Religion of Environment: An Evangelical Critique of Earth Day
Today is Earth Day. It is a day set aside to reflect on the beauty of the earth and to make efforts to preserve it, and has contributed to one of the largest movements of our time: environmentalism. It also has the potential to be one of the most aggressive affronts to Christianity and the Biblical worldview.
According to its founder, Gaylord Nelson, the mission of Earth Day is to recognize that, “The fate of the living planet is the most important issue facing mankind.” Dedicated adherents to Nelson’s philosophy have passionately sought to live this out, causing environmentalism to become a practical religion of its own. However, it can be said that the Biblical mission of life is to grasp that, “The fate of the dying world is the most important issue to God and the souls of mankind.”
It might seem like the two paradigms can coexist, that there is no need to quibble over definitions because we can live out our faith while enacting policies that preserve the world in which we live. But this isn’t true for two reasons. First, environmentalists (a relatively neutral term that has been hijacked by practical consensus) are dramatically unbiblical in their philosophy and efforts. Second, environmentalism as a first priority subverts the ability to adequately reach the poor and lost with the message of salvation.
That said, it is important that believers recognize the wondrous creation around us, remarking as David did in Psalm 104, “In wisdom you made (all creation).” Though creation is depraved and cursed to bear the burden of death (Genesis 3), the marvels of God are enough that they alone can draw people to Christ (Romans 1). Yet creation serves as a means not an end. That’s the key difference between environmentalism and Christian stewardship.
Environmentalists propagate the myth that the earth was here before us and will remain after we’re gone: humans are visitors, trespassers exploiting the earth. This is completely unbiblical, yet the Mother Earth mantra forms the foundation for much of environmentalism. In truth, God is the Creator, the Provider, the one who allows us to master the elements to procure sustenance: the earth exists for mankind.
In fact, the earth is hostile. If we didn’t work to subdue it, as God called us to, it would overwhelm us. But just because something works against us does not mean we are able to utterly dismiss concern for it. After all, God loved us while we hated him, living in sin (Romans 5:8). We ought, then, to approach the earth with the intention to manage it well, and most efficiently use what God has provided.
This makes the case against a minimalistic view regarding earthly consumption, which is a popular phenomenon. Numerous Christian groups even exist with the purpose of accomplishing such ends. Indeed, a “Green Bible” was released a few years ago, literally highlighting every passage that references creation care. It is an interesting concept, yet it risks being culturally relevant at the price of doctrinal integrity.
Such groups, while perhaps well-intentioned, go too far in advocating for actions not supported in Scripture. For instance, several such organizations reference selections of scripture that are highly out of context or even edited (for an example, see Genesis 9 with verse 11 truncated). Placing any policy goal above accurate representation of Scripture instantly raises an alarm. If they must malign God’s word to support their organization, something is amiss.
It is important to remember that God does not call us to make heaven on this world; he calls us to reach the lost so that they may join believers in the world to come (i.e. heaven). When creation serves to enable that process, it should be celebrated, not forbidden.
Jesus himself, through whom all was created and is held together, cursed a fig tree. He did this not to destroy but to make a point that would bring life (Mark 11). By Christ’s example we see that the earth serves to provide lessons befitting a spiritual eternity. The problem with mainstream environmentalism is that there is no reference point by which to make value judgments. For Christians, it is the Bible.
Regarding environmentalism, Christians often don’t know how to address it. On a spiritual level, we may feel uncertain how to Biblically connect faith-filled living with concern for creation. On a social level, we may be unsure how to live out our higher calling in the secular world with strategy, tact, and Christlikeness. These are legitimate concerns that are difficult to resolve. But believers, by our inaction, have ceded one of the areas where we ought to be the strongest.
So on this Earth Day, let us not focus on “green” activities that distract from the gospel, but rather on the other event we celebrate today: Good Friday – the day that Christ, the redeemer of humanity and creation, was laid in the earth, dead for our sins, yet to rise again so that we may live in the hope of our ultimate redemption.