The Bible and the Environment

By Julie Robb

World Environment Day is celebrated annually on 5th June and encourages awareness and action for the protection of the environment.

In line with this year’s World Environment day theme: land restoration, desertification and drought resilience, Julie Robb, programme leader for the MA Theological Studies and MA in Biblical Studies, shares a reflection on the topic of Creation Care, a topic covered in the Bible and the Environment module on the Biblical Studies programme at London School of Theology.

The environment is newsworthy. In 2023, I led a major review of one of the MA programmes at London School of Theology. We wanted to create a programme enabling Christians to engage biblically with a range of contemporary issues, including the environment. A new course was written entitled ‘The Bible and the Environment’ with the help of Rev Dr Dave Bookless (Director of Theology at A Rocha International), Dr Martin and Rev Margot Hodson John Ray Initiative) and Dr Timothy Tse.

How does the biblical story help students think about a biblical response to the environmental challenges the world is facing?

The biblical story is ‘bookended’ with the account of creation at its beginning and ends with the account of the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ (Rev 21:1). However, in between those two ‘bookends’, the biblical story proclaims God’s care for his world and human responsibility for that care.

For example, Psalm 104 is a Psalm in praise of God’s creation and his care for it. If God’s care for creation causes the Psalmist to praise, how much more should we care for a creation that God cares so much about? Alternatively, in Psalm 148 humans praise God alongside angels, the heavenly hosts and the sea creatures, fruit trees, wild animals and all cattle. In destroying or damaging God’s world, we are reducing the ability of God’s world to praise its Creator.

When God gave his people the land, he made a covenant, in which the health of the land was directly linked to the faithfulness of the people to God (see Deut 7:13-14; 11:13-17; 8:9-12). When they were faithful, the land would flourish; when they were unfaithful, the land would suffer. This message was reinforced by God through his prophets. God’s people were not faithful and so the created world suffered. The land experienced drought, disease, depopulation and loss of biodiversity due to the sin of God’s people (eg Isa 1:7; Hosea 4:1-3;Jeremiah 4:23-28; 9:12-14; 12:4; Isa 24:4-7).

This is a challenge. What part are Christians playing in preventing God’s world from praising him? How much are the contemporary environmental challenges a result of the unfaithfulness of God’s people? Neither question is easy but if we are going to think biblically about the environment, we need to ask these questions.

Moving into the NT, the students continue to face such challenges to their thinking. But the course does not end at Revelation. It finishes with thinking about the environment as part of the continuing mission of the Church. How does caring for the environment have a role in the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ? In 2010, a commitment was made by the global church to caring for God’s world, summarised in the ‘Cape Town Commitment’:

If Jesus is Lord of all the earth, we cannot separate our relationship to Christ from how we act in relation to the earth. For to proclaim the Gospel that says ‘Jesus is Lord” is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.

Students are not given the answers, but they are asked to think through what this means for them both personally and for the churches with which they are involved. It is my hope, and that of the College, that students who study this programme will capture this as part of their ongoing commitment to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

To find out more about the MA Biblical Studies programme, please visit the course page here.