Spark recently talked with faculty members David Warners (biology) and Matthew Heun (engineering) about their published book Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care. The book is an edited volume from Calvin Press, with a companion website at calvin.edu/press.
Why did you write this book?
DW: We and our colleagues have been hard at work on teaching, scholarship, and advocacy in regards to sustainability issues for many years, and we thought it was time to take a step back and reflect on why we think these activities are so important. We wanted to use the insights gained from our varied experiences to inform a rethinking and reimagining of a faith-based way Christians interact with nonhuman creation.
MH: David and I have worked together on several projects in the past. Recently, we worked for three years on a campuswide major project on sustainability [with funding provided by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and the provost’s office]. This major project provided opportunities for faculty development in terms of both teaching and scholarship. Beyond Stewardship is the capstone to the major project.
I thought “stewardship” is the way Christians are supposed to think about the environment. Why do we need to go “beyond stewardship”?
DW: The idea of stewardship has been a helpful correction to earlier notions of human dominion (which in practice often looked like domination) over nonhuman creation. But stewardship has drawbacks: Biblical support for stewarding creation is limited, it causes artificial separations between God and creation and between humans and the nonhuman creation, and it can lead to an instrumental view of nonhuman creation.
MH: We wanted to explore the space beyond stewardship to see what improvements could be found. We think this might be a time when Christians, and the church, will benefit from reassessing our previous thoughts on the topic. In a way, we’re trying to live out the motto from the second Dutch Reformation as it relates to sustainability, creation care, and stewardship: “[t]he church is Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.”
What can a reader expect to find as they read each chapter?
DW: We know that good stories can capture the attention of a reader and sometimes even change their mind about something. So we encouraged the chapter writers to make their points with memorable stories that draw readers in. We think the authors did a great job with this.
MH: Right! Each author leads with a story and then makes a “turn”—a rethinking or reimagining of the relationship between humans and the nonhuman creation. Each chapter shows how the “turn” provides benefits for the creation care work that Christians pursue above and beyond what stewardship provides. Naturally, the chapters reflect some of the diversity and tension that always exist at the intersection of belief and action. We don’t know exactly what comes beyond stewardship, but the authors provide compelling insights into what might lie ahead.
What process did you use to write an edited book like this?
DW: We convened two workshops in summer 2018. At the first workshop, we provided space for writers to share their experiences working in sustainability and explore themes and stories for their chapters. Themes and stories were shared amongst writers, editors, and three observers who provided suggestions and feedback to authors in pursuit of thoughtprovoking topics and compelling stories.
MH: We dubbed the second workshop “editfest.” Each author arrived with a first draft of their chapter and departed with comments from at least six readers. After two rounds of editing, the first complete draft of the manuscript was compiled in March 2019. We editors can’t say enough good things about the way these writers and observers engaged with each other, even when disagreements arose. Our intern, Janice Wharton, looked after details and provided first-pass editing on many occasions. It was a great group of people to work with!
How do you hope the book will be used?
DW: This book is for Christians with a passion for and concerns about God’s creation. After reading it, we hope Christians will be equipped to live more mindfully about our relationship with the nonhuman creation in which we are necessarily and thoroughly embedded. We think everyone can benefit from rethinking and reimagining this relationship (essentially “refreshing” it): students and teachers, young and old, etc.
MH: The book is written at a 12th-grade level, so it is accessible to older high school students, college students, and adults. We expect it will be read by individuals, by students in high school and college classrooms, and by participants in church study groups, etc. To enable all of these uses, further reading and discussion questions are available in the book itself. We expect that the book will prompt many thought provoking discussions.