Jesus Was Green

treehugger.jpg Oh no you di’nt.

Yes.  I did.  I said, “Jesus was green.”  Because he was.

You see what I did? I said it again.

On Wednesdays at New Hope Church the staff gathers and the pastors take turns leading devotions for everyone.  A month or two ago it was my day to give a devotional and I was feeling, well…sprightly?

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was feeling belligerent.

I suspected that I held, shall we say, slightly divergent views on environmental concerns than at least some other staff members at NHC, and I thought it would be interesting to see what happened if I shared some of my thoughts with the group.  So in that regard it was something of a social experiment, I suppose.  I wanted to see the looks on people’s faces.  I wanted to see who was smiling and nodding, who was smirking, who was shifting awkwardly in their chair, who took notes, who had their arms folded across their chest, etc.

Let me just say, it was fascinating.  Not only did I see all of the above non-verbals, but it also sparked some excellent and useful conversations with people. I even had one very well-intended person kindly send me a copy of a book with a hilariously absurd title.  I think it’s a good thing to unsettle people with Scripture.  Scripture unsettles me all the time because my life is so often so out of line with it (case in point: Doing social experiments on an unwitting church staff).

But more importantly than all of that, I think that Christian environmentalism is biblically warranted.  I think some Christians don’t think about it much because the Democratic Party, for whatever reason, seems to have a monopoly on it and (generally speaking) evangelical, Bible-believing Christians aren’t big on the Democratic Party.  I do also realize that there are plenty of people (especially younger folks) who care about the environment mainly because it’s trendy to care about it right now.  It happens to be cool at the moment to have the metal water bottle and the reusable coffee cup sleeve and the Toyota Prius.  Whatever the case, this is a biblical concern.

So, here’s what I said to the staff.  Let the fireworks begin.

A Case for Christian Environmentalism (or “Jesus Was Green”)

Two introductory quotes

“This world is beautiful but badly broken.  St. Paul said that is groans, but I love it even in its groaning.  I love this round stage where we act out the tragedies and the comedies of history.  I love it with all of its villains and petty liars and self-righteous pompers.  I love the ants and the laughter of wide-eyed children encountering their first butterfly.  I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place.  It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story.  And like every good story, there will be an ending.  I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be.”[1]

“What does it mean, then, to become part of God’s work in the world?  What does it mean to live a Christian life?  One way to answer that question is to look back into the life of the Trinity and the original creation.  God made us to ever increasingly share in his own joy and delight in the same way he has joy and delight within himself.  We share his joy first as we give him glory (worshipping and serving him rather than ourselves); second, as we honor and serve the dignity of other human begins made in the image of God’s glory; and third, as we cherish his derivative glory in the world of nature, which also reflects it.  We glorify and enjoy him only as we worship him, serve the human community, and care for the created environment.”[2]

Five Interrelated Principles

1. Bestowed kingship over a gifted kingdom assumes care for that kingdom. (Gen. 1:28-30)

In Genesis 1:28-30 we learn that humanity has been bestowed (“I have given,” v. 29, 30) with what amounts to kingship (see “subdue” and “dominion” in v. 28) over the creation.  We have been created to be vice-regents—or to use a more familiar Christian term—stewards over the kingdom God has made until God reclaims it as his permanent dwelling place (Rev. 21:3). If a greater king gifts a kingdom to a steward until the greater king reclaims it, it implies that the nature of the steward’s dominion is to care for that kingdom.

2. Creation is God’s not ours, and is ultimately designed to glorify God, not merely to feed our wants. (Pss. 24:1-2, 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20, 11:36; Col. 1:16)

One of the things I enjoyed very much about Chicago while I was in school there was its abundance of expansive and beautiful parks (552 parks with over 7,300 acres of municipal parkland in Chicago alone, which does not include the suburbs).  A friend of mine in seminary, one with vocal Republican proclivities, in a discussion about the parks once said (in all seriousness), “I think it’s wasteful.  That land could be developed.”

Yeah.  I didn’t know what to say either.

Creation is meant to meet our real needs and provide a home for us.  But it is not meant to feed our lusts and greed for more and more. The primary intention of creation is to point to God.  And the creation, which we have been given to steward as ambassadors of the glory of God—as tellers of the glory of God—does not point as well when it is allowed to be trashed.

3. “It’s all going to burn anyway!” is a biblically doubtful mindset. (Rom. 8:18-21; Rev. 21:1-5)

In Romans 8:18-21 we are told that the creation was subjected to brokenness as a result of our sin, and now eagerly awaits its own redemption from this brokenness, which will occur at the revelation of the sons of God (i.e. when Jesus returns and claims those who are his).  While the Bible contains a variety of (sometimes apparently conflicting) portrayals of the apocalyptic end of the world as we know it, at least one portrayal envisions the creation not as blowing up, burning up, or melting away, but being renewed and redeemed.

So, it seems to me that there is an almost perfect analogy between how we ought to treat a world that is broken but will be resurrected and made new, and how we ought to treat our own bodies that are broken, but will be resurrected and made new.  Christians generally believe (in theory, if not in practice) that trashing our bodies and eating whatever we want, sky-rocketing our blood pressure and smoking our lungs full of tar is wrong because these bodies, which are gifts, will be renewed and redeemed, and it honors the Renewer and Redeemer to take care of them rather than trash them.  Or, to put it another way: You don’t honor the maintenance staff by trashing your office because, “After all, they’re going to come clean it up and make it new!”  You honor the maintenance staff by taking care of your office.  The same is true for the creation.

4. Environmental degradation usually has greed, lust for luxury and worldly consumption at the heart of it.

I doubt that there’s much of a counter-argument to be made to the fact that generally speaking, we as a culture (especially in the West) have not used the earth merely to propagate the race, meet our basic needs and spread the gospel of God.  Generally speaking, our culture is based on consumerism and materialism, and our economy runs off of our lust to consume and live in luxury.  All of which are ungodly, carnal, worldly, unchristian impulses.  We do use the creation in appropriate ways, to sustain humanity and spread the gospel.  But we also exploit it to make ourselves fat and comfortable.

5. Environmental care is a form of love for neighbor. (Matt. 25:31-40)

Care and responsibility for the “least of these among us” is a central concern of Christianity and has a direct connection to environment issues.  The impact of environmental degradation falls most heavily on the people around the world who are least able to mitigate these impacts—poor and vulnerable populations.  To the extent that we are complicit in environmental degradation, and to the extent that we ignore the impact of that degradation on the people around the world who are least able to mitigate that impact, we fail to love these neighbors.

[1] N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder In God’s Spoken World, 17.

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 224.


6 thoughts on “Jesus Was Green”

  1. Bryan,

    It is difficult to disagree with any of your points in and of themselves. What would be helpful to me and I think to any discussion would be for you to define what, if anything, you are advocating here. What does Christian environmentalism look like and what do Christian environmentalists do? How would your stance answer the following: Is it right for us, now that we have reaped the benefit of cheap energy, to tell the masses in poverty around the world that they now need to wait until we find a “cleaner” way to provide the same to them?

  2. One quick note on your last paragraph… it’s actually the poorest nations of the world that are the most degrading to the environment. You wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media, but the West (particularly America) is one of the most environmentally-friendly areas in the world, precisely because we’re wealthy (and free) enough to clean up our act. Meanwhile, India and China pumps out toxins by the second. So one thing to do would be to help make those countries more free and more prosperous, so they have excess money to spend on becoming better stewards of their land, air, and water.

    I don’t believe that Christians should not be “green” but that we should redefine what “green” means and do it for Biblical and Godly reasons and stick to the facts and real science. Being green is what the world runs after, and since the world only pursues sin, we need to recognize what it is about “being green” that involves sin. Two things jump out at me: one, a worship of creation, and two, a worship of ourselves. Throw in some really bad science and you get a big mess.

    So Christians should first strive to renew and fix the environmental debate and show the world what being truly “green” really looks like. Otherwise, we’ll just become a subculture rather than a culture-changer.

    – We don’t do it out of a worship of creation. This world IS going to burn, humanity was created ABOVE the rest of creation, and some rare moth in Zimbabwe is NOT equal in value to the survival of a whole tribe. Christians will never do environmentalism right if we don’t take Matthew 10:31 to heart. An example of bad environmentalism that some Christians have been behind was the DDT ban in Africa which has claimed the lives of millions because it allowed malaria to spread. All because some bird eggs might thin a little because of the DDT.

    – We are not “green” because we worship ourselves. The world is green because while, ironically, it devalues humanity to just another evolved species, it also worships humanity and treats environmentalism as a way to be gods, assuming for ourselves the ability to destroy or save the world. As Christians, we know that God is in control and He won’t allow the earth to be destroyed before it’s time. Likewise, Christians should not be green because it makes us feel good. The world values feeling good because it worships itself. We should be stewards of this world when it’s smart and is true.

    – Which brings me to my last point: we should be careful to promote only true and fact-based environmental stewardship ideas. We must not fall for the hysteria of the bad science fads of our day (not only because it shows a lack of truth is God but also because it’s not using our God-given brains properly). We should not just trust what the world tells us is good environmental practice but be skeptical, knowing that the world is foolish and prone to only sin. That doesn’t mean they’re always wrong, but it does mean they always have bad motives. And bad motives can lead to bad actions. Christians should be at the forefront of intellectual thought on the environmental issues of the day. Currently, global warming and “renewable energy” are the environmental fads. Read about those topics, and not just (if at all) what the mainstream media and politicians want you to hear. Read the thousands of skeptical economists, scientists, and thinkers of today, recognize the worldview inherent within the “green” wave. Be an Ecclesiastes 7:25 Christian.

  3. PB,

    Thank you for sharing your views on green theology. I, for one, think that Christians are greatly underrepresented in the environmental/sustainability movement. What a great testimony to others when we show care and concern for the world that our God–not evolution–created!

    I think NHC would do well to have an environmental stewardship ministry. I found a website once (can’t remember it now, though) that has a checklist of things churches can do to reduce waste, from energy efficient light bulbs to recycling worship bulletins. I also think that doing conservation and restoration projects in the community would be another way to show people that we care about the earth. Plus, it would be an easy, non-threatening way to invite unbelieving neighbors and friends to join forces with us in repairing the damage that humankind (i.e. sin) has done to our world.

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