Conversation: Tri Robinson
It's not often an environmental lobbying group invites an evangelical pastor to be the keynote speaker at its conference. Earlier this year, the Idaho Conservation League extended such an invitation to Tri Robinson, author of Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church's Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship and founding pastor of Vineyard Boise (Idaho) Church. Recently, Robinson spoke to Assistant Editor Jennifer McClure about environmental stewardship and the Christian's responsibility to it.
tpe: What does environmental stewardship mean?
ROBINSON: Stewardship is taking responsibility for the things God has called us to do, one of which is to care for creation. With "environmental stewardship," we take the commission in Genesis to care for the creation and become responsible to do that. God has given us dominion over the earth to use it, not to abuse it.
tpe: What exactly does the Bible say about such stewardship?
ROBINSON: In Genesis 9, God promises He won't flood the earth again. Several times God says, "This covenant is between Me and you and every living creature on earth." In Genesis 9:3, He says, "Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything" (NIV). In verse 5, God goes on to say He's going to hold us accountable for how we use His provisions. Key to this discussion is the message of the sanctity of life. Clearly from Genesis 9:6 we see God is pro-life. He values all life.
tpe: What does the Bible have to say about God being revealed through creation?
ROBINSON: Romans 1:20 says, "For 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." We have the assurance of God's existence because He has revealed himself through His creation. Therefore, every Christian should be concerned about the creation because it's a revelation of God, and it's a means to the unsaved world.
tpe: Has God used nature to reveal himself to you?
ROBINSON: Every time I've had a major revelation of God or He has asked me to do something specific it has been in the context of the wilderness. God the Father became real to me when I was 16 years old standing on the side of a mountain watching the sun set — I knew He existed. One night when I was walking in the moonlight on a mountain, God revealed to me the reality of Christ. I was also filled with the Holy Spirit out in the mountains by myself.
tpe: Would you say Christians have more reason to be stewards of the environment than non-Christians?
ROBINSON: I would. We are the ones who were actually commissioned to do something about it. When we come to Christ, we become other-centered. We love our neighbor. Therefore, we start to care about things that are hurting our neighbor. Misuse of the environment is causing people to suffer all over the world, especially in developing nations and in Third World countries where polluted waters are killing people. This should be an awakening point to the Church.
tpe: Your involvement in environmental stewardship has opened doors to reach a new audience with the gospel.
ROBINSON: I didn't expect it, but this has given me access to an audience I never dreamed I'd be speaking to. Our church has been growing as a result of it. It's been one of our most powerful points of evangelism.
tpe: When speaking to secular environmental groups, how do you share your faith?
ROBINSON: I tell them why I'm passionate about the environment. I open Genesis 9, and they go, "That's in the Bible?" All of a sudden, they're interested in the Bible.
One thing that has really helped me is when I tell them, "If I see something that is very obviously ecologically wrong to do, I feel it's morally wrong." Most environmentalists would say, "Yes, you're right. It's morally wrong." So I say, "If it's a moral issue, it's a heart issue. As a Christian, I'm in the business of morality and heart issues."
Only when we change the hearts of people can the morality of people change so they see the creation as precious to God. That's why I believe the Church is the hope for the environment and the care of the earth.
tpe: Have you been accused of worshipping nature?
ROBINSON: That's one of the great criticisms, but it's a false fear. It's not going to happen. It's obvious this is all about the Creator and about being obedient to the Creator. We don't do this because of Mother Earth, but because the earth belongs to Father God.
tpe: How should belief in end-times prophecy affect Christians' involvement in environmental stewardship?
ROBINSON: In Matthew 24, Jesus gives the dissertation on the end times. Then in Matthew 25 He gives the Parable of the Talents. To me, it's a picture of God saying, "I'm going away for a while, and I'm not going to announce when I'm coming back. But while I'm gone I'm giving you this stuff — My stuff — and I want you to care for it." So it gives you a whole different perspective on those parables because we do have responsibility right up until the Second Coming.
tpe: In what ways are you personally involved in environmental stewardship?
ROBINSON: My wife and I are selling our large home and moving into a small, more self-sustaining home with solar power. I'm driving a smaller car and recycling. I've really tried to make some changes in my life and in the church.
tpe: How can a church be involved in environmental stewardship?
ROBINSON: A church can produce printed material on recycled paper, put recycle bins in the church, and recycle ink cartridges and cell phones. We raised about $10,000 recycling cell phones.
One new thing our church is going to do is use coffee cups made out of corn. They're biodegradable. We're going to compost all our coffee cups and use them in our community garden where we grow about 13,000 pounds of fresh vegetables a year for the homeless and the poor. Generally the food pantries just give dry food and canned food, but in season we can give fresh vegetables and produce. It gives people a lot of opportunities to be involved in the ministry. People love it.
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