Climate change requires adaptive faith

Debra Rienstra urges Christians to create spaces of transition and new growth wherever we are.

Though I’ve been nurtured in various Christian traditions for over two decades, I confess that in recent years I’ve wondered whether the faith has anything to offer in our time of planetary crisis. I’ve observed, like Calvin University English professor Debra Rienstra, how in Christian circles the natural world tends to serve as a backdrop to the (supposedly) main drama of the human-Divine relationship. I’ve noticed congregations intellectually assent to our God-given roles as stewards of the earth while remaining disturbingly complacent about our current global path toward mass species extinction and climate chaos. And, like Rienstra, I’ve witnessed the most poignant examples of lament, courage, and love for creation coming from outside the institutional church.

I’m teetering at the edge of organized Christianity because of all this, wondering if the spiritual resources needed for this moment might be found elsewhere. Rienstra, however, reaches deep down into her faith. Answering the call of self-identified “geologian” Thomas Berry that humans must do the “Great Work” of transitioning from our destructive ways to cooperation with the whole earth community, she asks, “How must we adapt Christian spirituality and practice in order to become healers of this damaged earth?”

The question is essential for those who find themselves squarely within orga­nized traditions—if these traditions are to preserve any credibility in the decades to come. Also, for someone like me who is halfway out the church door, hearing someone on the inside pose this question halts my step. Maybe I’ll sit in the back pew long enough to hear an answer.