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Christian Stewardship, Endangered Species, and the Environment

The health of ecosystems and the health of species are intimately related. Although these complex issues are rooted in science, the data set being developed by scientists is not yet complete. What we do know is that species are going extinct at a rate unprecedented in modern times—about 1,000 times faster than normal. Given the complex interrelationships between species and the unpredictable consequences of losing lots of them, the elevated extinction rate is of great concern from a scientific perspective.


How many species are going extinct? How fast? Does it matter?

In this special double-issue of Grinning Planet, we consider these questions from two perspectives—first from a scientific perspective, and second, from a Christian perspective. Both articles are adapted from the testimony before Congress of Joseph K. Sheldon, who is a Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Part 1:
Species Extinction: Causes, Statistics, and Trends

Beyond science, many feel that there are also religious reasons to care about endangered species and other environmental issues. Although Grinning Planet's mission is not based in religion, we do think the intersection between the environment and religion is important, and given that the vast majority of people claim religious affiliation of one type or another, we picture of joseph k. sheldon thought it would be interesting to explore that idea further with you.

In this Eco-Logical, we reprint a portion of the testimony before Congress of Joseph K. Sheldon, who is a Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. The testimony focuses on how Christianity instructs the preservation of species, endangered or otherwise.

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Biblical Perspectives on Species Protection
excerpted testimony of Joseph K. Sheldon before the House Committee on Resources, 28 Apr 2004

I direct my comments to you today as a Christian and as a conservation biologist. I have been invited to speak out of my concern for the stewardship of biodiversity that was wrought into existence and is sustained by God.

Many Christians consider themselves to be stewards of God's creation and their stewardship to be an act of worship. Others see stewardship of creation as an act of Black-tailed Prairie Dog -- Status: Was Endangered; now threatened and petitioned for endangered listing responsibility for their children and grandchildren. In both cases, we stewards are not the owners, but rather act on behalf of the One above or those to come to maintain and assure the fruitfulness of God's Creation.

Taking care of endangered species engenders heated debate. What are our priorities? Is it worth the expense? Should government be involved? What might God think of endangered species? Do individuals with a Judeo-Christian heritage need to think biblically about these issues? How can Scripture inform our discussion?

Here are some guidelines for reflection on how we might respond to the needs of His creatures.

(Hint: Hover your mouse over any photo to learn what it is.)

Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Species Conservation

Goodness of Creation — Scripture expresses God's delight at the myriad of species. Genesis I pronounces them "good." The creation story also repeats the word "kinds" (seven times in five verses), showing that God gave special attention to variety.

God’s Joy — Throughout Scripture, we find the Creator rejoicing in his works (Psalms 104:24-25, 31, etc.) and Delhi Sands flower-loving fly -- Status: Endangered paying attention to even the most insignificant (Matthew 10:29). God describes his creatures with awe, admiration, and pleasure. Dare we diminish the joy God finds with His handiwork?

God’s Concern — Matthew 10:29-31 offers, "Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father." This reveals an intense involvement in the daily, seemingly inconsequential affairs of creation. It reveals a God who is not a scientist collecting cold data, but a Creator intimately leading creation toward the accomplishment of his will. Also revealed is the supreme value of the human creation: If God so esteems slugs and salamanders, what does this imply about me? It could be said that advocating for the protection of species elevates the stature of the human as well.

Human Responsibility Toward Creation — Humans have a very special and exalted place within creation (Genesis 1:26-28, Psalms 8:3-8, Matthew 10:31). However, Scripture provides us with no mandate or calling to destroy; our commission is to serve as stewards of creation (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). Genesis 1:28 is a strong passage that refers to ruling over creation. The ancient Hebrew word is redah and it generally is used to describe the righteous and loving rule of a good and kindly king. Genesis 2:15 describes how this rule is to be carried out. The two key words in Genesis 2:15 are "till" (abad in Hebrew) and "keep" (samar). In other texts, abad is translated to "serve."

Human Concerns — Most Scripture would seem to lend support for preserving species for their own sake. Scripture also teaches that humans can enjoy the benefits of creation (Genesis 1:29-30). It would be difficult to enjoy the benefits of something that no longer exists. Also, all creation is to enjoy these benefits as well (Genesis 1:30).

Fruitfulness — Scripture commands us to tend creation so that it can be preserved and regenerate itself (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).

God Sustains — The Bible says that God sustains his creation (Psalms 145:15-16, Matthew 6:26,30). By what calling do humans override God's involvement with what he has made?


"Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?" (Ezekiel 34:18)

"Hear the word of the Lord...because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.... Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying." (Hosea 4:1-3)

Covenant — God made a very specific covenant with all life (Genesis 9:8-17); it is not to be destroyed.

God’s Will — In the Noah story, God has revealed his will that all life be preserved (Genesis 6:19-20, 7:1-3, 7:14-16, 8:17), and in such a way that it may regenerate itself (Genesis 6:19b, 20b, 7:3b, 8:17c). American Alligator -- Status: Removed from the list (delisted) due to recovery; trade in alligator skins or products is still regulated. Natural extinctions will sometimes occur as a part of God's will, but this is not a human prerogative.

God’s Witness — "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:20) Who are we, through our actions, to degrade the witness to God's power and divinity? Who will face Him on the Judgment Day and give an explanation for our actions? What will we say to Him?

Ethical Questions — It would be easy to consider some species as more important than others. Most of us are far more appreciative of butterflies than slugs. But can we really make such decisions? Who are we to determine which species are more important than others? Could we call this "playing God?" Are we given a scriptural mandate to destroy? That is the prerogative of the Creator, not us, the stewards. Our responsibility is to tend the garden.

Judgment — "Your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead . . . and for destroying those who destroy the earth." (Rev.11:18) Our destruction of species is most often rooted in sin and for this we will be judged. Environmental degradation results from forms of idolatry, greed, and pride: our technological pursuits lead us to forget about and be ignorant Karner blue butterfly -- Status: Endangered of God's work in creation; we presume the importance of our work and needs, to the point of destroying God's work; the powerful among us ignore the needs of the weak, destroying what provides subsistence for the poor or forcing them to marginal frontiers where they must live destructively in order to survive. In contrast to God's knowledge, our ignorance is such that we don't know all the different species that exist, how they interrelate, or how they might be useful or even necessary to us.


Species extinction is symptomatic: it is a problem reflecting the sinfulness and unsustainability of our lifestyles and our economy. "The sins of the father are visited on the sons," says the Lord in Deuteronomy 5:8-10. We now see that the sins of humanity are visited on other species as well.

The unbelieving world is waiting for Christians to take a relevant stand on a variety of issues, including species protection. Ultimately, Christian involvement in species protection will be undertaken for its own sake as a way to honor God. Nonetheless, we can expect some in the unbelieving world to respond positively. Our work in species protection will speak powerfully about the very character of our God.

Publish date: 13-JUL-2004

Also see - Part 1:
Species Extinction: Causes, Statistics, and Trends

Joe Sheldon is Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and is co-author of the book Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship.  

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Songs for a Better Planet


Redeeming Creation:
The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship

by Fred Van Dyke, David Mahan, Joseph Sheldon, Raymond Brand



From the dust jacket: This sensitive and eloquent study by four Christian biologists addresses the ecological crises we face: population explosion; book cover for Redeeming Creation rain forests stripped bare; destruction of animal habitats; the death of entire species; depletion of the ozone layer; global warming. In the light of Scripture and the presence of God, we can face these crises with hope. More than an investigation of the environmental crisis, this book brings Scripture into fruitful dialogue with current scientific findings and commitments. What emerges is a clarion call to biblically informed responses to our creation, both individual and corporate.

Read more reviews, see sample pages, or get purchase info for this book at

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"Now I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged, as mankind has never been challenged before, to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature but of ourselves."

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