Sustainability

Eph. 6:3 is about human sustainability on earth. God’s plan all along has been to nurture sustainable human development “on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The eternality of heaven must include human sustainability. These first few verses of chapter six are about the longevity of humanity on earth, inasmuch as the central problem of history has been the development, maintenance, and transfer (inheritance) of God’s blessings. And yet, from the beginning in the Garden, both God’s blessings and curses have multiplied, as in Jesus parable of wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:25-30).

The family is at the heart of human sustainability because it is the source of population and the training camp for cultural engagement. Until recently children simply absorbed the values of their families because they were almost exclusively exposed to family life. However, in the modern age mass media broke into the family through the publication of books and the advent of public education. Then radio and movies were invented. Soon after, television intruded into family life in significant ways. And now the Internet nearly dominates, if not the time, then the attention of most children. Today mass media has replaced the family in most cases as the primary cultural agent in the lives of children.

In ages past the family provided a buffer between the culture and the children. Families protected children from the harsh realities of sin that exist in the culture. Sure, there has always been sin in families, too. But because exposure to culture was limited, the exposure of the children to sin was similarly limited. Today, children are simply exposed to more culture and therefore more sin through the advent of mass media. But it is not just children, today everyone is exposed to more culture than ever before because we can communicate with more people from all over the world.

Whether this is good or bad depends on the values that are broadcast over mass media. Humanity is an adaptive species. We are wired to adapt to our circumstances, to our environment. That’s the strength of humanity, as long as the adaptations are made to our actual environment and not some pseudo-environment. When we make cultural adaptations that do not serve our actual longevity and sustainability, those very adaptations then contribute to our harm. So, whether or not mass media exposure will contribute to our sustainability or our harm is the central issue of our day.

(from Ephesians—Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)

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