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.

Do you believe in human rights? Then it makes more sense to believe in God than to believe that God does not exist.

Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, demonstrates that while it is fairly straight-forward to make a religious case for human rights, it has proven very difficult to construct a case for human rights from a purely secular foundation. If the cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be, and if the existence of Homo sapiens is merely an accident, then all of the injustices of the human experience don’t really matter one way or another. This is not saying that non-Christians (or non-theists) cannot really believe in human rights or morality, because it is clear that they can. It is just that they have to borrow—perhaps subconsciously—some of their ethics from the Christians.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of The Reason for God (pp. 155-156 of the hardback edition), in a section called “The Argument for God from the Violence of Nature.”

How would we know [that moral obligation exists]? To sharpen our focus on the significance of this indelible knowledge of moral obligation, consider the observations of writer Annie Dillard. Dillard lived for a year by a creek in the mountains of Virginia expecting to be inspired and refreshed by closeness to “nature.” Instead, she came to realize that nature was completely ruled by one central principle—violence by the strong against the weak.

[…]

Annie Dillard saw that all of nature is based on violence. Yet we inescapably believe it is wrong for stronger human individuals or groups to kill weaker ones. If violence is totally natural why would it be wrong for strong humans to trample weak ones? There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural. We can’t know that nature is broken in some way unless there is some supernatural standard of normalcy apart from nature by which we can judge right and wrong. That means there would have to be heaven or God or some kind of divine order outside of nature in order to make that judgment.

There is only one way out of this conundrum. We can pick up the Biblical account of things and see if it explains our moral sense any better than a secular view. If the world was made by a God of peace, justice, and love, then that is why we know that violence, oppression, and hate are wrong. If the world is fallen, broken, and needs to be redeemed, that explains the violence and disorder we see.

If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise  (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

Think about that again. The following two statements cannot both be true:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Napalming babies is wrong.

If you are an atheist, which of these contradictory beliefs will you hold on to, and which will you let go of? Or will you just live with the disharmony?

Grace and Peace

 

Rush is wrong — Analyzing Limbaugh’s statement on God and global warming

On August 12, 2013, Rush Limbaugh made the following statement on his radio program:

“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

This, of course, is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, millions of American political conservatives and Evangelicals believe Rush is right on just about everything, but Limbaugh is clearly wrong this time. The error of his statement is not in whether or not climate change is occurring, nor in whether or not observed changes are due to human activities, but in making a false connection between belief in God and whether or not human activities can affect the climate.

To start with, there is no connection between “believing in God”—or even more specifically being a Christian—and having a certain position on a scientific issue such as climate change. The Bible does say that the creation groans because of human sin (Romans 8:22), so we should expect there to be environmental consequences for our actions, but the Bible does not say what those consequences will be. Ascertaining the ramifications of our actions is part of the human task of understanding the creation, expressed in our age through science. Limbaugh’s statement is the theological equivalent of saying, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in genetics” (or chemical bonding theory, or plate tectonics, or general relativity, etc.).

Second, there are sincere and intelligent believers on both sides of this issue—scientists, Bible scholars, and laypersons. All of these have intellectual reasons—biblical and scientific—for holding their positions.

And finally and most importantly, the theological basis of Limbaugh’s statement is flawed. When I’ve heard this sort of statement before, it has been based on the premise that God has built sufficient robustness into his creation to offset or minimize the damage caused by humans. An illustration of this from climate science is the concept of a negative feedback. A good example of negative feedback is how the atmosphere responds to a global temperature increase. If the temperature of Earth were to increase, evaporation of water from oceans and other bodies of water would also increase, which would lead to greater global cloud cover, which would increase the albedo (reflectivity) of Earth’s atmosphere in regards to visible light, which would result in more solar energy being reflected back into space, which would result in a lowering of global temperatures which would offset the initial warming.  This is all good and true, but it isn’t easy to measure or predict the degree to which the increased albedo would offset the initial increase in temperature. But that is a scientific issue, not something to be decided by unsubstantiated theological pronouncements.

If we apply the same sort of reasoning to the human body—another part of God’s creation—the error becomes obvious. The human body uses negative feedbacks as well. If someone smokes a cigarette, the body responds in ways to offset the introduction of foreign material. If a person smokes just one cigarette in their lifetime, the chances that there will be long-term negative consequences, such as emphysema or lung cancer, are negligible. If a person smokes a pack of cigarettes a day over a period of decades, the odds become virtually certain that there will be negative health consequences. This is despite the fact that most of the air that enters a heavy smoker’s lungs in the course of those decades is the ordinary nitrogen-oxygen-argon mix of the atmosphere.

The Genesis creation account states that the Earth God made was good, and that he intended its occupants—human and non-human—to flourish. Once sin entered the picture, human management of the creation could still maintain (or even enhance) that flourishing to some degree, but now the possibility also exists that we can cause serious damage to the creation. It is clear that our activities can all too easily lead in the direction of harming the creation—its water, land, air, and organisms—rather than healing it. The “global warming couldn’t happen” position ignores the reality and disastrous consequences of human sin, and leads many to bury their heads in the sand in the face of potential environmental consequences of that sin.

When Christians enter into the climate change debate (or any other environmental or natural resources discussion) with an attitude of “humans can’t mess up the Earth all that much,” it is inevitable that they will come to conclusions like “global warming, if it is happening, couldn’t be caused by humans.” This is analogous to atheists starting with the assumption that there is no God, and then coming to a “scientific” conclusion that God is not necessary for the origin of the universe.

My short response to Rush Limbaugh’s statement would be:

“If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe that human activities have no environmental consequences.”

One who accepts Limbaugh’s philosophy towards the environment will automatically conclude that the idea of human-caused global warming is wrong at best and an evil Satanic hoax at worst. Scientific evidence will be deemed “good” if it supports their side, and “bad” if it does not. But there is no Biblical support for having this “it simply cannot happen” approach to the scientific question of climate change.

On the other hand, if one adopts what I consider to be a more biblically accurate approach—acknowledging that we do not know the limits to the consequences of our actions—then they can follow the evidence where it leads. Most scientists who are actually involved in climate change research, including Christian scientists, are presently convinced that the evidence points towards a significant human impact on Earth’s climate. That is not the end of the matter, but objectively, that is where things stand right now.

Grace and Peace

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The Christian Post has printed at least three guest columns which discuss Rush Limbaugh’s statement. The first and third of these are critical of Limbaugh; the second is in agreement. Here are some excerpts:

1. Climate Change: Evangelical Scientists Say Limbaugh Wrong, Faith and Science Complement One Another — by Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman, Evangelicals, and meteorology/climatology professors at Texas Tech and the University of Washington.

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

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Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

——————–

We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh’s statement but we weren’t surprised. One of us had previously been dismissed by him as a “climate babe.”

This isn’t meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He’s simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not.

2. God, Rush, and Global Warming — by Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

Ironically, these climate scientists-Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman-acknowledged at the outset, “Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements ….” Why is that ironic? Because, having acknowledged that, they then took Limbaugh literally-precisely what one must not do with hyperbole-and castigated him for meaning something they acknowledge he didn’t.

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So, what was Limbaugh’s point when he said, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade warming”? Not that no theist can believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases can contribute positively to earth’s temperature. Rather, that it is difficult to reconcile belief in the infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, and infinitely faithful God of the Bible with belief that a minuscule change in atmospheric chemistry-raising CO2 from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-is likely to cause catastrophic harm to human and other ecosystems. It’s that latter belief that’s encompassed by the shorthand “global warming.”

——————–

Now I ask you, does an infinitely wise designer plan something to be so fragile that a proportionately tiny stress will cause it to collapse? Does a good architect, for instance, design a building so that if you lean against a wall, the rest of the building reacts by magnifying the stress of your weight until the building collapses?

But that’s what’s assumed in the theory of catastrophic, anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (CAGW): that a proportionately tiny stress can cause catastrophic consequences. The theory is that CO2’s rising from 27 thousandths of 1 percent to 54 thousandths of 1 percent of the atmosphere-which itself is a relatively tiny part of the entire climate system, which includes the oceans, land masses, all living things, and even energy from the sun and cosmic rays from stars in distant galaxies-will raise earth’s temperature so much as to threaten catastrophic harm to human and other life.

Such a result would come only from a design that made positive feedbacks vastly outweigh negative feedbacks. In other words, it would make the rest of the climate system magnify rather than offset the warming effect of CO2. Yet natural systems are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks-otherwise they’d all have collapsed long ago.

So God’s wisdom in designing earth’s climate system is hard to reconcile with belief in CAGW [Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming].

——————–

So, does belief in God make belief in CAGW utterly impossible? No. But it’s very difficult to reconcile the two beliefs.

3. Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design? — by David Jenkins, president of ConservAmerica Education Fund (ConservAmerica used to be called Republicans for Environmental Protection).

Beisner writes “The Bible teaches that earth and all its subsystems – including the climate system – are the product of a God who is an infinitely wise Designer.” Nothing to quibble with there, but he then concludes – as Limbaugh has – that an infinitely wise designer would not create something so fragile that mankind can mess it up.

That view is at odds with both Biblical scripture and physical evidence.

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Just as God has charged us with the responsibility to care for His creation, he has also granted us the ability to harm it. Man has demonstrated the capacity to level mountains, foul the air and water, drive animal species to extinction, develop weapons capable of mass destruction, acidify rain and damage the earth’s ozone layer.

While nature is resilient over time, it is also intricate and fragile. The smallest bacteria or virus can kill the largest person or animal. A minute amount of airborne mercury can travel up the food chain and ultimately harm an unborn child.

Another climate-related viewpoint Beisner and others have expressed is that fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are gifts that God wants us to dig up and use without limitation.

One must be careful when ascribing intent to God, especially when the claim appears to run counter to His design.

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Does it not then stand to reason that God, after designing the earth’s processes to sequester excess carbon, might prefer that we respect His design and look for other ways to heat our homes and power our cars?

Beisner and Limbaugh, in peddling the notion that God designed the earth and its atmosphere to be immune from mankind’s actions, are also implying that we can do anything we want to it without serious consequence.

Does that sound like something God would say?

Actually, it sounds a lot more like something the snake in the Garden of Eden would say.

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Notes:

I was alerted to Rush Limbaugh’s statement by Climate Conservative: Are Climate Skeptics Ignoring God’s Design?

Analyzing an atheist ad campaign

The following item was originally posted in November 2010, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries.

Yesterday, I wrote about a new advertising campaign from Answers in Genesis. In this present entry, I’ll take a look again at an advertising campaign sponsored by the American Humanist Association. I have done a little editing to improve the article.

The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign [in 2010], urging us all to “Consider Humanism.” I can summarize the logic of their ad campaign with one word: Nonsense!

This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.

The graphics I’ve seen have this format:

  • What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
  • What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.

Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”

I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.

There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:

This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.

I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.

Here’s another:

The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system from the surrounding nations—including worship of Baal and Molech— that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.

Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” But then isn’t the God whom he could imagine one modeled after Einstein’s own thoughts in some way?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads—and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer—so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:

I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.

First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.

Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.

Genocide is quite simply wrong. I can say that as a Christian who believes in objective morality. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong—right and wrong are at best social constructions to them—but I take them at their word that they really do believe for some reason that genocide is wrong.

Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil.  From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:

  1. God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe before the final judgement, he is within his rights to do so.
  2. The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
  3. All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what all sinners deserve.
  4. The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and not given as a general command for how Israel should interact with its neighbors.
  5. God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
  6. Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
  7. We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.

This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.

If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.

If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, including morality and ethics. This ad campaign by the American Humanist Association was downright silly, and demonstrated that their rejection of Christianity has an irrational side to it.  Christianity, in contrast to atheism, offers a solid foundation for both reason and morality.

Grace and Peace

Dead Reckoning TV on the renewal of creation

One cannot have a complete biblical doctrine of creation without incorporating what one believes about the future of creation. Some Christians believe in the utter annihilation of the present world when Christ returns; that God will completely destroy Earth before establishing the eternal order. This doctrine can, unfortunately, lead to what some have called “disposable earth theology.” In the perspective of some Christians, it really doesn’t matter what happens to planet Earth because it is going to be destroyed anyway.

I believe the disposable earth teaching is biblically wrong for a number of reasons. It is more gnostic than Christian in that it teaches that only what is “spiritual” goes on to eternity, while everything physical gets wiped out. It is more biblical to say that there is a good amount of continuity between the present world and the eternal world. For example, our bodies will somehow be changed when we are resurrected, but we will still be ourselves. I will still be recognizable as Kevin Nelstead, though with some much-needed improvements. Likewise, planet Earth will still be planet Earth.

Two talented men in my local church have started producing a web tv program called Dead Reckoning TV, which I highly recommend. In episode 17 for their first year, Dr. Brian Mattson and Jay Friesen focus on the future aspect of the doctrine of creation and how that should effect our day-to-day living in the present age. For the core part of his argument, Dr. Mattson states:

When you have a robust doctrine of creation in your Christianity, when you realize that the God who made all things good is restoring this good world that’s been corrupted and destroyed by sin, it’s actually quite impossible to be so heavenly-minded you’re no earthly good. You know, our eternal hope of the new heavens and the new earth empowers—is the engine that drives—our current living. In Romans chapter 8, which is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, when Paul talks about how our present sufferings aren’t worth being compared to the glory that is going to be revealed in us; it is in that very context, when he is talking about future glory and the liberation of creation that he talks about us presently having the resurrection spirit so that we don’t follow the old way of doing things, we follow the new way of doing things. The kingdom of God, by the Holy Spirit, is breaking into the world as it is right now, and enabling us not to be slaves of sin but to be slaves of righteousness. It’s that future day; it’s that next world that is actually empowering us in the present world.

You know, the idea of a new creation—not going to heaven, not life after death like I said a couple episodes ago, but life after life after death, the restoration of all things, the new heavens and the new earth, as the Bible puts it—it means that the present world matters. I mean, think about that, a renewed creation means that creation matters. It’s not an ejection seat, we’re not just piling into a lifeboat to bail out of this place. God still loves his world, it’s the world he made. A renewed creation means creation matters. How can we be “heavenly minded and no earthly good” if that’s true?

I encourage you to watch the entire episode: Ep. 17: Making All Things New. The Future.

Seeking to blog about controversy with a spirit of grace

Ligonier Ministries has posted an excellent article which can help us think through how to speak and write about issues that are controversial within the Christian church. Some important values as I write articles for The GeoChristian include that I would communicate with grace and humility, that the body of Christ would be edified, and that non-believers would be pointed to Christ.

The article is Consider Yourself by Burk Parsons. Here are a few excerpts:

Controversy exists because God’s truth exists in a world of lies. Controversy is the plight of sinners in a fallen world, who were originally created by God to know the truth, love the truth, and proclaim the truth. We cannot escape controversy this side of heaven, nor should we seek to. As Christians, God has rescued us out of darkness and has made us able to stand in His marvelous light. He has called us to go into the darkness and shine as a light to the world, reflecting the glorious light of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And when light shines in darkness, controversy is inevitable.

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The difficulty comes when we try to discern truth from error in the church of Christ.

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“What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?” — John Newton

Parsons then offers ten questions to help us determine if and how we should engage in controversial issues. Some questions that are most applicable to our debates about Earth science include:

1. Have I prayed?
2. What is my motive?
3. Am I striving to edify others?
6. How will I treat the person with whom I disagree?
9. What is my ultimate goal?
10. Am I focused on God’s glory? (Are we serving God’s kingdom or our own kingdom?)

Doing these things, and doing them well, is more important to me than the age of the Earth, flood geology, environmental responsibility, or a host of other topics that surface from time to time here on The GeoChristian.

Grace and Peace

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

In Genesis 3, as we  know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:

Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.

Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”

A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened.

That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.

That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.

(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )

Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?

There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.

This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding  about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.

Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:

  • A broken relationship with God.
  • Broken relationships with one another.
  • A broken relationship with the creation.
  • Frustration in work.
  • Pain in childbirth.
  • Shame.
  • Physical death.
  • Decaying bodies.
  • Disease.
  • Murder.
  • Poverty.
  • Oppression.
  • War.
  • Famine.
  • Hatred.
  • Abuse.
  • Rape.
  • Exploitation.

All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?

Grace and Peace