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On the Nature of Obedience to Biblical Commands Regarding Creation-Care

By Johnny Wei-Bing Lin

American Scientific Affiliation, 65th Annual Meeting, 30 July–2 August 2010, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Oral presentation on August 1st.


Over the last several years, a movement has grown within the evangelical church that seeks to renew her calling to live as a steward of creation. Theologians, philosophers, scientists, and other Christian leaders have faithfully reminded us of the scriptural foundation for such a mandate and prophetically exhorted us to consider ways we might live differently, both personally and as a society, in order to better fulfill this mandate. Yet, for all the clear and compelling work that has been done regarding the importance of creation care to God and his church, comparatively little work has been done regarding how to translate those commands into obedience.

To many, the idea of a difference between the two, that an understanding that God commands human stewardship of creation does not automatically tell us how we are to obey that command, seems exceedingly strange. After all, when confronted by a command in Scripture, we should not respond "Let me think more about what obedience means," but "Let's do it!" When God commands us not to steal, we do not reply, "How do I go about obeying this command?"—we just stop stealing. And given the clarity of Scripture regarding our responsibility as stewards, as well as the lessons from science regarding the environmental problems we face and the ways to remedy those problems, the idea of needing to translate command into obedience seems more than odd: it seems evasive.

In this paper, I argue that for the most controversial environmental issues, obedience to Scripture requires consideration of more than just the command itself. Even though Scripture is clear, the process of translating those commands into policy responses requires considering the importance, goals, and practice of that command. In turn, such a "considered obedience" requires analyzing one's assumptions regarding the nature of nature, ethics, science, and society. As a corollary, I also argue that the seeming simplicity behind the mandate to care for creation has within it pitfalls and snares that can harm creation, and lead to a misguided conviction of biblical warrant for a given policy.

Updated: October 15, 2010. Author: Johnny Lin <email address>. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License.