Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Positive Approach to Stewardship

Two weeks ago I wrote about how ethics necessarily inform the policy debate of sustainable development. Christians contributing to this debate often rightly emphasize the concept of stewardship. The Scriptures indicate that the earth and all that is in it are the Lord's because He made it. If it is all His, then the property we possess is not ultimately ours in an absolute sense. We serve as His caretakers or stewards.

Unfortunately a right emphasis on stewardship too easily gets transformed into justifications for the welfare state or environmental extremism. After all if we do not really own the property we think we do, then it is okay for the state to take some of it away from us for the sakes of the poor or the environment.

I've written before about why we need to ensure that our evaluations of economic policy include the Christian ethic of property. A group that tries to do this in a positive way by looking at both special revelation in Scripture and general revelation in natural science and economics is the Cornwall Alliance. It has published a Stewardship Agenda that seeks to "answer the practical question of what public policy principles religious leaders and policymakers should support in their desire to achieve Biblically balanced stewardship." The document includes a chapter on poverty and development (of which I was a contributing editor) and a chapter on energy and climate change. Because I was only a contributing editor, the views in the document are not entirely mine. I think that, while rightly recognizing the dismal record of foreign aid to less developed countries, it still concedes too much to aid's efficacy if directed to countries with "just governance."

The Stewardship Agenda is not the last word on the topic. Nevertheless, even with the above caveat, I still think it a good and significant step in the right direction toward a better understanding of a Christian view of stewardship.

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