Dr. Steve Bouma-Prediger speaks with purpose, at a blistering pace, with the knowledge and insight a lifetime of study has provided him. Even on a Zoom call, from a thousand miles away, he has a unique knack for pointedly making his, well, point.
Surrounded by mountainous shelves of books, many he authored himself, Dr. Bouma-Prediger sits in his office at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Effortlessly he’s answering my questions, while asking more questions, and then answering those himself. All without skipping a beat.
I lean forward. Dr. Bouma-Prediger peppers ancient Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) into our conversation, putting a fine point on where exactly he finds his own answers.
“I had the good fortune of working at a Christian summer camp with a very forward-thinking, visionary director, who for some strange reason asked me to co-lead a canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, one of the prime locations in the country.”
Dr. Bouma-Prediger laughs a bit when recounting his early days that engendered such a love and passion for creation. He points to this early introduction into the wilds of Minnesota with this mentor and (a handful of kids) as a flashpoint, a native wound of the fortuitous kind. “I and a fellow summer staff member took a bunch of high school kids on a wilderness canoe trip. And I fell in love with canoeing and wilderness and began to wonder what connection there was between my faith as a Christian and the wild world around us in creation in which we live, and that started an avocational interest.”
One gets the sense that the Dr. has always been in search of his own answers and has taken a unique path to find those answers, and his calling, in the field of Environmental Studies in his role as a professor of Reformed Theology.
After graduating from Hope College, Dr. Bouma-Prediger helped start and run similar trips for an organization called Wilderness Adventures, operated by the Reformed Church of America. During the course of four summers, his passion for connecting theology and the environment grew deeper and stronger.
These summer sojourns included whitewater rafting, rock climbing, canoeing, hiking, and the like. But they were filtered through a distinctly purposeful lens: communion with nature, with creation.
“We had Bible studies and prayer time in wild places, and while the one goal of the organization was to take high school kids who are sort of sick and tired of high school youth groups, typical stuff, and take them into the wilderness, it was also a Christian discipleship program.”
He adds, “For most of these kids, they’d never been in a canoe or kayak or whitewater raft, and never hiked anywhere.”
Along the journey to deepen his faith, he began to take note of things he now points to in scripture that led him to where he is today.
“I started realizing that by paying more attention to the Bible, that there was a lot of attention in the Bible to caring for creation. Whether it was reading carefully the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts of creation or a whole bunch of Psalms – Psalm 104 is a classic example of the language of Jesus in the gospels.”
Another four years at Fuller Seminary alongside his wife followed, where they both received their Masters in Divinity. Then Dr. Bouma-Prediger earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School where his doctoral dissertation research focused on “the intersection of Christian faith and ecological ethics” which led to him authoring his first book, “The Greening Of Theology.”
Dr. Bouma-Prediger is the author or co-author of numerous books and over 100 publications, studies, papers, and book reviews. He is a leader in the field of Christian ecological study but he takes slight issue with the commonly used phrase “Creation Care,” within the growing movement of those interested in ecology through a lens of Christian faith. He explains his reason for preferring another term over this, looking to the less passive “Earth Keeping.”
“‘Earth Keeping’ is a term coined many years ago by a book published in 1980 of that title by a bunch of friends of mine…it’s the term that I prefer. We, humans, are members of this home-planet called Earth, and what we ought to do is what God’s calling us to do: to care for it.”
He goes on to cite the first book of the Old Testament:
“Genesis 2:15, the Lord God took Adam and put them in the garden to ‘avadh’ and ‘shamar’ (the ancient Hebrew translation) to serve and protect. That’s our human calling, whether a Christian or not, that’s our human calling in Genesis 2:15, to serve and protect.”
Dr. Steven Bouma-Prediger has spent a lifetime in God’s creation, reveling, communing, sharing, cultivating, and yes, serving and protecting, and he doesn’t seem to be putting that aside anytime soon. He is very focused on keeping his promise to earth keeping, and we are all better for it.