The New Evangelical Left (IX)
Climate Change and the God of Scripture
I mentioned in the last installment that a number of “name brand” theologians—virtually all of them are evangelicals and not real Presbyterians or Reformed—have signed the document Evangelical Climate Initiative. I also mentioned that what strikes me when I read that document is the horrible lack of biblical support for what is contained even in the evangelical statement, let alone the utter disdain for God that a number of secular progressive scientists and politicians demonstrate.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying there is nothing that a Christian can learn from a non-Christian. I am saying, however, that your life and worldview and your presuppositions play an integral role in how you approach a subject. For example, I suppose there are some things I might be able to learn from a Wiccan, but they would be few and far between. Certainly, I would not be looking for anything theological from such a person.
I expected, would like to have seen more of, a biblical understanding of God and the environment coming from such an august group of signatories. I was greatly disappointed, although I’ve come to expect that from writers like McLaren and Wallis. Biblical exegesis is not their long suit, but truth by declaration is.
A truly evangelical (in the good sense of the word) explanation of the environment and man’s care of it should begin at Genesis 1. As we read through the creation account, we encounter a “defining moment” set of verses in 1:26-28: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image (tselem), after our likeness (demuth). And let them have dominion (rdh) over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
So what do we learn from these verses? First, it is clear that even before the fall of man into sin God gave man a position of responsible stewardship that entailed having dominion over the earth and subduing it. How was that mandate to be carried out? The simple answer is the second point: man would do the best job by thinking God’s thoughts after him. That is to say, as the Lord revealed certain things to man, man was to follow the pattern that God gave him and not try to go it alone or autonomously. Thus, there is a clear mandate as well as the way the mandate was to be implemented.
In Genesis 2:15, we’re told that the Lord God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The mandate is now expanded to include two very specific things. Man is to work or cultivate the garden of Paradise and he is to keep it. E. Calvin Beisner believes that these words from God imply “that it is right and good in principle for people to interfere with nature.” In other words, God placed the ability to create a black tulip or a black swan in creation itself, but did not necessarily create either himself. He left that up to man. In the same vein, God did not create hybrid corn, genetically modified vegetables, or other biotech food.
A wide range of Presbyterian and Reformed scholars have made the point that when the Lord placed man in the garden “that the Garden Adam was told to till and keep was not the same as the earth he was told to subdue and rule.” This is important and essential for us to grasp, because Adam’s mandate involved tending the Garden in such a manner that the rest of the earth would eventually look like the beautiful Paradise God had entrusted into his care. Taking the mandate to the Garden, Adam was then gradually and bit by bit to transform “the rest of the earth from glory to glory.”
The Garden, as Adam received it from God’s hands, was in perfect order. Therefore, it would have made no sense to have told Adam to “subdue” that which was already perfect. The rest of the created order did not look like the Garden, but it was man’s duty, thinking God’s thoughts after him, to take the beauty and perfection of the Garden to the rest of creation.
Of course, as Christians we need to keep in mind that the very notion of dominion is repugnant to many, most of the secularists. Much of the literature dealing with the environment, especially the New Age, feminist, deep ecology, and PETA brands, tend to blame Christianity for failing to care for the environment precisely because of this creation mandate. That God intended man to rule the earth and have dominion over all the animal kingdom is a major point of contention with secularists. Wishing to dismiss God and to live autonomously, these secular progressives overlook (intentionally?) what Scripture teaches about true dominion. For example, the Bible talks about “caring for animals (Ex. 23:5, 12; Num. 22:32-3; Deut. 5:14; 22:1, 3-4; 22:6-7, 10; 25:4), tree (Deut. 20:19-20), and land (Lev. 25:2, 4; 26:34, 43), for instance.”
But there is much more in play here than many evangelicals realize. Much of the secular literature speaks about man as “Mother Earth’s” problem and fails to mention God in the equation at all. That ought to tell evangelicals a great deal. Some of the more radical environmentalists are clearly opposed to man and believe the world would be a better place without him. That would be a hard proposition to prove if every human were removed from the planet. Can you imagine if the last person on earth discovered that the theory was bogus? Oh well. Too late. But seriously, far too many evangelicals seem unaware that environmentalism is a theological problem.
Much of New Age thinking is inextricably tied to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism with a heavy dose of human autonomy thrown into the mix. Moreover, there is one more difference between secularists and Christians on the environment, namely the curse because of the fall into sin. Beisner is quite correct when he appends this awful truth to what I just said: “There is a marked tendency among evangelical environmentalists to ignore the Biblical doctrine of the Curse.” The document entitled The Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation does not mention God’s curse on the earth because of sin, neither does the ECI. Again, Beisner explains that “there is a difference between the Fall and the Curse. The fall is man’s sin, and the Curse is God’s response to man’s sin. The Curse is on the earth, and the Curse specifically mentions a degradation of the earth that makes it less fruitful than it initially was.”
Claim 1 on the ECI (Human-Induced Climate Change is Real) does not mention the curse, nor does it even hint at what God promised in the Noahic covenant. I am convinced that failure to take the curse and the promises made by God in the Noahic covenant will, at best, give the Christian environmentalist a very truncated view of reality. To that end, in our next installment we will look at the particulars of this much-neglected covenant administration.
 E. Calvin Beisner, Where Garden Meets Wilderness, Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 12.
 Ibid., 13.
 Comp. John Fesko, Last Things First, Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology, (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor Books, 2007), pp. 57-76.
 Beisner, Garden, 13.
 Ibid., 19.
Labels: Global Warming/Climate Change