As the BP oil pipeline continues to uncontrollably gush oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening ecosystems, coastal communities, fishing industries, and all sorts of other living things, the conversation about protecting the environment continues--and perhaps is more relevant than ever. Christians (particularly evangelicals) have been sadly absent from this conversation in the past, for reasons more political than theological. But that has started to change in the past decade, and one of the leading voices in the evangelical movement for "Creation Care" is my friend Jonathan Merritt, who just released his first book, Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet.
In the last couple years, Jonathan has organized a national coalition of Christian leaders who care about creation, and founded the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. He writes for numerous newspapers and magazines, has been interviewed by the likes of NPR and The New York Times, and has emerged as a strong young voice representing the next generation of evangelical leadership.
I recently interviewed Jonathan about his book, the issues at play in the idea of "Creation care," and why this is such an important thing for Christians to think about. Here is part of the interview:
What was God's intended purpose for Adam in Eden?
I have a friend who says, "God's original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians." It's funny, but it underscores that the original intent for everything we see was radically different than what we now live. Humanity's history began in a good garden where nature flourished. God placed Adam there to preserve, work, and care for nature (Gen 2:15). This is a task we've all been given, and it is one that has never been revoked.
After Jesus came and achieved victory over sin and death, how does (or should) that change our approach to things like nature and the environment?
Colossians 1 says that everything was redeemed by Christ's blood on the cross--both things in heaven and things on earth. The cross began a process of cosmic redemption that includes, but is not limited to, human redemption. Because of the cross of Christ, we can see humans restored to a right relationship with God, nature, and each other. This is the power of Jesus Christ, the one who "makes ALL things new."
Why do you think this issue is an important one for Christians?
It is important for many reasons. First, it is important because our witness partially depends on it. When people see Christians responding with ignorance or callousness to the world's problems, our gospel suddenly has less credibility. Second, because they are important to God. He took the time to speak about the earth over and over from Genesis 1 to Revelation 11. If they are important to God and we love God, then they will be important to us. Third, because people are dying. This year, for example, three million people (mostly children) will die from preventable, water related diseases. How can we claim to serve the one who asked us to love our neighbors and care "for the least of these" if we ignore such things?
In the book you say things like "The Bible doesn't teach the sanctity of
life, but the sanctity of
life." Are you trying to sway the conservative pro-lifers to start fighting to protect whales as well as unborn babies?
The one thing I don't want to communicate is that human lives and animal lives are equivalent. But we need to recognize that what makes life sacred is not that it is human. What makes life sacred is that God created it, has placed value on it, and it is the object of His love. The Psalms tell us that God loves "all that he has made." Although plants and animals—from flowers to frogs—are not equivalents to humans, they remain creations of a God who loves them and has placed value on them. If we love the Creator, we'll love what the Creator loves. Like God, we should love and value all life.
What does it mean that the world is "God's apologetic about himself?"
God has revealed himself in nature. Psalm 19 says "the heavens declare the glory of God"; Romans 1 says that God's attributes are clearly seen "through the things He has made." The world is a divine soundtrack, and I think God wants us to listen in.
Are there any theologians or other Christian writers that have influenced you on this issue?
Yes. I was especially influenced by Francis Schaeffer, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, John Stott, Matthew Sleeth, and Christopher J.H. Wright.
How does or should one's eschatology influence their view of creation care? If I'm a pre-trib premillenialist, why should I care if the ozone layer gets bigger?
I am often asked, "Why should we worry about the future of an earth that has no future?" I struggled with this when I first started investigating creation care, but then I read the Parable of the Talents. Here we find a master who entrusts his servants with some money before going away on a long trip. When he returns, the very first thing he asks is, "What did you do with all that stuff I left in your care while I was gone?" The point is that the knowledge of a returning master does not free us from our earthly obligations; it calls us to them. When my Lord returns, I want to be caught in the act of loving others, spreading the gospel, and stewarding all the things he has entrusted to my care.