A letter to my fellow evangelicals about the environment
Mick Pope and applying the good news to the No. 1 election issue
Dear fellow evangelicals, I write to you at this hour born of a sense of frustration, of fear, and of hope. I felt compelled to write this.
I wasn’t raised as a Christian, but came to faith through the ministry of The Navigators, and was introduced to evangelical theology, but particularly its piety of evangelism, Bible study, and memorising Scripture. My theology was nurtured through the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) and some distance study at Moore College, Sydney. I value the evangelical tradition of biblicism, piety, and activism.
I’ve also loved the natural world since I can remember, and all the more as I understand it as a creation. The world is full of diverse beauty, it provides us with things to enjoy, wonder at, and supports our way of life. I have studied it from various perspectives for years. I have spent many years trying to reconcile my love of science with my love of theology, my desire to care for creation with my desire to worship the creator. I have a PhD in climate science and am completing a Masters degree in theology. So hear me out, please.
Regardless of whether or not the planet is warming, to value the creation and to look after it is not to worship the creation but the creator. The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1). Evangelical scholar John Walton suggests that creation is a temple, and we represent God to the rest of the creation as His images (Gen 1:26-28). As such, creation is sanctified, and we are to tend and keep it (Gen 2:15). Subduing the earth means tending the soil carefully in agriculture (note we subdue the earth and not the beasts of the earth). It isn’t ‘left’ or ‘green’ or ‘brainwashing’ to be a good steward, it’s biblical.
Secondly, the earth has a future. Romans 8 tells us that creation groans now, awaiting the resurrection from the dead. It’s clear God has put creation in this state, and God will redeem it, so it is true we can’t save the earth. However, we can limit our damage. And the creation groans because of us. Sanctified and glorified at the resurrection, we will tend the creation as we were meant to. But just as Paul can say we shouldn’t go on sinning so that grace may abound (see Romans 6) – awaiting the resurrection to cultivate holiness, as it were – why would we wait to ‘save the whales’ or the reef, or a safe climate for our kids.
Which brings me to my third point, and a plea. Please consider the science, from the scientists. Now it is true that science is a purely human endeavour, and humans are not God. We have finite minds. However, wisdom is found in many places. Climate scientists come from different cultures, religions, and political persuasions. The solutions to the problem of climate change may reflect these things, but the issue itself should not. It is worth being able to separate the results of science and the philosophy which is imported. Perhaps you are used to the likes of Richard Dawkins beating us over the head with what he sees as the philosophical implications of biology. As soon as he moves from biology to philosophy or theology, he is interpreting his results as an amateur in both fields. Never be quick to dismiss a field of science simply because some will draw non-scientific conclusions you might disagree with.
The science of greenhouse gases is 150 years old. We have so much data. Data that sceptics have put to the test, results that have survived the rigours of peer review. Perhaps the most significant test, for me, of the scientific method is that physics PhD and former sceptic Dr Richard Muller examined the data from scratch and found global warming to be true – and to be due to our carbon dioxide emissions.
We go to the doctor for health issues, and the mechanic for car repairs. Go to the climate scientists to test the science, not the shock jocks, not the newspapers, not the politicians or even your pastor.
Who will you trust to help you navigate the very real issues these things present?
More than this, if the apostle Paul could exercise humility in his faith (1 Cor 13:12), how certain can you be if you don’t have a scientific background that climate change is not true, or not worth acting on?
If you don’t have a degree in theology or philosophy, can you be so sure that being concerned about the environment (read creation), climate change, or a host of other issues is morally or theologically suspect?
So, who will you trust to help you navigate the very real issues these things present? There are better guides than I, but there are also worse.
Finally, I know that many will say that such concerns are a distraction from preaching the gospel. If the gospel is about going to heaven when you die, then I would agree. But if the gospel is that God himself has taken on flesh to fulfil all that Israel and humanity was meant to be, reconciled all things to God on the cross (Col 1), and is coming to make all things new (Rev 21:5) then surely there is room for teachers, pastors, prophets, and eco-prophets in God’s church. And surely then we should pay careful attention to what is happening to God’s good creation, and do whatever we can to care for it.
So far, I have found that such an approach has opened up opportunities to talk to people about Jesus, the Word through whom all things were made (John 1), and the one who will redeem all things.
God extends to us the call to be part of the new creation. To me, in the here and now, this means spreading the good news of Jesus while writing, marching, preaching, and praying for the world not to return to chaos (Gen 1:2).
Please prayerfully consider joining me.
Mick Pope is a forecast meteorologist with twenty years of experience in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. He also is a university professor with a PhD in tropical meteorology, and is part of the ISCAST (Christians in Science and Technology) network.