Should we drop the language of 'Responsible Stewardship'?

Title question says it all. My thoughts are that the concept of ‘stewardship’ is a problematic term in ecology, since it assumes that ecosystems need human help to flourish, when the reality is far from that. Ecosystems flourished for millions of years before humans arrived on the scene. In the cases where human help ‘is’ needed for nature, it’s usually after human caused ecological damage. It’s hard to think of any cases where nature wouldn’t have been better off without humans.

I think one of Pete Enns’ recent podcasts brought this up.


BTW, I used to post on this forum, but I couldn’t log into my old account. So I had to make a new one.

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Lots of people are moving away from Stewardship language!

There’s this, and also Steven Bouma PRediger and others are fans of the term “earth-keeping.”


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Good article and it seems that as implied in the title of the book discussed, Beyond Stewardship, we are called to something that exceeds stewardship itself. If we aspire to embody the will of God in our love for others and creation, we will see it as caring for creation as our own, rather than caring for it for God.
However, as discussed on other posts, stewardship is a metaphor for our role, and all metaphors break down at some point, but the word still has its usefulness.


Why does the earth need humans to keep it though?

Because we are here and because of our presence, affect earth and creation, therefore we have a responsibility for those effects?


I think that in Christian circles you have to realize that the term stewardship is not coming out of ecology or an understanding of what ecological systems “need” from people, it’s coming out of a religious discourse and being imposed on ecology as a way of tapping into people’s values and motivating action. Stewardship comes from the creation mandate in Genesis. Maybe it is not the best term if we are talking purely about ecological science and maybe it promotes a less than ideal anthropocentric mindset. Ideally, it would help Christians have a theocentric view of creation, in that it’s not theirs to exploit, it’s theirs to care for on behalf of its creator (the meaning of stewardship) and it could be used to help many Christians who are at the moment completely apathetic or even opposed to ecological initiatives see them in terms more closely related to the things they find important. So, I don’t think being reactionary about the word “stewardship” is all that helpful. Address anthropocentric attitudes where you see them, but I don’t think it serves the cause well to simply decide “stewardship is bad.” The concept of stewardship has its uses for motivating positive behavior.


As someone who really likes ecology and environmentalism I definitely have no issue with stewardship for many reasons. As noted by others a core part of it comes from the Bible. It started with the conversation in the creation mythology of Yahweh taking to Adam and Eve as his corulers over the garden. I personally don’t think stewardship indicates us doing it just for the benefit of Yahweh, or even just for the benefit of us but for the benefit of all of nature. We are able to help in ways that the animals just can’t. By we I don’t mean humanity, but those of us who actively and purposefully try to counter react the negative effects of our species affect on this earth. There are problems now days with anything if you ask the right , or wrong person. Anyone can find issues with anything. I mean there are people who take issues that the English language seems overly “phallic” with our upper case letters as a micro aggression against women because for some reason a higher percentage of lowercase letters are more rounded and lowercase indicates less authority to capitalized letters. But more often than not it’s usually beneficial to listen to those who are actually marginalized about how something we don’t consider may affect them.

So maybe somehow stewardship carries some kind of self entitled “ the world needs me “ baggage. Maybes it’s so ingrained that it’s being overlooked. But in general , from religious and non religious groups of people I never hear stewardship within groups that think the world needs humanity. If we all died, outside of domesticated animals and pets wildlife would thrive. Granted some wild ones would perhaps get messed up that has spent a lot of time evolving with humanity like rats, snakes that feed on rats and ect… cities are after all one of the dominating ecosystems now days. But in general when they say stewardship it seems to be based on the reality that our species is probably here to stay short of some major disaster. Most humans seem to home themselves distant from nature and don’t really think that much about their choices. Heck we even like cutting paths through wildlife areas so we can walk through it and enjoy it. So stewardship seems to imply taking on that role when the majority don’t even try.

But I’ll find the episode. I really like Pete and Jared’s podcast “ Bible for Normal People “ and will listen to it soon and try to look into whatever issues by being around terms like stewardship. Environmentalism is so big with thousands of niches a word like stewardship could possibly mean dozens of things to different people.

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Definitely looks like a book I’m adding to my list and will probably bump it up towards getting it this year.

I found this statement interesting .

Servants and protectors of the creation are likely to act quite differently from stewards over creation. For me it’s the same thing. A steward is someone who protects and serves nature. It’s why we plant things like milkweeds, oaks and so on. To try to help service wildlife. I always presumed the background to the verses about Adam and Eve in the garden was that humanity outside of the garden ( within the story ) was considered destructive. It’s why Cain in the story , the killer, sounded like he destroyed wilderness and built a city instead of a garden paradise and ect…

But I’m really interested in it nonetheless. If there is a better way to communicate to those who don’t care about nature to see themselves as part of nature and better care for it then I’m on board. I guess maybe within communities or Christians who accept science stewardship may carry a different concept centered on ecology versus maybe someone whose a bit anti science and has more of the dominion belief. For me when I think it coruling for example, I think of ruling like Christ as a servant. I think of his words on pay attention to the birds and flowers and trust and so messages throughout the Bible like focus on the ethics of the ants and so on.


Yes. And humans are part of the natural world. We belong here as much as any critter. Besides, we are the only ones who can get us out of this mess.

Shirking responsibility is hardly something new.

I’ve been thinking about this question, and particularly this part of it

and this additional comment about it

for a good part of the day.

In brief: no and no.

The concept of “stewardship” of the environment (the world that was left to us and we will leave to others) is not exclusive to Christians, who have lately come to recognize our basic responsibilities to others. We are not the only ones aware enough to see this. I’m most familiar (and only a little) with some Native American views, and I think “stewardship” is at least a part of their understanding of responsibility. Honestly, the people I know who are most concerned about good stewardship are not Christians, which is agonizing.

When we recognize our uncontested human ability to alter and harm the environment and the extent to which we do just that, then we must also recognize our responsibility to steward it for the future. That stewardship doesn’t need to involve any kind of faith, but a simple recognition that each of us is only here for a moment of Earth’s history, and has no right to wreck the home that future generations must inhabit. Basic altruism that leads humans to work in community should help us recognize this purpose for the future of all bioforms here and act accordingly.


Good point.

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Superbly explicated as usual. Stewardship is subverted in Genesis by the twenty eighth verse of the first chapter in the mind of American theo(prophet)-capitalism(beast). Christians need to get back to their communist roots and hold all things in common so that righteousness actually springs forth for the first time in 1990 years.

I wonder how Native Americans position themselves and creation in their understanding and languages? Is it even in a form of
Stewards of Creation
People? Recipients? Friends? Of? With? For? Earth? Mother? Etc. Am I making any sense :laughing:

I think you are making sense, but I don’t know the answer to your question. One resource I could direct you tois the book “One Church, Many Tribes” by Richard Twiss from about 2000. He was a Christian and Lakota (I think). He wrote and spoke widely (even at my church in Rural Michigan) on the challenges of being a Native American and Christian, where the dominant culture in the US church is the same as the dominant culture in the US and holds all the same cultural animosity to NA cultures. I remember he discussed relationships with nature.
There are certainly loads of other resources your locallibrary or book shop can help you locate. Twiss’s book is an excellent resource, because he straddled both worlds.
Many of his piblic speaking events have made their way to YouTube. Just search his name.

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I think that less technology advanced people in general are forced to think more about nature. Less technologically advanced though is not the same as dumber. It just tends to mean you have to pay more attention to your immediate area and choices. As time has moved on less and less people realize their need to focus on nature and be part of it taking care of it.


If we ponder over Genesis and some implications of the fall (if you believe Genesis is not just poetry or a pre- science attempt at describing creation but contains some doctrine) than the fall implicated animals and the world, and the entire ecosystem was twisted but in what way? If so humans are given the job to care for the land now both are fallen with implication of good or poor stewardship

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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