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The Apologetics Resource Center (ARC) is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to reach the minds and hearts of people with the message and truth claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Stewardship of the Earth"

By Craig Branch
November - December 2006

One of the most important and therefore relevant questions we should ask ourselves every day is: “Why am I saved—for what purpose?” The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith begins, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The response is: “Man’s chief and highest end [purpose] is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.” The Apostle Peter also answers the question, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus answers the question too when he was asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” He answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You should love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28b-31).

Many Christians have memorized these answers. But the problem is that these answers too often become just clichés, repeated without deep understanding. What does it mean to “glorify God,” or “to proclaim His excellencies” or even to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? Another primary command in the context of purposeful daily living is to “seek first [keep on seeking] His Kingdom and His righteousness…” (Matt. 6:33). But what does “His kingdom and His righteousness” mean?

For most professing Christians, these callings and these responsibilities mean one of two things. Some think it means just trying to be “good.” For most Christians, the concept of seeking first His Kingdom and righteousness, glorifying God, has to do with personal holiness or piety-sanctification. While it is true that personal holiness is a very significant dimension of the Christian life, there is more to our calling as Christians than that. When we repeat the Lord’s Prayer, for example, and say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for more than personal piety.

Jesus specifically tells us that a significant way we glorify God and pursue His kingdom reign is to go out and be salt and light in the world, in the culture (Matt. 5:13-16). Like Him we are to be intentionally, sacrificially involved in the world, while not being corrupted by the world (John 17:13-19). Integral parts of that calling are (1) to be armed with the truth so as to not be conformed to or deceived by fallen human traditions or philosophies (Eph. 6:10-18; 4:17-24; Rom. 12:1-2; John 17:17); (2) to live sacrificially by responsibly reaching out with compassion and justice to restore our downtrodden neighbors (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35; Matt. 25:34-45; Luke 10:25-37); and (3) to fulfill the Cultural Mandate which involves the stewardship of the earth--its environment and cultural institutions (Gen. 1:28; 2:17; Eph. 1:18-23; 2 Cor. 10:3-5).

The Church in general tends to be weak in all of these dimensions of kingdom living, but the last, the cultural mandate, is undeniably our weakest. Most Christians are uninformed about the cultural mandate and thus are not engaged in the culture. Apologetics in general, and the Apologetics Resource Center in particular, are “dedicated to equipping Christians with a culturally relevant apologetic, enabling them to have a deeper level or personal faith, contend for that faith, and to enter arenas of resistance and to reclaim ground lost to skepticism, secularism, and other alien philosophies.” Engagements in these areas are supposed to be a high priority—ordinary, not extraordinary. Our kingdom calling involves developing a biblical worldview and living it out in daily life in a fallen world. In this Veritas column, I want to explore the idea of developing a Christian worldview and apply it to an area of the Cultural Mandate.

A Christian worldview encompasses the foundational ideas for thinking “Christianly” about reality and life. It is the necessary starting place for informed Christian discipleship. The Christian worldview is holistic. God created the world and all beings. Christ offers redemption and in fact rules over all things, giving much of the exercise of that rule and redemption in the present age to the Church (Eph 1:18-23). This means that the Church is called to be redemptively engaged, speaking and being the truth in all spheres of life—education, science, ethics, economics, law, civil government, medicine, the judicial system, social work, business, maintenance and repair, research, environmental issues, sports and recreation, public service, etc. The key words are “redemptively engaged.” But sadly, the church, by and large, has not grasped this truth.

Christian pollster George Barna has identified this problem in his research. Whereas 40% of Americans are identified as “born-again” Christians (minimal criteria), only 8% are identified as “evangelicals” (only 4% of teenagers). Yet only 22% of adults and 6% of teenagers are certain that absolute moral truth exists.

Particularly significant is his recent research which demonstrated that Americans identifying themselves as Christian rated themselves mainly “average to above average” in seven dimensions of spiritual life (such as healthy relationships, worship, serving others, leading their family spiritually). Only two categories were self-rated as “average to below average.” They were “sharing your faith” (77%) and "knowledge of the Bible" (79%). Barna notes that in his other research where actual practices were measured, the results were actually far lower than people's self-perception. (1)

This lack of Bible knowledge was even more accentuated in Barna’s research the month before where he concluded, “In spite of the fact that most Americans consider themselves Christians, very few adults base their moral decisions on the Bible.” Strangely, 30% claim the Bible as a source of making moral decisions but only 16% of adults claim to make their moral choices based on the content of the Bible. Based on the answers to a series of questions on core values, practice, and theological knowledge only 5% of adults have a Biblical worldview. He concludes that most “churches base their sense of success on indicators such as attendance, congregant satisfaction, dollars raised, and built on square footage. None of those factors relates to the kind of radical shift in thinking and behaviors Jesus Christ died on the cross to facilitate.” (2)

That is why our ministry’s Areopagus Journal focuses on topics related to the building of a Christian worldview. We want to remind Christians of the importance of having a Christian worldview and learning to think Christianly about issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, same-sex marriage, war, the arts, science, and alternative medicine. In this issue of the Areopagus Journal, we want to draw the reader's attention to one of the more obscure issues: Christians and the Environment. This topic has become somewhat less obscure and more relevant recently because of the controversy over “global warming.” This controversial issue provides us all an opportunity to reflect not only on global warming, but also on environmental issues more generally. To have a Christian worldview and a Christian perspective on any topic, Christians must be thinkers. We must seriously ponder tough questions like those concerning the environment. And, once adequately informed, we are called to act on the truths we learn in faith and reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to effect positive change in the culture where needed. A Christian worldview is not just a list of beliefs, nor an academic endeavor, but a personal living view, affecting the way we choose to live.

So how should we approach environmental issues? How do we even begin to evaluate and remedy problems if necessary? We’ve had national debates over asbestos use in buildings, over the possible dangers of tobacco, lead paint, agent orange, and deforestation. There have been campaigns on recycling, animal rights, air pollution, and much more.

The University of Connecticut released a study in April, 2006 which revealed that 53% of Americans (mostly Republicans) believe that modern drilling techniques allow the development of resources without damaging the environment, “compared to 43% of Americans (mostly Democrats) [who] believe that oil and gas exploration and drilling cause permanent environmental damage.” (3) The same survey showed “that Americans believe environmentalist arguments on the issues of global warming [66% to 31%] and plant and animal extinction are a loss of diversity and a threat to human needs [55% to 41%].”

Al Gore recently released the film An Inconvenient Truth in which he allegedly pulled together evidence from all over the world to convince us that climate change is happening quickly, and humans are to blame. He contends that we must act immediately or the earth will be ruined. In an ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos, Gore stated, “The debate in the scientific community is over.” Then came an editorial response in the Wall Street Journal by Dr. Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, titled, “Don’t Believe the Hype.” In the article he argues that "Al Gore is wrong. There is no ‘consensus’ on global warming.” (4)

So who is right? Is this really a big issue? Well, many scientists and Christians believe it is a big issue and that Gore is right. For example, Harvard biologist Edward Wilson, winner of the National Medal of Science and of two Pulitzer Prize, writes to a hypothetical Baptist pastor,

Scientists estimate that, if habitat conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of the plants and animals on earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century. The ongoing extinction rate is calculated in most conservative estimates to be about 100 times above that prevailing before humans appeared on earth, and it is expected to rise to at least 1000 times greater (or more) in the next few decades. If this rise continues unabated, the cost to humanity in wealth, environmental security, and quality of life will be catastrophic. . . .In destroying the biosphere, we are destroying unimaginably vast resources of scientific information and biological wealth. Opportunity costs, which will be better understood by our descendants than ourselves, will be staggering. Gone forever will be undiscovered medicines, crops, timber, fibers, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes and amenities. (5)

Prominent Christians are responding. One of the most powerful and important leaders is Saddleback Church pastor, Rick Warren. He has become quite vested in a “holistic gospel” on social issues such as AIDS, poverty and the environment. Warren has established three social service organizations and stopped taking his $110,000 annual salary, repaid the church for his 25 years of salary since its founding, and lives on 10% of his book royalties, donating the other 90% to selected charities. In February 2006, Rick Warren and 96 other prominent evangelical leaders signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) calling for biblical stewardship and national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

In response, a coalition of more than 110 evangelical leaders and scientists formed the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) and disputed the ECI’s claims of significant human-induced global warming. The ISA document appreciated ECI's concern for the poor, shared the same biblical worldview and ethical commitments, but disagreed with ECI's view of causation, effect, and remedy. (6)

So where do we begin to seek first His kingdom, to glorify God, to have His kingdom come on earth, to exercise our responsibility to subdue a fallen creation and care for it redemptively? It starts with a biblical view of the creation and our responsibility to it. The first article in this journal, “Subdue the Earth? What the Bible says about the Environment,” is written by John Bergstrom, professor of Public Policy at the University of Georgia. The article lays the foundation for the Bible's “Cultural Mandate.” Specifically, he discusses three general principles of a Christian environmental ethic. Bergstrom writes, “Christians are in a unique position to offer thoughtful solutions to the environmental and natural resource problems we face in the world today.”

This article is followed by a point-counterpoint exchange between Dr. Paul Cleveland, Professor of Economics at Birmingham-Southern College, and Dr. David Gushee, Graves professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, on the topic of global warming. Gushee explains why Christians ought to be concerned about global climate change and get involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in the environment. Cleveland argues that the concerns over global warming are greatly exaggerated, that it isn’t clear that global warming is even happening, much less that it is caused by humans.

It may help to set the framework for this exchange to mention that the main reason for disagreement on global warming is probably the reliance on science both for factual and ethical conclusions. This problem is pointed out by Dr. Daniel Sarewitz, member of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University. He writes that controversies like global climate change, genetically modified foods, nuclear energy, biodiversity, air and water pollution, and toxic wastes, rarely come to satisfying resolutions - largely because the scientific enterprise exacerbates disagreement rather that resolving it. (7) The central point is that numerous, sometimes competitive, scientific disciplines seek to understand the complexity of nature and sometimes give factual, but incomplete, views of reality.

Using climate change as an illustration, it can be variously understood as a problem of climate impact, biodiversity, land use, energy use, water use, agricultural productivity, public health, economic development, demographics, etc. Each scientific discipline involves a variety of interests and values which effect how they assemble and interpret an insurmountable amount of information. So ideologies and values affect choices and lots of data can be amassed to support a number of positions. These facts make it hard to discern the truth on matters like global warming and call us to sift the evidence carefully.

The third article in this issue is a provocative piece titled “Animal Rights and Apologetics” by Rich Milne, formerly of Probe Ministries. I say “provocative” because the reader probably anticipates the normal Christian response to an extreme, new age, vegetarian, PETA-type position which elevates the rights of animals to the same level as humans (or even higher). But Milne addresses the moral and ethical questions of unnecessary abuse in the killing and torture of animals by those who are processing them for food. Milne affirms that eating meat and animal products is clearly allowed in scripture, but writes, “It is the way the animals that provide that meat live and die that belies our preaching a kingdom where cruelty is to be reduced rather than intensified.” We encourage our readers to carefully ponder the questions Milne raises.

When it comes to difficult issues like the environment, the Christian can rest in the fact that we have God’s revelation to give us a balanced perspective. We can be sure that radical New Age environmentalism—the “deep ecology of Gaia” that worships nature—is a false framework. We do not worship nature or creation rather than the Creator. But we also know that the created world is marred by the curse because of humankind’s disobedience to our creator. We also know that we have been given stewardship over creation to care for it so that it may be used to serve mankind to the glory of God.

So, even though we do not adopt the radical environmental position of the New Age that places nature above human needs, we must also avoid being “conformed to this world” by adopting the consumerism and materialism that lies at the other end of the spectrum. The environment is to be used as a resource to serve man, to be sure, however it doesn’t ultimately belong to us, but to God. And thus we have a God-given responsibility to preserve and protect the environment not only for the sake of future generations, but also because of creation’s own intrinsic value.

Revelation 21-22 makes it clear that the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the material world, but to renew it. God’s purpose is not only saving individuals (although that’s crucial) but also inaugurating a new world based on justice, peace, and love, not power, strife, and selfishness. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Craig Branch is director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama.

1 George Barna, “New Survey Shows Areas of Spiritual Life People Feel Most Confident About,” online article at www.barna.org (September 27, 2005).
2 George Barna, “Most Adults Feel Accepted by God, But Lack a Biblical Worldview,” online article at (www.barna.org (August 9, 2005).
3 “Natural Earth Day Poll on the Environment,” online article from University of Connecticut Center for Survey Research and Analysis (April 10, 2006) at www.csra.uconn. edu.
4 Richard Lindzen, “Don't Believe the Hype,” Wall Street Journal (July 2, 2006) online at www.opinionjournal.com/ forms/printthis.html?id=110008597.
5 Edward Wilson, “Apocalypse Now—a Scientist’s plea for Christian environmentalism,” The New Republic (Sept. 4, 2006) online at www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20060904&s =wilson090406.
6 To view both documents, go to www.christianandclimate. org and www.interfaithstewardship.org.
7 Daniel Sarewitz, “How Science Makes Environmental Controversies Worse,” Environmental Science and Policy 7 (2004): 385-403, online at www.sciencedirect.com.



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