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10.06.2024

Everyday earthkeeping 4/4 | Communicate the (whole) good news

The views expressed in these blogs belong to the authors, not necessarily LICC. In this series, we’re hosting a conversation in blog form.

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters.’
Psalm 24:1–2

Ever wonder, then, how our Creator feels about the state his planet is in?

How would Jesus – the Lord of all creation – have us keep and cultivate his planet in an age caught between mindless overconsumption and eco-anxiety?

That’s the question this blog series explores. Over four articles, our contributors – Bethany Kunert, Jo Herbert-James, Paul Kunert, and Laura Young – will have a conversation, responding to each other’s reflections as they ‘triple listen’ to wisdom from the word of God, the world, and one another. The goal? To help us practise hope-full earthkeeping in our everyday lives as whole-life disciples, wherever we are, whoever we are, and whatever we do.

The series also accompanies our Wisdom Lab: Everyday Earthkeeping event, at which each of the authors will deliver a TED-style talk and bring together evidence-based insights and theological wisdom, making space for honest dialogue to squarely face the duty and delight of ecological responsibility on our beautiful but broken planet. 

So far, Bethany Kunert – a young geographer passionate about protecting biodiversity – helped us listen to the groans of the planet and her generation, calling the church to step up as earthkeepers. Next, Jo Herbert-James stepped back to imagine what should be going on, seeing Bethany’s critique within the context of the biblical story from creation to new creation via the cross, as our Creator invites every person to love the planet like Jesus did. Then, Paul Kunert – an energy transition consultant and the author of Jesus Died to Save the Planet – offered wisdom for how to respond, creating change that makes sense to young adults wondering whether following Jesus really makes a difference in the midst of a climate crisis.

In this final instalment, Laura Young – a climate activist, environmental scientist, and ethical influencer – helps us communicate the good news of an orthodox and yet authentically green gospel as a whole-life witness.

Through this series, we’ll be inspired to live more sustainably right where we are, from a place of hope, honouring the Lord of all creation. Join us as we seek a wise way forward together.

Cosmically good news

When I was a child, if someone asked me to explain the gospel, I’d have told them about a memorable Sunday school activity involving a paper cutout of the cross. While hearing about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we coloured it in and wrote our name somewhere in bold. It was a simple and accessible way to explain to a child who Jesus was and what his death and resurrection meant for humanity. To this day, I remember that feeling of seeing my name on the cross, knowing that my guilt and sin were washed away through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice and that I was loved by God.

But Jesus didn’t just die for me. He died to save all who believe in him, so that together we can all have eternal life with God. So really, on that paper cross, I should have squeezed in the name of every person possible – because Jesus paid it all, for us all. But there’s more! Jesus didn’t just die to mend the broken relationships between me and God and you and God. He came to mend all the brokenness from our rebellion and collective selfishness, including the brokenness between us and God’s creation. On that little paper cross, I would have needed to squeeze a lot more on there to truly give the gospel its glory, rather than beginning and ending with just me! Check out Jo’s reflection to read more of the theology underpinning God’s love for the entire kosmos.

This narrowing of the gospel is painfully clear in the church at large. We’re doing God a disservice when we narrow down his ultimate sacrifice to just me and you. Because God came to earth for us all, to mend all – and he invites us to be a part of his ministry of reconciliation. Paul summarised this brilliantly in his piece: Jesus died to save the planet.

For many Christians, everyday earthkeeping seems to fall outside the parameters of their gospel. It’s seen as a secondary issue, nice to try and solve as a civic concern, but not an essential part of what we’re called to do in this world. For some, it’s even seen as a distraction from true evangelical, missional work.

Understanding that everyday earthkeeping is a fundamental outworking of the gospel is one thing –  communicating it is another. Throughout this piece, I’ll share some reflections on how I believe we can all better communicate this good news and reframe the position of earthkeeping in Christian discourse.

We (the church) just need to talk about it

Like Bethany, I struggle to understand why the church doesn’t talk about climate change. As an eco-conscious teenager, one of the first climate conversations I had with a church leader was about the appropriateness of ‘There is no planet B’ on a protest march banner, and then how that statement relates to theology and, more specifically, eschatology. If I’m honest, I was completely out of my depth and went home to Google quite a few words from that conversation. But all that did was put me off bringing these concerns into that setting again.

Instead, I kept my climate concerns and activism conversations in ‘safe’ spaces like university lectures, social media, and non-Christian social circles. It was confusing because the church seemed happy, motivated even, to pray and raise money for our global neighbours who are living with the weight of war, conflict, poverty, or injustice. There were coffee mornings and  sponsored 10k runs to support organisations around the world to help alleviate some of these pressures which impact people’s finances, health, security, and wellbeing. Although the science is clear that climate change is causing extreme droughts across the horn of Africa, submerging Bangladesh with increasing flooding, and intensifying storms hitting island nations like Haiti, many seem suspicious and don’t want to hear about the reality for so many at the hands of our extractive and consumptive lifestyles, primarily fuelled by the Global North.

But churches must talk about, preach on, pray into, and lament the lack of climate justice – and then act together. This needs to be at the heart of our gospel mission, not just something done once a year on ‘Earth Day’ or as a tick box exercise when an eco-warrior member of the congregation suggests going for an Eco Church Award. It must be woven into the fabric of the church. There needs to be an appreciation this is a whole-life response to the gospel, something  Jo beautifully captured in her piece for this series.

The banner

The failure to get this holistic gospel has resulted in tensions and divisions, particularly when words like ‘climate’ enter the conversation. My mind goes back to one specific banner: ‘The world’s most urgent need is churches preaching Christ crucified, not climate change.’ [1]

It was COP26, the United Nations’ climate summit which came to Glasgow in 2021. As a young environmental scientist and campaigner, I was excited to watch the world come to my home city to discuss one of the most pressing issues of our time and gearing up to play my part in the conference. Right next to the conference centre was a church. They decided to put up a banner with the above words. I hope that after reading Jo’s essay on the breadth of the gospel, you can understand all that was wrong with this messaging.

This banner, rather unsurprisingly, caused a lot of controversy and set fire to debates across social media. Not only was the message something which many believed to be a narrow view of the gospel; it also took away from everything else individual Christians, and churches collectively, were doing at this conference.

If nothing else, it was an incredible missional opportunity missed, proselytising with a banner instead of opening doors and welcoming in people from all around the world to tell the good news. Because what was in the news was the banner rather than the dozens of churches throughout the city who opened their doors to visitors to come in and get a coffee, Wi-Fi, and use of the facilities, the churches doing 24-hour prayer rooms, and certainly not the Christians who have dedicated their life’s work to earthkeeping.

Bethany is right. Many churches aren’t doing enough when it comes to climate action. But many are, and we don’t do enough to showcase this and encourage one another. Part of our work must be sharing good practice, building up one another, and changing the narrative when it comes to the church and climate.

Most recently, I was a part of the Faith, Science, and Civil Society response to the Scottish Government removing vital climate targets. Together with leading environmental scientists and civil society representatives, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, spoke on behalf of the faith community. She said:

‘This must be a wake-up call to us all. If we collectively fail to act there will be grave implications for the planet – our common home. The road is not easy, but our collective energy and prayers will be with all those working for a successful outcome. We commit to work together to encourage our own faith communities to participate through prayer and action to live more sustainably and to use our voices to call for action from those in positions of authority.’

Throughout the meeting, my eyes were drawn to the mosaic tiled burning bush adorning the fireplace of the Moderator’s residence in Edinburgh. I was reminded of the powerful sending out of Moses to go and bring God’s people out of suffering. Like Bethany said, the church could have a huge impact. And that starts with talking about the problem and a faith-full way forward. But I do wonder if we’re lost for words.

Love

In October 2023, I was invited to sit on a panel after the 44th TB Macaulay Lecture entitled ‘A safe and just future for humanity on earth.’ This science lecture is renowned for bringing the brightest and best scientists from around the world to deliver thought provoking information to a captive audience. We discussed the urgent need for climate action, highlighting the importance of governments alongside businesses, communities, and individuals to push for the policy changes needed to stop catastrophic climate breakdown.

To end, the chair wanted to leave the audience with a slightly lighter question and framed it to the panel around the New York Climate Week word of unity – ‘love’. They asked each of us what that word meant in our work. When it came to my answer, I had a choice. Either I could give a wishy-washy answer about how ‘love’ is what makes the world go round and is how we unite with one another. Although that’s true and is a glass half-full answer, what ‘love’ actually means in my work is Jesus. When the chair posed this question, my heart went to John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ For me, ‘love’ in my work is the love that God has for his whole creation, his kosmos, of which we are just one part.

When we’re asked to ‘love’ our neighbour, is love a feeling or a verb? Are we to merely have warm, fuzzy feelings towards the people we see on the street, our colleagues, and the people we see on TV adverts impacted by floods and drought? Or are we to get up and do something about it to try and alleviate the weight of injustice pressing down on them, and the whole of creation? [2]

Every time someone asks you about your faith, you’ve got an opportunity to talk about the restoration of all things. Every time someone asks you about climate action, you’ve got an opportunity to talk about your faith.

An elevator pitch

In this series we’ve been asked to listen, imagine, create, and now communicate everyday earthkeeping. As a final thought, I will leave you with a short reflection on what I would say if someone asked me to communicate this message in one fell swoop, helpfully guided by The Big Story.

From the beginning, God designed us as part of his creation, to live in harmony with nature. Creation was declared not just good, but very good (Genesis 1:31). We were placed in the garden not just to inhabit it, but to nurture it, protect it, and work in harmony – ensuring it sustains all of us. That explains why many of us, including me, often stand in awe before a breathtaking mountain, vast ocean, or delicate flower, because these reflect God’s original design. Just like as we see in one another, nature is a testimony to God’s creativity and love. Our hearts resonate with the planet because we are not separate from it, but a part of it, and it’s often where we see God in our everyday lives.

However, sin has polluted this divine design. When we humans rebel against God, our selfishness breaks everything, and the ripples extend to the ends of the earth. Our abuse of the environment is a manifestation of this brokenness. As it says in Romans 8:22, ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’

We see the effects everywhere: poisoned rivers, extinct species, and communities suffering from environmental degradation. These are not just ecological issues but moral failures, a rebellion against God’s command to tend and protect his creation (Genesis 2:15). We must change, repenting for these abuses and recognising that our actions have contributed to creation’s suffering, for which God will rightly hold us accountable (Revelation 11:8).

It’s important, however, to realise our efforts alone cannot mend this brokenness. Yes, we must act and change our ways to live in accordance with this first commandment to care for the Garden of Eden. But the good news is Jesus Christ came to restore all things. He stepped into our world, becoming part of it and bringing it back to life. Jesus paid for the wrong we’ve done and ways we’ve destroyed creation by carrying all this brokenness on a cross – a chopped down gnarly tree. But like new growth from a seemingly dead stump, he rose again to demonstrate God was regenerating everything for better. If we trust in him, we can be forgiven and find a new way to live. When we follow his way of love, we’re filled with his dynamic Spirit with power to become a new kind of human, in tune with all God made. The guilt and shame of our past abuses are covered by his mercy, and we are given a new purpose. We become part of his works to bridge and heal all things (Colossians 1:20).

So, we can have hope! It’s not merely in some distant heavenly future, but in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit starting in the here and now. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation fills us today, empowering us to bring healing and renewal to the world. As the church, we are to be agents of this reconciliation, a foretaste of God’s kingdom. Our collective efforts to care for the environment are not just about preserving this planet but about embodying the wholeness and peace of God’s future kingdom.

With Bethany, I’m longing for a better world. It’s not grounded in idealistic eco-optimism. But rather in the assurance that God will set everything right. God is making all things new, and this includes the regeneration of the earth (Revelation 21:4). Our efforts to heal and restore the environment are glimpses of this coming reality. We can be hope-filled activists because we know that our labour is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). God’s ultimate plan is to restore all of creation, and by joining in his work now, we demonstrate we’re in this re-greening together.

In this way, our love for nature, our lament over its destruction, our reliance on Jesus for restoration, and our collective mission to heal all of creation all point towards the ultimate renewal that God promises. We’re called to be faithful gardeners, living in hope and actively participating in God’s grand narrative of redemption and restoration.

Whatever words you use, I pray this sketch sparks your own efforts to share the (whole) good news as people ask why you, as a follower of Jesus, act for climate justice (1 Peter 3:15).

Laura Young
Climate activist, environmental scientist, ethical influencer (@lesswastelaura)

Discussion questions 

  1. What’s your first memory of hearing the gospel? How was it told to you, and was this ‘cross’ big enough to include community and creation?
  2. Have you ever had a conversation in church about climate change? How did it go? Is your church active in caring for creation and sharing a holistic gospel?
  3. Imagine you could replace the banner in front of that church in Glasgow. What would it say, to turn the media’s heads for the right reasons?
  4. Have you ever had a conversation about your own personal faith in an environmental context? How did it go?
  5. Picture an ecologically conscious friend asking why you, as a Christian, care about climate justice. What might you say to connect your activism to the (whole) good news?
  6. What difference do you think communicating this gospel might make, when combined with everyday earthkeeping as an individual and as a church?


Endnotes

[1]For balance, and to ensure I don’t stifle important communication within the church, you can read the Church Leader’s reasons for the banner, and response to it being torn down within 48 hours in this Premier Magazine opinion piece.

[2] To be fair, the church isn’t the only community struggling to communicate a bigger picture of what it means to seek climate justice. Consider the simple insulation and double glazing argument. For many in the UK, living in homes which are energy inefficient, cold and damp is all too common. Environmentalists have long called for action to stop precious energy from disappearing out of leaky windows and draughty doors, without fully talking about the transformational power of this climate action. Yes, it will save some energy and stop carbon dioxide being sent out into the atmosphere. But it will also save people money, and allow them to live in dignity without choosing to heat or eat while sitting in a room with damp and mould encroaching further and further in, impacting on their health and wellbeing. When we talk about the transformation of what it means to seek climate justice, to love our neighbour, to be a part of the reconciliation of all things, we see that it’s so much more than just reducing our greenhouse gases.

 Helpful resources

  1. Jesus Died to Save the Planet by Paul Kunert. This essay will be published in June 2024 in partnership with LICC. It then moves on to consider the theological basis for the truth that the gospel is good news for all creation, because Jesus’ death and resurrection precipitated a seismic shift, beginning the restoration of all things – including the planet. He then moves on to consider the missional and pastoral applications of this truth, inspiring readers to see how Jesus’ resurrection has ushered in a new reality. How, with him, we can begin to live now as we will when the Earth has been perfected again, choosing to make kingdom-like decisions in our everyday lives that will conserve and care for the natural world and bring peace, love, and justice to our local neighbours and global community.
  2. John Stott on Creation Care, edited by R. J. (Sam) Berry and Laura Yoder (IVP, 2021). Discover John Stott’s writings on everyday earthkeeping in this definitive collection. It showcases his passion for the environment and its role in discipleship, inspiring the integration of creation care into faith.
  3. Saying Yes to Life by Ruth Valerio (SPCK, 2020). Originally the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for 2020, this book connects the Creation Days of Genesis 1 with environmental, ethical, and social issues. Ruth emphasises our duty to care for God’s creation, blending global perspectives with discussion questions and prayers to inspire action and reflection for followers of Jesus.
  4. The Hopeful Activist by Richard Gower and Rachel Walker (SPCK, 2024). A pithy book that speaks into this cultural moment, providing an easy-to-use framework to help Christians move from helplessness to hopeful action.
  5. Christian Conversations on Climate Change by Tearfund (2023). Can you make the connections between your faith and climate change and its impact on people? To help you, Tearfund brings five conversations on climate change and creation care between Tearfund Ambassador Laura Young and five different Christian organisations: Christians Against Poverty, Scottish Bible Society, Alpha, International Justice Mission UK and Evangelical Alliance Scotland. They discuss how these issues relate to their work and help broaden our perspective on how they relate to our faith.
  6. Ecotheology: A Christian Conversation edited by Kiara Jorgenson and Alan Padgett (Eerdmans, 2020). Leading eco-theologians, Richard Bauckham, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Steven Bouma-Prediger, and John F. Haught, discuss how Christians should respond to the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Through essays and responses, they model respectful dialogue, exploring creation care from diverse theological and practical perspectives, including science, biblical studies, and Christian ethics.
  7. Burning Down the House by Tearfund and Youthscape (2020). This study found that while 9 out of 10 young people are concerned about the climate crisis, only 1 in 10 think the church is doing enough about it, even as 8 in 10 think Christians should respond to climate change.
  8. Youthscape, Shuffle: Green Edition (2021). 42 challenges, 42 days. Shuffle: Green Edition invites young people to engage with the climate crisis and empowers them to make a difference.
  9. Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katharine Hayhoe (One Signal Publishers, 2022). In this book, climate scientist and whole-life disciple, Katharine Hayhoe, goes beneath the facts to find common values for collective action through telling better stories at the intersection of science, faith, and human psychology. Listen to Katharine’s award winning podcast on ‘global weirding’ here.

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