An open response regarding Christian environmentalism

Posted: 22nd July 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

In the comments to a recent post on Al Gore, Christianity and environmentalism, TC made the following statements (quoted, but edited together – emphasis mine):

I’m all for a cleaner environment for our enjoyment and our children’s children, but where is the biblical mandate? […] We’re told in Scripture to love ourselves and not to destroy our bodies, which are God’s sanctuary, but I do not find the same for our physical planet. […] I believe we need to care for the environment, but the Bible says that it has been subjected to futility by God himself. […] [You] are doing your part [to use less energy], but I’m wondering in light of Scripture, if it’s worth it.

The comment thread in question was getting rather lengthy and rather than muck up the discussions already in place, I’ve decided to post my response here. Bryan has already said much of this, so I can only hope to echo some of his thoughts and add something worthwhile.

As for our Biblical mandate, I take the stewardship outlined in Genesis 1:28 to be our overriding commandment as human beings, regardless of sin or the corruption of the physical planet.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NLT)

We were created to reign over creation in God’s image, to be his ruling viceroys on Earth. By fulfilling this commandment, we give glory to God by fulfilling our purpose. However, to reign over the whole earth and everything that lives on it does not mean to ignorantly or willfully destroy our subjects, but to intelligently understand and promote the welfare and growth of everything within our sphere of responsibility. How else can we explain the course of human history, but the progressing effectiveness of our understanding of creation and how to rule it? It is our role and responsibility to try and leave the earth better than we found it, regardless of whether the entire system is breaking down or not.

Doug’s comment about your argument being “a misuse of eschatology” seems in response to the typical pre-mil position that life is progressively getting worse and therefore there’s no reason to focus on our stewardship of creation because, in the end, Christ will come back and fix everything for us. This is, essentially, what you appear to be saying. That is not to say that any other eschatological system is more correct. I know the common criticism of post-millennialism is that post-mils are viewed as trying to usher in the kingdom by manufacuring heaven on earth. But honestly, the hands-off mindset of many pre-mils suggests that you’re trying to equally hurry His return by hastening the destruction of Creation.

Frankly, that’s an abdication of our creation mandate, of the original role and purpose of humanity, and to ignore our present earth for the future one is misguided. I don’t believe that the corruption and futility of sin has invalidated the Genesis 1:28 commandment. If you don’t try to steward Creation to your greatest ability, then you are no different than the third servant who hid the coins in the ground because he was afraid to take risks and was scared to lose. If God didn’t want us to take risks and invest ourselves in Creation and try to make a return for Him, He would never have left us alone and we would be no different than pigs in the wallow.

I’ve stopped writing about eschatology on this blog because honestly I don’t care anymore about when Christ comes back. It doesn’t matter when; it is enough to know and believe that scripture promises that he will. In the interim, until He does, my purpose as a human being is to worship God as a steward of His creation, living a holy and godly life. Live in the Kingdom now and it won’t matter if Christ comes back during my Old Earth life or not.

The beginning of 2 Peter states that in order to live a godly life and receive God’s promises, we are to make every effort to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance,godliness, mutual affection and love to our faith. Isn’t progressive environmentalism nothing less than trying to apply these virtues to our stewardship of Creation?

As for the end, 2 Peter 3:11-12 says that living as such will hasten the coming of the day of God:

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11b-12a, TNIV)

You asked, “is [trying] worth it?” I think that Peter would say, most emphatically, “Yes!” As do I.

  1. Damian says:

    E.S.,

    I’m decided not to post a comment in T.C.’s thread, as we’d already had a disagreement about his rapture eschatology on the basis of what this ‘misuse of eschatology’. But I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds this attitude a little appalling, and further glad that those wiser than I (such as you) can find stronger reasons that that repulsion to argue against it.

    I’ll look back again now, to see other’s replies.

    Thanks!

  2. tc robinson says:

    I believe I’ve been misunderstood. I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clearer on the matter. 🙂

  3. I believe I’ve been misunderstood.

    Seriously?

  4. @Damian: I am not the one to assume any mantle of wisdom and my intent is not to open a debate on the specifics of premillennialism. I wished only to point out the mindset that seems prevalent by many who hold that position and disagree with it.

  5. tc robinson says:

    El, I’m premil, but that doesn’t mean I think we should not be good stewards of our environment. The overly zealous rhetoric with no regard for Scripture is what I have a problem with.

    Even though NT Wright is clearly Amil, we both agree about what this creation is going to look like in the end.

    I love the flourishing trees and so on, but I know that where this creation is headed.

    I believe we can agree to disagree in the spirit of Christ on these matters.

  6. TC – in a comment to your post “Is the Church too lax on eschatology?” you say that “eschatology in Scripture is meant to spur us onto Christian Ethics”.

    Can you share more on what “Christian Ethics” means to a premil on the topic of environmentalism? I’m trying to understand how you resolve your stated love of creation with an apparent fatalism toward that same creation.

  7. tc robinson says:

    Can you share more on what “Christian Ethics” means to a premil on the topic of environmentalism? I’m trying to understand how you resolve your stated love of creation with an apparent fatalism toward that same creation.

    El, I’m not speaking for all premils here, but let me start with quoting Peter:

    Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (2 Pet 3:11-12, TNIV).

    Peter says that Eschatology should lead to Christian ethics, which include “to live hold and godly lives.”

    In reference to the creation, Peter says “everything will be destroyed,” and then we’re looking forward to a new creation.

    At this point I agree with NT Wright on his concept of discontinuity and continuity.

    In the meantime we need to care for our environment but we know where it’s headed: “Like a garment it is wearing out” (Heb 1:11). What does it mean that it’s “wearing out”?

    It’s experiencing the groans of childbirth (Rom 8:22). What does that mean?

  8. Dave says:

    I think that I would agree wiht aspects of both EE and TC’s viewpoints. I believe that most of the modern day push for (what I consider to be ) hyper-environmentalism is from those who are opposed, and often times actively combating, the Christian faith. Therefore I think caution needs to be exercised when considering environmental issues, because there is often a more fundamental difference in worldviews behind it. I also think that the Genesis dominion mandate is explicit in stating that the world is made for our dominion, and we are to subdue it to benefit us. That comes with a caveat, however, in that we are also to care for it, which would preclude reckless abuse. Utilizing it for our own good and comfort is a healthy God mandated thing. Abusing it is the result of a (I think) sinful desire for power or destruction. As in all things there is a balance. The focus must remain on the creator and not the created. I think that this would be true for any Christian, regardless of their eschatological viewpoints.

    Dave