- Published on Amazon.com
by Michael Abbate' (Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2009)
Frank Abbate is a city planner for Gresham, a suburb of Portland, Oregon. He came to speak at our Concordia University-Portland campus on Oct. 1, 2009. I gave my mission course students the option of attending and writing an extra credit report on the topic “Is care of God’s creation part of God’s mission for His church?” Certainly care of creation has become a mission for a significant portion of our USA population, particularly among young people. One of their major criticisms of the church is its reluctance to support environmental protection efforts.
Mr. Abbate' addresses this criticism early on in his book, Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith Your Life, and Our World. He points out the irony that 50-75% of Christians in this country express willingness to sacrifice for the same of the environment. Yet, pastors and lay leaders have generally been reluctant to take any leadership on the issue. Abate' attributes this disconnect to evangelical Christians’ association with the Religious Right and reluctance to embrace a “liberal, leftwing” political issue (p. 19). It looks to our critics that the church is more interested in promoting a secular political agenda than our biblical call.
Abbate' focuses his biblical argument around five themes: “What God Made Is Good,” “God Loves the World He Created,” “What God Made Is God’s, Not Ours,” “Everything Was Made to Glorify God,” and “”God Appointed Us Stewards.” This material can be very helpful for conducting a congregational Bible Study on the topic.
These biblical themes lead Abbate' to pose the three questions which provide the framework for the book (p. 25):
• Do I have a responsibility to protect the planet?
• Are some of my current actions having a detrimental effect on the environment?
• Should I make changes to better steward the resources we have been given?
The first half of the book, then, outlines the deterioration of our natural resources with sections such as food, energy, transportation, home, air, land, ocean, and fresh water. A helpful chapter (entitled “The Big Push Back”) is where he addresses five common objections heard in evangelical circles, such as “God gave us the earth to use, so don’t sweat it,” “It doesn’t really matter – the planet is going to be destroyed anyway,” and “People are more important than nature.” He follows this chapter with two unique chapters on “Creation Care as Worship” and “Creation Care as Compassion.”
The second half of the book is 84 pages on how to put all of this into practice. It’s aptly entitled “Becoming a Gardener.” Abbate' urges us to action, not only to stop “mortgaging the future” of our planet for the poor and our descendents, but to grow closer to God as we recover His original mandate to Adam and Eve to have a caring dominion over His creation. Thus, the title of the book. We grow closer to God as we do the work He intends for us, for Abbate' points out that gardening was not Adam’s punishment but his purpose. (p. 39)
As an appendix to the book, Abbate' gives us 15 pages of resources and organizations we can turn to for guidance and support. One disappointment I had in this regard is that Abate' fails to point out the witnessing potential of our involvement in environmental issues. A great many of these activists and organizers have a very negative view of the church. As we respectfully and humbly join their God-pleasing efforts, we express in action our repentance for our sins of omission. We gradually gain new credibility for our message of God’s saving love when others see it expressed in action.
Finally, what might this mission focus look like in a congregation? Under the congregation’s Stewardship Board, I could see a task force on environmental stewardship. Just like government and businesses need to provide an “environmental impact” study with any of their proposals, this task force could do the same with all congregational plans.
Utilizing the 50 “Gardening Tips” in the second half of the book, the task force could make proposals for the greening of their congregational life, perhaps as a one-minute presentation each month in the worship services. Drawing on Abbate’s tips, such practical suggestions for congregational life might include:
• Storage of personal mugs for coffee, instead of styrofoam cups
• Recycling bins
• Digital announcement screen, instead of paper bulletins
• Bike rack
• Low-energy lighting, hot water, heating/cooling, etc.
• Solar panels
Combine these organizational commitments to environmental stewardship with personal involvement in outside environmental organizations, and one might well find some new people with dirty fingernails crossing the church’s threshold.