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Calvin DeWitt and the Evangelical Approach to Environmental Ethics

Calvin DeWitt represents one of the best, most thoughtful evangelical Christian perspectives on environmental ethics. This perspective emphasizes the primacy of scripture as formative for Christian environmental ethics. Yet, DeWitt is also a serious environmental scientist, with a unique ability to bridge the gap between religion and science. DeWitt's emphasis on the physical and chemical provisions of life exemplify his commitment to a vibrant science and religion dialogue that includes both biblical wisdom and also the discoveries of modern science.

DeWitt bases his environmental ethics on the understanding of God as ultimate provider and caregiver. The fundamental understanding of humans is the imago dei; that is, humans are created "in the image" of God (imago Dei). DeWitt sees the proper human stance toward the natural world as one of deep stewardship and respect for all that is given to us. In his book, Earthwise, DeWitt lays out what he sees as the seven primary provisions of creation that we should recognize: energy exchange, soil building, carbon and hydrological cycling, water purification, creative fruitfulness, global circulations of water and air, and the human ability to learn from creation.Calvin Dewitt, Earthwise (Grand Rapids, Michigan: CRC Publications, 1994), pp. 14-24.On the other side of these primary provisions of creation, DeWitt identifies seven degradations of creation, which arise from human failure to respect and uphold the integrity of creation: land conversion and habitat destruction, species extinctions, land abuse, resource conversion and wastes and hazards production, global toxification, alteration of planetary energy exchange, and human and cultural abuse.Calvin Dewitt, Earthwise (Grand Rapids, Michigan: CRC Publications, 1994), 30-35.According to DeWitt, "all of the above degradations are contrary to biblical teaching. While we are expected to enjoy the creation and its fruitfulness, we humans are not granted license to destroy the earth. While human beings are expected to be fruitful, so is the rest of creation: 'Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. . .be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth' (Genesis 1:20, 22)."Calvin Dewitt, Earthwise (Grand Rapids, Michigan: CRC Publications, 1994), 36. Perhaps DeWitt's most pragmatic, and so easily overlooked, insight for us today is that “all the things we use, all the things we make, everything we manipulate, everything we accumulate, derives from the creation itself. If we learn to seek godly contentment as our great gain, we will take and shape less of God's earth. We will demand less from the land. We will leave room for the other creatures.”Calvin Dewitt, Earthwise (Grand Rapids, Michigan: CRC Publications, 1994), 45.

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Calvin DeWitt and the Evangelical Approach to Environmental Ethics

Introduction: Beyond Lynn White, Jr.
H. Paul Santmire's The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology
Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr.'s The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community
Thomas Berry on the Mythical-Cosmological Dimension of Environmental Ethics


Richard Randolph and Jeremy Yunt

See also:

The Future