Part III – Central Themes for an Evangelical Framework
Chapter 13 – Stewardship.
By R. Scott Rodin, vice president John R. Frank Consulting Group in Seattle Washington.
The goal of this chapter is to look at six evangelical theological convictions that from a theology of stewardship, namely 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. (265)
Evangelical theology has based its epistemology on the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. (265)
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. (266)
Rodin writes that human community is to be the imago Trinitatas, the image of the trinity. Inherent in the trinity is the interconnectedness of relationships. Stewardship happens in community.
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. (267-268)
Rodin goes on to conclude that we were created as covenant partners with God, we were created for personal wholeness, we were created for relationship with one another, and we were created as creatures to have dominion over creation. I particularly appreciated his observation that “have dominion” has a dual aspect to it. There is the responsibility for creation working and caring for creation but there is equally a responsibility to God and his character who granted the dominion.
The Fall and Corruption of All Things by Sin
Rodin sees four consequences of the fall.
- Humanity lost its status before God. In doing so we lost our very reason for existence.
- Humanity replaces what was lost by “… with the desire to create, acquire, or take by force those things that would recreate purpose and meaning in life.
- Prior to the fall there was no concept of an autonomous, independent self. It was incomprehensible to pre-fallen Adam and Eve, so thoroughly in relationship were they with each other and with God. The fall introduced the delusion of autonomous independence and thus marred relationships.
- Because of the fall, humanity has moved from steward of creation in relationship to autonomous owner of creation.
Rodin points out that it is difficult to maintain an attitude of temporary ownership. Absolute ownership brings power. Money and wealth is what we use to maintain our autonomy and give meaning to our existence. Consequently, creation is valued only in so far as it meets our needs and desires and ceases to have inherent value.
Rodin goes on to point out that the temptation is to be a part of the kingdom of God while also building a home for ourselves in this world. This "two kingdom" enterprise ends up with us trying to take absolute ownership in ways that are destructive of the four relationships for which we were made. (i.e., with God, with ourselves, with our neighbor, and with creation.) For example Rodin writes,
Two kingdom people will begin to own their relationship to God, demanding that worship be done according to their standards and that the church conform to their own preferences. The moment this happens, worship ceases to be a stewardship response and becomes an ownership issue. Worship wars are often battles over ownership, not stewardship. (274)
Whether money, relationships, worship or natural resources, that which was meant to be “owned” in community with God and others becomes twisted into a tool for maintaining autonomy.
The Restoration of All Things in Christ
We have the promise that on day Christ will restore all things. We must remember that does not just mean a personal relationship with God but all four types of relationships. Relationship to God through Christ offers back meaning and purpose to our existence and frees us from the compulsion to seek absolute ownership. That freedom is what enables the other types of relationship to be restored as well.
Toward an Evangelical Agenda for Stewardship
Four points for an evangelical agenda regarding stewardship.
The Response to Systems
No earthly economic system can incorporate the ethics of the steward in God’s kingdom. In our fallenness we can only at best construct systems that appropriate the spirit of such an ethic, and even then will constantly be at risk of giving in to our nature as kingdom builders. (277)
Rodin goes on to note that capitalism’s strongest and weakest element is that it is based on the premise of ownership. Ownership is what inspires and disciplines many to work and be productive. No other economic system has shown the ability to lift people out of poverty like capitalism. But the ownership drive of capitalism also has contributed to finding our meaning in having instead of being. We cannot not adopt the capitalistic system uncritically.
The Response to Wealth
Rodin warns "We must also not fall into the false logic that if blessings from God sometimes equal wealth, then wealth always equals God’s blessing." (279) Scripture makes us very much aware that wealth is often amassed by the ungodly through ungodly means. Our wealth should be seen as a gift from God and used for God’s ends.
The Response to the Environment
Rodin sees environmentalism as a natural extension of evangelical thinking though it has been neglected until as of late. He cautions against the pantheistic tendencies of many environmentalists. Instead, we need to develop knowledge of how creation works and concern for its plight. We need to be willing to sacrifice and make lifestyle changes as we work to redeem creation for its ultimate goal.
The Response to the Poor
Rodin highlights the Bibles preoccupation with the poor. He writes that we must have to things in mind. First, our response has to be both individual and corporate. We have to address structures but we must also consider our personal presence and involvement with the poor. One without the other is useless. Second, our response has to be Christlike. I loved his observation that “Caring for the poor is not an activity, it is a lifestyle.” (282)
I found this chapter to be a gem. Rodin succinctly summarizes some very complex theological implications. I am especially drawn to his analysis of how our rebellion against God has led to the desire of autonomous ownership and delusional efforts to find meaning apart from God. This is an absolutely critical perspective that must be kept in mind in any Christian ethics or public policy dialog.