Monday, September 10, 2018

Stewardship in Question

In Chapter One of Bauckham's book, he delves into what "stewardship" means. From a Christian perspective, the main usage of the term is regarding the steward's responsibility to God. The secular use of the term stewardship lacks any theological content. Bauckham then goes on the describe the various criticisms of "stewardship" as we see or hear about them today.

  1. First, some say this concept of Stewardship is Hubris, unnecessary. The earth will take care of itself, it is self-regulating, with or without us. Much of the modern environmental movement speaks of this. Think back to Julia Roberts narrating for "Mother Nature" in Conservation International's video a few years back. Here is the video Julia Roberts: Nature is Speaking. However, much of the criticism coming from this perspective is a reaction to the faulty Christian idea that humans are in charge of the whole Earth and its destiny. The problem with this faulty Christian perspective is that we have taken "dominion" from the Genesis account and turned it into "exploitative", instead of responsible and caring. Bauckham blames Francis Bacon, from the 17th century, for hijacking the Genesis text and pushing for the superiority of scientific knowledge and technological exploitation, which have brought us our modern ecological crisis. It was this idea that total domination over creation is possible and is the right we have been given in Genesis. However, this kind of total control had always been thought to belong to God alone. Bauckham says we need to put our understanding of dominion back into place, in the larger context of the biblical perspective of the human relationship to other creatures.
  2. Stewardship excludes God's own activity in the world: this perspective says that God has entirely delegated his governance of the world to humans. God created and left it to be, leaving humans in charge completely, as if we take on the role of God in relation to the world. This is probably the most common secular position, in which God is "dead". But this is not the biblical perspective, of course, where we read and see that God is active in His creation, in ways that have nothing to do with creation as well as ways that do.
  3. Stewardship lacks specific content: this criticism relates the fact that often we don't know what stewardship means! Some say it is about preserving, not changing. Some say we need to intervene technologically and modify nature. Others say that nature would be fine if it weren't for humans--so our job is to protect nature from humans.
  4. Stewardship sets humans over creation, not within it: traditionally, stewardship has depicted the relationship of humans to other creatures in a purely vertical manner, with no horizontal dimension. It is a hierarchy, instead of mutual, interdependent relationships. This hierarchical understanding has probably been the most significantly harmful perspective toward creation in the modern era. Bauckham says that "modern western people, beginning with the Renaissance, forgot their own creatureliness, their embeddedness within creation, their interdependence with other creatures"(p.11). 
  5. Stewardship tends to isolate one scriptural text: So often, arguments for biblical stewardship hinge on Genesis 1:26 and 28. Though these verses are indeed key in our proper understanding, they also have to be taken within the broader context of Scripture, as all Scripture passages should be!
At this point, the author then goes into a proper understanding of the context of those two verses within the rest of the Genesis Creation account.
  1. The six days of creation: if we carefully observe the order of God's creating, He first creates the three environments that constitute the ordered space of creation, and then, on the fourth, fifth and sixth days, he creates the inhabitants of each of the cosmic habitats in turn. It is a spatial rather than chronological arrangement. Every inhabitant has it's habitat and purpose, it's own task. What is lacking, Bauckham says, "is any sense of building towards a culmination. Humans, the last creatures to be created, have a unique role within creation, but they do not come last because they are the climax of an ascending scale. The 'creeping things' (reptiles and insects), created on the sixth day, are not higher, in some order of being, than the birds, created on the fifth day. So this scheme of creation has nothing in common with that progressivist reading of evolution that envisages a process of increasing complexity and increasing intelligence that culminates in human beings" (p. 14). No, the true culmination of creation is the 7th day, not the creation of humans. Every part of God's creation God "saw that it was good", even before creating humans! This indicates that each part of creation has its own value that does not depend on its value for other parts. The value of the whole is more than the value of the sum of its parts. Humans belong to the whole, and are essential to the design of the whole, but so are the other parts of creation.
  2. The human place in creation: Here the author talks about our role of "filling the earth", in a way in which animals cannot. We are commanded to "subdue" the land, which has an implication of farming, and maybe even mining and quarrying stone (Deut. 8:7-10). The biblical writers, and ourselves today too, realize that not all places are livable. But the bigger issue here is that the land was also clearly assigned to the animals. Humans are to share the land with the animals. The animals were given all green plants for food, and we were given seed-bearing plants for food and fruit bearing trees. Therefore, as we share the land with animals, our "subduing" the land by agriculture should not force out animals of the habitats God created for them to survive off. There is a difference between subduing and having dominion. We are told to subdue the land, yes, to provide for our needs, but dominion is more about stewardship. This command presupposes that we bear the divine image, so that we can use our superior power in a way that reflects God's character and rule over his creation. "Whereas they [humans] are to 'subdue' the earth, they are to 'rule' the other living creatures. To me, this seems very clear that we should have conservation efforts as a natural part of our society's practices, especially with the Christians at the forefront. This is how it started for the United States, with John Muir, a strong Christian, out in California with Yosemite National Park, asking Teddy Roosevelt to set that land aside as a protected area.

Next Bauchman writes about the need to understand Genesis 2.

He says there is a Human solidarity with the rest of creation. The seven days of creation put humans within the order of creation, but the whole account of the Garden of Eden emphatically stresses Adam's kinship with the Earth and the other creatures of the Earth. We were made from dust, the animals were too. God breathes life into us (Gen. 2:7), which is the same breath that animates all living creatures (Gen. 7:22). We can safely assume it's the same breath of life God has given to us, otherwise, animals would not be alive.
    There is also the aspect of Caring for the Land: Adam's life was bound up with the soil! There is this idea implied that the soil needs Adam as much as Adam needs the soil to produce for him. How so? The soil needs Adam to make sure he preserves it, or keeps it; in other words, he avoids "exhausting it". He has a right to make a living from the soil, but he also has the duty to care for it, to steward it well.

    Last of all, he writes about Humans and other animals: In Gen. 2:19-20, God brings the animals to Adam for him to name them. Here Bauchman says that in the naming of the animals, it doesn't necessarily demonstrate a dominion over them as traditionally interpreted, but more likely it is the recognition that they are fellow-creatures and share the world with Adam. He will not have the relationship with them that he does with Eve, as he will find soon after naming them, but still, in their own way, they are companions of humans.