-law. Zach went to a tree farm and picked out a beautiful sugar maple. Before heading out of town on a work trip, I suggested that Zach plant the maple beside the old stump, even though it was a less desirable position. But Zach wanted to do it right. He dug and dug and dug. Several neighbors came by to watch and encourage. It took all morning and half the afternoon to fully remove the remains of the old tree.

When planting time finally arrived, Zach backed up the pickup truck as close to the hole as possible. The root ball must have weighed a couple hundred pounds. Zach recruited Nancy to position the trunk while he backfilled. One of our neighbors gave us a water gaiter so we could keep the roots moist throughout summer. Zach returned later with a load of mulch to reduce evaporation and competition from weeds.

Every time I walk by that tree, I marvel. And every evening when I admire the tree from our bedroom window, I thank God for sharing His love of trees with me (and giving me a son-in-law with a strong back).

Last year, I read through the Bible underlining everything that scripture says about trees. From the Tree of Life in Genesis to the Tree of Life in Revelation, I discovered a forest with deep roots in faith. The first psalm says that a righteous person is like a tree. Abraham welcomes the angels under the oaks of Mamre; Deborah holds court under the palms; Zacchaeus shinnies up a sycamore-fig to see the Savior.

Most importantly, Jesus, the new Adam, plants a tree–the cross–on Calvary and waters it with his blood, sweat, and tears. The Apostle Paul tells us that in heaven the leaves of the Tree of Life will heal the nations and bear fruit in every season.

This summer, I have begun writing a book about trees and faith. Writing does not come easily for me. I rely on the Holy Spirit and the prayers of friends like you to help me.

It’s been a wet summer so far, and Zach’s tree is flourishing. I hope that in days to come, my writing will help the faith of others flourish as well.

–Matthew Sleeth

A Visit to Polyface Farm

unnamedThere is nothing as lovely as a road trip with someone you love. Just before Christmas, I went on a road trip with my son-in-law, Zach. We headed east to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Joel recently asked me to write the foreword to his upcoming book, and I wanted to see his farming methods first-hand.

Also, I was taking a young farmer just starting out to see another farmer who has become the world’s best-known spokesperson for sustainable agriculture. Smart is when you learn from your own mistakes; wise is when you learn from others.  I was hoping to help Zach gain wisdom.

For those unfamiliar with where your food comes from, I highly recommend a fieldtrip to a farm. Many of us have a vision of farms gained from children’s board books and singing Old MacDonald. We envision a farmer tending a few pigs, chicken, cows, and sheep, with an oink, oink here and a cluck, cluck there. But what the typical farm has is soybeans here–period, or Black Angus there–period. Diversity is not the hallmark of the modern agricultural system: monoculture is.

The first thing that strikes the visitor to Joel’s farm is the diversity of the operation. There are cattle, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs, and people. Four generation of Salatins work and play along with numerous young people doing internships. Which brings me to the first rule of agriculture: a farm should be a place where people are welcome. It should be a place of community.

The Christmas story we recently celebrated reinforces this lesson. There may not have been room for Jesus upstairs in the crowded tourist town of Bethlehem, but the manger was a place of safety and warmth. In the typical Jewish house of the first century, the barn was the first floor of the home. It was a place of community. Which brings me to the second rule of agriculture: a well-run farm should not stink.

Joel took Zach and me all over Polyface.  He walked with us through the fields and hoop houses. He took us to where hundreds of cattle were munching contentedly under cover, standing on thick beds of fodder. Nowhere did it smell.  Animal stench is a sign of waste mismanagement and, too often, inhumane living conditions for the animals.

In my first creation care book, I wrote about being in a chicken house with 15,000 hens. I couldn’t wait to get out of it mainly because of the stench. More recently, I visited a feeding lot in the Midwest that could be smelled from a mile away. These confined feeding operations bear no resemblance to the barn in which I learned to milk cows as a youth, nor do they resemble Joel’s operation. They are inexcusable. Joel and other farmers like him have demonstrated that farming can be scaled up without becoming an olfactory–and, for the animals, living–hell.

Which brings me to the third rule of agriculture: don’t eat food that has ingredients with names you can’t pronounce. Because of the attention to hygiene at Joel’s farm, neither human nor livestock must be pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals.

The kind of farming my son-in-law and Joel do isn’t as cheap as factory farming. The food costs more than mass-produced agriculture. But I wonder what the real cost of our mass-produced food would be if we included the cost of treating the diseases correlated with chemical-laden diets?

If you need an incentive to spend a little more on food now and a lot less on medical treatments later, go on a road trip to two farms–one industrial and one like Joel’s. Then spend the money to support the one you’d want your Savior to have spent his first night in–the kind of farm where you would be proud to see your own son or daughter work.

–Matthew Sleeth

Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 3 of 3)

(Read Part 1 of 3)

(Read Part 2 of 3)

PART III: SO WHAT

The conversation at ETS at points became heated, a reflection of the reality that we as Christians, and especially American Evangelicals, should have something to say about the raging environmental cultural war, even if we forget to listen to other voices, from the global south, for example. When we enter into that war, are we equipped with a biblical worldview? Will we succumb to the demands of worldviews that are not our own? Will we have the type of self-awareness that can humbly admit that our worldviews have been compromised by pagan or modern ways of thinking? Or is the matter even more complex than simply pitting one worldview against the other? Maybe our moment, for Christian mission today, is one where the task is calling us to slow down and reabsorb our foundations again.

How can we develop a robust Christian mission that responds to a groaning creation as well as the cries of those impoverished today, a position which is fueled by biblical thinking at its deepest?

Basically our challenge begins at the training ground of the scriptures. We must think carefully through the worldviews offered therein. What does the Bible say about creation and the place of God and humanity within it? What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution? What kind of time do we see ourselves in? Our easy answers to these questions, which reflect little awareness of what the Bible actually says, reveals to us that modern and pagan ways of thinking have greatly shaped the lenses through which we read the Bible and experience the world.

We must reclaim our own narrative in order to address this modern environmental epidemic. We have to chart a vision of a sacred earth based upon the limits of creation order that also avoids the objectification of creation. When we do so, many of our actions will follow suit. Our church will agree that each congregation needs a creation care group, as Bauckham suggested, that the whole church supports, which keeps us consistently thinking about creation care. We will develop a localism, as Moo suggested, that fosters a perspective of affinity for land but never looses sight of our responsibility in a global community. We will see afresh, as Moore suggested, that one of the biggest gifts we can give our children in an age of materialism and excess is to bring them out of our doors and into the wild places of our land where they can begin again to experience the beauty of creation and survive its harshness as well. Or we will get busy with highway cleanups or insulating the houses of our poorest neighbors, as Beisner suggested.

I’ll finish here with a challenge from Douglas Moo: “We must never simply use the Bible to fight our cultural wars.” When we do so, we will always bend it to do our own will. We must continually form a Christian worldview within the Body. And when we do so together, we will be able to join in with the worldwide environmental movement while at the same time challenging it at its very real points of error. We must stand up against every attack against human worth, while resisting the tsunami wave of materialism that drowns our people today. Such a challenge might just force us to change everything about the way we live our lives. We might have to give over our shortsighted lifestyles to a limitless God, and enter fully into his story. But let’s make sure as we do so, that it is the right story.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 2 of 3)

(Read Part 1 of 3)

PART II: A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW?

1. Where is our bottom line; should we care ultimately for the welfare of humans or animals?

2. What is the gospel?

3. What does the Bible say about the nature of human freedom and sufficiency?

As you can imagine, libraries of books have been written on these three questions. I lack the expertise to address them in detail in such a short report. I simply want to report on these three points from ETS for our further reflection.

What is our Bottom Line: Should We Care Ultimately for the Welfare of Humans or Animals?

Of course, the answer is both. But the realities of our day often times seem to force us one way or the other. Beisner seems clear in his approach. The bottom line is humanity. The pagan worldview of the environmental movement and its contraceptive (against further population) stance, attacks the basic worth of human dignity. Attempts to control the world’s population stand on the faulty assumption that the earth can handle no more of us. The solution to our current problem of widespread poverty is to use our ingenuity to bring sustainable energy and clean water, for example, to the world’s population. Human technology has enhanced the state of living in the “developed” world. Before the modern era, everyone except the wildly wealthy lived in “abject poverty.” Half of the babies survived birth, people did not live as long, and we had no way of purifying water. Nature was not subdued. We should continue our advancements for the good of humanity everywhere, and if this comes at the cost the extinction of habitats and their species, then the cost is worth the risk, though extinction has always been around, and it is bad science anyway that convinces us that more species are dying today than ever before.

The other way of answering this question is simply: no. We should not make advancements in technology if it means the extinction of species. If we had to choose between developing a plot of land that contained the only substance that would keep a million people alive, and we knew at the same time that we might wipe out a species of frog in the process, the answer is clear. We’ll find another way. And in response to Beisner, others wondered this: was the pre-modern world as bad as you make it out to be? Have we really evolved? Yes technologies have improved the quantity of life, but has it improved the quality? Yes we didn’t have ways to purify water, but did the water need purifying then? And shouldn’t the people in the most abject levels of poverty today have a say in what kind of technologies should be developed at the cost of their way of life? Are we, the scientific moderns, the heroes destined to rid the world of evil?

You can see that the answer to this question is not easy. It basically comes down to how we answer this question: What is wrong with the world, and what is the solution?

  • Biblical Worldview Questions: The realties of our world force us sometimes to choose between human life and animal life. How does the gospel redefine reality? How could the cross-shaped life of God’s people teach us to approach our environmental problems today? What does the Bible say is wrong with the world? And what is its solution?

What is the Gospel?

Can you feel the weight of this question? For centuries, Protestants have answered it along with the great reformers: the gospel is justification by grace through faith. Beisner held this definition of the gospel, and you can see how he might take issue with groups that “implicitly change the gospel.” This was his charge directly against Blessed Earth, the only time that the Sleeths were mentioned in the sessions that I attended. Beisner lumped “Serve God, Save the Planet” and “The Gospel According to the Earth” and their suggestions about the practicalities of the gospel among that group of “law based” religions. He quoted Colossians 2.20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world; why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules.” As a participant in the Blessed Earth community, I was not completely offended. His point actually clarified the point where a major difference exists. Of course Blessed Earth holds to the saving work of Jesus as a central focus. But Beisner may be defining gospel in a more narrow way than Blessed Earth, where for them the gospel is more about the announcement that Jesus is king over all the earth and has come to save, justify, and redeem all of creation for God’s full intentions. Is this larger perspective of the gospel more or less faithful to the biblical witness? This is obviously a much bigger discussion than we have time here to address.

This point is this, though: part of the Evangelical division about the meaning of creation care falls down upon theological party lines, especially where definitions of the gospel itself are contested.

  • Biblical Worldview Question: What is “the gospel” according to the biblical writers, and how is creation care a part of it?

What Does the Bible Say about Freedom and Excess?

Bauckham made an emphatic point that we must be very careful to know what the bible says about freedom and excess. He made a challenge against what he called the “Modern American” understanding of liberty, that mostly opposes regulations of any sort. One of Beisner’s main oppositions to the worldwide environmental movement is its inherent desire for global governance and policies that will attempt to rule us, electrical grids that would decide when we could use our appliances, for example. But “what is the biblical understanding of freedom,” asked Bauckham. Americans tend to think that our way of life is sacrosanct, he said. We tend to think that the real problems of our world, the problems of poverty and malnutrition are epidemics of the “third world”. But what about petroleum spills? What about mountain top removal? The real problem, he suggested, is that we are addicted to consumption. “We’ve lost the notion of sufficiency”, Bauckham claimed, “that’s why we are devastating the earth.” We are not demigods with limitless freedom to do to the earth whatever we imagine for the sake of our own flourishing. We are part of a community of creation with a very specific role. And as of right now, our addiction to unneeded material things feeds the machine that is exploiting the earth and its people. What way is worse? This question hung in the air at ETS, a worldview that errs on the side of paganism, or one that is primarily governed by a modernistic and materialist craving?

  • Biblical Worldview Question: What does the bible say about the nature of human freedom and excess? Can we chart a biblical response that challenges materialism and avoids the diminishing of human need and worth?

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Rethinking the Manger

 

Recent studies of the gospels have invited us to read the Nativity stories again.  They challenge us to discover the real narrative enclosed in traditional wrapping.  In the story, the holy couple were not actually in haste and rejected.  Rather than bouncing around from “no vacancy” to “no vacancy”, they were warmly welcomed into a two-room home whose guest room (katalyma in Greek, the same word that is used for a room where the last supper took place) was already taken.  In New Testament days, peasant houses had two rooms: one reserved for guests and the other that served as the shared family room, kitchen, dining room, and a sleeping quarter.  At night time, in order to keep well-behaved livestock warm and safe, they brought them into a lowered corner of the main room (the phate).  We can see this type of living situation reflected in 1 Kings 17.19, for example, where the traveling prophet Elijah stays in a designated guest room.  What makes this point even stronger is that no honorable shepherd would ever have departed the manger scene rejoicing if a neonatal infant and his parents had just been cast out into a barn.

 

The nativity story is one of those instances where tradition conceals the sharp edge of the actual story.  We love the theological idea that the residents of Bethlehem rejected a descendent of David and left them alone for their labor.  But if we read the story afresh, one of the main points, hidden in plain view, comes into focus.  The Savior of the world was born among animals and announced to those who had welcomed Jesus into their simple lives.  Those who had found the ultimate favor of God dwelled in common modesty and sheltered a few of their animals in their katalyma every night.  The Gospel, though intended for people from every class, and the precepts of the kingdom, though naming Jesus as the heir to David’s throne, are founded upon commoners, a simple lifestyle and the animals.

 

The Psalmist would have resonated with the sacredness of this lifestyle:

 

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you 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, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens (Ps. 148.7-13).

 

So during Christmas, as we rejoice in this manger-born Christ child, let us welcome the relevant beauty of God’s story afresh.  God is coming. He sent his son to kick-start his oncoming rule. Though our lives are filled with temptations, sickness, and death, the heavenly power of divine love warms the cold places of our world.  It began with his tender loving creation of heaven and earth and all who live in it.  It continues with his delight in us, in the death-destined life of his son and in his ongoing work.   He is forming the stony hearts of his people into soft and beating organs of his love on earth.  Long ago, some peasants from the city of David showed great hospitality that night to God’s favored. The heavenly army of angels sent God’s birth announcement to the rough, disfigured, and stigmatized shepherds.  By making room in their homes and schedules for this child and their parents, heaven broke in to their simple lives.  What can we do this Christmas to simplify and welcome the Christ-child into our hearts and homes?

 

 


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Special Report: Creation Care at the 2012 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (Part 1 of 3)

 

PART I: SETTING THE SCENE

 

Creation Care. It appears on the surface to be an uncontroversial and noble cause, a potential rallying point of unity for peoples of many faiths. We can see the devastating effects of oilrig disasters with our naked eyes. Our intuitions tell us that there is something intrinsically wrong with billowing smoke stacks. Science is telling us about mass extinction of species and melting ice caps. We should all of us be alarmed. But not everyone thinks so. In fact, some see behind it all a conspiracy and a ploy for power. They disagree firmly with those who suggest that we should abide with the environmental policies of the global community. We are at a spiritual war with powers that seek to control global policy and want to force depopulation. Science has been co-opted, and Christians of all stripes should push back. Of course there are a range of Christian responses to the matter, but organizers of the recent annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society found four voices that represented some of the more opposing views, and at points, sparks flew.

 

This report narrates some of the action at ETS 2012. From it, I want to discern the points of contention that arose there, which seem to divide Evangelicals in America today. These points of conflict are not the easiest to name, since most everybody thinks that we should care for the earth, in one way or another. And when Evangelicals pull out the flagship biblical verses, as in the case of Genesis 1.27-28 at this year’s ETS conference, everybody basically agrees that humans have been made to love and steward God’s creation. But as the conversation went on, it became clear that not all contributors meant the same thing by Creation Care, even though they were using very similar language. What was different? It was the larger worldview behind their language where differences emerged, and it will do us all some good to tease out some elements of these worldviews.

 

What is “the biblical worldview” and how does it challenge us to face the contemporary environmental crisis? This seems to be the starting question, and different Evangelicals answer differently based on their understanding of the question, though the answer to the to it is not as easy as many might think.

 

Four plenary speakers were invited to address this main question: E. Calvin Beisner, Richard Bauckham, Russell D. Moore, and Douglas Moo. Each has earned their PhD, and they come from a variety of backgrounds associated with Evangelicalism. The most telling conflicts came between Bauckham and Beisner, who were ironically seated next to one another during the panel discussion, so I will mainly highlight their conversation here. Both had given a plenary address and said some similar things about Genesis 1.28,

“God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Beisner approached the verse with a basic concern for the intense poverty that we find in developing nations of the world. He suggested that there is growing today a pagan, anti-Christian worldview that gave birth to and organizes the contemporary environmental movement. This worldview inspires powerful people who are pushing policies that have little impact on the earth and big impact on people. He suggested that stewardship in Genesis means that we should use our God-given role to bring sustainable energy and advanced technologies to solve the plight of those trapped in the worst positions of poverty in the world today. Beisner presented a tidal wave of scientific information that pointed to one conclusion: the earth isn’t really in that bad of a position. Studies on rapid extinction of species are corrupted because they have intentionally sought for the conclusion they wanted to find. Climate change is happening, but then again it has always happened; the world is warming because of the ways that growing carbon emissions bounce off the clouds rather than burning our ozone. More on Beisner’s worldview below.

 

Bauckham took a different reading. He thought that Beisner’s worldview, though clearly he was rightly concerned about world poverty, was corrupted by a modernistic interpretation of the true biblical worldview. Bauckham pointed out that the ideas of Francis Bacon from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which led to a utilitarian view of creation, continue to influence our world today and press us to unlock the potential of creation itself. Bauckham suggested that Beisner’s worldview was a variation of Bacon’s and countered that stewardship in Genesis 1.28 was never meant to sanction an unlimited exploitation of creation for human benefits alone. Rather stewardship in Genesis was a call to grow in god-like love and delight for the created world. We are to become people who care about whole creation’s need for sustenance. Bauckham and Moo suggested that theologians must not dabble in science or approach it with overly suspicious eyes. There are enough reputable Christians scientists who believe that human-created climate change is upon us, and we should listen to their warnings. Beisner firmly disagreed.

 

So the central question then is this: who has the right biblical worldview, which perhaps makes a few errors in judgment, and who has a foundationally corrupted understanding of the biblical worldview and yet holds to some correct biblical ideas? In this case, does Bauckham have a worldview corrupted by pagan anti-Christian views of reality? Or does Beisner have a worldview corrupted by modern views of the universe? The answer to this question is not at all easy to make; it is probably yes and no to both. Though if we can tease out some very divergent ways of seeing the world between Bauckham and Beisner, we might find a key that helps us discover a robustly Christian position towards our environment today. I think we can do so by looking at three questions: 1. Where is our bottom line; should we care ultimately for the welfare of humans or animals? 2. What is the gospel? 3. What does the Bible say about the nature of freedom and sufficiency? How we answer each question will reveal a lot about our basic worldview.

 


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth”s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Hugging the Tree of Life: Revelation 21, Ecotopia (Part 6 of 7)

Series: Hugging the Tree of Life- Mark 1.9-13, Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here. Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here. Read part 3 of 7 (We are so Connected) here. Read part 4 of 7 (The Cosmic Christ) here. Read part 5 of 7 (Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah) here.

Imagine the burning fires of the Terminator or the trash piles of Disney’s Wall-E. Is this with the Bible has in mind? Like in the previous posts, I will highlight one verse’s real contribution as well as expose ways that the Bible has been misunderstood or over-used for godly green living. The last post made one point crucial for us if we are to understand the book of Revelation: Revelation is the end of the Jewish story. This means that when we read this final Chapter of the Christian Bible, we can expect from it a vision of the renewal of creation. Still, this doesn’t mean that John, the author of Revelation, couldn’t have said something new in his vision. After all, he claimed to have written down exactly what he saw in his apocalyptic vision. God was revealing something about the end that was never before heard and would carry lessons to us for godly living. In Revelation, we get some insight into godly green living. Even though apocalyptic books use crazy symbolism, like Jesus riding on a horse with a sword coming from his mouth, its point is essentially about how Christians should live in their day. The symbols are thick. We can’t simply apply them to whatever problems we are encountering in our day. Gog and Magog are not Russia and China. They symbols should leave us with more questions than answers. The book brings up so many questions, such as: does it have a positive view towards the earth, and what are the implications? If it teaches us that we can hasten the end, does it suggest that we do so by saving one person from each unreached nation, or worse by helping along the future destruction of the world by increasing our exploitation of it today? If there is a new city Jerusalem, what about animals who live in the wild? Will they get to have their own domain outside the city walls? If night is destroyed, what will happen to nocturnal creatures like bats? Will they simply have to forfeit their portion of the day? What does Revelation mean for us who are beginning to realize that care for the earth is part of godly living? Among all the questions, we can focus our interest in green theology on the process of the getting to the end. Does Revelation have the renewal, replacement, transformation, or destruction of the world in mind? The answer will show us that Revelation has, what one scholar has called, eco-topia in mind rather than u-topia. That is, the new creation will be a living-place, rather than no-where. Moreover, we can hasten the day with godly living. The bulk of this comes from the end of the book of Revelation, and because it is so rich and full of detail, I have paraphrased a part of Revelation 21-22 for us: “And I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth went away, and the sea was there no longer. I saw the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, from God. It was prepared as a bride, adorned for her Man. Then I started hearing a booming voice from the throne: ‘Behold’, it was saying, ‘the dwelling of God is with humans. He dwells with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear away from their eyes. There will no longer be any death or mourning or crying or toiling, because the former things went away.’ Then the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’. He said: ‘Write that these words are faithful and true.’ Then he spoke these words to me: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To those who thirst, I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. The one who is victorious will inherit these things. I will be God to them. The men will be my sons, the women my daughters. However, for those who are cowardly, unfaithful and have been loathsome, who still have murder and immorality in their hearts, to sorcerers and idolaters, people who used the former earth for prideful things and who will try to use the new for the same, and to all who demand to remain liars. They will go to that lake enkindled by fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’ Then one of the seven angels came to me, one of those who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues. He spoke with me saying, ‘I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb’. Then he carried me off in the spirit to the great and high mountain, and he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem, the one coming down from heaven from God. Are ready for what I saw? It has the glory of God about it. Its star is like a precious stone. It has a great high wall. It has twelve gates with twelve angels stationed by them, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are carved on them. There were three gates facing east. Three North. Three South, and three on the side where the sun sets. The wall of the city had twelve foundations and upon them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb….” “Also, the city had neither need of the sun nor the moon to shine on it. The glory of God gave it light. Her guide-lamp was the lamb, and the gentiles walked around throughout the light. The kings of the earth brought their glory into it, and its gates were never shut by day for there is no night there. The glory and honor of the gentiles were brought into it, and nothing evil from the old will come into it. Neither will the one who made desolation and falseness. If they were not written in the book of the life of the lamb, they didn’t come into the city. Then he showed me the river of the water of life; it was illustrious as ice. It flowed out from the throne of God and the lamb. It gushed through the middle of the street. On the river’s edges––on both sides––the tree of life produced twelve fruits. It gave over its fruit, one kind for each month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the gentiles. There were no cursed things there. The throne of God and of the lamb will be among them, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. They will not have need of the light of lamps or the light of the sun. God will shine on them, and they will reign throughout eternity. Revelation 21.1-22.5. Three points keep us focused on this grandiose image: (1) How things will turn from where we are now to what is described as the New Jerusalem, (2) the nature of the city, and (3) the theme of interconnection. After I talk about these points, I will draw out some implications for godly living. According to Revelation, how do we get from here to the New Jerusalem? How will the new order come about? Will it be by renewal, replacement, transformation, or destruction of the world? Revelation talks about our heaven and earth passing away with the sea. Scholars do not all agree about what this means. Some stress the metaphorical nature of it all. They consider it imagery for the drastic change in political and social reality. Others admit that what we envision in the new is so unlike what we experience today that we might as well talk about a do-over, like in the great flood. One-author talks about “transposition into eternity”, while another talks about the earth being recycled. Transposition is a gentle process of changing keys but keeping the same melody. Recycling is a destruction of a current shape but using the same raw material to make a new shape. Another author points out that even if it is a transposition or a gentle change more like our current world today, it is something that can only be done by God in his power and his timing. We can’t deny that Revelation talks about the earth and skies passing away. However, no matter if this present order is completely turned into ashes, Revelation implies that from them God will arise and purify the shapes of the old. This is why Revelation talks about the “the glory of the gentiles” coming in. What can we imagine to be the glory of the gentiles? We have our own top 7 wonders of the world and more: pyramids, standing stones, Rushmore’s, mathematics, literature, and music––just to scratch the surface. Imagine these things being strangely preserved and purified. Yes, the Bible talks about the earth being destroyed and remade, but the psalmist knew what we should know now, God’s ways are not our ways, and even if we know that the house is going to be demolished tomorrow, the Bible still wants us to paint the bedroom today if it needs it. Because in some strange way that paint will matter tomorrow. This is the renewal that we expect the Jewish story to suggest, and renewal gives us a challenge for today. So also does the description of the New Jerusalem. This is a vision that doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it is a vision of Genesis remade and a divine response to the evils of Babylon, the evils of Rome, and the evils of our empires today. It is a highly charged but beautiful symbol. The New Jerusalem is a wife and a city at the same time. It is an image of the people of God and yet a strangely concrete urban plan. In some sense it is a return to Eden, with the tree, the river, and the promise of no pain or death. It is earthy like Eden, but the sea and night are gone, and it is after all not just a gorgeous wood; it is a city where God dwells with his creatures. Immoral people and dogs are not allowed in, but the gates are open (Rev.21.25). Some scholars suggest that this means that there may be a wood beyond the gates, rather than a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who were cast into the lake of sulfur are living in another dimension, and the open gates suggest that the wild animals will have their own wild domain outside the New Jerusalem. It’s hard to say. One thing is clear; the evils of Babylon are expelled. If we want to hasten this day, it will be through godly living. The sea is symbolic for Rome’s oppressive shipping operation, and night is that time before dawn where sin, destruction, and violence thrive. These things are taken away with fire. So what does Revelation imagine of fire? Fire frees the waters of oppressive systems. Fire purifies the night of violence. Furthermore, the New Jerusalem is made from the bounty of the earth (Rev. 21.15-21_ verse reference?). It is the joined unity of rural and urban life. There is no question that John takes great pleasure that the peoples of the wide earth now recognize YHWH as the living God who will heal them. The New Jerusalem is an earthy place that expels evil, leaves the gate open to the wild beyond, represents a huge green urban scene, and is somehow strangely representative of a people at the same time. What holds it all together? Interconnected relationship founded in God. This is the marriage of heaven and earth. This is a web of life remade from the materials of old in such a way that the glory of the old comes into the new. This is why godly living matters today. So what are the implications for green living today? The glories of the nations are brought in, and this means that however it is possible, the fires of the apocalypse won’t destroy what can be purified. Our attempts for creation care may not be enough to construct the New Jerusalem. Our policies will often tempt us rather to build the tower of Babel. But what we do today matters and will endure. When we give away our love for something that matters to God, he transfers it into eternal currency. The creative building of godly culture and godly living matter. Who we are today and what we do matters in the end. Deep down, we inherently know that to get rid of this theology of the New Creation is to throw ourselves away. Our lives have been full of pain and strife. If we think that God will just destroy the old creation, then maybe our bad memories will get destroyed with it. We don’t like the idea of restoration and renewal, because we don’t want to have to remember our former pain. But John is clear: there will be leaves on the tree of life meant for healing. What else would need healing in the new creation other than our memories? If God would just destroy this place, I won’t have to deal with my painful memories tomorrow. Revelation offers us a vision of renewal, and this means that we will have some healing to do when we get there. So plant a tree or save a human person. It matters. God wants us to do both, because both will be part of the new creation whether the New Jerusalem is a symbol or not. In conclusion, before I write the introduction to an imaginary novel about godly green living, two authors highlight the present but not yet reality of the New Creation most clearly. Harry O. Maier emphasizes that what we do today matters: “Revelation tells us there is indeed a new world coming whenever there are those courageous enough to live and express the giveaway of the tree and water of life.” And Richard Bauckham concludes so eloquently about the interconnected end that Revelation offers. We would do well to listen carefully, for it should guide the way we act today: “The New Jerusalem is a garden city of a kind to which humans have often aspired, a place where human culture does not replace nature but lives in harmony and reciprocity with it. It represents the final reconciliation of culture and nature, of the human world and the other creatures of the earth. It lives from the vitality of the natural world without plundering and exhausting its resources.” Resource Bundle: Horrell, David. “Future Visions of Creation and Peace” and “Apocalyptic Visions of Cosmic Catastrophe.” Chapters 8 & 9 in The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. London: Equinox, 2010. Maier, Harry O. “There’s a New World Coming! Reading the Apocalypse in the Shadow of the Canadian Rockies.” in ed. Norman Habel and Vicky Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Mark 1:9-13: Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah—part 5 of 7

Series: Hugging the Tree of Life- Mark 1.9-13, Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here. Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here. Read part 3 of 7 (We are so Connected) here. Read part 4 of 7 (The Cosmic Christ) here.

In the previous posts, I have looked at New Testament verses to which scholars, bishops, and writers usually turn for green theology. I am pulling ideas from them, highlighting points that we might usually not think of. So far I have suggested that we best understand the New Testament as a green book if we (1) read it through an understanding of the Jewish Christian idea of inaugurated eschatology, which means we can begin living partly, if not mostly, in God’s new age now and (2) if we then understand God’s plan for creation care as the transformation of believers and the activity of worship. Now I turn my attention to the end, that is the End of the World as we know it, the Apocalypse. There’s a lot written out there about the New Testament’s vision of the end of the world. Moreover, there’s a lot of confusion. Some like to read 2 Peter as if it were the main lens through which we see the rest of New Testament teaching on the apocalypse: “But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.” Or people start at the end of the bible (in Revelation), “Then I saw the first heaven and the first earth pass away, and the sea was no more.” Good readers of novels know that the end of the story gives you little help if you don’t know the rest. God’s story, from Genesis 1-3 all the way through Jesus and the early Church, is not about destruction; it is about restoration. In this post, I will have one point and one point only: in order to understand the New Testament teaching on the end of this age, we have to read it as if it were the last chapter of the Jewish story, rather than the final chapter of Plato’s works. What I mean is that we must not read about the end of the world in the New Testament as if it were the final chapter in Plato’s philosophy of the destruction of the bad material word. Rather we have to read about the end of the world as if it were the fulfillment of the Jewish hope of God’s re-creation and the prophetic tradition of earthen prophecy. The apocalypse in the New Testament is the next “chapter” after the prophets. Regarding the previous chapter, read Ezekiel 34 for example, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that [my people] might live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely.” Or take Isaiah 11.6-9, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The New Testament knows of its previous chapter in the prophets. That’s why scholars point to the beginning of Mark’s gospel and see apocalyptic imagery about the end times, based in the prophets. Mark 1.9-13 is just a small bit of Mark’s story, but when we see how it continues the prophetic tradition, it adds to our understanding of the end time. It is a short few verses, so I paraphrased it here: This is how it turned out on that day. Jesus, the man from Nazareth of Galilee, came and was baptized in the Jordan by John. Within a heartbeat of his coming up out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opened like a curtain and the Spirit flying down upon him as a dove. A voice called out from heaven: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am very delighted.” And just as quickly as it happened, the spirit drove him into the wild places beyond the Jordan. Jesus stayed out there for forty days, all the while enduring trials from Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels attended to him. When it comes to green theology and the right understanding of apocalyptic, scholars point out the connections between Jesus’s baptism, his time in the wilderness, the prophetic qualities of Mark 1, and the nature of the peaceable kingdom as the projected last chapter of the Jewish story. Jesus’s baptism, all around, is filled with earthen imagery. At the Jordan, we find the seeds of the trinity: the Father speaks, the Son gets baptized, and the Spirit anoints and guides. The scene is the river flowing from mountain to desert. Jesus comes and is plunged beneath the current. He comes up and immediately the Spirit arrives as a heavenly dove. The father then verbalizes his blessing and sends his son to the trials of lonely places. This opening of heaven matches the opening of heaven we get in Revelation 4, “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” What we have in Mark 1 is the key that unlocks the door to Revelation 4. It is a door that leads to the Jewish vision of the end, not the destruction of creation envisioned in Greek Philosophy. We get another clue to this because Jesus is then sent to the wilderness. Mark says that Jesus is “with” the animals (Mark 1.13). This is an idea of a close friendship. He makes friends with the animals, who were presumably once enemies. The wilderness in the Jewish imagination is about struggle, but because of the Exodus chapter, wilderness is also a place of hope. It is a place of restoring broken relationships and God’s presence guiding them. In the prophets, wilderness becomes a place of possible co-existence with the earth and a challenge to society that has gone astray from God’s intentions (Isaiah 11.6-9). This is why John lives in the dessert. This is why Jesus passes through. He makes peace with wild creation amidst the harshness of creation’s present state. This is the beginning of the end; the prophetic and Jewish apocalypse is about restoration, “The little child shall lead them.”

What clues us into this restoration theme? The flood of prophetic images comes rushing through here. Wilderness, wild animals, and peace. Jesus is not on an escapist path. He doesn’t want to get out of creation. He had his chance on the mountain of transfiguration, and he came back down. He had his chance on the Mount of Olives, and he came back to earth. When he survived the struggles of wilderness life among wild animals in the mountains of the Judean desert, he showed that he is interested not in the Greek vision of destruction but in the Jewish peaceable kingdom. The peaceable Kingdom is then what we should expect from the end, and (as I will show in my next post) the peaceable kingdom interprets the New Testament verses about the earth going up in flames. The peaceable kingdom is the wolf lying down with the lamb, where violence and death will exist no more. This is peace with creation and peace from creation, “we will be able to sleep in the woods without threat.” Some eco-theologians are uneasy with the idea of the peaceable kingdom. It looks too much like a domesticated version earth and its creatures at the hand of a human child. But can we not imagine a wild new creation full of the passionate aggression of lions and the calculated laughter of hyenas? The problem we have now is not the wildness of animals but that they and we die. The image in Isaiah is lying down together. I’m sure there will be times of rest. But with bodies that cannot die, who knows what kind of unbridled play we might experience with the wild animals? The point is this: humans in all their childlike vulnerability together with the wild animals. Jesus begins the process in the Judean desert, and we can expect the peaceable kingdom to be more like restoration than destruction. So what are the implications of Jesus in the wilderness after his wet and earthy baptism? New creation, in the Jewish story, is about restoration and intense relational encounter with a wild earth. The new creation in this light is about valuing the whole creation and a lifestyle that seeks to actualize the new creation rather than trying to escape the old. The Jewish vision of the peaceable kingdom does not mean that we should open the cages of our zoos or try to live among the grizzlies today. To do so without resurrected bodies is a death wish. However, we can learn to see the animals of this world as future friends, and we can care for their little ones like Jesus did in the desert. We can protect our families and enemies from the dangers of the old age while making sure that we carry non-deadly spiders outside our house rather than flushing them. We can find ways to connect kids trapped in the urban jungle with the creatures displayed in our nature reserves. And we can bring the shade and transformation of the New Jerusalem today to the places overrun by concrete, gangs, or knee-high grass lots. This is part of wilderness spirituality. This is part of building for the peaceable kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In conclusion, as one scholar so eloquently put it, Jesus’ baptism in the wilderness is about, “facing up to reality. John encourages his hearers to celebrate change and forgiveness with a sacramental encounter with Earth through Earth’s water.” Now, we are read to read about the fires of the end. Resource Bundle: Bauckham, Richard. “From Alpha to Omega.” Chapter 5 in Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. –––––. “Reading the Synoptic Gospels Ecologically.” Chapter 5 in ed. David Horrell, et al. Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical Historical and Theological Perspectives. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2010. Echlin, Edward, “The Cosmic Jordan.” Chapter 4 in The Cosmic Circle: Jesus and Ecology. Dublin: Columba Press, 2004. Loader, William, “Good News––for the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1.1-15.” in ed. Norman Habel and Vicky Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Colossians 1:9-20: The Cosmic Christ — part 4 of 7

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here.
Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here.
Read part 3 of 7 (We are so Connected) here.

In the last two posts, I talked about a larger paradigm for green theology (inaugurated eschatology) and God’s primary action plan for creation care (the transformation of believers).  Before I conclude the series with an imaginary story illustrating what New Testament creation care might look like in real life, I will talk about the real Christian apocalypse, which I will do in two parts.  To get there, though, I first need to talk about the second side of God’s action plan for the restoration of creation: worship.

Worship seems so passive, so intangible and so unhelpful for our immanent crises on earth.  This is especially true when life gets so dark that it seems that only an evil God could have made this place, or when the skeptical lover of creation wonders if worshipping Jesus is really an appropriate way to care for the earth.  How can the exultation of a human lead to hope for non-humans?  Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that the worship of a good and living Christ is a part of God’s plan for creation care, and a big part at that.  If we want to understand the true problems behind our crises, if we want to really see nature with God’s eyes, we need to bring creation into our worshipping mind’s eye without ever worshipping creation.  This means worshipping Jesus as sustainer of all things. 

This is not some new-age idea.  It may seem foreign to Western Christians, yet this idea of worshipping Jesus as the cosmic Lord comes straight to us from the New Testament, from the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians.  I have selected a relevant section of his letter and paraphrased it here into English:

 “Because of your faith, hope, and love that we heard about, we never stop praying for you and making petitions for you all.  Our petition is that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.  This is the point: that you would have a lifestyle that finds a home with the Lord Jesus and honors his example.  May you have every desire to please him, in all good works, producing fruit and growing up in the knowledge of God.  We ask that you might be filled with the knowledge of his will so that you would have Jesus’ lifestyle, made possible by being made strong in all senses of the word ‘strong’.  God does this work, making you strong with the might of his glory, growing patience and calm where you usually explode too quickly.  He gives you joy so that you can give thanks to God, the One who makes you sufficient.  He gives you a portion of the kingdom of his saints who live in the light.  God drew us out from the power of darkness and transformed us into citizens of the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have freedom and the forgiveness of sins. 

 

“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first fruit of all creation.  All things were created in him––the visible and invisible, thrones and lordships, rulers and all powers––in the heavens and the earth.  Everything was created through him and for him.  He existed before everybody and all things are sustained in him.

 

“He is the head of the body of the church; he is the first from the dead.  He has become the one who excels all, because all the fullness was glad to dwell in him and through him in order to reconcile all things in him.  Making peace through the blood of the his cross, he reconciled things on the earth and things in the heavens” Colossians 1.9-20.

 

One of the most enduring resistances to creation care as godly living is the sentiment that God’s salvation through Jesus is about humans only.  Paul’s Jesus as Creator of all and Redeemer of all should put this resistance firmly to rest. Moreover, this means that, along with transformation of believers, worship of Jesus as cosmic Lord makes up the second crucial side of God’s plan for creation care.  The way we worship or do not worship has tangible implications on the health of our globe. 

First, we learn from Colossians about Jesus as the Creator.  Jesus existed before everybody.  He is the “First fruit of all creation.” This does not mean, as some have said, that Jesus is the first one created.  Rather it means that he is the leader.  Paul calls him the “sustainer of all things.”  Some scholars have said of the earth, that “we have a biosphere connected by Christ”, and this should be part of the content of our worship.

Second, we learn from Colossians that Jesus is the Redeemer of all things, especially of the forces in the world that have gone astray from their allegiance to him.  Thus, there are lessons we shouldn’t take from the earth or from the way unfaithful angels have rebelled.  Should we assume that violence in nature (a hawk stealing the field mouse, a lion taking down a baby zebra, the mountain lion mauling a wandering child through a national park) is part of the process of God’s first creation?  We see these forces especially at work in Jesus’s trials and death.  They are also at work behind the large-scale destruction of our earth today.  We tremble at the sight of these powers, because we sense that they are larger than the sum of bad human intentions.  Our ecological ruin is about more than a society full of individuals with bad habits.  There are powers at play that make it seem, from the dog-eat-dog of the natural world only, that we can only have life with necessary death, good with necessary evil.  The patterns of our world make it seem like these forces are the true creators of this world, even if there is a good but detached God somewhere out there.  This is the problem with the romantic thought that creation alone can reflect the full image of God.  Paul knows this.

This is why he presents Jesus as the clear image of the invisible God.  Creation cannot reveal to us that the true nature of God’s work in the universe is self-giving sacrifice and that our future destiny is peace.  Jesus can and does reveal it.  Foundational under all the rebellious powers is Jesus who holds all together.  In his death and resurrection, he has a planted a peace that will endure.  The powers will submit.  Though we don’t know exactly how this process will come to that peace-filled end, we know that true worship is more than an enlightened escape from the real problems of the world.  True worship is an action that joins in the uprooting of evil, particularly ecological ruin, through the worship of the cosmic Christ. 

What do we learn from Colossians, specifically about the true nature of universe-preserving worship?  Investing in a relationship with Christ is creation care.  It can lead to nothing else than a sacrificial ministry that must include care and concern for the created world.  We usually see Jesus as Lord of our lives and friend, but we so often forget all that comes with Him: He is the one through whom everything around us was created, and He is the one interested in mending a broken and abused world. 

 We don’t worship creation; the story of the Hebrews and the destruction of the contemporary world should warn us about the consequences of idolatry.  Rather we let creation into our worshipping mind’s eye and praise the one who created it and holds it all together.  To relate to Jesus in worship is to see the world living and breathing because of Him.  To relate to Jesus in worship is to adopt His care and concern for the health of this universe.  Is it possible to have creation in mind during worship while not worshipping creation?  Yes, very much so.  While we can’t assume that we’re seeing God’s face in creation, we can imagine the universe in all of its glory with its heart beating for the love of Christ.  We can join with creation in praise to God. 

It is no wonder that the beauty of Cathedrals can aid in worshipping Christ and help keep the created order in mind.  It is no wonder that some of our North American champions for preservation have talked about the forest as God’s true cathedral.  Christian Ministries in the National Parks have understood this best, leading Christ-centered worship every summer within the forest Cathedrals of North America.  Yes, true worship has positive side effects: it aligns us with Jesus’s heart, reminds us of the goodness of this world, and teaches us to suffer like Him for the salvation of many.  However, worship as a relational action alone, turns attention to Jesus as we adore and praise his goodness and his lordship.  Worship actively actualizes Jesus’s reign, which will eventually bring all evil powers under his dominion, as church historian and theologian Howard Snyder has so beautifully put it in his book Salvation Means Creation Healed:

“Indwelling love overflows through Christ by the Spirit into the church, and the church responds in worship and service.  We give ourselves to God (our mission to God) and he gives himself back to us with an overflow of love that impels us out of ourselves and into mission.”

 

Resource Bundle:

Balabanski, Vicky S. “Hellenistic Cosmology and the Letter to the Colossians: Towards and Ecological Hermeneutic.”  Chapter 7 in ed. David Horrell, et al.  Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical Historical and Theological Perspectives. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2010.

Bauckham, Richard.  “From Alpha to Omega.” Chapter 5 in Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010.

Bouma-Prediger, Steven. “What is the Connection Between Scripture and Ecology?: Biblical Wisdom and Ecological Vision.” Chapter 4 in For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care. Engaging Culture 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 2010.9.



Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth”s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Romans 8:19-21: We are so Connected — part 3 of 7

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here. Read part 2 of 7 (A Lesson from the Earth) here.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8.19-21 TNIV)

When we turn to Romans 8 and think, “Here we have it, Green Theology”, we better hold on tight. It’s like going fishing for whale and pulling up the Titanic. When you read Romans 8, you have to be ready for the big questions: What is the nature of evil? What does it mean to be saved? How are we saved from evil? Is God good or not? What is the future of the earth? Would the earth have been better off without humans? This is complex thinking from Paul. In just twelve verses we get a flash shot of Creation Care as godly living. We get a Christian spirituality that will change our hearts for the world. When we are looking for green theology or when we’re just reading the Bible, it is easy to misunderstand Paul. We usually mis-read Romans as book about how to get saved and less about our Christian responsibility. Then we get to chapters 8 and 9-11, and we think of them as some strange addition to Paul’s real point. Here’s what I mean. We think of Romans 8 as an “escape from this world” chapter. Someday, we hear, we will be rescued from our suffering. And that’s true. However, we have to ask: what does it mean to be “rescued”, and when does that rescuing begin? On the other hand and in reaction to the escapist reading, some of us overcompensate. We hear Paul saying, “humans ruined creation with our actions; therefore we can save it with our actions.” Policy makers love to read it like this. Then they get stumped when somebody points to Genesis 3.17 (“cursed is the ground because of you”) and says, “Yes it was Adam and Eve’s fault, but God is the one who does the cursing. You can’t fix what God is cursing.” Scholars agree: even Paul seems to think that it was God who put a curse on creation: “for creation was subjected to futility, not by its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it” (Romans 8.20). Therefore when we think, “Let’s fix the creation we destroyed”, we might actually find ourselves working against God’s enduring curse. If we don’t listen for God’s plan of rescue, we will find ourselves fighting against him. Paul is telling us something more profound than “let’s save creation with our own actions”, and he is definitely saying more than “resign yourselves and let God destroy creation.” He is offering us Creation Care in his way. Paul’s teaching about the redemption of creation is not easy, so I retranslated it from the original Greek:

“I often think about the sufferings of this age, that, compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us, they are a faded picture. For creation swirls in hope for the revelation of the daughters and sons of God. Creation was pressed under the weight of vanity, unwillingly, so long ago. The hope was that creation itself would be set free: from the slavery of decay to the freedom of God’s children turned aright. For we know that all creation is groaning in unison and joining its voice in agony, even up until today. But there’s much more to it. Even those who possess the first fruit of the spirit––and that’s us––even we believers groan among one another as we await the adoption, which is the transformation of our bodies. We were saved by hope. Though, it is not Hope if you can see what you’re hoping for. If I do not see the thing I hope for, then I am waiting in patience. In it all, the spirit encircles us and joins in with us; the Spirit supports our weakness. For when we open our mouths to pray, we blurt out things that miss the point. But the Spirit steps in, groaning things that we couldn’t put into words. The one who searches through hearts listens to the wisdom of the Spirit, because the Spirit prays in line with God’s will for the saints. And we know that all things work together for good, in line with his plan, for those who love God and who are called. This is the point of it, the spiritual destiny: to those he foresaw, he also forged for them a sharing in the likeness of the image of his son, who is the firstborn of a large family. Those he called, he also justified. Those same bunch (for whom he forged it all ahead of time), he also called them; those he justified, he also began turning them aright.” Romans 8.18-30.

Paul’s teaching is as hard to understand as it is to translate, but if we stay focused on three points, we will do well: (1) from these verses we get a profound Christian vision about the nature of nature; (2) we need to listen carefully to Paul about God’s plan; and (3) if we let the Bible guide us, we get a surprising New Testament picture of our role as believers in God’s plan for Creation Care. (1) The Nature of Nature. Scholars agree that Romans has salvation in mind, but from these verses we see that God has more in mind than just the salvation of humans. It is the salvation of the universe. God is not the God of human beings only. Paul talks about the creation being turned over to futility. This does not mean, in the Greek, that creation is worthless. It means that it is unable to fulfill its true purpose. Though it does not want it, creation leads fallen humans to worship created things. Next, to make another point clear, it is not this world that is a faded picture. For Paul, it is our sufferings that are a faded picture of the way things will be when death dies and there is no more suffering. More so, we see that nature had an inward resistance to the fall and has its own voice, “the whole creation has been groaning.” Though it does not speak in a human language, creation has a voice. Paul is clear about the nature of nature: creation needs salvation, it groans and it experiences hope. (2) God’s Plan. When Adam and Eve unleashed evil into the world, through their disobedience, God pressed nature under the weight of human vanity, with the hope that creation would be set free. Strange plan, if you ask me. Though the creation did not fall like we did, God’s plan was to bind its salvation up with ours. He placed a hope in the universe that was, as one author put it, “a relentless anticipation of a much better situation.” A whole library of books has been written on the nature of evil and what exactly happened in the fall. For now, I will just echo the point that many scholars make. Paul thinks the body and the earth are very good, but not when we are bound up in death and decay. The hope of creation is in the complete redemption of believers––not the redemption of believers from this world––but from suffering, death, and the ongoing prospect of sin. In all of his infinite wisdom, this was God’s plan. (3) Our Role as Believers in Creation Care. Therefore creation waits, not just for a fourth green movement from post-modern Christians, but for a group of people who will be transformed and can begin living the life of God’s new age. Though all believers live with one foot in the old age, susceptible to death, suffering, and temptation to sin, creation waits for men and women who turn suffering and temptation into salvation and freedom. Creation waits for deadly addictions to be beaten and for people who can say “thy will be done” as easy as they breathe. Creation waits in hope for men and women who, though we don’t know how to fix the broken world, are brave enough to trust in God’s closeness and goodness. Creation waits for men and women who learn to live in the dissonance of their messy lives and worship God while he performs transformative surgery on their prideful hearts. This is God’s plan for Creation Care. Creation Care in God’s way is not fixing the world that we broke; rather it is submitting to the process of transformation. As we are transformed, we become co-workers with God. Up until now, modern people have shut their hearts to the true fullness of transformation. So what are the implications of this all? Maybe the United States conference of bishops was right: we need a change of heart. The revelation of God’s children can happen today. We can become the type of people that creation longs for, rather than a people at whom creation rolls its eyes. Just think: if creation was groaning 2000 years ago, what about today? We don’t need special ears today to hear the powerful expressions of creation’s waiting pains, but we do need a type of ear that can guide us into the new creation type of living. We need a type of ear that can begin hearing the voice of nature that Paul talks about so clearly. Romans 8:18-30 cannot by itself provide a roadmap for Green Theology. But Paul has given us a titanic clue. Do we want to care for Creation? We have to think of it in terms of the robust transformation of believers. We don’t need to bring hope to creation. God has already put hope within it. Rather we need to be men and women who can fulfill creation’s hope on earth. But, this is just half the plan, and the second element may be a surprise for many…   Resource Bundle: Bauckham, Richard. Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010. Byrne, Brendon. “An Ecological Reading of Romans 8.19-22: Possibilities and Hesitations.” Chapter 6 in ed. David Horrell, et al. Ecological Hermeneutics: Biblical Historical and Theological Perspectives. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2010. Horrell, David G. “Paul and the Redemption of the Cosmos.” Chapter 7 in The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. Biblical Challenges in the Contemporary World. London: Equinox, 2010. Tonstad, Sigve. “Creation Groaning in Labor Pains.” Chapter 15 in ed. Norman Habel and Peter Trudinger, Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008. Wright, NT. New Heavens and New Earth: A Biblical Picture of Christian Hope. Cambridge: Grove Books Limited, 1999.



Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

Relationship Building Leads to Seminary Alliance

“Green thinking” is beginning to percolate throughout many of the nation’s churches. But how do you build on the momentum? How do you speed up the process?

In spring 2011, Blessed Earth co-founders Matthew and Nancy Sleeth felt like God was leading them to the answer: Build an alliance of seminaries that will commit themselves to creation care and sustainable practices. Following God’s calling, the Sleeths brought together a coalition of seminaries whose leaders have signed a covenant promising to implement specific stewardship initiatives.

The result is the Seminary Stewardship Alliance — a diverse coalition representing a broad spectrum of theological thought. The SSA, whose members include many of the nation’s largest seminaries, is an exciting illustration of God’s desire to see the church embrace creation care. The 12 member seminaries came together on April 22, 2012 — Earth Day — to sign the covenant at the Washington National Cathedral.

“Since many seminary students pastor or work within the church setting while in school, we believe the effect will be immediate,” Nancy says. “In fact, we already see it happening as our books and films are being used at seminaries across the nation. The new SSA website, www.seminaryalliance.org, also provides resources that can help churches immediately.”

The SSA is an outgrowth of the Sleeths’ work with Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, where Blessed Earth is based. For years, the Sleeths lived just two blocks from campus, which made it easy for Matthew and Nancy to build a relationship with Asbury.

After Matthew began guest lecturing at the seminary and speaking at chapel services, Asbury asked the Sleeths for help in making their new family housing units more sustainable. Geothermal heating and cooling, super-insulation, and community gardens were just a few of the ideas adopted by the seminary. The Sleeths also helped Asbury start a Creation Care Covenant community, where students used Blessed Earth’s film series to study what the Bible has to say about stewarding God's creation in the context of community.

But God’s vision was even bigger.

“At a certain point, I felt God asking me a question,” Matthew says. “Why just Asbury? Why not another seminary? Why not all seminaries? We prayed and felt called to act boldly.”

Step One was to meet with Asbury's President, Tim Tennent, and Fuller Theological Seminary’s President, Richard Mouw. They both immediately gave their full support to the project, helped write the covenant, and began calling other seminary presidents. Once this initial group supported the project, the pieces quickly fell into place. Shortly thereafter, in another example of God’s blessing on the project, the SSA received funding for its first five years.

“Our hope is not only for seminaries to make changes within their institutions, but to encourage and hold each other accountable in the years ahead,” Nancy says. “We also know that the seminaries work with denominations, churches, missions, and their surrounding communities.”

On April 22, 2012, the Sleeths watched as God’s vision became reality: Leaders from the flagship seminaries came to Washington, D.C., to sign the covenant and launch the SSA.

“Some of the most important conversations happened the night before, sitting around a table and sharing a meal,” Nancy says. “We believe that such conversations and relationships are a critical part of the SSA's success.”

Beginning next fall, Blessed Earth will bring together faculty and administrative leaders from each member institution to encourage each other, share successes, and hold each other accountable. This SSA leadership program — and the bonds it fosters through regular meetings and on-going relationships — will be an important part of the SSA’s long-term outcomes.

“With these 12 seminaries on board, we have already reached a tipping point in terms of number of students and churches affected,” Matthew says. “It's exciting to see change happen; it's even more rewarding to watch the tide turn.”

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A Picnic for All Occasions

For Mother’s Day this year, my family knew what would bring me the most joy: a picnic. My husband, Matthew, served as sous chef. Our daughter, Emma, made the fruit salad and homemade bread. Clark brought his wife, Valerie, along with her extraordinary storytelling abilities. The evening air was punctuated with cheers from a friendly baseball game in the park and the familiar chatter of well-fed robins and squirrels. After the meal, each member of my family shared three things they most appreciate about me. I cried more than once.
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Throughout the seasons, picnics make an ordinary meal anything but routine. Matthew and I picnicked on some of our first dates, and we’ve continued to dine alfresco regularly for three decades. Most meals have been sublime in their simplicity—a blanket spread in the backyard makes even PLT (pickle, lettuce, and tomato) sandwiches taste special.
When we travel by car, I try to pack picnic meals—a cheaper, healthier alternative to fast food. We’ve picnicked at the beach, in the woods, in fields, in cemeteries, at rest stops, in parks, and on playgrounds.

For our thirtieth anniversary, Matthew and I packed up homemade crab cakes and ate them on the grounds of a local estate. The historic buildings are closed in the evening, but the grounds are left open. We had the gardens to ourselves—with extra ambience supplied by friendly fireflies.
Since moving from the suburbs to the city, we have been picnicking more than ever. Within easy walking distance, we’ve discovered three parks with picnic tables. The park closest to us also has a gazebo, where we’ve enjoyed slices of seedless watermelon after our family Friday night dinners.

Picnics also make for easy entertaining. Recently, we picnicked with friends and their three small kids in the park behind our house. The kids played on the equipment while the grown ups talked. Bethany made a warm pasta and pesto salad, and I brought cheese, fruit, and carrot cake to round out the meal. Bonus: no clean up. The birds ate up all the crumbs.
Picnics create a memorable oasis—a time set apart from everyday life—to be in nature and to enjoy God’s sustaining gifts. What can be more holy than saying grace and breaking bread together in the shade of a life-giving tree?


Nancy Sleeth serves as the Managing Director for Blessed Earth and is the author of Go Green, Save Green: A Simple guide to saving time, money, and God’s green earth, the first-ever practical guide for going green from a faith perspective.

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His Good Work is Everywhere!

“There came to St. Anthony in the desert one of the educated men of that time and he said, “Father, how can you endure to live here, deprived as you are of all consolation from books?” Anthony answered, “My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and whenever I wish, I can read in it the works of God.”

It has been such a beautiful Spring! A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph at one of the most beautiful farms in Bourbon County, located in central KY. I was permitted to get out in the pasture with some mares and foals. I just sat down in the middle of the field. There was one particular foal who was only two weeks old. Even though he was a little afraid of me, curiosity got overrode all of that and he could not stay away, allowing me to touch his soft nose.

Shortly after this brief encounter, Steve, the owner of the farm came out to visit them too.  I love the tenderness and care that he exhibited over this little guy.  It kind of reminded me of a scene where Adam named the animals.  Later, we talked about how this farm owner sees and appreciates God, the Creator, at work each day, while at work on the farm. The next time you are having a hard time sensing or connecting with God, just look around you. His good work is everywhere!


Jeff Rogers – With twenty years of nature photography experience as well as a lay pastor background, Jeff brings an appreciation for God’s creation as well as spiritual guidance. His wife, Melissa, an emergency room physician, shares his passion for serving God and preserving the beauty of nature.

Matthew 6.25-34: A Lesson from the Earth — part 2 of 7

Read part 1 of 7 (introduction) here.

When it comes to discovering eco-theology in the person of Jesus, scholars tell us to be careful.  It is easy to cast him in our own image; and he may have used agricultural and rural imagery in order to speak to an agricultural and rural age. If he lived in Manhattan, he may have talked about subways, stock markets and skyscrapers.  Verses like these alone cannot prove Jesus’s view toward stewardship and the earth.  We have to deal also with the fig trees that he withered, storms that he subdued and swine that he sent running to their destruction. If Jesus was a preservationist or a conservationist––and if we want to discover that in him––we have to get a bigger framework.

Scholars have pointed to the larger theme of God’s in-breaking Kingdom as a better starting point in understanding Jesus’s eco-theology.  Their big word for it is, “inaugurated eschatology.” All that means is that, in Jesus, God is not destroying the earth; he is renewing it and restoring it.  It started with Jesus’s ministry, death, and resurrection. That meant for Paul and means for us, that God’s new creation can start now.  Inaugurated eschatology means that God’s perfect kingdom will fully come to us in the future, but we can start experiencing it and living into God’s kingdom today.  See NT Wright’s creative article: “Jesus Is Coming – Plant a Tree.” A particularly good line of his reads, “I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that will be in God’s recreated world…but I know that God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning.”

Since I was curious about Jesus’s view of the earth, I’ve picked a verse that scholars tend to go to for answers: Matthew 6.25-34.  I’ve retranslated it from the original Greek. (I figured since I’m a PhD student, I can start doing things like, making new translations). Here’s what I’ve come up with:

“Because of what I am teaching you just now––even about how you cannot serve God and money––here’s what I have to say: don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or what you will wear.  Is your life filled by food or your body made special by what you wear?  You’re more than that. Look up to the birds of the sky: they do not scatter seeds, or harvest or build up their supplies in a silo.  Your father in heaven feeds them. Are you that different from them?  Okay, measure that length between your elbow and the tip of your finger. Who among you has the power to add that many inches to your height by worrying? Also why are you getting attached to your clothes? Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They do not work hard until they are weary.  Nor do they sew. But I say to you that not even Solomon––in all his glory––arrayed himself like one of these.  But if God adorns the grass of the field, which is growing today and used for the flames of cooking tomorrow, then how much more will he look after you.  Therefore don’t worry or dwell on the day in your head over and over saying, “What will I eat, or what will I drink, or how I will adorn myself?” For the people all around you try to feed these anxieties. It’s simple: your father in heaven knows that you need to be filled. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his ways of living.  Then what you need will be there at the right time.  This is important, so I’ll say it again: don’t worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will worry about itself.   There is enough evil in one day.”  Matthew 6.25-34.

In this particular verse, Jesus is proclaiming a great restoration of creation. It is part of his larger, “Inaugurated Eschatology” plan. He is saying, “Your neighbors worry about what they will eat and wear.  And once, you went without clothes or food.  But if you trust in God, you will be clothed and full, just like the animals and flowers in the new creation, which is starting now.” This is a gutsy statement, because it depends on addicted people healing, and it depends on God’s people playing their part in “inaugurated eschatology.” Jesus is putting a lot of trust in the Holy Spirit and the church here. There are a couple more points to take from this verse: (1) the burning of grass you find at the end of Matthew 6 is not about the destruction of the world, like some people think.  It is a metaphor about God’s trustworthiness, which uses stove imagery. And (2) the Greek of this verse does not necessarily say, “Look at the birds of the field, are you not worth more than them”, as many translations say. It just as easily reads, “Are you that different from these?” This is not to diminish human worth; it is to elevate the worth of sparrows.  The worth of every creature in God’s eyes is something that can be shown throughout the Bible.  But (3) ultimately, this verse is about God’s provision and how crazy it is that we tend to worry so much about life.

Worrying about life has deeper consequences, more than we usually realize. The type of worry that Jesus is talking about is not the, “don’t worry about the problems of the world.” In fact, “Inaugurated Eschatology” insists that we play a role in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  That’s a different kind of worry. This is the: we’re like kids who wake up in the dark of midnight and worry if we are alone.  We cry out and question God.  And he comes––more often than we realize––and scoops us from our covers.  He holds us and sings us back to sleep for the night.  When we live for weeks, months, or years thinking that God never came to get us, we start thinking that life is up to us, our success is up to us, and our happiness is up to us.  And worry starts to drive us.  Worry starts to numb us.  And, though we can’t often see it, worry leads us to consuming more than we need.  And consuming more than we need leads to care-lessness for the earth and for our neighbors.

When we read Jesus’s words here we find a promise.  Life gets buried under worry; so stop worrying and find life.  Find in your heart that child-like self and the awe you forgot you had. Find your will to serve, the one that supports your 70-hour workweek.  Take it back for Jesus.  There are far bigger things to get on with, like becoming a living parable for God’s already-started kingdom.  You can join in the redemption and not the destruction of creation, now.  For Jesus, his view of creation came from the OT, particularly Psalm 24. And Psalm 24 defines creation like this: “the earth, all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it, for he has founded the seas, and established it on the rivers.”  When we join Jesus’s already-but-not-yet-kingdom, part of the deal is that we care for creatures great and small, humans and animals alike.  Maybe Jesus wasn’t thinking about creation care in Matthew 6. But when we look at his teaching here, in the framework of “inaugurated eschatology”, I’m convinced that we catch a glimmer of something deep in Jesus.  In this instance, we might just call it: “Jesus’s deep love for the fields.”

Resource Bundle:

Horrell, David G. “Jesus and the Earth: The Gospels and Ecology.” Chapter 6 in The Bible and the Environment: Towards a Critical Ecological Biblical Theology. Biblical Challenges in the Contemporary World. London: Equinox, 2010

Leske, Adrian. “Matthew6.25-34: Human Anxiety and the Natural World.” Chapter 2 in ed.  Norman Habel and Vikcy Balabanski, The Earth Story in the New Testament. Vol. 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Wallace, Mark I. “God is Green” Chapter 1 in Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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And What Does God Require?

And what does God require regarding the domestic animal? Once again, the law codes of ancient Israel are full of instruction. God says in Deuteronomy: But the seventh day is a sabbath belonging to Yahweh your God; you shall not do any work, not you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your domesticated beasts … And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that Yahweh your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, Therefore, Yahweh your God has commanded you to keep the day of the sabbath. (Deut 5:14-15) So right here in the ten commandments, because God has saved his people, his people are commanded to honor Him by allowing their livestock to rest. As is true today livestock were maintained in Israel exclusively to facilitate the well-being of humanity. In Israel sheep, goats, cattle, oxen, and donkeys served the populace with wool, milk, meat, and sweat respectively. And of course, a 24-7 work week for those animals would have seemed the most advantageous economically from a human perspective. But in contrast to that assumed reality, these creatures are allotted a place in the sabbath ordinance of God. An Israelite was forbidden to consume the life and energy of his beast without compassion and care. Deut 25:4 is another law which addresses this topic. Here the Israelite is commanded not to muzzle his ox while he drags the threshing sledge for his master. In the smallholder farms of the Central Hill Country, the cereal crop was absolutely crucial to the survival of the community. And the Iron Age farmer relied heavily upon the labor of his beast for the long and arduous task of threshing (extracting the precious grain from the stalks in which it grew). Once cleaned and stored, this grain would serve as the primary food staple for man and beast. And in this subsistence economy, every kilo counted. Baruch Rosen, an Israeli archaeologist of notable reputation, has done an arresting calculation of exactly how many calories were necessary to sustain the average Israelite village of 100 souls. Operating off of data culled from the known Iron I villages, Rosen estimates that the typical village would experience an annual shortfall of 15,000,000 calories a year.[1] Anticipating that the average family included five souls, this would mean an annual shortfall of sixty days of food for the family. Why is this significant? Because it means that the three to four kilos (5-7 lbs) of grain that an ox might consume over the course of a day of threshing made a difference. Yet God commands Israel to allow the beast who served them the opportunity to enjoy its life and work and to benefit from the fruit of its labors. In other words, even the ox was allowed to feast on harvest day. Note that in Israel’s case, allowing their beasts the opportunity to enjoy the benefit and joy of their own labor would necessarily cut into the farmer’s profits, and in many cases even their essential food supply. So now we are forced to ask, how might these deuteronomic laws reflect on current practices in America—specifically the billions of animals who serve us in America’s factory farms? Factory farming is the practice of raising middle school boarding schools North CarolinaJake Housecomes to Citizen middle school boarding schools with a proven track record in both the private sector and education. href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farm_animals”>livestock in confinement at high-stocking density, where the farm operates essentially as a factory whose end product is protein units. Confined animals burn fewer calories, their excrement is mass-managed (or mismanaged as many argue), and their fertility and gestation fully controlled. As regards America’s most lucrative agricultural product, pigs, confinement has been distilled into an exact science: twenty 230 lb animals per 7.5 foot-square pen, housed upon metal-grated flooring, in climate controlled conditions, who are never actually exposed to the light of day. These animals are sustained in such crowded and filthy conditions that movement is difficult, natural behaviors impossible, and antibiotics are essential to the control of infection. Sows (typically a 500 lb creature) are separately housed, living out their lives in 7-foot by 22-inch metal gestation crates from which they are never released, even in the process of giving birth. They are artificially inseminated to deliver an average of eight litters, litters inflated beyond their natural carrying capacity by fertility drugs. A staple of their diet is the rendered remains of their deceased pen-mates. Surely if God is offended by boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut 14:21), we should be concerned that dead sows are routinely ground up and fed to their offspring.[2] Reading of the standard treatment that these animals endure, one cannot help but think of Ezekiel’s outcry against the shepherds of Israel in Ezek 34:3-4: “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, those with fractures you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.” But as the “New Agriculture” reports, all of these innovations make these production units (i.e. animate creatures) easier to manage, maintain, medicate and slaughter. And the rapidly escalating market for meat for human consumption, in the third world in particular, is voiced as the rationale for mass-confinement animal husbandry. As Matthew Scully painfully illustrates in his 2002 exposé of the industry, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy,in our country, the abuses to which domesticated animals are routinely subjected are nearly too horrific to report. This forces my heart to ask, is this what Yahweh intended for the creatures he entrusted to humanity’s care?


[1] Images of factory farming for beef, pork, and poultry may be found at http://www.farmsanctuary.org/

[2] “Subsistence Economy,” 348-49; cf. Rosen’s more detailed presentation of the same data in ; “Subsistence Economy of Stratum II,” Izbet S?artah: An Early Iron Age Site near Rosh Ha’ayin, 156-85); David C. Hopkins, “Life on the Land.”


Sandra Richter is Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary and Affiliate Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University’s Near Eastern Language and Civilizations department. She is a popular speaker and has published on an array of topics. Her most recent book is The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

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Thank you & Earth Day video

Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, and the rest of the Blessed Earth team, want to thank you for your prayers and encouragement surrounding our huge weekend of events in the nation”s capital.  It all went better than we could have imagined and we are excited for the next phase of work around the Seminary Stewardship Alliance and the Blessed Earth Year with the National Cathedral.

In case you missed the events last weekend, here are the links to the video from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Feel free to watch these links in your church or small group.  If you do, please let us know your reflections and how your faith community is practicing Creation Care.

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Earth Day 2012 – A time to Celebrate

What an incredible few days! Matthew and Nancy and the Blessed Earth team hardly stopped this past weekend and we are so very grateful for our partners and the National Cathedral for long hours of preparation. We will be releasing photos and video as well and reflections on what comes next. As we launch the Blessed Earth Year and follow up on the Seminary Stewardship Alliance we will have tons of news and exciting updates. But for now, we pause and give thanks to our Creator God for a marvelous Earth Day weekend in Washington D.C. Here are some selected images from the major events (you can click on the image for a larger view).

Blessed Earth team prepare for the day at the Cathedral

Matthew preaches at the National Cathedral, Earth Day 2012

Wendell Berry receives award

Matthew speaks at the award luncheon

Award Luncheon hosted by the National Cathedral, Blessed Earth, and the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care

Matthew Sleeth and Wendell Berry during the Earth Day forum

Seminary officials pray after launch of the Blessed Earth Seminary Stewardship Alliance (Will Samson, Blessed Earth Development Director pictured far right)

National Cathedral congregants

Earth Day 2012 at the National Cathedral

Processional (Matthew Sleeth is pictured in the dark suite near the bottom of the image)

Matthew gets ready to join the processional

Cathedral TV on Earth Day

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Blessed Earth Film Series – Re-release news!

We are excited to announce the re-release of our film series. You can buy the new DVD and guidebook curriculem by clicking here (just $26 for complete guidebook and twelve beautifully made short films). You can watch the Blessed Earth Film Series trailer here. To learn more, please click here. These materials are wonderful resources for any church or study group…especially as we encounter Earth Day and Christians are wondering about their role as stewards of God’s good earth.

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Hugging the Tree of Life – 1 of 7

What scholars, bishops, and writers are saying about green readings of the New Testament

(Intro to a 7 part series)

You can’t trust an expert every time.  Humans make mistakes. But when it comes to our future, health, and wealth, we love to hear from the professionals.  And why shouldn’t we?  They’ve done more research than we have.  They’ve thought longer and harder about the topic at hand.  And they’ve devoted their lives to a cause.  So when we open our Bibles––turning particularly to our New Testaments––looking for green scriptures, we would do well to catch up with the experts.

That is the point of this blog series: to highlight some eco-wisdom from scholars, writers, leaders, and teachers of the New Testament.  These posts are for men and women who want to become better Christians and stewards of the earth.  But more than that, these articles are for those of us who want to avoid dead-end readings of the scriptures. We want to know what verses will change our communities and what verses are simply not about stewardship, even if we first thought so. We want to be ready for that moment when somebody uses our own scriptures to prove that God, after all, cares nothing for the earth.  We don’t want to be speechless then. In the big wide clash of ideas throughout Western culture, the jury is still out on whose version of reality we will adopt for brighter futures––will it be Buddhist, Pagan, Islamic, Christian? Don’t you want to know what Christian scholars and leaders are saying in the conversation?  Don’t you want to know where they think the real ecological gold is in the Christian scriptures? Me too.  So I’ve done some reading, and I’m going to give you a digest of their work.

To get an overview of what’s going on and what’s being said––there’s far too much out there to include in this series; I’m definitely not covering all the bases––an image might help.  (You can skip this next part if you care more about what the experts are saying than who they are).

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 I’ve made up a word image to help us keep the last few decades straight. It goes like this:

Imagine a polar bear holding a microphone.  And on top of the microphone is a spinning globe.  And on top of the globe is a party.  You can see a hundred groups up there chatting in small circles, but you notice three particular conversations.  One is a council of bishops and priests.  The other is a group of surfers.  The third is a group of academics and writers.

1960’s – The polar bear represents the fountainhead of much of our conversation: Lynn White.  His important and now famous article accused Christianity––and implicitly the New Testament––of being the problem and the source of our ecological crisis.

70’s and 80’s – The microphone represents the hundreds of people who have responded to him. Some who were happy with his conclusions; others were angrier.

90’s- The globe represents the Harvard school.  These are a group of scholars, who, in the mid-90’s, began talking about an in-breaking “ecozoic” era, one in which the world religions were now all waking up to the sacredness of the earth.  Contributors tended to favor a pantheist vision of space and time. The group produced a library of volumes, including “Christianity and Ecology.”  Built upon the shoulders of––get ready for some names you might like to know––Alfred White Northead, Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Berry, they worked across religious boundaries to join together this worldwide awakening.
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2000- today:  Next, the conversation on top of the globe represents the global discussion about our future.  They all wonder: whose version of reality will help us avoid total ecological destruction? The circle of bishops represents the church leaders who pull––in various ways––from Christian scriptures.  Voices include NT Wright, James Jones, Matthew Fox, Desmond Tutu, and John Chryssavgis. The second conversation includes a group of surfers––a lot of them really love surfing like some Christians really like Church––who think we should return to a type of neo-paganism, which deeply reveres the sacred earth. This, “Dark Green Religion” finds traction in a periodical called, “Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.”  The third conversation represents the hundreds, if not thousands of scholars, writers, and thinkers who advocate one form of green-theology or another.  Three prominent voices include David Horrell (and his team who have just completed a project called “Ecological Hermeneutics”), Norm Habel (and his group who have just completed a project called, “The Earth Bible”) and a group who has published the, “Green Bible”, a green letter edition of the NRSV, which highlights eco-theological verses.  Other scholars include Richard Bauckham, Edward P. Echlin, Ellen Davis, Sigurd Bergman, Howard Snyder, and Jurgen Moltmann.  It’s not clear, in the end, who is listening to whom in the conversation.

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I’ve chosen to write on five classic texts that theologians use for making green theology.

Matthew 6.25-34:        A Lesson from the Earth

Romans 8.18-30:         We are so Connected

Mark 1.9-13:               Jesus, Animals, and Isaiah

Colossians 1.15-20:     The Cosmic Jesus

Revelation 21:             Ecotopia

In each post, I’ve made a new English paraphrase from the original Greek and tried to highlight points of conversation from those circles of experts.

One of the difficult parts about reading green theology in the New Testament, is that most of the good stuff is in the Hebrew Bible.  From the creation story, to Job’s vision of creation, to creation praising in the Psalms, to the visions of new creation in the prophets––the OT is the place to go for the green stuff.  Yes, green theology is in the New Testament.  But you just have to look a little more carefully and remember that the OT was Jesus’s Bible; a lot of the NT assumes you are super familiar with the OT as scripture.  At the end of each post, I give you three references to books, articles or articles in books for the eager reader to explore. My goal is that you would get your hands on some of the gold from the experts. I hope this series will help you see how a green reading of the New Testament is very possible and, given a little work on our part, will transform our vision of Christian spirituality.


Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life.  You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.

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Great response to Almost Amish

Nancy has been inundated with reviews and interviews relating to her new book, Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, and more Sustainable Life. This review is typical of

the positive response. Nancy and the Blessed Earth team are most grateful.

Speaking from experience, Sleeth challenges us to simplify in every area of life – in our homes, technology and finances. She then gently encourages us to spend time focusing on what really matters – nature, service, security, community, families and faith. Using the Amish communities as an example, we are given practical examples of how to achieve simplicity in a modern world. No, she does not recommend living “off the grid” and giving up our cars in exchange for horses, but she does show us how to tread lightly on the earth and readjust our priorities to become ones who live a life actively seeking after God and showing him to others through our actions.

Short chapters and a down-to-earth writing style made Almost Amish easy to devour in a day. I have started to ponder the changes necessary to make life less frantic once again and, although it will be a slow process (my daughter informed me that she cannot live without technology), I know that the benefits will far outweigh the sacrifices. I encourage you to slow down enough to readAlmost Amish – it just might change your life.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5.

(I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.)

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