The Gospel and Global Warming (RJS)

Lake and SkyJonathan Moo and Robert White in Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis turn from the evidence for environmental crisis and global warming to a Christian response.  There are plenty of secular people who think that the Christian response (at least the evangelical response) is consumption and destruction. Others simply think we have our heads in the sand assuming that God will prevent any real damage of his good creation.  As Moo and White point out, there is plenty evidence that some views of creation and the future taught by Christians fall into these categories.

Moo and White don’t bring it up, but I will to put things into perspective. Not too long ago a group put forth what they termed an evangelical declaration on global warming that, in essence, denied on scientific and theological grounds that it is possible for humans to cause significant damage to the earth’s climate. I posted on it once when it was relatively new: Theology, Science, and Global Warming.  Whatever one might think of some of their provisions, or of the strength of the evidence for global warming the first affirmation and the first denial represent both bad science and bad theology.

In another example, a well known pastor, respected by many, has a sermon readily available on the internet (YouTube and other places) that gives the view that the earth is 6000 years old and everything here is for our use as we subdue the earth, that the future is entirely in God’s hands. This pastor is consistent in his view, but the “science” he uses to dismiss global warming and ecological crisis is appalling – it isn’t fair to the science at all, but is simply a collection of rhetorical tricks. We have a black-eye in the view of many because of valid dismay at some of the things that Christians have, in the name of Christ and his church, said. (I don’t care nearly as much what they say in their own name and understanding.)

Start with the Gospel. The place to start, according to Moo and White, is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not the truncated summary of four spiritual laws or bridge diagrams, however useful these may be at times. It is a robust view of God’s work in his creation throughout scripture culminating in incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.

The presentation of the gospel begins with Luke 4 citing Isaiah 61.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is the good news, the gospel fleshed out in the life of Jesus.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Anointed One, the Messiah, brings in the era foretold by Isaiah when God would act to save his people, when his kingdom would begin to be realized on earth. This rule is marked by physical and spiritual healing, by rescue from oppression, by restoration and (if we read right to the end of Isaiah) by new creation.

The rest of Luke’s Gospel displays the signs of this already in Jesus’ ministry. … As Isaiah foresaw, God intends in Christ to address the physical, social, spiritual, and cosmic consequences of humankind’s brokenness and alienation from God. (p. 88)

As we see in the response that Jesus gives to John’s disciples (Lk 7) God’s kingdom is breaking through in the life Jesus lives.

And now to Paul. Moo and White then turn to Paul in 1 Cor. 15. The good news is the story of Jesus, the Messiah; his life, death, and resurrection. “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”(1 Co 15:3-4)  Whenever Paul refers to the gospel he also refers back to the Scripture – i.e. the Old Testament.

For Paul, the story of Jesus is the gospel, and yet this good news cannot be fully understood apart from the wider story of which it is a part – a story that began way back in Genesis. If we are to understand the significance of Jesus and the gospel, then, we need to know something about this wider context, the bigger story. … As we share our faith with others, we need to learn how to tell the story of Jesus – to proclaim this gospel – as a part of the whole story of God’s purposes in creation and redemption.  (p. 90-91)

They continue on through Paul’s approach in the sermons recorded in Acts and through the rest of the letters in the New Testament including the anonymous letter to the Hebrews.

[The gospel] is nothing less than the good news that in Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah of Israel, God has defeated the powers of sin and death and has inaugurated his restored rule over all of his creation. (p. 93)

The gospel challenges the competing claims of our societies today as it did for the Jews and Gentiles in the first century.   For those of us in the West or “developed world” it challenges our worship of wealth and individualism. Individual freedom is “a freedom that so often is borrowed at the expense of others.” (p. 94) In the context of this book, global warming and the ecological crisis is a consequence of this freedom borrowed at the expense of others – or at least the continued inaction is to preserve a freedom borrowed at the expense of others.

There are two opposite dangers to avoid. Moo and White see two ways Christians can err on environmental issues.

1. Biblical hope is individual and future – a “pie in the sky” variety. This is linked to a view of the gospel as “all about me” that “answers only to my individual plight as a sinner before a holy God.

2. To give up on biblical hope and presume that we can solve the fundamental problems of the world by ourselves.

The biblical perspective is far bleaker with regard to our human nature, far more honest about our sinfulness and our brokenness. But it is also far more radical in its promise of transformation and renewal, a transformation that begins now. (p. 95)

I mentioned above a sermon available online where a well known pastor dismisses global warming and presents earth as for our use. The irony of this sermon is that it extols the ingenuity of mankind in creativity and ability to overcome potential pitfalls of human activity. The myth of human progress (and western superiority) played as large a role in this sermon as it does in some secular humanist worldviews. This is, it seems to me, a distorted view of the biblical story. We must be far more honest about our brokenness and the potential for great destruction and self-delusion this brokenness has had in the past … and has yet in the future.

We can’t ignore the present and projected problems or assume that the solutions will come by human effort alone.  Jesus, Paul, and John all emphasize the importance of love as the fundamental virtue of Christian life. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is hard to believe that God’s will on earth involves knowingly and in selfish interest creating lasting hardships for others, either around the world or in future generations.  The next five chapters of the book will dig into this more deeply.

How does the gospel influence actions we might take on issues of global warming and ecological crisis?

What shape does biblical hope take as we continue to live in the world?

What are the worst caricatures of biblical hope you’ve heard, either from Christians or from skeptics?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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