Ecological “Blind Spots” In The Structure And Content Of Recent Evangelical Systematic Theologies -- By: John Jefferson Davis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:2 (Jun 2000)
Article: Ecological “Blind Spots” In The Structure And Content Of Recent Evangelical Systematic Theologies
Author: John Jefferson Davis


Ecological “Blind Spots” In The Structure And Content Of Recent Evangelical Systematic Theologies

John Jefferson Davisa

Almost a generation ago Francis Schaeffer issued a challenge for the evangelical church to take more seriously issues of environmental stewardship: “God’s calling to the … Christian community … is that we should exhibit a substantial healing, here and now, between man and nature and nature itself, as far as Christians can bring it to pass.” 1 Many segments of the evangelical community have in fact responded positively to Schaeffer’s challenge in the last two decades. Evangelical theologians, however, have exhibited a rather uneven record in their incorporation of environmental concerns into the basic fabric of their theologies.

The purpose of this paper is to argue that certain “blind spots” in the structure and content of recent evangelical systematic theologies have contributed to the neglect of environmental issues and environmental stewardship in certain segments of the evangelical subculture. 2 More specifically, it will be argued that deficiencies in the doctrines of creation and the atonement in evangelical systematic theology textbooks have contributed to this problem. After a brief introduction to the historical background of evangelical theological reflection on environmental issues, an “ecological audit” of the treatment of these two critical theological loci will be undertaken for twenty representative evangelical systematic theology texts published since 1970. The paper will conclude with an analysis of the results, and with a call for evangelical theologians to correct an imbalance in the treatment of the doctrine of creation and an omission in the doctrine of the atonement, so as to provide a more adequate theological basis for evangelical environmental ethics.

I. Historical Background

The seminal article by historian Lynn White published in 1967, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” 3 charging that Biblical teachings such as “dominion” and the “image of God” were significant contributing causes of the environmental crisis, produced an outpouring of scholarly responses across the theological spectrum of the Christian community. 4 Beginning in 1970, many evangelicals became more attentive to environmental issues. 5 A significant minority of evangelicals, however, rema...

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