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Fall 1992    Vol. 21 No. 2    pp. 15–26 

Ecology According to the New Testament

Gordon Zerbe

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion. . . overall the earth (Gen. 1:26, NRSV). 1

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth (Rev. 5:10, NRSV).

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice (Ps. 97:1, NRSV).

Your kingdom come . . . on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10, NRSV).

From beginning to end, from first part to last part, the Bible is an ecological book. I believe this strongly, on the one hand against those ecologically conscious Christians who think that the Bible needs to be put on the shelf for a while, 2 and on the other hand against those who hold solidly to biblical authority but do not consider ecological concerns as a biblically based, Christian mandate.

“The restoration of humanity is inseparably linked with the restoration of creation.”

In what ways is the Bible ecological? One answer is that there is a remarkable commonality between the ecological and biblical perspectives. Howard Snyder, for instance, has identified a number of parallels between the two: {16}

  • Both ecology and the Bible view the world in a long-range time frame.
  • Both ecology and the Bible see the natural world as one interconnected whole.
  • Both ecology and the Bible focus on the significance of land.
  • Both ecology and the Bible present us with an awareness of limits.
  • Both ecology and the Bible see the natural order as subject to decay.
  • Both ecology and the Bible show that all behavior has consequences. 3

Moreover, the most comprehensive conception in the New Testament for God’s redemptive, re-creative purpose is ecologica--namely, the kingdom of God. Wendell Berry writes, “The first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything; in it, the fall of every sparrow is a significant event. . . . Another principle, both ecological and traditional, is that everything in the Kingdom of God is joined both to it and everything else that is in it.” 4 Throughout the Bible, the rule of God includes the notion of ecological balance (shalom) in all creation, 5 particularly between humanity and the earth, its God-given home, its oikos (from which we derive the term “ecology”) and habitat (from the Latin habitatio, “dwelling”).

Finally, the Bible is ecological in that its vision of restorative wholeness implies a mandate for Christians to be ecologically sensitive co-regents with God in the service of all creation.

I will not be able, in this essay, to discuss all of the ways in which the New Testament as part of the whole Bible is ecological. 6 I will present the biblical ecological vision by discussing the kingdom of God, the most central and most comprehensive symbol in the New Testament for salvation and ethics. My thesis is two-fold: (1) that the New Testament’s vision for salvation includes the restorative re-creation of the entire universe--both human and non-human--integrally to its intended ecological balance; and (2) that this vision of holistic redemption motivates Christian ethics--priorities for Christian action in the world--including stewardship of the natural world.

Throughout the Bible the kingdom of God generally refers to the dynamic and sovereign rule of God, not especially to a sphere or place in which this rule operates, although this latter aspect occasionally emerges. Three aspects of this dynamic reign as evident in the New Testament are particularly relevant for articulating its ecological significance: (1) God’s reign as expressed in creation; (2) God’s reign as a future and present order of restoration; (3) God’s reign as a new order of conduct. {17}

GOD’S REIGN AS EXPRESSED IN CREATION

Creation, it is thought, is not an important theme in the New Testament. But while creation may not be a common theme in the New Testament, it is assumed everywhere. In continuity with the Old Testament, God’s eternal and universal rule is expressed most fundamentally in the creation of the universe. Moreover, God’s rule is what maintains order in creation. 7 In both testaments, continuing order in the natural and human worlds is based on God’s rule: Affronts to and rebellion from God’s rule cause breakdowns in the natural and cosmic order. 8

The connection between God’s eternal rule and creation is pictured most impressively in John the seer’s throne vision (Rev 4). At the climax of the scene, twenty-four ministering elders “lay their crowns before the throne” and sing: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11, NRSV). In this and numerous other passages, 9 the New Testament affirms with the Old Testament the createdness and goodness of the entire universe. Jesus’ statements about God’s care for the birds of the air and the grass of the field (Matt. 6:26-30; 10:29-31, par. Luke 12:6-8) illustrate a reverent approach to creation. 10 Moreover, a stewardly attitude is clearly evident when Paul cites Ps. 24:1: “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s” (1 Cor. 10:26, NRSV). The New Testament, however, not only assumes the foundational role of God the Creator in establishing God’s reign, but also claims that Christ the Redeemer occupies a cosmic role as agent and sustainer of creation, a theme which itself has significant ecological implications. 11 As in the Old Testament, then, Christian stewardship of nature begins with God’s first creative act.

GOD’S REIGN AS A FUTURE RESTORATION

Perhaps the most dominant meaning of the kingdom of God in the New Testament is that of a new order in the age to come in which the redeemed participate. Nowhere in the New Testament is the precise shape or character of this future order defined; yet the basic contours of this vision can be discerned. Most fundamentally--and in continuity with the prophetic hope of the Old Testament--, the kingdom of God entails the restoration of the entire universe to its original state. That is, it is a renewal of creation. 12 When God’s rule is finally realized throughout the universe, a new order of righteousness, peace, harmony, and nature’s renewal will emerge. In 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, Paul writes that in the end Christ’s and God’s rule will be achieved throughout the universe “so that God may be {18} all in all” (NRSV). In the end, there will be no more separation between the earthly and heavenly realms. 13

The transformation that results from God’s final triumph is comprehensive. It is personal, social, and cosmic. It means the restoration of all types of disorder and broken relationships that resulted from the invasion of sin (Satan) into the world. 14

On the personal level, it involves resurrection, the renewal of bodily life (Rom. 8:23) through the final defeat of the power of death (1 Cor. 15:26). Life, bodily life, was the original intent of creation. 15

The kingdom also means restoration on the social level. In Romans 14:17, Paul describes the kingdom of God with three Greek terms: dikaiosyne (“righteousness/justice”), eirene (“peace”), and chara (“joy”). These are loaded terms. Dikaiosyne in its most basic sense means things or people being in right relationships. Similarly, eirene here signifies the Hebrew concept of shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness, prosperity, physical well-being. 16 Joy is the natural expression of feeling when God’s justice/righteousness and peace emerge in God’s reign (cf. Ps 97:1).

The vision of the coming kingdom does not stop here but reaches out to embrace the entire cosmos. The entirety of creation will be returned to its original state. In continuity with the vision of Isaiah 65-66, the New Testament affirms that the final realization of God’s rule means a new heaven and a new earth. According to John the seer, once God’s rule is fully established (Rev. 11:15-18) and all God’s enemies who are responsible for the destruction of the earth have been destroyed (Rev. 11:18;19:2), a new heaven and a new earth will emerge (Rev. 21:1-22:5). Just as the throne vision of Revelation 4 culminated in a reference to God’s creative rule, an act of re-creation emerges from the throne at the end: “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things [i.e., the entire universe] new!’ ” (Rev. 21:5, NRSV).

Accordingly, Revelation 22:1-5 pictures the kingdom of God in which God’s people “shall reign for ever and ever” as an Edenic paradise, a return to primeval time before the invasion of the powers of chaos and sin. As it is phrased in 2 Peter 3:13, “But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and anew earth, where righteousness is at home” (NRSV).

Peter’s speech in Acts 3 also contains a reference to this cosmic restoration, 3:21: chronoi apokatastaseos panton, “the times of the reconstitution of all things.” 17 What is remarkable about this phrase is that it is also used by the historian Diodorus in the first century B.C. to refer to the restoration of the whole universe to perfection, including the reversion of the stars to their original orbit or starting place. 18 Acts 3:21 implies that this restoration will he experienced on earth, mediated through the return of the {19} Messiah.

Perhaps the most important reference to this cosmic restoration is in Romans 8:18-25. Here Paul describes the coming “glory,” which is a central attribute of the coming kingdom of God. 19 All creation is restored: People are redeemed to whole, bodily life, and nonhuman creation is set free from the bondage it is suffering under the weight of evil. Indeed, these two aspect of redemption—human and nonhuman—are integrally related; one does not happen without the other. 20

Other passages in Paul’s letters confirm the importance for him of this comprehensive renewal of creation in Christ. Paul speaks of “the new creation,” 21 the reconciliation of the “world” (kosmos), 22 and the new humanity “being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its Creator.” 23 While these texts refer to human redemption in particular, it is clear that for Paul these notions embraced all of nonhuman creation as well. 24 When he speaks of the reconciliation or justification of “all things” in Christ, Paul refers to this final cosmic transformation. 25 Not surprisingly, then, Paul claims that the Abrahamic promise to his descendants in faith involves the inheritance of the kosmos (“world, universe,” Rom. 4.13).

Three other passages confirm that restored humanity’s proper habitat is earth; future salvation is not a disembodied spiritual existence in a transcendent heaven. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). In this hymn to the slain but victorious Lamb, the final vindication of God’s people in the kingdom is seen as a new order on earth. This is not simply a reference to a temporary state in a millennial kingdom before the consummation (Rev. 20:1-6), but to the final kingdom. 26 Taking up the notion in Gen. 1:26 that the original intention for humanity is a stewardly dominion on the earth, 27 this verse envisions a time when God’s people are co-regents with God in the service of God’s re-creation. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). This verse has a double reference: It refers to the hope for the future transformation of all things in a new creation, and to the hope for the arrival of God’s order in the present world. In both cases, the prayer affirms that humanity’s proper habitat in the kingdom, as in creation, is earth. “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the land/earth” (Matt 5:5). Here, “inheriting the land/earth” is equated with receiving the kingdom. 28 Significantly, it is the meek who will inherit the earth in God’s future reign. Those who will care for the earth in a non-domineering, non-degrading way are the ones who are truly qualified to inherit the earth.

In continuity with the prophetic hope of the Old Testament, then, the New Testament envisions the kingdom of God as the new order in the age {20} to come. The kingdom is that reality which results when the rule of Christ and of God is realized in all creation. In radical discontinuity with the present order (which is marred by sin and largely controlled by demonic powers), the kingdom is a vision of things as they ought to be in the entire cosmos, both human and nonhuman. It is an order in which all things are in right relationship, an order in which righteousness dwells. While the focus of the kingdom of God in the New Testament is on human redemption, the final restoration of humanity is inseparably linked with the restoration of all creation. The definitive vision of salvation is that of a redeemed community of whole persons set within the context of a restored creation. All creation is the object of God’s ultimate redeeming act.

MINIMIZING THE COSMIC SHAPE OF SALVATION

Unfortunately, this emphasis of the New Testament on the cosmic and earthly dimensions of the final transformation is often overlooked or minimized in Christian theology. Some, for instance, suppose that the present earth is completely temporal. Is not the present world passing away to make way for a new heaven and earth? If so, why do Christians need to be concerned about the present state of the earth?

It is true that many New Testament texts refer to the “passing away” of heaven and earth, based on Isaiah 51:6. But the following points should be noted. First, one can discern two trends in the New Testament in the interpretation of the cosmic restoration of Isaiah 65:17. Some texts imply a destruction and replacement of the old world, 29 but the Pauline references imply a restoration of the present world. 30 Thus Paul says that “the present form (schema) of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31, NRSV). The New Testament itself is in dialogue on this question. 31

Second, the problem is not with the creation itself, but with sin. Earth is being crushed under the weight of human sin and evil powers. Thus the images of the earth’s passing are more those of refinement and purification—to rid creation of evil than those of outright destruction and replacement. 32 God’s interest in creation is evident in the announcement that those who destroy the earth will themselves be destroyed (Rev. 11:18; 19:2).

Third, even the ideas of refinement or replacement do not necessarily mean than one should not care for the present creation. One can point to the resurrection as a parallel. The body is destroyed and raised with a new resurrection body; but this does not mean that one is no longer to care for the present physical body. Whether the old cosmos is restored or replaced, redeemed humanity is always on a redeemed earth. Earth is humanity’s proper habitat. {21} 33

The cosmic shape of salvation is also minimized when salvation is seen in purely spiritual or heavenly terms. This happens when the temporal tension of this age and the age to come is diminished, so that the primary contrast in salvation becomes spatial-earthly versus heavenly or spiritual. According to the New Testament, heaven is indeed where God’s rule is now recognized; and the spatial imagery of ascent is sometimes used to describe redemption. 34 But the constant and fundamental affirmation of the New Testament is that God’s rule will ultimately be manifested throughout the entire universe so that redeemed life will be fully experienced on a redeemed earth. The final hope of Christians is not heaven, but participation in God’s restoration of all things.

GOD’S REIGN AS A PRESENT ORDER OF RESTORATION

The kingdom of God, however, is not simply a future order of salvation. The Christian confession is that in Christ, God’s rule has already broken into the present order, so that one can speak of the presence of the future. 35 Even though the kingdom will be consummated in the future, it has already been inaugurated in this age. In Christ, the end has become decisive and definitive for the present.

In the teaching of Jesus, the kingdom of God fundamentally expresses the new vision of life in its fulness. The kingdom is something that people must presently receive (Mark 10:15) and is said to be within or among people (Luke 17:21). The kingdom and its right relationships ought to be sought (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31) and to be prayed for as a present, earthly reality (Matt. 6:10). The kingdom of God, moreover, is dynamically present in the life and mission of Jesus. It is particularly in healing through the victory over the evil powers which corrupt this age that the kingdom is manifest (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20).

The apostle Paul also affirms that in Christ the coming age has already invaded the present world. In particular, the resurrection of Jesus is the turning point, announcing and validating the imminent arrival of the kingdom and already effecting changes in the present. 36 Because the future renewal of all things has already begun to transform the present, Paul can refer to being “in Christ” as already amounting to a “new creation,” the “reconciliation of the world,” and the renewal of the original image of God.

The presence of the kingdom means, then, that the restoration of creation’s wholeness has already begun in a real, evident, and substantial way, even though the kingdom will not be manifested in its totality and perfection until God’s final triumph. The New Testament speaks of the present experience of redemption only in terms of the human realm; but as we shall see, this theme has clear implications for broader ecological wholeness. {22}

GOD’S REIGN AS A NEW ORDER OF CONDUCT

Throughout the New Testament, the imperative of Christian ethics and action is based squarely on the indicative of God’s present and future redemptive activity. Not surprisingly, then, the language of the kingdom of God in the New Testament includes a demand: The right relationships that will characterize the coming kingdom must be pursued in the present world (Matt. 6:33; cf. 5:20; 7:21). In kingdom ethics, means and ends are in harmony. The ways of the future kingdom are already in effect. As illustrated by John 18:36, kingdom citizens use the means of peacemaking and non-violence as appropriate to the new era of peace.

Analogously, the implication is that kingdom citizens live lifestyles that exhibit care of creation as appropriate to the new era of cosmic recreation. Insofar as sin has caused a brokenness in humanity’s relationships with nature, and insofar as the restoration of all nonhuman creation is included in the coming kingdom, it necessarily follows that righteousness includes a restored relationship with creation. The ethic of peacemaking, shalom-building, and nonviolence must be extended to embrace the relationship with creation. 37 Although this notion is not explicit in the New Testament, 38 biblical texts imply it. Isaiah’s vision of restored humanity and nature climaxes with the statement that there will no longer be any hurt or destruction in creation (Isa. 11:9; 65:25). And John’s vision of judgment states that those who destroy the earth will themselves be destroyed (Rev. 11:18; 19:2). It is noteworthy that the prophetic critique of Rome in Rev. 17:1-19:4 closely connects greed and the earth’s destruction: the insatiable desire for consumption and wealth is what results in the destruction of people and the earth.

Over twenty years ago, Francis Schaeffer articulated the implications of present and future redemption for Christian care for nature’s healing and balance as follows:

When we carry these ideas [of substantial healing in the present] over into the area of our relationship with nature, there is an exact parallel. On the basis of the fact that there is going to be total redemption in the future, not only of [humanity] but of all creation, the Christian who believes the Bible should be the [person] who—with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature will be then. . . . God’s calling to the Christian now, and to the Christian community, in the area of nature just as it is in the area of personal Christian living in true spirituality is that we should exhibit a substantial healing here and now, between [humanity] and nature and nature and itself, as far as Christians can bring it to pass. {23} 39

In other words, the vision of restoration in the coming kingdom defines the present tasks of redemptive action. The futurity of the kingdom is not an occasion for escapism, passivity, or pessimism; rather, the coming kingdom guides and motivates present responsibilities in and for creation. Since the kingdom is both present and future, the believer lives in the balance between the “already” and the “not yet” of salvation. Living with this tension keeps the believer from both passive pessimism and excessive optimism regarding the realization of God’s renewing work in this age. Even if ultimate redemption is unattainable before the end, the Christian continues to work both stewardly because of God’s first creative act and redemptively because of God’s re-creative act.

SUMMARY

I have tried to show in this essay how the kingdom of God the central theme running through the New Testament has significant ecological implications. These can be summarized briefly. As a comprehensive vision for future salvation, the kingdom entails the renewal of all creation, human and natural. This expectation is holistic: it affirms the spiritual-physical unity of the person; it relates personal and social renewal; it links human and cosmic aspects of redemption; it affirms the interconnectedness of the spiritual and material dimensions of life; and it means the ultimate unity of all things, including heaven and earth, so that God is all in all. The kingdom unites creation and redemption—redemption as recreation focuses back on the original creation. Both are expressions of God’s lordship. In continuity with the Old Testament, this New Testament hope sees the proper habitat for redeemed humanity on a redeemed earth.

But the New Testament also affirms that in Christ the kingdom has invaded the present. Moreover, the kingdom is not only a new order of salvation, but a new order of relationships and conduct. The presence of the kingdom means that Christians ought to order their lives in terms of the values and shape of the new and coming kingdom. Since the righteousness of the kingdom means right relationships appropriate to the new and coming order, Christians are led directly to an ethic of care for creation. Instead of providing an occasion for the disregard and degradation of creation, the vision of the future kingdom defines and motivates present ministries of reconciliation, including earthkeeping. The ecological implications of God’s reign are both stewardly action because of God’s first creative act and redemptive action because of God’s re-creative act. When God reigns in the hearts of people and ultimately throughout the universe, the earth will indeed rejoice. {24}

ENDNOTES

  1. Portions of this essay are taken, by request, from “The Kingdom of God and Stewardship of Creation,” in The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament?, ed. Calvin DeWitt (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991) 73-92 [used with permission].
  2. Thomas Berry, “The Spirituality of the Earth,” Riverdale Papers: On the Earth Community (New York: Riverdale Center for Religious Research, ) 6-9.
  3. Howard Snyder, Liberating the Church: The Ecology of Church and Kingdom (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) 45-51.
  4. Wendell Berry, Home Economics (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987) 44.
  5. As H. Snyder puts it: “The fruit of God’s unhindered rule is shalom—a life of harmony, health, and peace. Thus biblical shalom is very close to the concept of ecological balance as far as its implication for nature are concerned. . . .” (Liberating the Church, 51).
  6. The Bible itself is properly viewed ecologically, that is, as an interdependent whole. For the present topic, ideally that means observing the interrelatedness of all its parts, including that of Old and New Testament perspectives.
  7. E.g., Rom. 11:36; cf. Col. 1:16-17.
  8. E.g. Mark 13:24-25; Rev. 6-19; cf Ps. 24:4-6.
  9. Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24; Rom. 1:20-25; 4:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; 10:26, 11.19 (cf. Mark 10.6), Eph. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:3; Rev. 10:6; for incidental references, see Matt. 25:32; Mark 13:19 par. Matt. 24:21; Mark 13:35 par. Luke 11:15; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 17:8.
  10. The parables of growth (e.g., Mark 4:26-29) and the character of much of Jesus’ teaching as representing the tradition of Old Testament and Jewish wisdom instruction, which is based largely on concrete observations from nature (e.g. Matt. 5:44-45), also illustrate a reverent and stewardly attitude to God’s creation.
  11. Cf. John 1:2,10; 17:24; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-2,10; 2:10; Rev. 3:14. For a discussion of the ecological implications of this theme, see L. Wilkinson, “Christ and Creator and Redeemer,” in The Environment and the Christian, 25-44.
  12. On the ecological implications of the theme of redemption as recreation, see esp. Bruce Birch, “Nature, Humanity, and Biblical Theology: Observations Toward a Relational Theology of Nature,” in Ecology and Life: Accepting our Environmental Responsibility (Waco: Word, 1988) 148-50.
  13. Cf. Rom. 11:36; Rev. 21:3, 22; 22:3-5.
  14. For a discussion of the ecological implications of the personal, social, and cosmic redoing by Christ the second Adam in the face of the undoing of creation by the first Adam, see R. Manahan, “Christ as the Second Adam,” in The Environment and the Christian, 45-56. {25}
  15. Note the connection of God’s reign and resurrection in 1 Cor 15. For the ecological significance of resurrection, see R. Van Leeuwen, “Christ’s Resurrection and the Vindication of Creation,” in The Environment and the Christian, 57-71.
  16. For references to justice and peace and central attributes of the kingdom in the Old Testament, Ps. 72; 85:10; 97:2; Isa. 32:17.
  17. NRSV: “the time of universal restoration.”
  18. W. Bauer, W. Arndt, F. Gingrich, F. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) s.v. apokatastasis.
  19. This is illustrated well in 1 Thess. 2:12, where “glory” and “kingdom of God” are used synonymously.
  20. On this passage, see esp. Paulos Gregorios, “New Testament Foundations for Understanding Creation,” in Tending the Garden: Essays on the Gospel and the Earth, ed. W. Granberg-Michaelson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 84-87.
  21. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15.
  22. 2 Cor. 5:19; see also Col. 1:20.
  23. Col. 3:10; see also Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24.
  24. V. Furnish, 2 Corinthians (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984) 314-19, 332-36.
  25. Cf. 1 Cor. 15:25-28; Eph. 1:10; 22; Phil. 3:21; Col. 1:20; cf. Rom. 8:28-39; 11:36; Heb. 1:2; 2:8-9.
  26. Rev. 22:1-5; cf. G. R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 127-28; G. E. Ladd, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972) 91-93.
  27. For the notion of dominion as stewardship, see Douglas J. Hall, Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).
  28. Note the parallel with Matt. 5:3, 10.
  29. Heb. 1:10-12; 12:26-29; 2 Pet. 3:5-13; Rev. 21:1 (cf. 6:12-14; 8:6-12; 16:1-11; 20:11). This motif of cosmic cataclysm derives from the Old Testament: (Isa. 13:13; 51:6; Amos 8:8-9; Joel 3:30-31; Hag. 2:6-7).
  30. Rom. 8:17-23; 2 Cor. 5:17.
  31. A similar divergence of perpectives can be observed in Jewish apocalyptic literature (cf Beasley-Murray, Revelation, 306-7).
  32. Cf. 2 Pet. 3:5-13, which uses the metaphor of metallurgical refinement. Heb. 12:26-29 uses the metaphor of cosmic shaking to show the separation of good and evil in creation.
  33. So also Ladd, Revelation, 275. {26}
  34. Esp. John and Heb. The earthly-heavenly dualism is also evident in Col. 2:20; 3:2; 2 Cor. 4:16-5:8. In the Colossian passages, however, the reference is to an ethical dualism and does not imply a negative evaluation of earth as such. And while the Corinthian passages refer to the hope that death in Christ means immediate fellowship with the Lord (cf. Phil. 2), Paul never relaxes the future-oriented dimension of ultimate salvation. See further J. Beker on ways in which the future-oriented apocalyptic framework is transposed to either postponement (Luke-Acts; 2 Peter) or spiritualization (John; Hebrews) Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 160-63. On the limits of an ecological reading of the New Testament and thus its ambiguous character, see H. Paul Santmire, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985).
  35. Cf. G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).
  36. See esp. Beker, Paul the Apostle, 135-81.
  37. For example, B. Birch, “Nature, Humanity, and Biblical Theology,” 148-50; C. Redekop, “Toward a Mennonite Theology and Ethic of Creation,” MQR 60 (1986): 387-403; J. Carmody, Ecology and Religion: Toward a New Christian Theology of Nature (New York: Paulist, 1983).
  38. There are perhaps two main reasons why the New Testament does not specifically address this calling, even though its view of redemption seems to imply it. First, in the first century A.D. the degradation of creation through human action had not yet occurred to a significant extent. Second, at that time nature appeared to be more powerful than humans, controllable only by God, and thus was not in view as the object of present redemptive action. In the face of current environmental and nuclear crises, neither of these conditions hold today. The present situation makes it imperative for Christians to see natural creation itself as the object of stewardly and redemptive action in the name of Christ.
  39. Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale, 1970) 68-69.
Dr. Gordon Zerbe is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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