We are excited to introduce you to the Creation Care Missions Podcast. This series comes from the Creation Care at the Frontiers of Mission conference we had in Pasadena. We are excited to bring to you the experts who combine gospel ministry, creation care, science and a deep passion for Jesus. Ed Brown is the focus of our first podcast. He talks about hope and joy in the face of the complex realities related to the gospel and the environment. Ed is the Director and CEO of Care of Creation, and also serves as Lausanne Catalyst for Creation Care for the Lausanne Movement. He directs the work of Care of Creation in the US, Kenya, and Tanzania. He oversees the development of the global creation care network in partnership with the World Evangelical Alliance.
Steven Spicer and Paul Dzubinski host this first edition of the Creation Care Missions Podcast. Click on "Read More" for the full text of talk that Dr. Brown gave at the conference.
Introduction: Framing the Conference
I am so excited to be here and so excited that you are here. I'm the director of Care of Creation. We have projects in Kenya and Tanzania, Tree Nursery Farming God's Way, which some of you will be familiar with, training of pastors and NGO staff. The other half of our organization—we’re really kind of a hybrid—we work very much with the Lausanne WEA Creation Care Network and let me mention Chris Elisara. Chris Elisara is the WEA, my counterpart for Creation Care. So we work very closely on this joint network. A couple of years ago we were on the Lausanne side, we were building a global network and Chris came to me and said we really don't need two networks. How about we deliberately make this a united front around the world, which is what we've done.
You can see the dates there, (Ed is referring to a slide on the screen) this really got kicked off, well it really got started in 2010 with the Cape Town meetings in South Africa. 2012, the Jamaica Consultation on Creation Care which produced this document and also produced a book, Creation Care and the Gospel, that we have in back. A number of the people here in the audience have chapters in that book.
Now there's one other person I want to mention. There are some of you who might know—many of you do not—but this is one of your neighbors here in Southern California, Dr. Vern Vincent, a very, very dear friend of mine, [who] died last June. He was a resident of Pilgrim Place in Clairmont. One of the things that Vern Vincent was very good at doing was planning conferences. He did a number of Creation Care Conferences with the folks of Pilgrim Place and over at some of the universities near there. When we were starting, planning for this conference about 18 months ago, Vern was on the team. I was very grateful that he was on the team because he was here. He was going to handle the program. He's really good at this kind of stuff. And then he went and died. In some ways this is a little bit of a dedication to a guy who gave his life to Creation Care and a number of other similar causes and I think that however, communication works between here and heaven, I think Vern is smiling on us now so I just wanted to take a moment to mention that.
We are here in 2018. I started doing Creation Care work with an organization called Au Sable Institute in the year 2000. One of the first trips I took was to Whidbey Island just North of Seattle as part of my work for Au Sable, and I visited— I was there over a weekend. I visited a local church. “Welcome sir. So glad to have you with us. What you do?” “I work with a Christian environmental organization.” “I didn't know there was such a thing.” That was the direct quote. And it wasn't the first nor was it the last time I'd had that kind of response. 20 years ago, almost 20 years ago, very few people were making a connection between Christians and creation care, let alone missions and creation care. And yet here we are in 2018, “Creation Care at the Frontiers of Mission”, on the campus of what many people still consider the U.S. Center for World Missions founded by Ralph Winter, godfather—one of the godfathers of the modern missions movement, next door to, or part of I guess, William Carey Institute.
In some ways you could consider William Carey one of the first environmental missionaries. William Carey was known in his home country of the U.K. more for his hard work with horticulture and biology than he was for his work with missions. People on all sides of that spectrum, Christians and scientists, mourned the loss of William Carey when he died. So, here we are at the center for the American Christian missionary movement, finally talking about environment—about creation care. And this is something that many of us have been working toward for many years. In Care of Creation, our tag line is, “Mobilizing the Church” or “Mobilizing the Church around the World: Care for God's Creation.” We never intended that we would be doing all that work ourselves. Our vision has always been that creation care needs to go mainstream, and that in some ways is exactly what this conference represents. It’s bringing together these two vitally important streams: missions and creation care.
As we were planning this conference, we really had sort of one major goal, and that's to explore the connections between missions and creation care. Those of us who have spent any time overseas, especially in recent years, we know that the number one issue on the minds of people in other countries, particularly in the developing world, is this issue of [having] a healthy place to live. They're dealing with polluted water. They're dealing with unbreathable air. They're dealing more and more with industrial poisons, in their water, on their food. And we have to, if we're going to work in this world, if we're going to reach this world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we're going to have to speak to their top concern.
[I am] actually second-generation missions—my parents went to Pakistan in the 1950s. One of the things that missionaries in the immediate post-WWII era did, before they went to another country, almost every one of them received some kind of medical training because they were going to countries where there was no medical infrastructure. They were going to places where people would be asking them for medicine. So they had to learn basic tropical medicine or basic medicine for the country they were living in. Creation Care today is what public health was then. Most of the countries we talk about have their medical infrastructure in place. Some better, some worse, but there are hospitals everywhere. The issue now is the health of their environment. We cannot reach this world without being willing to understand what's happening to their world, and designing strategies that will address those issues even as we share the love of Jesus and the Gospel itself.
The Preliminary Task
As I think about this, there's a preliminary thing that we have to do together before we can, as we proceed to explore the connections between missions and creation care. That preliminary task is to understand a little bit more, exactly what the nature of the Gospel is, and what's really happening in God's world. And that's where the Jamaica Call to Action comes in. This document has two major convictions. This is the outline of what I want to share with you in the next few minutes. Two major convictions: creation care is indeed a Gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ; and, we are faced with the crisis that is pressing, urgent, and must be resolved in our generation. I’d like you to sort of consider this talk like the introduction to a book. I just want to very quickly hit some highlights that are going to be expanded a little bit more by other speakers throughout today and tomorrow. I'm not going to touch the ten specific calls. We don't have time for that. Take a look at those. They're probably at least a half a dozen that would directly impact those of us who want to work in missions, there are others that would be other aspects, and then on the back, where we will wind up this morning is the call to prayer.
Defining Creation Care as a Gospel Issue
So, very quickly, let's think about this first question that Creation Care is a Gospel issue. The Jamaica Call to Action states, “Creation care is biblically and, theologically justified.” This verse, these verses, from Colossians 1 provide the theological center for everything that I do, for everything that Care of Creation does, and I think I can say for most of us who work in this area. "In Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross." I can give you two hours on that. Peter Harris, I think, is going to touch on that theme more and some others will as well so let's just plant that idea firmly in our heads: the Gospel, the Gospel we proclaim, the Gospel that we believe, the Gospel that has saved us, is not only for us. Jesus died for all things. Everything that He made. He died to reconcile to God the birds, the trees, the flowers, the mountains, however far you want to push that. The Gospel covers it. It doesn't mean in any way that we devalue human salvation. Human salvation is the very heart of this because if people don't get saved, they can't do the work of caring for God's world. But, having got saved, they have a task, we have a task, and that's to care for that world.
So, creation care is a Gospel issue - biblically and theologically justified, but also based on love, joy, worship and celebration. One of the things that the environmental movement is sometimes guilty of, and some of us here have been guilty of that, is being pessimistic, being alarmist, giving the idea that the world might end tomorrow, or next year, or before my grandchildren graduate. All of that could be true. And, some of us, in the middle-of-the-night, we wonder about how long how bad things are, and is it possible to turn this thing around? But setting all that on the side, the gift that we have to offer the broader environmental movement as Christians, is coming to this in a spirit of joy and celebration. Because, as the Call to Action says, we would do this work even if creation were not in crisis because this is our first task.
Jesus has called us to this before He called us to evangelize. In the Garden of Eden, there was no evangelism that needed to be done. Worship didn't need to be commanded because worshipped just flowed out of our being. So, the first task was to care for the creatures. That task has never been suspended. So even though God has added more things to our agenda—to proclaim the Gospel to the end of the earth, to worship, to make disciples—that first task is still there. That's at the top of God's list. Keep that in mind as we can come back to that in just a couple of minutes, but one of the things we're going to have to learn to do as a group, but also as individuals, is how to appreciate God's world. How to experience the joy with which God made it so that we learn to love something that God loves. So that we can care for it out of hearts that are full of worship and joy.
I want to share with you a couple of quotes from a most unusual book. This is called the Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. Have any of you ever heard of it or read it? It's been recently reprinted. I would really encourage you to go out and grab a copy or find it in your library. It's a culinary reflection. It's ostensibly a cookbook. But, it's really an essay on food and eating and God. Capon, in the 1960s was, I think, one of the food editors for the New York Times. He decided to write a book but he also happened to be, I think, an Episcopalian priest. And that creeps in on almost every page of this thing. Now let me just read a couple of comments that he makes. One of the things he talks about is the unnecessariness of creation. Creation is, the world is, unnecessary. God didn't need it. He chose to make it. And that's really important.
"One honest look at any real thing, one minute's contemplation of any process on earth, leads straight into the conundrum of the relationship of God to the world. The solution is hardly obvious for something that could not be at all without God. Creation seems to do rather, something that could not be at all without God, seems to do rather well without Him. Miracles are simple, but nature is a mystery. Autumn by autumn He makes wine upon a 1000 hills, but He does it without tipping His hand.” Take the largest part of the truth first, God makes wine. For all its difficulties, there is no way around the doctrine of creation. But, notice the tense. He makes, not He made. “He did not create once upon a time only to find Himself saddled now with the unavoidable and embarrassing result of that first rash decision. That's only to welsh on the idea of an unnecessary world to make creation a self-perpetuating pool game, which is contingent only at the start, which needs only the first push on the cue ball to keep it going forever. It will not do. The world is more unnecessary than that. It is unnecessary now. It cries in this moment for a cause to hold it in being. It was St. Thomas I think, who pointed out long ago, that if God wanted to get rid of the universe, He would not have to do anything, He would have to stop doing something. Wine is. The fruit of the vine stands in act outside of nothing because it is the very present pleasure to have it so. The creative act is contemporary, intimate, and immediate to each part, parcel, and period of the world.” I have a bunch more but I don't have time to read it.
The idea here is that we go out into God's world and we are experiencing God's present active creation and holding the thing together. And in creating every new flower that comes out, and every bird that sings. We could add on to that, the Church Fathers idea that we really have two books of revelation. We have the Bible, God's Word, and we have the world that also speaks of God. It's like the world is revelation in 3D. Let's learn to appreciate that and get it into our souls. Then we have the motivation we need to care for God's creation.
Defining the Environmental Crisis
Creation is in crisis. Davos, the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos every year, which is the gathering of all the wealthiest, most powerful people, lists regular top five risks to humanity. This year's list, which is the same as last year's list: Weapons of mass destruction is at the top, and then extreme weather, water shortages, natural disasters, failure to prepare for climate change. Four of the top five are environmental. The richest, most powerful people in the world, are looking at what's happening in the world and saying, what we're doing to our environment is the biggest threat that we face as a race or as a society. If you look at the same data a different way, on this chart, the top left is the impact. The bottom to the right is the likelihood. The circle represents environmental problems. All of the major environmental problems are both high likelihood and high-impact. We have a global crisis.
One of the things to note in this conference, if you look through the agenda is, we don't have very much in the program about what the crisis is about. We have a talk this afternoon that is going to be dealing directly with the question of climate change by one. Katharine Hayhoe is one of the top climate scientists in the country and perhaps in the world. I think you will really appreciate what she has to say. Katharine is really the only scientist in the entire plenary speakers. All the rest of us are missionaries or pastors who have come out of the church side of the thing. Katharine comes as a bona fide scientist, although even she is a missionary kid. In some ways we're really heavily weighted toward the church side of the equation. We're not trying here to persuade anyone of what the crisis is. We're accepting that there is a crisis. What do we do to respond? And that's what most of the talks and most of the workshops will be about.
But just for like 2-2.5 minutes, let's talk about what the major aspects of the crisis are that we're dealing with. I've tried to organize in terms of three because I'm basically a preacher and everything has to come in threes - Baptist preacher besides. Resources: use, abuse, disposal. We could talk about fossil fuels: oil, coal, not just using them but how we get them and what that does to the world around us. Climate change is clearly a result of the overuse of that. Freshwater: anyone hear about the problems in Cape Town with Day Zero? They're down to, I think, they've achieved the use of less than 40 liters per person, per day which is about ten gallons so that's phenomenal. And they still don't have water. They're hoping for the rains to come at any time now. Mineral extraction: the way we get our rare earths, our coal, all these other things that enormous environmental problems. And then there's the things that we dump into the into creation when we're done with them. particularly the stuff that almost everything here is made out of: plastic, plastic, plastic.
Then we've got changes in systems. Climate change is an example of this where we’re actually changing the control systems in - on our globe as some scientists say we're running an uncontrolled experiment on the only home that we have. It's not only climate change but it's also land use. We wipe out hundreds of square miles of rainforest and it changes our weather. [It] changes the weather locally, it changes it globally. Really what we're doing is the equivalent of taking your home and ripping the thermostat off-the-wall and trying to control the thing by turning the furnace on and off manually. Because we're destroying the control systems that God put in place to keep this world functioning normally and adequately.
Then we've got biodiversity loss. This is perhaps my greatest concern. Yes, the plastic in the ocean is horrible. It's disgusting. Modifying the systems that run the earth is frightening and really stupid. But, the things that we're doing to God's creatures, people, this is sin. This is disobedience. And this is what we're going to have to answer to God for. I can see God saying, “Well you wanted to ruin the place for your grandchildren, that's up to you, but did you have to take my birds and butterflies with you?” These are the numbers. The land animals - this is not species, this is actual populations of land animals—down by 38% between 1970 and 2012. Freshwater creatures—that's fish and amphibians and so on—down 81%. And, fish in the ocean, down 36%, although I suspect that one might be low. Remember what we said at the beginning? Our first command: to care for God's creatures. God said, “Let us be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”, but God said to them in the same chapter, “Be fruitful and multiply.” And, asked us to make sure that they would be able to be fruitful and multiply.
To put these numbers in context, in 1970 I was a junior in high school. So, between 1970 and 2012— this is when these numbers were taken I think—that's less than one man's career. We're not talking in one generation, or two generations, we're talking about in a half of a person's lifetime, we wiped out half of the creatures that God asked us to take care of. You think He's going to have anything to say about that? He already has. Isaiah: "Whoa to you who add house-to-house and join field to field until no space is left, and you live alone in the land.” House-to-house and field to field. Next time you fly into LA look out the window and think about this verse. Those creatures are disappearing partly because of over harvesting, partly because of over hunting, partly because of poaching. But mostly, because we have just pushed them out to make room for ourselves. And we as Christians are culpable for this and are going to have to explain to Jesus why we didn't care.
Which brings us finally to the title, “For Such a Time as This”, which comes obviously from the book of Esther. Mordecai is saying to Esther, Chapter 4, "Who knows, but that you've come to your royal position for such a time is this." This raises the question of hope. Now I expect we'll hear more about hope especially from Lowell tomorrow. Lowell is studying hope this year. I can remember, not too long ago, being at a talk in Madison, Wisconsin where I live, and there had been a talk about climate change by one of the scientists and during the Q&A, someone stood up and said, “Doctor, can you tell me where you find hope?” And, he looks at us and he says, “When I think about my children and my grandchildren..." He is a Christian. "...I don't have that much hope." And, then he looks over at me. I'm sitting in the back trying to stay out of the way. "Maybe Ed can help us here. Ed, where's your hope?" Thanks alot Rick! But the world is crying out for hope. And if we're going to go through this conference and leave here with any motivation for doing something, we have to figure out where to find our hope.
I'm offering you a quote here from one of my books, Our Father's World, that I think shows one of the things that we have to offer the world, and that is who we are: we are the church. “The environmental crisis is a scientific problem and economic problem, a political problem, a security problem, and a moral problem, and a matter of life-and-death for millions. But at its root, it's a spiritual problem. The Church, properly understood and functioning in the full power of God, is the only institution or organization available to the human race that can address a problem with this many dimensions.” Whether you look at geographical spread or you look at demography, or you look at whatever, the Church is in position to be able to do more than anyone else to address a problem like this, and we have God the creator pushing us and pulling us into this work.
So, we can have hope because of who we are. God has called us to be the Church, and to accept this task and to go out into the world and do it, but also because of the one great tool that God has given us to make it happen. And that's prayer. If you look at the back of the Call to Action, you'll see our call to prayer, which I personally think is one of the, is the most beautiful paragraph in the whole document. So, let me wind up just by reading this. "Having tasted of the grace and mercies of God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, with hope and the fullness of our redemption, we pray with confidence, that the triune God can heal our land and all who dwell in it for the glory of His matchless Name." It's one of the reasons the evening session, after dinner tonight, is a time of prayer. Most of us who are in creation care, most of us who are in missions, are activists. We like to do things. Prayer is an afterthought. But this task, can’t be done without it.
Let me pray. Thank you Father, for this time we've had together. Thank you for the opportunity to experience your world—both its joys and challenges. Help us to learn how to pray and how to be your church when looking at problems like this, challenges like this. In Jesus name, Amen.