Van Dyke hopes to enlighten students on the importance of conservation during Creation Care Week at Wayland

November 12, 2012

PLAINVIEW – Fred Van Dyke, Ph.D., can still remember a sermon he heard as a young boy that played an important role in shaping his future. Not an overly religious family, Van Dyke said he had some “minor contact” with the church while growing up but nothing steady or consistent.

Still, one sermon stuck with him. In a sermon on idolatry, Van Dyke said the preacher stated that those things in life that drive what you do, how you make decisions and how you spend time can become your god.

“As I looked at the men in the congregation, I thought he was really describing their jobs,” Van Dyke said. “In my 13 or 14-year-old mind, I drew the conclusion that if one wishes to avoid idolatry, one should find a vocation or a job in which one is serving God and advancing His purpose.

“I suppose, ironically, I was considering full-time Christian service before I really understood what it meant to be a Christian.”

It was years later, as a freshman at the University of Idaho, that Van Dyke became a Christian and surrendered to a lifetime of ministry and service. Like many Christians committed to service, the first thing that entered his mind as a vocation was a career in pastoral work. That, however, was a short-lived idea.

“I came to the conclusion that my interpersonal skills were so poor that it would probably do the Gospel more harm than good,” he said.

Van Dyke began looking for a career that was more adaptable to his aptitude. As he studied scripture, he began to understand the importance of serving and protecting God’s creation. This led to the study of wildlife ecology, graduate school and eventually teaching positions in the field of biology at Wheaton College. Throughout his education he came to realize that the conservation movement was lacking a strong ability to communicate its purpose and moral endeavors.

“It often presented conservation as an array of techniques and skills with a tactical objective,” Van Dyke said. “That works fine within science itself, but if you want to engage a larger public, you have to be able to answer questions like: Does this earth have a future? Is it part of any redemptive plan or purpose?”

Van Dyke began to search for ways to strike up conversations between conservationists and Christians in an attempt for each group to engage the other to find the best possible ways to reach a common goal.

“In order for conservation to really become something that can be culturally affirmed and embraced, it has to move beyond the science and show that there is a real culture and tradition behind it,” he said. “For example, the Civil Rights movement didn’t really go anywhere until its leaders like Dr. King began to speak of it in Biblical terms. When they did that, people started to see its legitimacy.”

That is Van Dyke’s goal in his current position as Executive Director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. He wants to communicate to young adults and college students the Biblical basis for serving, protecting and restoring God’s creation.

“I want them to see what the scripture says about it, why God reveals that to us as part of His revelations about Himself,” he said, “and why God wants this to be part of what we understand about Him and our relationship with Him.”

While at Wayland this week, he also hopes to build a relationship and understanding with students that will eventually lead to the sharing of resources in such a way as to further students’ education and commitment to environmental stewardship.

Van Dyke, who taught courses at Au Sable from 1984-99 before joining the board and then becoming executive director, will be speaking in several classroom settings as part of Wayland Baptist University’s Creation Care Week and will be the featured speaker at chapel at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in Harral Auditorium. The public is invited to attend.

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