The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Thursday, May 13, 2004
Some Thoughts on Culture-Making and Stewardship
I am inspired to write this entry by the article "For the beauty of the earth" by Sarah Walsh Landini that appeared on Catapult magazine. She argues in part that,

"there are many who mistakenly believe that the world was created for us and belongs to us. For that reason, we read Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” It is also helpful to look at passages where God’s ownership of the earth is duly noted, such as Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’S and everything in it.”"

I guess I am one of those who is "mistaken". The earth was clearly made "for" our transformation and development. God's original good creation was fundamentally incomplete since "there was no man to work the ground" (Gen 2:5). All the potentialities hidden within the earth (for instance the gold and gems described in Gen 2:11-12) were put there by our Creator for us to discover and employ toward gradually and carefully turning the Eden into a glorious garden-city (Rev. 21-22).

Moreover, under God (as Sarah points out) we are placed on the earth as rulers. Psalm 8 even says that God has put everything "under our feet" -- pretty strong sounding language. Rule implies ownership -- or at least the right to lovingly control and wisely determine the shape of that over which we were placed to rule (take dominion over).

Creation is very much like a tube of paint or a stretched canvas is for an artist. Paint and canvas make no sense by themselves. No one grinds pigments for the mere thrill of it. Paint is made to be used skillfully to make an object of beauty. In the same way God made creation as the blank "canvas" for the human race to turn into a glorious "secondary environment" of beauty and fruitfulness.

As I say in Plowing, Adam was not called to be a museum curator. He was not called to "keep" things they way they originally were. As all good stewards, he was called both to maintain and improve his master's property (Matt 25:14-30). We are never warranted to overdevelop the earth in ways where its fruitfulness is deminished (this is our calling to "keep" the garden). But to not take dominion over the earth through real transformative development is a sin. It is burying talents in the sand.

I like the balance I find in Sherri B. Lantinga's article in the same issue. We have tried to instill the same ethical value in our own maturing culture-makers:

"What I hope to instill in my kids is a respect for the world around us, a sense that the good life is about being part of this larger world instead of just using it as we please. I don’t want my kids to reflexively stomp on crickets, throw rocks at squirrels, or toss out unbroken toys they didn’t need in the first place; these are God’s things to care for, and ignorance and thoughtless hostility have no place in care. On the other hand, I don’t want them to develop a sappy, romantic attitude either--there is a proper place for hunting, bug-smashing, or tree-cutting. I know that I, like my Dad, don’t care for creation as well as I could. We grow and can or freeze some of our food, but certainly not everything, and when homemade bug remedies don’t work we’re willing to use chemicals on our veggies; we walk and bike lots of places, but we use the car a good deal, too. I hope that my kids will learn the more fundamental attitude of care, the proper orientation of their hearts, and will discover many ways to carry out this attitude even if their choices are not always exactly my own."