Ben Lowe, PhD student, Interdisciplinary Ecology, University of Florida
- 2007-2010 – Served with A Rocha USA and co-founded Renewal, a student creation care network
- 2010 – Ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives
- 2010-2016 – Trustee and then board chair of the Au Sable Institute
- 2011-2016 – Served with the Evangelical Environmental Network and co-founded Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
- Author of Green Revolution(IVP 2009), Doing Good Without Giving Up(IVP 2014), and The Future of Our Faith(Baker 2016, coauthored with Ron Sider)
- Licensed and ordained in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA)
We have only one life to live; so how can we make it count?
I grew up within the nurture of evangelical Christianity. My parents served as missionaries with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). We were based in Singapore—where I was born and raised—and they taught a range of theology and ministry courses at Singapore Bible College. I was baptized at the age of sixteen and, shortly after that, my family moved to the United States where my father became a pastor at an evangelical church outside of Boston.
One of my favorite parts about moving to America was that there was so much nature to explore. I’ve always loved the outdoors and grew up with a fascination for all types of living creatures. My poor mother had to put up with me bringing many of these critters home—fish, crabs, birds, snails, cats, spiders, grasshoppers, caterpillars, tadpoles, snakes, and more. I dreamed about one day opening a zoo. Or becoming a fisheries biologist.
As I grew older, however, my faith deepened and my priorities shifted as a result. I came to realize that I could not separate receiving Jesus as my savior from following him as my lord. And I wanted to follow Jesus. This became my driving passion and commitment – for my life to count for Christ in the greatest way possible. I figured this meant I should become either a pastor or a missionary. The nature stuff was okay to enjoy on the side, but it could not be my focus. Or so I thought.
In order to pursue a life of ministry (and, the whole truth be told, in order to pursue a relationship with a particular young woman), I chose to go to Wheaton College (IL) for my undergraduate degree. As a well respected evangelical institution, I hoped that Wheaton College would help prepare me for a life of service and ministry. And it did, but in ways I never expected.
There’s a well worn saying that, “you have a plan, God has a plan, and yours doesn’t matter.” God used my time at Wheaton College to teach me, through excellent theology classes and chapel messages, that caring for nature or the environment is in fact an integral part of our biblical discipleship and witness. As the global Lausanne Movement puts it in their 2010 Cape Town Commitment:
We remind ourselves that the Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.1
I also learned, through excellent natural and social science courses, that caring for the environment is a critical way of caring for people too. Our wellbeing is inextricably tied to the wellbeing of the rest of creation. Many of the great humanitarian challenges we face—the water crisis, global hunger, the spread of diseases, pollution-induced health problems, numerous wars and conflicts, natural disaster impacts, and more—are also environmental problems at their roots, and require environmental solutions in order to address. Over the years, I’ve witnessed and experienced some of this reality from living in lower-income communities in the United States and South East Asia, and working on development projects and environmental partnerships across East Africa.
The biblical importance and contemporary urgency of caring for God’s creation had been a huge blind spot in my faith. As these dots were finally connected, they renewed and integrated my God-given passions for both people and the planet. Looking around, I started to notice numerous Christians and ministries such as A Rocha, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Au Sable Institute, and others who were faithfully proclaiming and showing God’s love for all creation. I began to realize how silly it was to impose an artificial hierarchy of service to God in which “pastors” and “missionaries” were at the top. We are all called to be fully on mission with God, and there are many roles and forms this can take as together we live into being the body of Christ. Caring for creation is one such vital calling for the church today.
At this point, my missionary-kid instincts kicked in. I majored in environmental studies and started pursuing missional opportunities to build bridges integrating science with faith and connecting creation care with our faith communities. One of my mentors referred to this as our dual apologetic: bearing witness to those inside the church that we are called to care for creation, and bearing witness to those outside the church that God remains actively committed to rescuing and restoring his world.
My first job after graduating was with A Rocha, an international Christian conservation organization, where I worked on outreach to churches and campuses across the United States. With A Rocha’s support, a group of us launched Renewal, which served for some years as a creation care network for Christian college students on campuses across the United States and Canada. Further down the road, I transitioned on staff with the Evangelical Environmental Network, where I continued to serve in an outreach capacity, focusing on writing, speaking, activism, and advocacy. This role included teaming up with friends to start Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and helping to develop strategic partnerships with ministries in Malawi, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Along the way, I found myself sharing our work with elected officials, denominational leaders, and reporters from a diverse array of outlets including The New York Timesand The Wall Street Journal. I also wrote three books and was licensed and ordained by my denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). It was incredibly challenging but meaningful work, and it greatly expanded my understanding of what it can look like to be on mission with God.
After ten years of serving in these roles through the nonprofit sector, I prayerfully discerned within community the need to step back for a season to pursue further training through graduate studies. This led me to the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, where I have just completed my first year of courses and fieldwork. As Wendell Berry writes: “How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know how to… keep your filth out of his water supply and your poison out of his air; or if you do not produce anything and so have nothing to offer? How will you practice virtue without skill?”2Having invested the past decade in helping to spread the word about the importance of creation care, I am eager to learn more about how we can better live this out.
Specifically, I am eager to better understand and address the human dimensions (a.k.a. social science) of environmental problems and solutions. Toward this end, my research is focused on analyzing the socio-economic and cultural influences on how fishing communities are adapting to declining catches on Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, one of the largest and most biodiverse inland fisheries in the world. Understanding and addressing human dimensions like these is a critically important though sometimes neglected aspect of caring for creation. After all, a large part of most conservation and environmental problems is about people and how we mismanage and relate poorly to the rest of creation. Empowered by a biblical ethic and worldview, Christians have a lot to offer here.
As I reflect on my journey so far, I never imagined how God would integrate my love for both people and nature to provide such rich opportunities to serve him in the church and the world. And I am continually amazed, after all the damage humans have wrought through the generations, that God would invite us to be not only recipients but also agents of his gospel and mission in the world today. This is really good news, and a great way to live our lives so that they truly count for Christ.
The Cape Town Commitment, part 1, sec. 7A, Lausanne Movement (website), http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/ctcommitment.html#p1-7.
Berry, W. The Gift of Good Land, in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry(ed. Wirzba, N.) p299 (Counterpoint Press, 2002).