For All of God’s Good Earth

Steve Bouma-Prediger, Ph.D.
Leonard and Marjorie Maas Professor of Reformed Theology

According to a recent Yale University survey, only 18 percent of American evangelical and born-again Christians believe that caring for the earth is part of their faith. When environmental theologian Dr. Steve Bouma-Prediger hears a statistic like that, he matter-of-factly responds, “I have a lot more work to do.”

That work, which he has undertaken for the entirety of his 25 years at Hope, has already been substantial. In the classroom and in his scholarship, Bouma-Prediger educates others to engage in faith-filled creation care as part of their Christian identity. In 2018 he completed his sixth book on the subject, Earthkeeping and Character: Exploring a Christian Ecological Virtue Ethic, which Baker Academic Publishing will publish in 2020.

The term “earthkeeping” may strike some as simply a kinder, gentler riff on the more common term “environmentalism.” There’s actually a lot more to Bouma-Prediger’s word choice. He avoids terms like “environmentalism” because they don’t assume that God and faith have been invited into ecological conversations. In Bouma-Prediger’s world of environmental theology and ethics, faith is an essential starting point. From biblical references to trees and rivers at the beginning of Genesis to more trees and rivers at the end of Revelation, the Bible is clear, he says: Humans are creatures called to care for what God created, and thus, earthkeeping is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian.

“A term like ‘earthkeeping’ is more biblical and simply refuses to accept the view that the natural world is a commodity to be used by humans who only manage its resources for our own ends,” he explains. “Being a keeper, in the biblical sense, means being someone who serves and protects. So the term ‘earthkeeping’ creates an image that much more clearly captures the idea that we are creatures called by God to take care of creation.”

An outdoor enthusiast, Bouma-Prediger oversees Hope College’s environmental studies minor and chairs the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee. For more than 20 years he also has taught a May Term course in the Adirondacks of upstate New York with fellow Hope alum Kent Busman ’82. The three-week course has been an outdoor eye-opener for hundreds of Hope students who now see Christian stewardship as something more than time and talent and treasure given to care for the church. Stewardship also includes keeping and caring for God’s good earth.

Trees, Healing, and Hope

A Meditation on Revelation 22:1–5
by Dr. Steve Bouma-Prediger

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

Rivers and trees. The Bible begins and ends with rivers and trees. Genesis 1–2 and Revelation 21–22. Why is this striking fact not more well known among followers of Christ?

In this mind-bending vision of God’s good future John the Seer speaks about the river of the water of life, cascading from the throne of God and the Lamb, right smack-dab through the middle of a heaven-on-earth city. Rekindling the vision of Ezekiel 47, John reminds us that wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, sustenance all year long. No more hunger or famine. No more worry about if or when you will get the next meal.And the leaves of this magnificent tree are for the healing of the nations — the soothing, restorative reconciliation of all ethnic groups and peoples.

Can we even begin to imagine what this would be like? No more trees felled to make battering rams to lay siege to medieval cities. No more trees cut to make sailing masts for colonial slave ships. No more trees pulped to make paper propaganda to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing and human hate. In contrast, this tree brings healing and wholeness to all peoples. Medicinal uses of biochemical compounds extracted from leaves or bark. Beautiful wood used to make melodious guitars and sturdy garden hoes and swift canoes. A generous canopy that offers homes to warblers and bromiliads and tree frogs.

Rivers and trees. The Bible begins and ends with a rich vision of God’s good future of shalom — the flourishing of all things.

Adapted from an essay that appears on sojo.net

Author: Eva Dean Folkert ’83

Eva Dean Folkert '83 writes extensively about Hope people, research, sports and news.

Photographer: Jon Lundstrom