As Evangelicals our theological heritage and commitment to Biblical authority uniquely equip us to develop and practice a rich, holistic and uncompromising theology of stewardship. The goal of this chapter is to look at six evangelical theological convictions that form a theology of stewardship, namely a christocentric epistemology, the Trinity, the creation of humanity in the Imago Dei, the fall and the corruption of all creation by sin, the incarnation and atoning work of Christ, and the call of the Christian to a life of obedience, surrender and service. I will conclude by proposing an Evangelical agenda for living as God’s stewards.
Evangelical theology has based its epistemology on the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Our relationship with God is solely by grace through faith, and it is made possible not by our innate human ability or inborn receptivity to God, but by virtue of God’s desire to cross the great divide which separates us from God to reveal himself to us.
The core of evangelical theology is the Good News that this event has happened as the defining moment in our human history. For this reason, our knowledge of God is not only reliable and sufficient, but it comes entirely through God’s action. We know God as the God who acts, and all we can know of God is revealed in his activity towards us.
The Gospel of John speaks pointedly to the message of God’s self-revelation to us steering us away from flawed epistemologies. John claims that the Word was both with God (pros ton theon) and was God (theos en ho logos). Therefore the logos is co-eternal with God and is capable of revealing God. Evangelical faith depends on the validity of this truth that the logos of God is truly God himself. John points to Christ as the author of life through whom and by whom we were created. Finally, he switches from the language of God and logos and introduces the relational language which will dominate his gospel. For the Word now becomes the one sent by the Father, full of grace and truth.
If Jesus Christ is our starting point, then our theology must always move from this concrete reality to the more abstract. It must start with what is revealed to us and from there ask the difficult theological and ethical questions. As Evangelicals we reject ethics that are written backwards, which begin with what we do not know, then proceed to construct a system of beliefs, laws and regulations based on experience and end by projecting them back into God. This flawed methodology seeks solutions based on our own passion to justify ourselves and our existence. As a result, we create God in our own image.
Evangelical theology is at its best when it seeks knowledge of God only through a participation in the life of the Son’s revelation of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. In doing so it is rightly equipped to keep all discussions of stewardship grounded in the self-revelation of God to us in Jesus Christ. If we are God’s stewards, called according to his command and empowered for his service, then we must start with God’s self-revelation as we look for the answers to our questions about what that service looks like or what is expected of us. To start at any other point such as the standards of the world, our own experiences or preferences, reason and logic, our economic systems, our society’s values is to start falsely from which can only come a defective ethic. Once we have grounded our process in the knowledge we have of our God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, we can then appropriate the other helpful tools at our disposal such as natural law, general revelation, the testimony of the community of believers and the church’s rich historic teachings. As Evangelicals however, our process must always move us from the concrete (God for us in Jesus Christ) to the more abstract (how then should we live). In doing so we keep Christ at the center and allow God’s self-revelation to us to modify the other sources of knowledge that help us come to know and understand the things of God and the world.
An evangelical epistemology leads us to the position that creation is through and through a Trinitarian event. As a Trinitarian event, creation reflects the image of the creator and so is endowed with the inherent traits of interrelationship. “The true human community is designed to be the imago Trinitatis.” This creation is a system of mutually dependent parts that require fellowship, participation, cooperation and even sacrifice to survive and flourish. We have learned painful lessons of disturbing eco-systems whether on the macro or micro level. We know that our bodies are comprised of a series of complex, interrelated systems that are dependent upon one another for health. Sociologists show how our family systems, relational systems, community systems, and social systems are made up of individuals which are highly interdependent and which must both give and receive appropriately, freely and sacrificially if the individual and, consequently, the system is to survive.
A thoroughly Trinitarian doctrine of creation informs our self-understanding as creatures of a wholly relational God. The God who by his very nature is fellowship in joy, created us for fellowship and joy. There is a dual movement in creation that can be described as ‘God-Humanward’ and ‘Human-Godward’. The act of creation can be described as the work of the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. God acts towards humanity in this Trinitarian way. Conversely, we worship the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. This is our human response to God’s work for us and in us. This is always the proper order for these two movements. These movements are thoroughly Trinitarian in nature and therefore they reflect the triune nature of God.
All of our work as the people of God comes in this Trinitarian form. Our worship, our work for the kingdom and our building of healthy relationships are triune by their very nature, or they are not reflecting the glory of God. The call to be a steward is a call that comes from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. God the Father creates us in grace and commands us in love to be his faithful stewards. God the Son redeems us by his precious blood and gathers us as the body of Christ to be stewards in the kingdom of God . And God the Holy Spirit empowers and equips us for our work as stewards, and unites us with Christ in our worship of the Father.
Our response is motivated by the movement of the Spirit who we believe is at the heart of all we do as stewards. Stewardship is Spirit-centered work. As we work in the power of the Spirit, we seek to be stewards and to train up stewards in gracious response to the love of God in Christ Jesus. We accept by faith that we are recipients of grace by means of the covenant of God made complete in Jesus Christ. We respond with gratitude by participating in the ongoing work of the Son, in the name of the Son and for the sake of the Son. All this is done to the glory of God the Father, who created us for this work, saved us for fellowship with him, and called us to be his children in his kingdom now and forever. The work of the steward is a Trinitarian event.
Creation and the Imago Dei
The special, privileged work of the steward in God’s kingdom is to be carried out on all four relational levels in which we were created; our relationship with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor and with creation. Each level requires our stewarding, each was proclaimed as ‘very good’ by God at creation, and each bears witness to our creation in the image of a Trinitarian God. (Genesis 1: 27-28a)
The opening chapters of the Bible proclaim that we are created first for fellowship with our creator. There we find the purpose and meaning of our existence. We are fulfilled, content and satisfied in our existence to the extent that we are in fellowship with our creator. This is the first level that defines our existence and brings meaning to our life. The Confessions of St. Augustine open with the beautiful words, “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”
The image of God in which we were created is witnessed to in our status as covenant partners of God. That is, God has chosen us from creation to be his people. One crucial aspect of the revelation of God’s covenantal love for us in creation is the clear understanding that God created us to be ‘with’ us and not ‘over’ us. God created us for fellowship. This is not as equals that we may be like God, but it is also not as underlings with no real worth or value. To be created in God’s image is to be created with inestimable worth and value. Our original created state was one in which we could stand to look into the face of God, walk with him in the stillness of the garden, talk with him about the affairs of our heart, and dwell with him in perfect peace. We were created for nothing less. This is the heart of God both for his original creation, and for his redeemed creation.
Nov. 1, 2005, By R. Scott Rodin for the National Association of Evangelicals