Written by Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 00:00
Every once in a while, evangelicals are blessed with good timing. Just one week after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the northeast coast, the Evangelical Theological Society hosted its annual meeting; this year’s theme: “Caring for Creation.” I’d say the spectrum of views presented there was pretty good indication of where conservative evangelicals are generally on “environmental issues.”
On one end of the spectrum was Wayne Grudem, who gave a presentation entitled, “The Global Warming Hoax Makes You Pay More for Everything and Threatens Your Freedom: A Biblical Response to Global Warming Claims.” On the other end of the spectrum was plenary speaker Richard Bauckham of St. Andrew’s University. The “middle position” — of the Evangelical Theological Society we’re talking about — was plenary speaker Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, who suggested that conscientious environment conservation is called for, but climate change claims are typically overblown, based on dubious science, and are often politically motivated.
A couple of observations are in order about all this:
The “middle/moderate position” of the Evangelical Theological Society would be considered an extreme “far-right position” in the general discussion in American society at large. It is hard to say anything that tries to “characterize the conversation” that does not engage in sweeping generalizations. But the fact is telling that one of the Cornwall Institute’s most popular instructive videos is entitled, “Resisting the Green Dragon,” which itself forwards the thesis that most “environmental activism” is nothing more than “propaganda” and that such has infiltrated most all of our public schools, public policy discussions, and major media outlets. This suggests that the Cornwall Institute itself recognizes itself as a minority position in the discussion.
What is to be made of the fact that no scientists were invited to address the issues at a conference on “caring for creation”? It is the Evangelical THEOLOGICAL Society, so not too much should be made of it. The speakers all spoke from a biblical and theological standpoint, and that’s to be expected. But they also all made reference to “scientific data.” And several of the speakers noted that having some scientists weigh in would have been profitable — but of course the elephant in the room was that the scientific discussion has itself been politicized (echoing the debate over evolution and creation?). New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo, in the final panel discussion openly asserted that had the most credible, most commonly accepted scientific data been brought to bear on the discussion or simply accepted (which he recommended), the discussion would have shifted away from any assumption that climate change phenomena are simply a hoax to be dismissed.
I am not a scientist, either; and I believe Moo’s point is well-taken. It does not bode well for evangelicals to grow accustomed to just ignoring science or scientific evidence, or to foster the anti-intellectualism that was a by-product of the modernist-fundamentalist debates of the early-twentieth century. Not to over-read the absence of scientific representation at the ETS Conference, but a couple of us did walk away with some questions and concerns about this. . . .
There are points of common ground surfaced that perhaps we all can agree on. Even though the ETS handling of “environmental issues” may have been less than perfect — secular environmental organizations would surely have been completely unimpressed — several points of consensus did emerge even there.
1. Caring for the environment and not abusing the earth’s resources are part of the stewardship God continues to expect and require from us.
2. The fact that the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 20% of the earth’s resources used annually is not good; greater conservation measures are certainly called for.
3. Storms and natural disasters may or may not be a judgment from God. Not much of a point, much less a point of “consensus” is it?
Anyway, it was commonly noticed that New Orleans makes an easy target for pretty simple-minded, “See there — God zapped them for their sin” suppositions, but we tend to be less quick to do so when the people whose houses are destroyed are police officers and firefighters, or when the people without power for a week are our friends and neighbors. We should probably be less quick in general to say anything that sounds like “rejoicing in destruction.”
In addition, point #2, above, does — or should — get us to thinking more seriously about all of this. It is doubtless reductionist to suggest that consumers driving hummers caused Hurricane Katrina. On the other hand, it is not so silly to suppose that materialism and consumptionism have a negative effect on the environment that may bring nasty natural side effects. Also to be considered: God may be displeased as well. Trifling with Mother Nature is unwise — and that’s enough to motivate secular environmentalists into action. Shouldn’t we as Christians be at least as concerned about not displeasing God with our treatment of His Creation?
That last point is one made by Christopher Wright in his lecture here at Biblical Seminary the week before. Part of the “mission” of a missional approach is intelligent environmental concern and caring for creation, he said. Do you agree?
What this entails exactly and to what extent is a topic worthy of fuller consideration. What do you think?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.