Tri Robinson is pastor of Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, Idaho and his 2006 book, Saving God's Green Earth, tells the story of how his conservative evangelical church came to embrace care for the environment as a ministry priority. There are some similarities to Sabin's book, but whereas Sabin's revelation came among the poor on the mission field, Robinson's discovery unfolded in the context of a local congregation.
The book opens up with a description of a tense moment where pastor Robinson is about the get up and preach a sermon on the importance of caring for the environment. He is anxious and is uncertain how the congregation will respond. There are many churches where such an occasion wouldn't hold such drama, but Robinson does a real service by describing the cultural pressures of life in evangelical churches. He says, "for years, I was always afraid to use the word "environment" because I didn't want to be labeled "liberal."
Along with offering a window into the church institution, the author gives us a fascinating window into his personal journey. He describes his life before becoming a Christian as being very connected to nature and literally living off the land.
But later in life when I became a Christian and entered into the ministry, somehow I disconnected from all of these values and affections. I never stopped loving nature, but it was somehow set aside because there was no real value for environmental stewardship in the church....How did this once strong value in my life all but disappear?
I can relate to this experience in my own journey of coming to faith in evangelical church circles and I would have liked to have heard more of Robinson's thoughts on the roots of this disconnect. I think it runs much deeper than politics and public perceptions.
The majority of the book is a theological and pragmatic prescription for how conservative evangelical churches can embrace environmentalism within their distinctive tradition.
For example, he describes environmentalism in the context of seven ripples with the first impact starting in the hearts of people. He says, "The first question that we must ask is what is the 'environmental condition' of our hearts?" According to Robinson, from this starting place the ripples move outward, eventually touching the world and the environment. Accepting Jesus into one's heart is the central metaphor of faith in evangelical circles.
Consistent with his evangelical context, he also envisions creation care as an opportunity for evangelism.
I am a firm believer in sharing the love of Christ through practical demonstrations....I have found that upholding the value of stewardship of God's creation in your community can also create unsuspecting opportunities for evangelism....Caring for the environment can become one of the most powerful tools for evangelism in the 21st Century."
In one sense Robinson argues that environmentalism can fit into the evangelical church without disrupting things too much. But he does challenge evangelical churches, especially when it comes to the hot-button issue of global warming. This has become a point of departure for evangelicals, with some leaving this off the table, and others insisting that the church can't afford to ignore it. The Evangelical Environmental Network is with Robinson in insisting that the church must address global warming, whereas some in evangelical circles have split off from EEN to form networks that aren't directly addressing global warming.
Saving God's Green Earth, is a pioneering book and Robinson's church is on the forefront of the creation care movement. Their farming and food programs are amazing. He does a great service to the church by showing that care for the environment and evangelical faith can coexist.
I think there is more work to be done in challenging some evangelical assumptions when it comes to the environment, and fleshing out the disconnect that Robinson describes in his experience of coming to faith. That's part of the reason I wrote Year of Plenty.