Evangelicals and the Environment
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS - February 15, 2017) -- I don't know about you, but I get fired up when I watch a Bill McKibben documentary such as Do The Math, as I just did on LINK TV. For those not familiar with Mr. McKibben a quick word is in store. As author, educator, and activist, McKibben is a prominent voice in the environmental movement, co-founding 350.org, an organization dedicated to monitor the environmental and climate change activities around the world.
It just so happens that Mr. McKibben is a Christian, writing for the publication Sojourners (where I was first introduced to him). He's written several bestselling books and travels the world on behalf of causes that are important to the sustainability of Earth.
The fact that Bill is a Christian -- a lifelong Methodist -- and an environmentalist strikes some as odd. Aren't they contradictory some may ask, particularly for those within the Evangelical movement? The answer is no. They are not contradictory, but complementary. Why? Genesis 1 is the answer. What God calls "good" should be good for all God's people. Or put another way: if it's good enough for God, then it's good enough for me -- or we (the church) -- for that matter. And don't let anyone tell you differently; there is a moral obligation to our stewardship of God's world. If creation is a gift from God, then our gift back to Him is to care for it, a form of thankfulness and worship.
But this article isn't the place to proceed with the various facts revolving around the perilous position of Earth or to try to make a Biblical case for a strong environmental paradigm. There are lots of organizations that do a fabulous job on both of these topics, informing and educating . But it's not information that is solely needed today; it's transformation. We need to articulate and act, know and go, digest and do. Action must follow the accumulation of knowledge.
Yet for some motivation is still needed. And this is the gist of this short article. I want to highlight a few modern Christians that led -- and lead -- the way in the environmental movement, particularly from a larger Evangelical perspective. Hopefully, you pick up one of the books recommended, read it, and then resort to action.
Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). One of the leading Evangelical voices of the past fifty years was American author and apologist Francis Schaeffer. In his book Pollution and the Death of Man, Schaeffer gives insight into the role of humanity and the demise of our planet, asking, "How did we get to this point? And where should we go from here?"
For Schaeffer, the answer to the ecological problem is not to see nature as God, but as a gift from God to be tended, cared for, and respected. Schaeffer wrote, "It is the biblical view of nature that gives nature a value in itself; not to be used merely as a weapon or argument in apologetics, but of value in itself because God made it."
John Stott (1921-2011). Another leading Evangelical voice of the past fifty years was English pastor, author, and theologian, John Stott. Stott was a strong voice for environmental causes, having influenced the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation . In the opening statement the declaration reads, "As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith of our ecological problems. Because we worship and honor the Creator, we seek to cherish and care for the creation."
Stott was also instrumental in encouraging one of the leading environmental Christian groups, A Rocha, founded by his friend, Peter Harris, in Portugal . Stott also dedicated a chapter in one of his final books, The Radical Disciple, to Creation Care. In this chapter Stott writes, "In pinpointing what (in my view) are several neglected aspects of radical discipleship, we must not suppose that these are limited to the personal and individual spheres. We should also be concerned with the wider perspective of our duties to God and our neighbor, par of which is the topic of...the care of our created environment."
Tony Campolo (b. 1935). Tony Campolo is an American author, broadcaster, educator, and activist. Having penned many books over his career, Campolo's How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshiping Nature: a Christian's Call to Save Creation was a clear declaration on the responsibility Christians have in the environmental movement, ensuring creation is cared for with stewardship and attention. As the introduction notes, "The task of the Christian is not to worship nature, but to join with nature in worshiping God. Being concerned about the environment is a biblically mandated command, and acting to rescue creation ... is a Christian obligation" .
Calvin DeWitt (b. 1935). As a scientist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, DeWitt is well prepared to provide a scientific response to the human effects on the environment. As a Christian and co-founder of the Evangelical Environment Network, he does so with intelligence and Biblical insight. According to Counterbalance, "DeWitt bases his environmental ethics on the understanding of God as ultimate provider and caregiver. The fundamental understanding of humans is the imago dei; that is, humans are created 'in the image' of God (imago Dei). DeWitt sees the proper human stance toward the natural world as one of deep stewardship and respect for all that is given to us" . A recommended read is Earthwise .
E. Calvin Beisner (b. 1955). In a Huffington Post article, American theologian Calvin Beisner called environmentalism "the greatest threat to Western civilization" . In his book Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate he "details the history of the evangelical environmentalist movement while setting forth his own creative views about the implications of such biblical doctrines as dominion, the fall, and redemption" .
And these are just six of the leading Christian environmentalist. There are many more.
In addition to fine Christian thinkers there's denominational efforts as well: http://www.blessedearth.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Denominational-Statements.pdf
But as stated above, more than just engaging with the information, enact the impulse and work for change. I've yet to regret switching our household energy to solar, our lawn to zerscape, ramped up our recycling program, and found other cost and earth efficient means to be a good guardian of God's creation. After all, when we see creation repair as part of our discipleship, we'll find that stewardship is a type of prayer with care.
1) http://www.christiansandclimate.org/ or http://www.greenfaith.org/religious-teachings/christian-statements-on-the-environment or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_environmentalism or https://350.org/
4) For a history of A Rocha, I recommend Peter's book, Under The Bright Wings: http://www.arocha.org/en/resources/audio-under-the-bright-wings/
Photo captions: 1) Bill McKibben. 2) Francis Schaeffer. 3) John Stott. 4) Tony Campolo. 5) Earthwise by Calvin DeWitt. 6) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He's a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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