Methodically, as if answering this question has become second nature to him, Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, runs down every single one of his grown children, their respective spouses, and their children in chronological order, by age.
One can easily hear the pride in his voice speaking of his four sons and how they are following him into the ministry in some form or another. Pride is a word that could be easily affixed to Dr. Akin in talking about his family but also, his faith (In full disclosure, I have known Dr. Akin practically my whole life. He was a dear friend of and to my late father, who was himself an ordained minister).
After the requisite pleasantries and updates on my own life and that of my family, we pivot to the topic of conversation for the day — as Christians, what is our role in stewarding God’s creation?
In response to the question from the Baptist church’s point of view, Dr. Akin replies quite concisely, “Well, I think the Bible teaches us very clearly, from Genesis 1 and 2, that we have a responsibility to steward well the earth that God has given us, and that he has placed human persons over as his imagers, and therefore, as his representatives on the earth, we should be good, responsible users, and caretakers of creation.”
“That’s a simplified answer, but I think it’s a good place to start,” he adds.
Continuing and summing up his position, “I’m an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian, but I believe all of the Bible, and I think the Bible indeed calls us to be responsible with the resources that the Lord has given us.”
From here, the conversation turns to a declaration released by the Southern Baptist Convention back in 2008 regarding the church’s view on climate change. One particular passage reads:
“We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice, our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless, and Ill-informed. The time for timidity regarding God’s creation is no more.”
When asked if he agreed with the forceful tenor of the quoted statement included in the declaration and furthermore what strides he himself has seen within the church as a whole, Dr. Akin pauses a beat then replies, “We did better with our rhetoric. I’m not sure we have been as helpful in our actions,” then taking another beat he continues, “I want us to get where we need to go. But we need to do so in a way that truly is loving and responsible.”
Going on to cite rising polarization between the right and left and the general over-politicization of any issue, Dr. Akin then pivots back to the real-time, real-life stakes of fighting for a cleaner environment, cleaner water, and air quality.
“I’ve been to Africa, where I’ve seen what dirty water does. And just by digging water wells, and making those available across the board to all races, the mortality rate massively, almost instantaneously drops.”
When asked about the Creation Care movement, a renewed focus within evangelical circles on environmental issues, Dr. Akin strikes a decidedly hopeful tone saying, “I think we have a moral, Christian obligation to engage in these things. And you know, where we can find common ground with things in these areas, even with people that we would disagree with theologically.
Look, we don’t get to pick and choose our moral battlegrounds. We’re called as the body of Christ to engage in all of them. Well, I think my generation needs to be reminded that that includes the environment.”
After a few more minutes discussing a range of tangential topics, we return to the outlook for the future, and Dr. Akin sums up pretty succinctly how he views the coming tomorrow. “I’m hopeful for a better future,” he laughs.