A Nigerian theology student has won the top honor for the 2013 Lombard Prize for his paper on how the biblical concept of “paradise” affects contemporary attitudes towards the earth’s human and natural resources. 

Victor Audu, a student at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, was awarded $600 for his essay examining how ideas of paradise might serve as a source of inspiration for the renewal of social and economic structures in global society.

Results of the essay competition were announced June 5 by the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) to mark World Environment Day.

Audu, a member of the Reformed Church of Christ in Nigeria, writes that the concept of paradise enshrined in the first chapters of Genesis can be conceptualized as “the key for building economic and social structures that could be a rousing model for a just society.”  

An award of $400 went to Maria Elisabeth Voorwinden, a Dutch student at the Institut Protestant de Théologie, in Montpellier, France. Voorwinden, who is a member of the Protestantste Kerk in Nederland, submitted an essay entitled “L’homme économe, le créateur créé et decentre” (“Economic man: the creator created and sidelined”).

In addition to cash prizes, both winners will be awarded scholarships to WCRC’s Global Institute of Theology scheduled to be held in Costa Rica in July 2014.

The competition is open to theology students or pastors 35 years of age or younger. Essays were received from India, Indonesia, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Cameroun, and the Netherlands.

WCRC’s executive secretary for theology and communion, Douwe Visser, says, “It is significant that these awards are announced in connection with World Environment Day because of the theme of paradise, a biblical concept of the deep roots of our natural environment.”

Applicants were asked to reflect on the biblical concept of “paradise” as it is developed in the first chapters of the book of Genesis. The concept of paradise as a time and place where all forms of life thrived in harmonious relationships has served churches in the Reformed tradition as a model for building social and economic structures of society.

Submissions were judged for their presentation of issues related to the theme and for their theological reflection on those questions. Jury members for the English essays were Jason Goroncy (New Zealand), Christopher Dorn (USA), Viktoria Koczian (Hungary), and Douwe Visser (the Netherlands). Liz Vuadi Vibila (Congo) and Visser reviewed the French-language submissions.

The prize is named after the Genevan banker, Georges Lombard, who served from 1948 to 1970 as general treasurer to one of WCRC’s predecessor organizations, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. WCRC coordinates the competition on behalf of the Lombard Prize Committee.  The prize was last awarded in 2009.

Visser, whose office administers the competition, says, “We congratulate the winners and are grateful to the Lombard Darier Hentsch Bank for making the award possible.”