One of the churches in town recently hired a new preacher – a young guy, around my age with kids my age. I was curious because this church has long had an older preacher and been on the conservative end of the spectrum. I didn’t expect them to hire Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, but new blood isn’t a bad thing, and I decided to check him out.
His name’s Wes McAdams, and he runs a blog called Radically Christian – which sounds promising for us progressive types until you realize he’s setting up New Testament restorationism as a radical break from the Christian norms of today. It’s a neat construct, but pedestrian conservative pseudoevangelical theology with a cappella worship doesn’t scream, “Radical!” to me.
One of his posts caught my eye, however, and that’s where I’m really going with this. The post is called, “3 Reasons Why I’m Not an ‘Environmentalist‘”.
It leads with this disclaimer:
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, I love this planet and everything God put on it. I love the trees, the hills, the water, the animals, even the air; and I’m all for us keeping these things clean. But, I can honestly say, I’m not an “environmentalist.”
The reasons are, sadly enough, the reasons I used to give for why we needn’t worry about climate change or deforestation or any of the other ills humanity continues to inflict on our planet:
- God is in control
- The earth’s purpose is to be used, not protected
- It’s going to be destroyed anyway
He backs up his conclusions with scripture, but scripture used wrongly is not much of a guide, and here we see biblical texts being used in service of fundamentalist notions of creation and eschatology. Rather than reading the creation and apocalypse texts of the Bible in the contexts intended by their authors, we see them ripped from that context and transported without adjustment into the 21st century, with no notice of what God has revealed through the scientific study of his creation.
By failing to understand the political and apocalyptic contexts of verses such as 2 Peter 3:7 – “the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” – or just ripping verses like James 3:7 out of context entirely, it’s easy to think God supports a lasseiz-faire attitude toward his creation. But we have to ignore a number of other verses to do this, including one of the Apostle Paul’s greatest eschatological treatises, in Romans 8:
I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
There’s also the sermon of Peter in Acts 3, in which he notes: “Jesus must remain in heaven until the restoration of all things, about which God spoke long ago through his holy prophets.”
The notion that creation exists for us to dominate it is a cruel distortion of reality – both as revealed by God through scientific study and through the language of Genesis 2. Scientific study has shown beyond all reasonable doubt that humanity evolved from the animals around us; Genesis 2:7 makes no less clear that we are a part of – not outside of – the creation surrounding us. In the second of Genesis’ two creation stories, both humans and animals are created the same way: from the dirt. Even in the mythology of the ancient Near East, humanity recognized its kinship to the earth and animals, and that kinship is seen in the words of Peter and Paul, who recognize that all of creation is awaiting its restoration under the reign of King Jesus.
It’s only recently that the poisons of Left Behind eschatology and fundamentalist literalism have led us to reject environmentalism; that rejecting environmentalism happens to fit nicely with our political and economic preferences for untrammeled materialism hasn’t hurt either.
Finally, there’s this simple fact: Our rape of the environment leads to suffering for those weaker than us, both humans and animals. This grieves the God who commands us to care for the needy and the voiceless and places a high priority on how we steward the resources he’s provided. Our natural resources are no less valuable than our financial ones, and to the extent that we squander those resources, we are no better than the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable.
Climate change leads to drought and wildfires and extreme weather, which all in turn afflict the innocent – especially the poor and even more especially the poorest of the poor, those living in the world’s poorest nations. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend we have no God-given calling to steward our natural resources through the protection of our planet, or we can work with God in the restoration of all things, living out the hope we have that one day God will set it – and us – free from the slavery of decay.