Wineskins Archive

January 28, 2014

A Conversation With Will Samson (May-Jun 2007)

Filed under: — @ 6:37 pm and

by Fred Peatross
May – June, 2007

Will Samson has worked as a Republican political consultant, a corporate CEO and held various positions in the world of technology. He is presently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at the University of Kentucky and holds a BA with concentrations in Biblical Studies and Communications from Liberty University, and an MS in Information Systems from The George Washington University. Will, his wife, novelist Lisa Samson, and their family are participants in the life of Communality, a missional (Christian community in the city of Lexington, KY. Will serves on the coordinating group of Emergent Village, is on the Board of Advisors at Relational Tithe and is an active participant in The Social Redemption Network. He and his wife are the authors of the upcoming book, Justice in the Burbs. Will maintains an active blog ( and can be reached via email at will at

1) Will, can you tell the readers about the Emergent Village and your relationship with it?

Despite all the talk about Emergent Village, it is mostly a friendship of people moving in the same general direction. I have had specific responsibilities in Emergent Village; at one time I was in charge of the website and at other times I have been responsible for communications. But most of us engaged with Emergent don’t think of those tasks in the same way we might think of a job, or even a paid position within a particular church.

Friend of EmergentEvery year a bunch of folks from Emergent gather in New Mexico. We eat together and we do life together for a few days, talking about things that we have been wrestling with as we seek to “follow God in the way of Jesus.” During those days, someone offers to cook and someone offers to wash dishes and yet another offers to vacuum. That is the best way to think of my relationship with Emergent Village – it is a friendship of people trying to do life together, trying to be as faithful to Jesus as possible, and willing to pitch in to help where needed. At times, some of us are called upon to perform certain tasks, but the emphasis is not on the task, it is on doing life together.

2) I understand you will have a new book in the works. When is it due to be released and can you tell the reader a little about it?

Our book comes out next August and is entitled Justice in the Burbs. I say “our,” because this is a book that I wrote along with my wife, novelist Lisa Samson. The book asks what it means to be faithful to Christ while staying in a suburban context. Rather than suggesting people should move out of the ‘Burbs to live justly, we try to help suburban Christians understand their need to figure out what it means to live faithfully right where they are.

Justice in the Burbs has at least three entry points. There is the discourse, which analyzes how the Church is living with relation to the Gospel call to justice. The reader also follows a fictional family through the struggles of living justly. And, there are meditations at the end of each chapter from our friends, including Brian McLaren, Christine Pohl and Len Sweet. We hope this will appeal to a variety of readers.

3) I don’t know if it would be fair to call you an environmental activist but tell us a little about the environmental concerns?

Scripture talks of humanity as coming “from the dust of the Earth.” In this way, concerns about what we eat, what we drive and how much we consume are not dissociated from me. Instead, because I eat food and breathe oxygen and rely on vitamins and minerals from the Earth, care for creation is caring for the future “me.” This frightens some Christians. It sounds like pantheism. I see it as a holistic view of humanity and all of creation. I hope this perspective is being shaped by my attempts to be faithful to scripture and the Christian tradition – time will tell. But because of this hope, I might not think of myself as an environmental activist – maybe more of a kingdom activist, one who sees care for creation as inseparable from living in faithful relationship to God and my neighbor.

One of the greatest challenges to creation care comes from a premillenial understanding of Christ’s return. In this view, Christ is coming back, probably today, to enact a big cosmic do–over. Because of the dominance of this theology, the overuse of natural resources has not been a concern to the Church, or at least not to the Evangelical Church. There are some who contend that the destruction of the planet will hasten the end times. But what if that view is wrong or incomplete? We have over 2,000 years of history to show that a great many people thought the end was near, only to be disappointed. Given that the last century has seen some of the most dramatic depletion of critical resources, including oil and clean water, and given that the American Church has had almost nothing to say on the issue of creation care, it seems to me that we could stand a readjustment in our theology of tomorrow and our subsequent thinking about the use of the Earth’s resources.

4) Some have made the accusation that some of the environmental concerns (such as global warming) are more politically motivated than real. Your thoughts?

We often think of the damage caused from the misuse of creation as affecting far off places, like polar bears in some distant region. But I have been to the Appalachian coal region, an hour from my house in downtown Lexington. I have seen the tears in the eyes of a woman who could not bathe her child or drink from the tap because the blasting of mountaintop removal had devastated her water table. She wasn’t politically motivated – she wanted to drink water and keep her daughter clean.

I don’t know if all of the science predicting global warming is one hundred percent accurate. People with expertise in environmental science have presented strong evidence to show that our lack of care for the Earth is moving us toward a dire future and that the damage will be most significant in places inhabited by those in greatest need. If this is the case, what kind of people should Christians be formed into? I believe our formation, which you might call our polis, should be toward preventing environmental catastrophe that harms those who are most vulnerable.

If this comes off as political motivation, I am happy to be guilty of such a charge. And, if the science is wrong – if all but the most fringe elements of environmental scientists are completely mistaken about issues like global warming – then I have still found ways to use my resources to better those in need. In business we call that “a win–win.”

5) To what extent should Christians be involved as environmentalists? How do we determine balance? For example: There is the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals) who seem to make saving the earth—not just saving the world—a major priority. And then there is Charles Colson, who opposes the initiative pointing out that the church has no particular calling or expertise in environmental science. Can you shake this out for us?

Colson’s view seems based on some pretty questionable assumptions. First, it assumes that “the church” and “environmental science” are two different concerns. What if there are some really bright scientists who believe that global warming is a significant issue while also believing they are faithful followers of Jesus? Second, think about the ramifications for this kind of dualism: would we suggest that the Church should not speak to the issue of abortion because we are not gynecologists? It is a silly distinction Colson makes, and one that I cannot imagine Wilberforce, Finney, Wesley or Calvin making.

The extent to which we get involved is a much better question. Balance, it seems to me, is found in the space between the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. There are resources we are to tend and invest on behalf of God’s work in the world. One of the most significant resources we have is creation. But when we read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we see that the test of our stewardship is the extent to which we use those resources on behalf of “the least of these.” In a nation like America, where we consume such a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, we are still far from finding this balance.

6) I understand Teddy Roosevelt was an early activist who called himself a “conservationist.” We haven’t made a great deal of progress since his day. Can we even make progress in a fallen world? And should it matter?

I wonder if our lack of environmental progress in the last century is because conservation, at least as practiced politically in America, is the wrong approach. In many ways it comes from the same kind of dualism I have already critiqued. I will admit to having been heavily influenced by Wendell Berry in this regard, but I am more concerned with sustainability than I am with some detached notion of conservation.

For example, the greatest problem with mountaintop removal in Appalachia is not that we have spoiled the beauty of creation, although we have. The most significant concern is that if you destroy the Appalachian ecosystem, the second most diverse ecosystem on the planet, you will wreak havoc on the systems downstream. In other words, if we keep blowing up mountains in West Virginia people throughout the American Southeast may not have clean water to drink. The problem is much bigger than aesthetics.

I worry that too many in the American Church think of creation care as something exceptional and optional, and not as a kingdom investment in “God’s future inbreaking,” to quote NT Wright. I do have great hope for various forms of the emerging church such as New Monasticism and Emergent Village. In these conversations, people are coming together and asking how we live as “wholly” people; they are asking what it would mean to believe broadly in the transformative power of the gospel, including the ability of the gospel to shape the way we care for and invest God’s creation resources. Can we make progress and will this matter? I don’t know – check back with me in 40 years.New Wineskins

Justice In The BurbsJustice in the Burbs:
Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live

by Will & Lisa Samson
Available August 2007

Fred PeatrossFred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.

Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei - In the Crisis of ChristianityMissio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

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