Why should Christians be interested in the health of the environment? Is it only for some pragmatic reason, such as “clean air is good for us” or is there a Biblical support for stewardship of the environment? Many believers are put off by the new age-iness of some “tree huggers;” is this sufficient reason to dismiss the concept of creation care?
Christianity Today recently posted an article on the Biblical basis for environmental stewardship: A Covenant with the Earth: Why the work of Christ makes all the difference in our care of creation by Matthew Farrelly. Farrelly briefly reviews four books on Christianity and the environment, then makes some further comments about the renewed relationship between not only God and humans that is made possible through Christ, but also the seeds of a renewed relationship between humans and the creation. The creation will not be fully restored until Christ returns, but in the words of Francis Schaeffer, we can have a partial healing now.
The author takes a God-centered, rather than a man-centered or an Earth-centered, approach to the environment. Here are some quotes from the article:
Surveying covenant history, it becomes apparent that the relationship between human beings and the land is crucial. The ecological state of the land is dependent on Israel’s relationship with Yahweh; the land responds to both the sinfulness and holiness of God’s people.
In light of the new covenant, all of our creation care is grounded in Christ. It is not grounded in our fear of ecological destruction or some romanticized view of nature—nor in political correctness. Because Christ has ushered us into this new covenant—between God and us and all of creation—our relationship to creation is inherently in Christ. The image of Adam has been reframed, restructured, and re-engineered in Christ’s image. Thus, our “dominion” and “tending and keeping” of the earth is where we now work as new creation and for new creation. We are a restored kingdom of priests, and part of our mediation is between God and “every living creature,” even the land itself.
As the spate of recent creation-care books shows, evangelicals are thinking more deeply and acting more faithfully than ever before when it comes to creation care. But I believe our concern should be shaped first and foremost by this great redemptive narrative that God has fulfilled in Christ, and is still telling through Christ’s body, the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christian environmental stewardship must always take place at the foot of the Cross, where we grasp that the old is passing away, and that all things—people, creatures, and the land—are becoming new.
The first three comments on the Christianity Today site show that there is considerable amount of resistance to this type of thinking among Evangelical Christians:
New evangelicals seem to believe that working for the Gospel is adequate for salvation. Instant gratification. We have a president who talks about “collective salvation” and the worshipers of mother earth buy it hook line and sinker. It is easier than living holy lives, and telling others about Jesus. Just invite them to a garden party.
Very sad commentary for believers. Yes, this author appears to have bought into the secular “scream” of earth worship, rather than its creator. The references he sites, take an enormous amount of speculation to connect to this issue; actually I couldn’t make the connections. Worshiping our great earth is not what Christ died for, but it’s tempting for some, brought forward in this article, to add “earth care,” as one more condition for Christian living. Check out Ephesians 2:9 “not by works, so no one can boast.” NIV
All of this leaves me a little cold. Creation is certainly of eternal significance and fits within the realm of God’s covenant with us. But to shape this relationship as a task that we have to complete puts too much emphasis on our efforts and does not focus on God’s grace and love as expressed in salvation and the place of this planet in His plan. What is missing is the concept of beauty in what we do and how that reflects the presence and grace of Jesus Christ. Real environmental effort expresses God’s presence and the fact that this is His creation. There is too much proclamation of scare tactics and human need to save planet earth. In reality, this is our opportunity to proclaim the reality of God as expressed through His creation.
I agree wholeheartedly that “green is not the gospel,” but I would also urge the body of Christ that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10) and that those good works cover all of life, including how we live in relationship with God’s good creation.
Grace and Peace
Christianity Today magazine asked three Christian leaders “How concerned should Christians be about environmental care?” The answers are short, but serve as an introduction to the range of answers that exist among Evangelicals. Each of these writers, from politically liberal to conservative, has insights that Evangelicals need to take into consideration as we think about our responsibilities in the realm of creation care.
Here are a few excerpts:
Answer #1: As much as God is, by Jonathan Merritt, author of Green Like God. Merritt’s perspective represents the politically liberal side of Evangelicalism, and he focuses on some Biblical issues that the political conservatives that make up the majority in Evangelical circles sometimes ignore.
Non-Westerners carefully observe the historically Christian West and form opinions about our faith based on our lifestyles and practices. For example, Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consume over a third of Earth’s paper products. How does this influence the gospel message in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, and Ecuador, where deforestation causes so much suffering and injustice?
It is inappropriate to claim that creation care—or any social issue—composes the foundation of the gospel. But the gospel calls us to a radically sacrificial, compassionate lifestyle. Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations” and teach others to “obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This includes the commands to love our global neighbors, care for the least of these, and uphold the creation care mandates throughout Scripture.
Part of missional living is telling the truth. That means we must be honest about our world’s problems. When we blindly follow Christian lobbying groups and “alliances” that ignore global injustice, the gospel suffers.
Answer #2: No less than stewards, by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mohler is one of those individuals who is able to comment intelligently and passionately on just about any topic he puts his pen to. Mohler’s blog is at AlbertMohler.com.
Concern for the environment is one of the most controversial issues facing Christians today. On the one hand, we confront an environmentalism that is often deeply rooted in a naturalistic worldview, sometimes wedded to pantheistic or panentheistic spirituality. On the other hand, we face a painful legacy of silence, apathy, and unconcern among evangelicals.
For a long time, I did my best in my teaching and writing to “balance” this verse [Genesis 1:28] and its clear declaration of human dominion over the created order with the biblical theme of stewardship. But I have come to the conclusion that they are really one and the same. A proper understanding of dominion includes stewardship.
God invested the only creature made in his image with the power of dominion. There is little room for misunderstanding. Human beings are not blights upon creation. Indeed, creation itself is, as John Calvin famously declared, the theater of God’s own glory. Human dominion over the earth is to be exercised so that God’s glory is most evident in God’s creation. The love and care the Creator invested in the cosmos is to be our model of dominion, rightly fulfilled.
We cannot buy into the implicit pantheism and questionable science of so many environmentalists. We cannot accept environmental apocalypticism. Far too many evangelicals seem to do this while ignoring deeper Christian motivations for proper earth care.
At the same time, we cannot neglect our responsibility to exercise our dominion in a way that treasures the earth, heals its wounds, respects its creatures, and values its divinely given resources.
I suppose we all are capable of a good deal of emotional care for the environment,for what that’s worth. But our resources are more limited for objective, outward care—time spent removing litter from a streambed, protesting toxic waste at a chemical plant, inventing a more fuel efficient and less polluting engine. Time and money and bodily energy spent on those cannot simultaneously be spent on HIV/AIDS care and prevention, hunger relief, evangelism, fighting human trafficking, or reading Bible stories to our children.
Prioritizing is inescapable. The apostle Paul’s statement about gifts in the church applies: “There are many parts, but one body.The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'” (1 Cor. 12:20-21).
Suppose Julie dedicates full-time service to Earth stewardship and no time to her church’s clothes closet for the poor. Ron does the opposite. Jean divides her time unevenly among homeschooling her children, teaching a women’s Bible study, following up on visitors to her church, and contacting her state and federal representatives about public policy concerns. Is one of them wrong? “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).
Grace and Peace
There is no inherent reason for a scientist to not be a Christian, nor for a Christian to care deeply about the creation.
From the Harvard Divinity Bulletin: The Greening of Jesus by Mark Pinsky.
Riding the train down to London last summer, after a two-week fellowship session on science and religion at the University of Cambridge, I noticed an article in the Independent newspaper about a new book which reinforced that notion of an increasingly irreligious Europe. It is true that outward signs of faith—apart from biblical passages emblazoned on London’s famed red double-decker buses by jesussaid.org—are difficult to come by.
But I found deeply felt Christianity alive and well in an unlikely setting: the academy’s scientific community. To many, this may seem counterintuitive. The evangelical theologian Alister McGrath told us he once believed that “science was the ally of atheism.” Yet among our other lecturers at the Templeton-Cambridge program were major figures in science, from cosmologists to biologists to particle physicists, who pronounced themselves believers. Of course, given the interests of the late Sir John Templeton, who endowed the fellowships, in the relationship between science and religion, this should not have been surprising.
Still, these towering figures—Simon Conway Morris, John Polkinghorne, Sir Brian Heap, Sir John Houghton—characterized themselves as evangelicals as well. Polkinghorne, author of Science and Theology, preaches at a Cambridge church on weekends. To be sure, these are evangelicals of a particular sort. By and large, they reject creationism and intelligent design, embracing the concept of “theistic evolution,” a God-created, billions-years-old universe. None numbered themselves among any of the apocalyptic American evangelical tribes of arrogant dominionists or fanciful premillennial dispensationalists of the “Left Behind” stripe.
The article goes on to describe the increasing acceptance of man-made global warming in the Evangelical community, led by Evangelical Christians such as Sir John Houghton, former head of the British Meteorological Office.
The Harvard divinity school is hardly a bastion of Evangelicalism, the article contains a good description of what is going on.
HT: Crunchy Con
Grace and Peace
Dean Ohlman has 21 Reasons That Evangelicals Don’t Get Creation Care over at Restoring Eden. Here are a few:
1. Evangelicals understand that people are special because we’re made in the image of God, but we typically fail to see that the non-human creation is also special because it was created “very good” by the God we say we serve ().
6. Evangelicals often sing that “this earth is not our home” and that we’re “just a-passin’ through.” This simplistic and biblically questionable refrain keeps us from grasping the fact that while we are here, it’s not only our home, it’s also our responsibility; we’re expected to care for, guard, keep, cultivate, and wisely develop its potentialities until it is finally reconciled to God through Christ (; ).
10. Because Evangelicals have no commonly accepted and well-articulated theology of creation (nature), we have become not only ineffective in addressing mankind’s abuse of the creation, but we also become a part of the problem.
16. As political and social conservatives, evangelicals often consider the opinions of conservative radio talkshow hosts as “gospel”—especially the almost daily derogatory characterization of many responsible creation-care measures as the work of “environmental whackos.”
Read all 21 Reasons. I didn’t have any reservations with any of them.
Dean blogs at The Wonder of Creation.
Grace and Peace