Doing research biblically

By Peter Redmayne 22 Jan 2019

 Welcome to the first SAGE blog post! This is a space where we will be writing about what we are learning as part of Jubilee Centre’s SAGE Graduate Programme and where we will apply it to think biblically about current issues. This post will tell you about our group research project and about the process we’ve gone through to decide on the topic ­– the environmental impact of UK consumption of meat and dairy products. We’re really excited about this issue and hope the research we produce on it will have a significant impact in forming opinions among Christians and key industry stakeholders.

Our aim is to help people apply Romans 12:2 to this topic:

‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’

As we search the Scriptures for wisdom on environmental stewardship and food, we trust that the Holy Spirit will renew our minds and help us think in line with God’s will for these areas. We hope then to be able to help others to see what a biblical response to the environmental impact of meat and dairy consumption could look like. We trust that we will be able to reinterpret the secular thinking on this topic in the light of Christ so that we do not conform to the world’s thinking but find solutions rooted in God’s agenda for the world.

But how did we get to this topic? In December we met with Jonathan Tame (director of Jubilee Centre) and Philip Powell (training director) to discuss ideas for the group project. They gave us a few suggestions for broad topic areas and gave us the following selection criteria. Our research should be relevant to contemporary society and to the Church, be manageable in the time frame (Jan-April), have available source material, should interest us and, finally, should be neither too ‘hot’, not too ‘cold’ – that is, of interest but not so controversial as to be divisive.

Topics we considered included housing affordability, food and the environment, church coordination of welfare, plastics pollution and food as a public health issue. After Christmas we began the task of narrowing down our shortlist, first fleshing out the issues in discussion with Philip and then eliminating the welfare topic as it was too difficult to define. We then handily had four topics to investigate more and four researchers to do it, so we went away and each delved into a different topic to assess the merits and drawbacks of each.

Having done our individual research, we fed back our ideas in a group meeting and, after further discussion, we reached consensus on food and the environment, with a focus on animal agriculture. Why did we choose this topic? We believe that the environmental impact of meat and dairy production is of huge importance, and something Christians should be thinking about. Whether in terms of the grain used for animal feed which is diverted away from human consumption (34%), the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change or use of freshwater (29%), animal agriculture has a huge impact which we need to assess. Though the problem is clear, the solutions are more open to debate and we felt we could make a unique contribution in discovering and analysing these. The Bible is clear that we must steward the environment wisely and that we must love our neighbour, which clearly extends to ensuring that they have enough food and water in the long term.  We hope in our research to provide clear thinking, that is both academically rigorous and firmly rooted in Scripture, to equip Christians to be able to consider changes to mitigate these problems. 

Working and making decisions together in group research requires trust in each other, and to remember that we can all make different contributions. 1 Corinthians 12 is helpful for considering how we can combine unity (common goal, one project) and diversity (different strengths and academic backgrounds) in our research team. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remember that,

‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Although our research group is not a church, we are all Christian believers united through our membership of the body of Christ, and in our shared research goal.  By remembering that we are one body, we can work together constructively and harness our unique individual strengths. My prayer is that we would not only produce worthwhile research but would grow together as a team this term, building one another up in love and pointing each other to Christ.

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Reducing Disaster Risk: creation care and neighbour love

Amy Donovan uses current research in disaster studies to argue that, for Christians, caring for the environment is a form of the Christian concept of 'neighbour love', which is about knowing that our neighbour is anyone we are aware of, understanding what they are going through and helping to bear their burden.

Download the paper