Sunday, July 6, 2008

Rebadged Environmentalism (Creation Care) vs. Creation Theology

I was recently invited to participate in a sermon series for our church’s youth. The youth were allowed to vote on a variety of issues for the kinds of things they’d like to hear about. One of the issues they wanted to hear about was Stewardship of the Earth. Our female youth pastor Amanda invited me to speak for a few minutes about the kinds of things that I do in my own home to be more efficient. Everyone was of course appalled at the sawdust toilet. It went well, there were a few sour reactions, but this is Arkansas, the South and the Bible Belt. It is going to take some time. But in listening to Amanda’s message, I couldn’t help but thing that our message was missing something. I felt it was explained too simply without having the proper theology to back it up so that’s what I’m gonna try to do here. So, Amanda, I’m not trying to rebut anything you said last Sunday, I’m just trying to build upon it and flesh out my own beliefs and to present them in the best way I see them. What you did was an excellent intro, but I believe this thing is so much more vast. Several of the Hot Topics should have been sermon series in themselves, not single day messages, but that is just my opinion, I’m not a pastor.

A search for “Creation Care” on Wikipedia will give you a page entitled “Evangelical Environmentalism” that starts out like this: “Evangelical environmentalism is a movement in the United States in which some Evangelicals have embraced the environmental movement.” If you look closely and think carefully about that sentence, you will see the problem as I see it. What we have mostly is Evangelicals and other Christians embracing the environmental movement. What we should have is Christians understanding a proper theology of Creation and understanding how God would have us steward the creation he has given us. Christians should never need to embrace the creations of others (isms) but embrace the creation of God. This is obvious to me, as it is obvious in a way to the writers of the Wikipedia article. It is Evangelicals embracing a movement, not Christians in relationship with their creator.

If all believing Christians can do is embrace the environmental movement, I say great. We need to get everyone to do what is right, even if they aren’t doing it for the right reasons. However, we can bring people into an understanding of the real reasons why they should be doing something, we are not trying to get them to do something for the something’s sake, but because the something is right and good and proper to do. It’s like the difference between getting someone to go to church and someone coming to know Jesus as their messiah. One is about rules and attendance, the other is about relationship. And that’s what Creation Care should really be all about, not Environmentalism with a fancy Christian name, but a Creation Theology, an understanding of God and creation and a relationship with them.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to present the relationship we should have with God as the same one we should have with creation. Our relationship with God is one of worship, love, obedience and dependence, our relationship with creation is interdependence, stewardship, care and dominion. We should be interdependent with creation, but we are over it, and God over us, but also God over all creation including us. Interdependence with dominion is stewardship.

So many times I have heard people discuss creation care in useless terms. A friend of mine and I were talking about it the other evening and he spoke of it in terms of “find whatever verse you can to support it.” But it doesn’t work that way. There are very few proof texts. What there is however is a Bible-wide theology of creation, something that must be taken as a mosaic of all its parts, not as a few important verses that agree what I’m trying to say. You can’t “prove” it like the prohibition against murder. You must understand it as a complete theology.

So what is “Creation Theology” or “Theology of Creation?” First I must emphasize that it is nothing new, it only holds new meaning because of new innovations like factory farms, monoculture, pollution, and ballooning population. Theology is the study of God, religion, or spirituality from a religious, that is, from the believers perspective. Creation is that which is created, in this context, that which is created by God, or in other words, everything. Therefore, Creation Theology is the study of God by people who believe in Him without leaving out the bit about creation. Really, it is nothing more than regular theology without ignoring the creation. In most theologies, we have this relationship with God, humans to God, God to humans, but if we look a little deeper, there is this other component, a component God intended to save and restore after the fall as much as the humans themselves. God created it all to work together. Without creation, there would be nothing but the humans and God, and I’m not going to explore the consequences of that except to say that’s not how God intended it to be.

The act of creation was at the beginning. Before the fall, before humans, God created this thing called earth. God created the earth, and called it good. God created humans and what they did and were involved with is called the world. This is a very important distinction to understand. The earth is the thing, the planet, nature, ecological balance, nutrient cycles, water cycles, natural processes God set in motion at the beginning and called good. The world is another matter. The world is the sum of what humans have created and done to the planet and on the planet. Our vocabulary is confused by using these words interchangeably, but the Bible does no such thing. Read along in the bible, the earth is mentioned most in creation, the thing that God called good. The world is mentioned far more often in the New Testament where God sets a distinct delineation between his people and “the world.” He says we are to be in the world but not of the world. The world is man’s domain, earth is the domain God created for man and it is good, or at least that’s what God said it was.

Next we have the command of God before the fall to go out into the world and to multiply and have dominion over the earth. Non-Christians often incorrectly believe the same things about this dominion word just as Christians often do. Non-Christians often blame Christians for environmental problems simply because of this misunderstanding. However, blaming the Crusades on Christians is the same as blaming environmental problems on Christians. If the Christians were following Christ, these things would not have happened. Let’s take a for instance. It was greed, not a biblical mandate to have dominion over the earth that got DDT sprayed all over the place and caused much damage to wildlife and to people. It is greed that keeps companies from warning the public about the dangers of their activities. The correct understanding of dominion is a bit different that we often think it is. For instance, numerous places in the Bible show God having dominion over people. That means that dominion cannot have the purpose of extracting all usefulness out of something as is often done with the earth. The most it can mean is rule or control. Now we obviously have only limited control over the earth. So what would God call us to but a righteous dominion? Jesus’ multiple parables about servants’ caring for the master’s vineyard or fields bear this out beyond any doubt. Psalms says “The earth is the LORD’s…” How can we not draw a perfect parallel between God’s ownership of the earth and our stewardship of it? How good will it be for the righteous steward when Jesus returns?

Another concept built into the Bible is one that is just now being rediscovered in agriculture. The concept of a Sabbath or over a longer period of time, a Jubilee promotes the rest and revitalization of the land. The Sabbath as Jesus says was made for man, but what was the seven year rest cycle for the fields made for? It was made for the earth so that it could recuperate from six years of harvest. Built into the Jubilee cycle is the understanding that overuse will ruin cropland. God built creation care into the law.

Jesus said “consider the lily of the field…” He never said “Look at the workmanship of this aqueduct!” He never points to anything man has made as lasting or of great beauty. Nature however holds promise and importance in his teachings. The greatest building of Jewish antiquity he predicts will fall, but a great many of his parables deal with trees and plants and earth and seeds.

One of the most important aspects of Creation Care is Jesus’ command to love your neighbor. Most of the world’s power is made in coal power plants, which spew nasty stuff like mercury, lead, cadmium and sulfur into the air constantly. These airborne pollutants travel the world over and affect everyone. The question is: how much funk am I willing to pump into the air so that I can have my air conditioner or computer or car? Would I burn trash in my yard and make my neighbors breathe the fumes to power my TV? Like I said to the youth, it’s not loving my neighbor to make them suck my iPod fumes (I don’t actually have an iPod.) The same goes for how companies often site waste facilities in the neighborhoods of the poor. Doesn’t the Bible have a bit to say about making money at the expense of the poor? This is the modern day fulfillment of these verses. We look at those verses and wonder how these things can be done, but corporations the world over have figured it out. The poor don’t complain as much when you try to kill them slowly with chemicals.

Finally, look into your heart. What has God placed on your heart to believe is beautiful? Is it a sunset? How about a mountain waterfall, a majestic river, a coral reef, a centuries old tree, deep blue water, snow covered mountains, a herd of gazelle running across the savannah, a total eclipse of the sun, a woman’s body, a rainbow, or puffy white clouds on a warm summer day? Are you sure it’s not a cell phone or a power plant or a smoking car or a heap of trash or a strip mine or a brick wall or an oil well or a Wal*Mart or a parking lot or a busy street? Which of these things is beautiful and God’s creation and which of these is ugly and of man’s design? The truth is built into your very being.

Creation care is not this new thing that Christians have to do now, it is akin to, and in fact is, loving God and loving your neighbor, Jesus’ strongest commands. It is inextricably tied to everything else involving the following of Jesus. It is inherent in all things God has revealed to us. That realization is the understanding of Creation Theology. It is not only God and man, but also everything else God created.

“All of God’s creation reveals and worships its creator; and our stewardship is an act of glorifying God.”


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