|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Many on the evangelical left are all aflutter about so-called Creation Care and the need for the church to establish new priorities and policies to address environmental problems. Most on the evangelical right are skeptical: Let’s see, you want me to divert resources from reaching the world with the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ and apply those resources to saving an earth that will be destroyed at the end of history?
While the above is a vast (and unfair?) oversimplification, it does at least set forth the primary division of the two views. Should the church focus primarily on the eternal destiny of lost men and women, as directed in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)? Or should the church re-assume its neglected Creation Stewardship responsibilities, as directed in the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1:28)?
From my perspective there are four significant reasons why the evangelical left’s Creation Care advocacy will likely have a very hard time getting the attention of traditional evangelicals.
First, Creation Care seems like a call away from evangelism. The evangelical left would not put it in those terms, but the call to “re-prioritize” the mission of the church can only be seen as a call to do more of one thing and less of another. Worse in the minds of some, the left seems to suggest that Creation Care deserves an equal priority with evangelism. Yet the Scripture clearly teaches that there are only two things that live forever: the Word of God and the souls of men and women.
Second is the reality of the resource constraints faced by every church. To many church leaders, the hard-edge politics of the Global Warming debate along with the emerging scandals of deliberate data manipulation, suggest this is a divisive public policy question – not an opportunity for engagement by the church. With the historic ministry commitments of the church, the limited resources available to do the work of ministry, and the press of life in general, it is easy to see why churches are likely to take a pass on the call to make Creation Care a missional priority.
Third is the eschatology (the doctrine of last things) embraced by many evangelical churches and their widely-held view that we may be approaching the “end” of the “End Times.” In this view, if the End Times are upon us, how could creation stewardship be meaningful? This stands as an enormous barrier to prioritizing creation stewardship. Of course, forecasting the timing of the unfolding of Last Things is a landscape littered with error. But current events in the Middle East are persuasive to many on this point.
Fourth is the view that Creation Care is idolatrous. One of the most disturbing aspects of the environmental movement is the extent to which it has become a religious movement in and of itself. Environmentalism has its doctrine, its sacraments and its worship – just like any other religion.
Professor Paul Rubin at Emory University goes even further. He argues that among the religious aspects of environmentalism are:
1. A holy day (Earth Day);
2. Food taboos (Eat organic!);
3. Self-sacrificing rituals (Recycling);
4. Sacred structures (Recycling bins);
5. Proselytizing (Efforts to “convert” others); and
6. Subjective belief systems (Global Warming is a theory impervious to facts).
To most evangelicals, all this suggests a movement that worships the created thing rather than the Creator. The evangelical left does little to disabuse this notion when they argue that part of our calling is to “serve” the earth.
From a biblical perspective, it is safe to say that Jesus (through whom all things were made) would not be pleased with the wanton destruction of the creation the Father called “good.” But nor would He be pleased with an idolatrous view of Creation Care that diminishes the church’s commitment to reach the world with the Gospel.
In the end, Christ’s own words bring clarity:
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! (Luke 12:24)
Yet this same teaching where Christ declares man to be more valuable than other creatures leads us to profound reasons why evangelicals cannot ignore Creation Stewardship altogether.
This will be the topic next time . . .