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SEBTS: Confer. spotlights creation care …

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The connection between God’s creation and His image-bearers was the topic of a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary conference titled “Creation Care: A Theology of Creation Stewardship.

Among the topics: historical approaches by Christians to creation care; the current need for good stewardship; and various issues related to creation care.

The conference was sponsored by Southeastern’s L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and consisted of four major speakers in the field, followed by panel discussions focused on their lectures.

David Cook, a fellow at Green College in Oxford and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Wheaton College, opened the conference by addressing the need for creation stewardship from a theological perspective.

“God gave value to creation itself,” Cook said, adding that human beings, as the highest part of the created order, can “reflect on creation and what we’ll do with creation. What makes us special? We were created by God for God. We are image-bearers. We were made from dust and destined for glory.”

Cook said that in the Garden of Eden man and woman were in perfect harmony with the rest of God’s creation until sin entered in.

“We were created to care for that world. Now, it’s a struggle,” he said. “We’re meant to show people how to live, in relation to God, to each other and to the world. We cannot do that apart from community. As a Christian community, we need to partner with each other; we need to inspire each other.”

Conservationist and environmental scientist Calvin DeWitt, in looking at a number of the issues associated with creation and the environment, said, “Earth is our home. There are so many things we have yet to uncover, and we have to do it with diligence, precision, awe and wonder. I’m interested, not in how I’d like the world to be designed, but how God put it all together.”

DeWitt said the proper human response to creation can be found in Genesis 2:15, which says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

This is the created order, DeWitt said, that man should care for the rest of creation, and there is great value in the creation order.

There are many who say the passage in Genesis wrongly sets man against creation, said Steven Bouma-Prediger, a professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Hope College in Holland, Mich.

Speaking on some of the arguments targeting Christians in terms of environmental care, Bouma-Prediger examined the reasons people often give for why Christians are not more concerned with the environment and what believers can do to refute those ideas.

“Many believe that Christian eschatology underwrites the exploitation of the earth,” Bouma-Prediger said. The idea that in the end times believers no longer will be concerned with the earth, but solely with heaven, is what many non-Christians see as a stumbling block to Christians being involved in creation care, he said.

“The focus on the falling away of the earth encourages exploitation of this temporary planet, they believe,” Bouma-Prediger said.

“Problems abound with these arguments. In God’s good future, will the earth be destroyed? Biblical eschatology affirms the restoration and recreation of creation. The eschatology is not that the believers will stay up in the air. They will go out to meet the Lord and escort Him back to this domain.”

Rusty Pritchard, a resource economist and president and co-founder of Flourish, an environmental stewardship organization that equips churches to care for creation in ways that love God and help people, closed the Oct. 30-31 conference by offering suggestions on how Christians should respond to the creation care debate.

“I have become convinced more and more that the way we live is not just unsustainable, or bad for the planet, but it’s less than human,” Pritchard said. “God delights in His creatures. How can we delight in creation if we pay them no mind? Creation stewardship functions best when it arises organically from a love and respect for creation, but this passion is not self-generating. Somehow, in our fallen state, we don’t automatically love the things that God created good. This is a judgment on us, and not on God.

“We have to cultivate a love for the creatures God created,” Pritchard said. “Do we look at creation? Do we examine it? Do we live in it? Most of us don’t. We need to move not from respect to reverence [for creation] but to start with a different ‘r’ which is ‘regard.'”

BIBLICAL VIEW OF ELDERSHIP PRESENTED — A biblical model of church governance is important for a church seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, a Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor writes in a new book on the importance of the New Testament office of elder.

Benjamin Merkle, associate professor of New Testament and Greek, has written “Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members.” In it, he says every church should consider a multiple elder form of church government as the most biblical and most effective.

Merkle argues that while there are three different words for pastor or elder in Scripture, they all refer to the same office. He structures the book to answer the question about elders in four parts: It is the pattern of the New Testament church; it provides help and accountability for a pastor; it produces a healthier church; and it promotes the biblical role of deacon.

“The church, as the body of Christ, should seek to be pure and spotless,” Merkle said. “If certain biblical patterns and principles are ignored or abandoned, then the church will reap negative consequences. Therefore, it is beneficial for the church to follow the wisdom of God as recorded in Scripture.”

Merkle said his primary intent is not to attack other views but to present a positive view of biblical eldership to anyone studying the question. He also hopes the book can help churches that may be transitioning to an elder model of church leadership.

“Although the book is based on extensive research and scholarship, it is written in a manner that is understandable for the average church member,” Merkle said. “The book is only 100 pages in length and has no footnotes or endnotes.”

Merkle said he included a chapter on the role of the deacon ministry in the church.

“The role of the deacons is not to lead the church but to serve the church,” he said. “Elders or pastors are the leaders and are given the role of shepherding and teaching or preaching. Deacons, on the other hand, are given the role of taking care of the physical and logistical needs of the church so that the elders can concentrate on their primary calling.”

AKIN URGES GREAT COMMISSION MINDSET — Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, spoke about the Great Commission Resurgence movement within the Southern Baptist Convention during the final chapel service of the fall semester, articulating the need for a renewed focus on the lost people of the world.

“In June of 1979, we saw the beginnings of the Conservative Resurgence. This past June, another movement launched — the Great Commission Resurgence,” Akin said. “The Conservative Resurgence was a back-to-the-Bible movement. This is a to-the-nations movement.

“We’re losing ground. This is the fourth consecutive year of decline in baptisms,” he said. “Furthermore, 98 cents of every dollar never leaves the borders of America. That is not going to reach the nations with the Gospel.”

Speaking from Romans 15:14-24, Akin noted in his Dec. 7 message that the Apostle Paul believed that getting the Gospel to the nations is something Christians should do boldly.

“So what marks the people who have the nations on their heart?” Akin said, noting that one main objective is to focus on the nations.

The idea of nations denotes any group of people with a specific language, culture or identity, he said. Of the 16,349 people groups that have been identified in the world today, Akin said there are 6,647 that have never heard the name of Christ — about 1.6 billion people.

“Business as usual isn’t working, and it cannot continue,” Akin said.

Before believers have the nations on their hearts, they must be completely Christ-centered, as Paul demonstrated by referring to Jesus Christ five times in the passage, Akin said.

“Paul was consumed with Christ and that people would know Christ,” Akin said. “If we’re to be focused on the nations, we must be a radically Christ-centered people. Our lives will be radically different if Jesus Christ is really Lord of our lives.”

Akin said being Christ-centered will embolden, empower and humble believers.

“I believe we need God to destroy our pride and our turfism so we can be a Christ-centered people,” he said.

This will lead to being Gospel-saturated, a feat that must begin with believers having an accurate understanding of the Gospel message, he said.

“I’m convinced churches across America are awash in Gospel confusion and don’t know what the Gospel is,” Akin said, adding that today there are movements within the church known as the prosperity gospel, the social gospel and more.

“If you put anything in front of the word ‘gospel,’ you lose the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news at the beginning of our Christian experience. It is the good news that sustains us through our Christian experience.”

Once believers are consumed with Christ, have a right understanding of the Gospel and are concerned for the nations, they will be passionate about the unreached peoples of the world, Akin said. He said believers can follow the example of Paul in aiming to preach the Gospel where it has not been proclaimed.

“In verse 23, we see that Paul is saying, ‘Because of my theological conviction, I no longer have a place in these parts.’ This led him to go to the places that had not heard,” Akin said.

“By our lack of urgency, I have two conclusions. Either we’re all a bunch of closet universalists who think everyone will one day get to heaven, or we believe people are dying and going to hell and we don’t care.”

Akin said a commitment to getting the Gospel to the nations is more than physically going. It requires people praying and giving in support of those who take their lives to the nations. For the 75 percent of believers who give nothing to support missions, Akin said this will require repentance and a radical lifestyle change.

“Lost people matter to God. They must matter to us,” Akin said. “I pray God haunts you until you think about what it means to live radically for the Lord.”

After Akin spoke about the urgency in reaching the nations with the Gospel message, the seminary collected more than $18,000 for the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Based on reports by Lauren Crane and Jason Hall of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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