“Burn it all down” isn’t Christian: A Response to Mark Driscoll

“Burn it all down” isn’t Christian: A Response to Mark Driscoll May 7, 2013

By the Rev. Rich Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership and national spokesperson for the Good Steward Campaign

Who hasn’t heard the charge that “God is going to burn it all down, so let’s all drive an SUV”? If you haven’t heard it, you’re not paying attention. Indeed, a statement along those lines is attributed just a few days ago to Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll. My suspicion that this off-the-cuff comment was more a joke or political commentary than it was a statement of biblical interpretation. At least I hope so, since the latter would be a more serious problem.

It reminds me of the story often told about Martin Luther: When asked, “If Jesus were to return today, what would you do differently?,” the finest theologian of his day and founder of the Protestant Reformation responded, “I’d finish planting this tree.” In other words, he regarded the care of creation and effort to continue striving to bring the world closer to the Kingdom to be our biblical duty and best way to prepare for Christ’s return.

Unfortunately, millions of Christians who believe in a skewed end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans. They are conditioned to look and think short-term, and therefore often are resistant to trade short-term costs for long-term gain. Putting aside Christ’s very clear teaching that we could not know the time of his return, the bigger theological problem with this belief system is that it is based on an obviously flawed belief that we don’t have to do what the Bible commands because He who commanded it will be returning soon.

Alas, this short-term thinking is problematic for a number of reasons of biblical and theological importance:

First, it violates the biblical teaching that human beings are part of the created order with a call to be stewards of the earth:  Psalm 24:1, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” One of my favorite quotes is from the Bishop of Canberra, George Browning, who wisely teaches that Christian faith is about more than personal salvation: “Christianity is first and foremost a concern for the whole of the created order — biodiversity and business; politics and pollution; rivers, religion and rainforests. The coming of Jesus brought everything of God into the sphere of time and space, and everything of time and space into the sphere of God.” Hence, it’s pretty obvious — we need to reduce our environmental footprint.  And if anything, one would think the obvious response to God’s grace is to do a better — not worse — job of caring for the things God put us in charge of before his return.

Second, there is a temptation to focus on other worlds rather than this one. Matter is associated with the notion of something not lasting or as an illusion. What really counts then, is the spiritual, nonmaterial and otherworldly. This was a heresy of the second century called gnosticism, and condemned by Church councils and our most basic creeds ever since.

Some of this thinking is reflected in twisted interpretations of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ which hold that God will, as Pastor Driscoll puts it, “burn it all down.” Thus why care about creation? Those who think this often quote 2 Peter 3:10 who assume that the Apostle Peter was writing about the utter and complete destruction of the earth: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon will be burned up.” The best interpretation here is that the earth will be “refined,” not destroyed. Otherwise, how does one understand Rev. 11:18 which reads that “the nations raged but thy wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, for rewarding thy servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear thy name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth”? In other words, God will destroy those who destroy the earth!

Finally, it’s worth repeating the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want done unto you. Big Oil and its friends — who dismiss the impact of the burning of fossil fuels upon the earth  —  are assuming no responsibility for the increase in the frequency of droughts and floods, heat waves, storms, and fires related to climate change that increase rates of death, disease and injuries for millions around the world. They perhaps forget that the only criteria Christ ever gave for how he would judge us when he returns is in Matthew 25, “whatever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”

Christians must take these realities of climate change seriously. The populations most vulnerable to harsh and extreme living conditions — children, the elderly, and the poor — already are suffering the most from climate change. So please, let’s not be joking about the right to be driving our SUV’s — and dismissing our duty to care for the environment — since Jesus is coming back soon. Personally, I can’t imagine Martin Luther saying, “I’m just going to keep driving my SUV.” Can you? I don’t think so.

Rev. Rich Cizik is President of the New Evangelical Partnership and national spokesperson for the Good Steward Campaign.

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197 responses to ““Burn it all down” isn’t Christian: A Response to Mark Driscoll”

  1. “It reminds me of the story often told about Martin Luther: When asked,
    “If Jesus were to return today, what would you do differently?,” the
    finest theologian of his day and founder of the Protestant Reformation
    responded, “I’d finish planting this tree.” ”

    Actually, since Jesus was clearly a Jewish religious teacher, we can consult Luther’s delightful 65,000-word treatise On The Jews and Their Lies to get an idea of what he would have done. Here are some of his recommendations:

    1) for Jewish synagogues and schools to be burned to the ground, and the remnants buried out of sight;

    2) for houses owned by Jews to be likewise razed, and the owners made to live in agricultural outbuildings;

    3) for their religious writings to be taken away;

    4) for rabbis to be forbidden to preach, and to be executed if they do;

    5) for safe conduct on the roads to be abolished for Jews;

    6) for usury to be prohibited, and for all silver and gold to be removed and “put aside for safekeeping”; and

    7) for the Jewish population to be put to work as agricultural slave laborers.

    “Putting aside Christ’s very clear teaching that we could not know the
    time of his return, the bigger theological problem with this belief
    system is that it is based on an obviously flawed belief that we don’t
    have to do what the Bible commands because He who commanded it will be
    returning soon.”

    Or as Jesus is reported to have said:

    Matthew 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

  2. The sum of the teaching of the early church fathers and their take on scripture and traditional Christian thought expounds the principle that each individual act of earnest human effort to preserve and enhance creation as a good steward is somehow mystically destined for resurrection and eternal glory in the Kingdom of God, even if it were to fall apart the next moment.

  3. Well done – way to miss the point and shoehorn in what you wanted to say!

  4. Whoa! Based on the jumping off point of the blog, I am wondering if Mark Driscoll said or meant anything close to the insinuation. He does make a good whipping post for this kind of stuff.

  5. If am reading the article correctly, the author states that Mark said something, ‘along those lines.’ I am wondering what Mark Driscoll actually said, when he said it, and why….seems like a fair question.

  6. BrotherJones • a few seconds ago

    −If am reading the article correctly, the author states that Mark said something, ‘along those lines.’ I am wondering what Mark Driscoll actually said, when he said it, and why….seems like a fair question.

  7. Guess that proves it! I am just curious why it seemed so vague to the blog author that he wasn’t sure of the quote or if Mark was joking, but thanks for clearing it all up!

  8. Could it possibly be instead of belief in the eminent demise of the earth, people are simply skeptical because of an obvious lack of unbiased scientific evidence to support the theory of human driven climate change?
    Just a thought.

  9. ad hominem – “an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument.”

    … which is completely irrelevant here. ngotts is not accusing Martin Luther of being a drunk or a sadist. He is presenting Luther’s argument.

    This article proposes that Martin Luther is a good exemplar of “what Jesus would do”. Martin Luther clearly makes the ARGUMENT in writing that Jews should be enslaved, and their synagogues burned to the ground.

  10. No. There is an overwhelming consensus among the relevant experts that human driven climate change is a real and urgent problem. Even the oil companies have mostly stopped pretending otherwise, although they are still pretending switching from coal to gas is a serious contribution to solving it.

  11. I note that Lutherans can’t deal with an honest account of what Luther was actually like. Here he is on reason – which suggests that he might well have been on the side of the denialists, since they too treat it as an enemy. No doubt this will be shoved down the memory hole as quickly as possible.

    “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and
    manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s
    appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be
    trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom… Throw dung in her
    face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism…
    She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in
    the house, to the closets.”

    —Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148.

    “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the
    aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against
    the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”

    —Table Talks in 1569.

    “Heretics are not to be disputed with, but to be condemned unheard,
    and whilst they perish by fire, the faithful ought to pursue the evil to
    its source, and bathe their heads in the blood of the Catholic bishops,
    and of the Pope, who is the devil in disguise.”

    —Table Talks (as quoted in Religious History: An Inquiry by M. Searle Bates, p. 156).

  12. If we’re being exhorted to ask ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?”, his reported words are surely relevant. If we are asked to consider what Luther would do if Jesus returned, since Jesus was a Jew, Luther’s prescription for dealing with Jews is clearly relevant.

  13. A useful ‘bon mot’ from Luther is not the same as ‘doing what Luther would do’. You are making an illogical leap. If we had to agree with everyone that is quoted, we would do nothing.

  14. Mark was Spot On. God will burn up this trash heap.
    To suggest that man can overcome the curse of sin by being a prudent stewards is stupid. Creation has been cursed by God in Genesis. We are stewards of a cursed planet. God, and ONLY GOD can fix this.
    If you think you can fix God’s cursed planet, you are dumber than I thought.

  15. No, that is what makes it an ad hominem attack. Although the Luther story in question is possibly apocryphal, ngott assumes that because of Luther’s anti-Semitism (as if he were the only one of his time to hold such a view), his views of caring for the Earth by planting trees are inadmissible in this discussion on how we as Christians should care for the Earth. He’s pointing out a character flaw that Luther had and using it to debunk the original argument.

  16. You are right; the story about the tree is apocryphal and is more often told (ironically) as an old rabbinic saying about the return of the messiah.

    But Rev Cizik presents this as the wisdom of “the finest theologian of his day”, and gnott has responded to this characterization of Luther, by presenting a bit of Luther’s actual (not apocryphal) theology.

  17. Frankly, ianjmatt, I imagine that gnott would agree with Cizik that Driscoll is bonkers. But it’s ludicrous to use Luther, a man who sought the execution of Jews and “heretics” to discredit him. It’s like correcting Driscoll with a bit of timeless wisdom from Mein Kampf.

  18. Here’s another scenario: if Jesus were to come today and ask what we are doing for the least of his brethren; would we say that we are reducing our carbon footprint by buying credits and paying extra at the checkout line, or could we say that we are digging wells for the less fortunate who don’t have clean water to drink? Would we say that we are fighting GMO’s in our upscale grocery stores, or are we donating golden rice which can save the eyesight of thousands of children? Rich western societies have the luxury of worrying about these speculative issues like greenhouse gases (as if our feeble efforts will have any effect against nature itself) while poor countries see that we have gotten rich partly by aggressive use of cheap energy. I don’t know what Bjørn Lomborg’s faith might be, but he make a mighty amount of common sense to me.

  19. The U.S. is the largest food donor in the world, sending over half the world’s aid, spending about 1.4 billion annually. The Obama administration has a proposal to overhaul the current aid plan for more effectiveness.


    We don’t have to feed the hungry instead of preventing global warming. We can do both. And humanity’s effect on the climate is not speculative; it is real. Since humanity has this effect, it can change this effect. We must serve both the children of today and the children of tomorrow.

  20. The Luther quote sounds so similar to this famous rabbinical saying:

    “If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, ‘Come
    quickly, the messiah is here!’, first finish planting the tree and then
    go to greet the messiah.”

  21. No, I’m not using Luther’s “character flaw” (his character was one big flaw – he is one of the most repulsive individuals known to history) to debunk the original argument. I am very much in favour of planting trees, reducing the human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases as fast as possible – the best evidence is that it must reach near zero by mid-century if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change – and other actions to protect the environment. I am pointing out that using Luther as an exemplar of how anyone, Christian or otherwise, should think or behave, is ludicrous and offensive. While antisemitism certainly was common at the time, and has a history in Christianity going back to the gospels, Luther’s was egregious in its virulence, and remarkable in the detailed recommendations for exactly how Jews should be persecuted. Also see below for his views on reason, which is essential to the argument that we ought to take specific actions to protect the environment.

  22. Exactly. I avoided the comparison, but it’s an apt one: Hitler was very much opposed to smoking which, unusually for the time, he regarded as injurious to health, but modern anti-smoking campaigners generally avoid citing him. Not coincidentally at all, Hitler was a great admirer of Luther, whom he regarded as the greatest German antisemite before himself.

  23. Forbes is not a scientific journal, and the article you link to is full of the usual denialist lies and distortions. No, temperatures have not been flat for the past 17 years, and are not going down. No, there were not significant fears of an ice-age in the 1970s. No, climate projections are not based solely, or even mainly, on computer models: estimates of climate sensitivity are based largely on the records of past climate. No, Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” has not been discredited: on the contrary, it has been confirmed independently. I checked one of the links from the article, to Paul Ehrlich’s article in Nature, supposedly supporting the Forbes artcile, and it does not say what the article claims it says. Here’s a quote from it:

    “The core science supporting anthropogenic global warming has not
    changed. This needs to be stated again and again, in as many contexts as possible.”

  24. Indeed. Additionally, it is of course the poor who will suffer most from global warming, as from any kind of environmental disaster.

  25. If indeed it’s a proven fact that human induced increases in co2 levels have a meaningful affect on climate change, it should be able to stand up to any and all scrutiny. This clearly has not been the case. Vast difference between fact and theory.

  26. He said it, and it was meant to be a joke, but the insinuation was that this planet is going to burn so may as well not worry too much about the environment.

  27. Well it is good that somebody knows exactly what Mark said and means. I guess it is good.

  28. You suggested Martin Luther “regarded the care of creation and effort to continue striving to bring the world closer to the Kingdom to be our biblical duty and best way to prepare for Christ’s return.

    It depends, was Christ’s principle aim simply to ‘steward creation’ or ‘restore creation’? There’s a difference. We know from [Rom 8:22] that creation is fallen because of humanity’s sin, so simply stewarding creation is dealing with the symptom not the cause.

    From roughly the same chapter [Rom 8:34](also [Matt 18:11]) we know that Christ’s chief concern was reconciling the lost to God, rather than the mere planting of trees (whatever Martin Luther might think).

    The care of creation is an obligation as Eden’s stewards, yes – but it was not Christ’s missional focus, an attribute of the Gospel, or even a principle Christian concern. To portray environmental stewardship as an obligation of the Gospel is false. The solution to the environment is to fix sin, not to chase after its consequent.

    As a human concern, if it is used to mis-direct Christian attention away from that which Christ really did care most about (namely reconciling believers to God), it is working against the aims of God – and is really mere evidence humanism is making drunk believers to that which really matters.

  29. I think Driscoll has since assured us that he was joking with his audience. I don’t believe the science is certain, as evidenced by the CRU emails that admit to trying to hide contrary evidence, plus there are scientists, even one on the National Academy of Sciences who deny that this is any sort of crisis. What we really have here is a federal money grab by global warming cheerleaders who wish to get paid to do more unnecessary research. The current leveling of global temps if continued will tell their own story, so there’s no need to hype up concern over this as if God can’t control his own creation. If God gets overly concerned about human production of greenhouse gases, He is fully capable of eliminating the problem. This matter is irrelevant on the eternal spectrum of things.

    We know that we are to be good stewards, but that doesn’t mean we have to let our nation’s research money to be thrown after doubtful causes. This is one huge doubtful cause. Even if it were true (and I really believe that there are far more naturally occurring sources of CO2 emissions than us), unless we all become members of a totalitarian state, no one is going to force the adoption of impractical, untenable alternatives to fossil fuels. I think the supposed goal is a pipe dream.

    I agree that the earth being burned by fire is a purging of the old, a renewal of the same earth we now know. It’s renewal is termed in Greek, a “kainos” earth not a “neos” earth, in other words a refreshed or renewed earth, not a brand new creation. The scripture says the earth is established forever. Another more likely reading of Revelation 11:18 is that God will destroy those who destroy ‘the Land’ of Israel. Cp to Rev.1:7. The divine judgments imposed upon the world of antichrist will inflict more environmental damage than anything man could do. The sheep-goats judgment is likely the same as in Joel 3:2 when the Gentiles are judged for negligence, having failed to give aid and comfort to the Jewish people under persecution. They are “the least of these my brethren”, thus neither sheep nor goats. Those righteous Gentiles who did the right thing enter into Israel’s Golden Age under Messiah. That judgment isn’t a test of salvation.

  30. How do you think you know it doesn’t mean what it says: “Take no thought for tomorrow”? Are you claiming it’s a mistranslation? If so, on what evidence? It’s very widely believed among NT scholars, including Christians (e.g. E.P. Sanders) that Jesus thought God was about to bring history to an end – which among other things makes better sense of his ethical prescriptions, such as not resisting evil, which is appallingly bad advice in the real world.

  31. Yeah. The problem with that is that there is no god – we have to grow up, and deal collectively with the consequences of our own actions.

  32. No, the dishonestly quote-mined CRU emails do not admit to any attempt to hide contrary evidence. I assume you are referring to the words “hide the decline”. See here for the context of those words, which did not refer to global temperature at all.

    What we really have here is a federal money grab by global warming cheerleaders who wish to get paid to do more unnecessary research.

    This is simply libel, since you have no evidence for it. I understood Christians were not supposed to “bear false witness”.

    The current leveling of global temps

    Which hasn’t happened. There has been a slight decrease in the rate at which surface temperatures are rising, but there has been a corresponding increase in the rate at which the deep sea is warming. That warming is unlikely to stay there indefinitely.

    I really believe that there are far more naturally occurring sources of CO2 emissions than us

    The fact that you “really believe” something false does not make it true. We know the excess CO2 is coming from burning fossil fuels because of its isotopic signature – and I bet you don’t even know what that means, but you think you know better than people who have spent decades studying these issues. Christian humility, eh?

  33. Thanks for the nice resource at skeptical science. I simply expressed my opinion, not as well informed as perhaps I should be, yet satisfied with my current belief that this so called science doesn’t merit public funding. Let them raise their own private money from those who stand to gain from it. I don’t believe the hype of the global warming religion.

  34. I suspect the misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3:10 is largely to blame. The context of that verse includes a reference to the Flood, “…thus the world, which having been deluged, perished” (my translation). Did the world consist of the earth or of the ungodly people living at the time of Noah?

  35. As social beings, we are accountable to each other. There is no evidence whatever of a creator, for anyone who looks objectively at the issue. Your slanderous accusation that atheists in general do not want accountability and want to be their own god, is noted with contempt. Do you also believe the burden of proof rests on the aleprechaunist and the avampireist?

  36. So you admit your ignorance, are satisfied to remain ignorant, but still think your opinion on what science should be publicly funded is worth something. There is of course no global warming religion: that global warming is real, caused by us, and a problem demanding urgent action is the consensus among relevant experts.

  37. Yes, of course I, and the scientists who have concluded that the human emission of greenhouse gases must be curtailed, know that people and other animals breathe out CO2. But without the burning of fossil fuels (and some other human sources of emissions), there is a near-perfect balance between this CO2 and that absorbed by plants.

    GMOs have nothing directly to do with this issue (it is possible they could be used to reduce both hunger and greenhouse gas emissions and if so, I would support this; but at present, they are used largely to favour the huge corporations that have developed them). You will find that most greens would agree with you about the iniquitous exploitation of poor countries by rich ones. Oil companies are prominent in such exploitation: I suggest you do a little research on this matter.

  38. Science deals in evidence, not “proof” (that’s a term for mathematicians and brewers), and the evidence for man-made climate change is massive and growing. Even the oil companies admit now that it’s undeniable. We can bury our heads in the sand if we like; it’s our children and their children that will pay the price.

    Fortunately the solutions to climate change will enormously benefit our descendants even if man-made climate change were not true. The solutions are alternative energy sources that don’t depend on reserves of natural resources such as oil that will, with certainty, run out. Even if climate change were false (it’s not), we are still headed for an energy crisis, if we don’t change the way we deplete this planet’s resources.

  39. I think you’re correct there is evidence man is contributing to climate change, just not in the magnitude some would have us believe. The trace gas co2 is not the driving force behind climate change.

  40. Please explain what caused the warming and cooling periods before man could have possibly had an influence, and why we think we can prevent them from occurring in the future, regardless of man made co2 output? Or the lack of it?

  41. Ok , I’ll just have to live with that. But that doesn’t mean im wrong. Or right either for that matter.
    I can be sure though that I don’t have a preconceived, predetermined agenda and trying to prove it by working backwards and making things fit the theory.

  42. You’re quite right that I have an agenda. I call it protecting the environment and our energy resources for our children.

    As far as “making things fit the theory”, scientific methodology is designed to avoid just that problem. You can think as you like ( for whatever odd agenda that you’re keeping), but I think I’ll listen to the scientific community and the overwhelming weight of the evidence, instead.

  43. This is laughable. Do you even realize that the scientists who have discovered and documented with research the earth’s history of warming and cooling periods are the very scientists that are telling us that humans are now speeding up the process.

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