Earth Day 2018 — My guest editorial

There is a perception among conservative Reformation and Evangelical Christians that placing a high priority on Earth care is for theological and political liberals, new age pantheists, and “tree huggers,” and has little to do with Christian discipleship. In response, environmentalists often view Evangelicals as being opposed to many environmental causes, and therefore as enemies. In response to all of this, I wrote a guest editorial (Good News for Earth Day) that was printed in today’s Billings Gazette:

On this Earth Day, I would like to make a case that caring for the Earth ought to be considered a normal part of the Christian life. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote that the creation is groaning, that it is not what it should be, and that it is waiting for a right relationship with God’s children to be restored. Even in Roman times, scholars bemoaned deforestation, and were concerned about whether or not the land could support a growing population. The creation still groans today.

I would like to briefly outline just a few of the ways in which the Bible lays a firm foundation for caring for the Earth. In the creation account in Genesis 1, one of the phrases that is repeated multiple times is “God saw that it was good.” Before humans entered the scene, Earth’s land, sea and air were teeming with life, and it was good in God’s eyes. If God had stopped before the arrival of the first humans, the creation still would have been good in and of itself. The world does not have value only because of the resources it provides to humans, but because God has declared it to be good.

God went on to create humanity, and then he commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). Much ink has been spilt over this verse in the environmental literature, with some claiming that this mandate for humans to subdue and rule has led to wholesale exploitation of our planet. There have been a number of excellent rebuttals to this accusation, but I will sum it up by saying that throughout the Bible, to rule is to serve for the benefit of others. Selfish exploitation was never the intention.

At the heart of Christian theology is the idea that the second person of the Trinity has become human in the person of Jesus Christ. This speaks loudly not only about God’s love for sinners, but of the value of the physical world. The idea that God became flesh stands in stark contrast to any philosophy that says that the spiritual world is more important than the physical.

We believe that human sin has broken four sets of relationships: our relationship with God, with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. Jesus did not just come to “save souls,” but to ultimately restore all of creation and all of these types of relationships for his people. In the meantime, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God, but also for the flourishing of the other relationships as well, which includes our relationship with nature.

One of the challenges facing environmental ethicists is answering the question of how we can find intrinsic value in nature. Do the things in nature — plants, animals, ecosystems — have value in and of themselves? If so, where does that value come from, and how should we then live? I believe that as Christians, we have excellent answers to these questions. We learned from Genesis that nature has value because God values it. In addition, rather than being a cancer or disease on the Earth, humans are embedded within the creation as God’s representatives, not just so we can be fruitful and multiply, but so that the rest of creation can flourish as well.

If you are a Christian, you ought to be concerned about the Earth. “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If you are not a Christian, I invite you to consider the Biblical foundation I have presented for Earth care. If the Earth indeed belongs to God, you can best care for it by doing so as a disciple of Jesus.

I had three reasons for writing this guest editorial. My first motive was to increase awareness among Evangelicals that caring for the Earth is not only consistent with our Christian faith, but mandated by the Scriptures. As I mentioned, Adam’s fall into sin affected four relationships for all humanity: our relationships to God, to our fellow humans, to ourselves, and to the creation. We teach that people can be restored to God here and now through faith in Christ. We also emphasize that there can be a partial, yet substantial, healing of our relationships with each other through Christ, as well as healing of our inner emotional and psychological turmoil. There should not be a “here and now” healing to only three out of four aspects of our broken relationships, but across the board, including working towards healing in the created world.

My second reason for writing this article was targeted at non-Christians. Many people who care deeply about the ecological burdens that humanity has placed on our planet believe that Christianity is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I believe that Christian theology presents a solid foundation for caring for our planet, with its plants, animals, ecosystems, and landscapes, even if most Christians are not aware of that foundation. I also sincerely believe that the Christian answer provides a stronger basis for Earth care than competing alternatives such as pantheism and secularism. Part of the argument for this, as I briefly discussed, is that Christianity provides a basis for finding intrinsic value in the creatures and features of the Earth. If you care about the Earth, you really ought to consider Christianity.

My third motivation for writing this editorial was political in nature. Many theologically conservative Christians are also political conservatives, and vote for candidates who place a low priority on Earth care. This is expressed politically by cutbacks on environmental regulations regarding things like clean air, clean water, mining waste, and protections for endangered species. Even more extreme are the calls to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether. Perhaps there are better ways of dealing with these very real problems than regulations, but these better methods are not part of the so-called conservative agenda. I sometimes ask what it is that these conservatives want to conserve.

Grace and Peace.

 

 

Review of Earth Science textbook in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

earthscienceThere have been a number of positive reviews of my Earth Science textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, published by Novare Science and Math. One of the most comprehensive reviews is in the journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 69, Number 2, June 2017, pp. 111-113). The review was written by a middle school science teacher, who like me, had been forced to use secular textbooks in a Christian school because of the lack of credible options. Here are some highlights:

“The text is very readable, and it includes appropriate graphics to illustrate concepts and provide examples. Nelstead’s warm voice present in the text suggests a caring teacher behind the writing rather than the cold prose typical in many science textbooks.”

“Nelstead is clear throughout the text that he loves scripture and holds the perspective that the Bible reveals God as the caring, sovereign Creator. He emphasizes the perspective in this text as one that accepts “the strong evidence for an old universe” (p. xvi). However, Nelstead also encourages Christian educators to put the issues of the age-of-the-Earth debate behind them, stating, “Since Scripture and creation both come from the same God, they cannot be in conflict. And when both are rightly understood, they won’t be” (p. xvi). I recognize that not all Christian educators will agree with this perspective. However, many Christian educators teach with secular texts that embody a very different worldview than that of the teacher. The fact that Nelstead is upfront about his beliefs and how they influence the writing of the book is encouraging, and a model that Christian educators might follow.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed reading this text, and I believe Christians teaching science will find it a valuable resource. It may prove to be an excellent textbook choice for an earth science course for students in grades 7–9, and I would recommend that science teachers in Christian schools examine it for themselves for possible adoption. Christians involved in teaching science at other grade levels or in different types of schools would also benefit from this text as a resource to keep on the shelf. I believe that anyone interested in a thoughtful elaboration of Earth science that holds a biblical perspective as integral to that study would benefit from reading this book.”

Novare’s Earth Science is the textbook some Christian educators have been waiting for for decades. Buy it directly from Novare rather than from Amazon, which is over-priced.

Biologos interview

The folks at Biologos.org have interviewed me regarding Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, my new middle school textbook published by Novare Science and Math.

http://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/new-science-textbook-celebrates-ancient-age-of-earth-from-christian-perspective

earthscience

Earth Day 2016 — Links to past GeoChristian articles on caring for the creation

“And God saw that it was good.” — Genesis 1:25.

Genesis 1 records the unfolding of God’s creative activity, and one thing that is clear from the text is that God was pleased with what he had made. Genesis states that the world was good even before the creation of humans, which is recorded starting in verse 26. This means that the creation has intrinsic value, even apart from the presence of humans.

God, however, did not stop there. God went on to create the first humans, male and female, commissioned them to rule the Earth, and then upped his assessment to “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). That goodness has since been marred by human sin, and it seems to some that we humans are a cancer on the Earth rather than a blessing. There is an element of truth in this, though it would be better to say that it is human sin that is the cancer.

I have written several articles over the years on the relationship between Christianity and the environment. Here are a few of my favorites:

Earth Day 2014 — Conservative environmentalism — seeking balance — The attitude of some free market conservatives towards the environment is not all that different than the perspective that was held by leadership of 20th century communist states.

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013 — The living world was also created to be fruitful and multiply. How are we to live in response to this?

Young-Earth creationism, paganism, Earth Day, and 20 questions — Also posted on Earth Day 2013. My twenty questions included:

  • Is Earth Day an opportunity for Christians to serve and witness, or a pagan and secular holiday that is inherently anti-Christian?
  • What are ways that a Christian could participate in a community Earth Day fair?
  • Is wilderness a good thing, or something to be brought actively under human dominion?
  • Will the Earth be destroyed or renewed when Christ returns?

Earth Day 2008 — Stewardship of the Environment — A very brief look at the Chicago Statement on Biblical Application, produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. I wrote, “Many in the environmentalist movement deny or minimize the value of humans. May we in the Christian community not go to the other extreme, only giving lip service to the value of the creation.”

Crunchy Con Environmentalism — A few quotes from the book Crunchy Cons, written by Rod Dreher. It seems that no one in what passes for conservatism in America pays much attention any longer to what Dreher had to say.

This is true about the environment as well. Technology and wealth have given mankind dominion over nature unparalleled in human history. Everything in the tradition of conservatism—especially in traditional religious thought—warns against misusing that authority. Yet the conservative movement has become so infatuated with the free market and human potential that we lose sight of what Matthew [Scully] described as our conservative belief “in man as a fundamentally moral and not merely economic actor, a creature accountable to reason and conscience and not driven by whim or appetite.” If we lose our ability to see nature with moral vision, we become less human, and more like beasts.

Pollution and the Death of Man — Quotes from a great little book from theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer. Unfortunately, this book, too, has been largely ignored by most in the conservative movement.

Much orthodoxy, much evangelical Christianity, is rooted in a Platonic concept. In this kind of Christianity there is only interest in the “upper story,” in the heavenly things—only in “saving the soul” and getting it to Heaven…. There is little or no interest in the proper pleasure of the body or the proper uses of the intellect…. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself.

“I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness” — A powerful little story from Francis Schaeffer. I quoted Schaeffer, and then asked, “What do ‘pagans’ see when they look at us? Do they see people who place value on the creation and its creatures because God places value on them? Do they see people who use the Earth’s resources wisely because God has called them to be good stewards? Do they see people who create or people who destroy? Do they see people who live in contentment or people who are caught up in the destructive consumerism of our society?”

Grace and Peace

The story of “Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home” – a Christian middle school textbook

ESci_coverMy first experience teaching Earth Science was at a small Classical Christian school in Missouri for the 2001-2002 school year. The headmaster was a young-Earth creationist. She knew that I was an old-Earth Christian, but perhaps being desperate for a science teacher she went ahead and hired me as a part-time teacher for a year, teaching middle school Earth Science and high school Chemistry. I had (if I remember correctly) eight seventh-grade students, almost no laboratory materials, and a pile of Bob Jones University Press Space and Earth Science textbooks. The students were great, I could make do with the limited resources, but the young-Earth textbook? That was hard to work with. I taught the students that there was a range of beliefs among Bible-believing Christians in regards to the age of the Earth and the formation of the rock and fossil records.

My second experience teaching Earth Science was at an International Christian School in Bucharest, Romania, where I taught Earth Science at the high school level (along with all of the other sciences in grades 7-12) from 2003 to 2008. The students, from a number of different countries, were once again wonderful. The supplies were once again limited, though I had brought a number of minerals, rocks and maps with me. One big improvement was that I was able to choose my own textbook. I would have loved to have had a Christian Earth Science textbook, but the only Christian titles on the market were from young-Earth publishers. I had learned by this point that it would be better to take a secular textbook and add Christian content than to take a young-Earth textbook and try to undo both the questionable Biblical interpretation and bad science that these books inevitably contain. At my recommendation, the school purchased Earth Science textbooks published by Glencoe, and I went ahead and produced supplementary materials on the relationship between Earth Science and Christianity.

At some point I got the idea that perhaps I should be the one to write a Christian Earth Science textbook. I even wrote a few complete chapters, and used some of them with my students. I shared the textbook idea with several friends, who all encouraged me to move forward. But the dream sat on the shelf for the most part from 2008 until 2014. I still had the idea in the back of my mind, but had no idea how to move forward with the project in terms of the business side of things, such as publishing, printing, and marketing. I knew that even if I were to write the best Christian Earth Science textbook in the world, it would be a failure if I didn’t get the business aspects right.

In July of 2014, I first heard of Novare Science and Math, a new Christian educational publisher. I posted a short note on GeoChristian.com:

GeoChristian20140704_2

 

On Novare’s web site, they listed that they would be producing an Earth Science textbook in the future. I figured that someone else had beaten me to it, which was acceptable to me. I went ahead and sent an email to the publisher, John Mays, explained who I was, and offered my services to review the book and help in any other way I could. My desire was to do what I could to make their upcoming book the best it could be, as I saw this as a critical need in the Christian educational system. John wrote back and said he didn’t actually have an author lined up. I sent him a chapter I had written several years previously, and before long, John asked me if I would be willing to write the book.

I agreed, we worked out an agreement and timetable, and I started working on the book. I began writing in September of 2014, and we initially set an aggressive schedule to complete the book by the summer of 2015. We soon realized that this timetable was unrealistic, but by that point, a handful of schools were committed to using the book for the 2015-2016 school year. We managed to put together a preprint of the first half of the book to get the students started, provided a second preprint with a handful of additional chapters a few months later, and I finished the writing in February of 2016, which was seventeen months after starting.

Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is now complete, printed, and in the hands of students. I am thankful to God for what has been accomplished, and pray that this book would be used to help students love and worship their Creator, love and serve their neighbors, and better know and care for the creation, which is God’s world and our home.

It is common in book prefaces for authors to give their thanks to those who sacrificed alongside the author as the book was being produced. I and my family now know from experience what this is all about, and I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Shirley, and wonderful adult children for their sacrifice of time while I worked on the book, a project that took over twelve hundred hours while I was working full time at my natural resources job. When I was done with my book, my wife commented how good it was to have me “back.”

I would also like to thank John Mays and the Novare team for their leadership and patience as the book slowly came together. I know there times when John wondered when in the world the next chapter was going to show up. Novare has been a delight to work with, and many of the things that make this book good—the educational philosophy, page layout, and even the title of the book—are thanks to John.

Novare had an excellent team of reviewers for the textbook: Steven Mittwede, Ronald DeHaas, and Chris Mack. They caught a number of errors in my writing and made numerous other suggestions that greatly improved the textbook. There were a few of their suggestions that I chose not to implement, and hopefully I made the right choice in those rare circumstances. I am sure there are some things in the book that are not exactly the way they should be, and any errors that exist are certainly my responsibility.

The best endorsements as far as I am concerned have been from my wife, who proofread each chapter and let me know it was interesting, and from a group of middle school students somewhere out there who read portions of a chapter and liked it.

I am most of all thankful to my Creator and Redeemer. As we stand in awe of his many works—thunderstorms, mountains, forests, waterfalls, and much more—may we be moved to worship him for all that he has done and is doing.

Grace and Peace

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Note: Order the textbook directly from Novare Science and MathIf you order from Amazon, you will get one of the paperback preprints rather than the hard cover final version.

Earth Day 2014 — Conservative environmentalism — seeking balance

Today was Earth Day, 2014. For many, it was a day to celebrate the Earth, to give thanks for its fruitfulness, and to express concern about threats to both the planet and we humans that inhabit it. As a Christian, I also rejoice on Earth Day in the Creator, who has graciously placed us both in and over the creation.

Because we are within the creation–in Genesis it is emphasized that humans are made of the same stuff as the rest of creation–we are subject to the rules of the created order. The planet can be cultivated with care to the benefit of all creatures, including ourselves, or it can be exploited with greed for the benefit of a few people. We can make it better, or we can make it worse. We can live in it as if we are responsible only to ourselves, or as if our ultimate responsibilities are to our Maker.

Being that we humans are embedded in the creation, we have to be concerned about two closely related sciences: ecology and economics. Ecology is all about the relationships between organisms and their surroundings. Economics is concerned with the generation and allocation of wealth among human beings. Human economies would utterly collapse without the resources of the Earth, such as plants, minerals, and fuels, and so economics is dependent on ecology. Ecology, on the other hand, can function without human economics, as it did until sometime in the midst of Day 6 of creation in Genesis 1. But now that people are in the creation, ecology is affected by human economic activities; in some places more strongly than others. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; our influence on ecosystems can be bad, but it was intended in Genesis 1-2 to be good.

One can broadly divide economic systems into capitalist/free market systems, and socialist/communist systems. Many political conservatives–and I am a conservative–like to point out that ecological degradation was more serious and widespread in the communist world than in the capitalist West. I lived in Eastern Europe for over five years, and saw some of this up close. We had to filter our tap water because of its high heavy metal content, and once went through Copşa Mică, the Romanian “black village” infamous for being coated in soot in the communist period due to the production of carbon black.

It is difficult to dispute that communist countries had atrocious environmental records. There were a number of factors involved in this, but I would like to highlight what I think are a few reasons for the ecological catastrophes of the communist bloc:

1. The economy always trumped ecology. The communists had their five-year plans with production goals that had to be met, and “luxuries” like clean air and clean water stood in the way.

2. Short-term goals always trumped long-range goals. Siphoning water out of rivers for massive irrigation projects in Central Asia boosted cotton production, but with grave long-term costs for the Aral Sea, the ecosystems for hundreds of miles around, and the people of the region.

3. The earth was looked at as a commodity or resource for human use, not as God’s good creation that had intrinsic worth.

4. There was no avenue for protest. One didn’t want to stand up to Stalin or Ceaușescu–or to the local party thugs–and say “This is wrong.”

Of these four points, the first three can happen just as easily in a market economy as in a socialist economy.

1. To many “conservatives,” the economy always trumps ecology. This perspective is no different than that of the communist functionaries whose five-year plans ignored environmental issues. If the economy is bad, we need to loosen up on environmental regulations to prompt growth. If the economy is good, we still need to loosen up on environmental restrictions so they won’t drag the economy down.

2. There are plenty of free-market capitalists who are out to earn a quick buck with no thoughts of the consequences for the Earth (or for other people), just as the five-year planners of the U.S.S.R. were eager to meet their quotas. Both are evil.

3. There are plenty of political conservatives–Evangelical Christian conservatives–who effectively deny that the creation has intrisic value, in and of itself. To them, landscapes, ecosystems, or biological communities do not have any true value except in relation to humans. Unmined coal, for example, is worthless, because it is looked at purely from an instrumental (what’s in it for us) viewpoint. Some even go so far as to say that we are insulting God if we don’t use all parts of creation for ourselves. This is an overly-anthropocentric (man-centered) perspective on nature, and ignores the goodness of creation that existed in Genesis 1 even before the appearance of the first humans.

This leaves us with point number four. The main thing we had going for us in the West was the freedom to protest and advocate. Corporations didn’t do anything about the fact that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland used to catch on fire from the pollutants that were dumped in it until they were forced to, and they weren’t forced to until people raised a stink about it. The same goes for the mining waste at places like Butte, Montana (once called “America’s ugliest city”).

What I want to advocate is a conservativism that is actually interested in conserving the Earth. This includes protecting air, water, land, and biological communities. It means looking for long-term solutions to long-term problems. It also includes a perspective that growth isn’t always a conservative value, and a recognition that limits exist in the world God has placed us in. The key word, in my mind, is “balance.” There are those on the left who have a very unbalanced view of the environment. There are also those on the right who have a very unbalanced view of the environment.

Some of what we see in the conservative movement right now is an over-reaction to some of the pantheist, socialist, and anti-human extremes of the environmental movement. Certainly there are dangerous ideologies on the left, and those need to be assertively resisted. But the solution is not to mine all the coal, shoot all the wolves, eat spotted owls for dinner, drill-baby-drill, or shut down the Environmental Protection Agency.

Grace and Peace

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NOTES:

This article is an expansion of a comment I made on my post There is more than one way to be really wrong about the environment, which was about the then-upcoming documentary “Axed: The End of Green” (which has been re-named Blue).

When I refer to “some conservatives,” I am specifically thinking of many Tea Party conservatives (and those who follow the Acton Institute) who advocate things like abolishing the EPA. Does the EPA need reform? Yes. But those who believe it is in our society’s interest to gut or even eliminate environmental regulations are foolish. Cleaner air and cleaner water did not come about in our society by relaxing environmental regulations. I am not really sure what in the natural world some of these conservatives want to conserve.

Calvin Beisner, perhaps Evangelicalism’s best known anti-environmental crusader, is one who claims we insult God if we don’t use the coal God has given us. My thoughts: 1) This is a great example of the anthropocentrism that is pervasive in this sort of conservatism. 2)Maybe God buried the coal for a reason.

I recognize that free markets generate the wealth that we need to combat genuine environmental problems. My point, however, is that it is not unrestrained, laissez-faire capitalism that accomplishes this. Environmental regulation is necessary in order to restrain sin (Romans 13); in this case the sin of wilfully destroying God’s good Earth. We need balance. Free markets, yes. But not completely free.

I started to write a paragraph about the parallels between elements of the conservative movement (the libertarian types) and liberation theology (which was/is an attempt to blend Christianity with Marxism). Basically, as others have pointed out, there is a liberation theology of the left, and there is a liberation theology of the right. Both are wrong.