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.”
“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.”
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.
 N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder In God’s Spoken World, 17.
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 224.