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The Different Types of Christian Responses To Environmental Issues

Dave Gobbett | Oct. 27, 2022

When it comes to thinking about the environment, there are a few ways Christians tend to respond.

Reaction #1: Panicked Response

The first reaction is the panicked response. This is where all things green become all that matters. It’s the reaction that results in people glueing themselves to public buildings or blocking ambulances from traveling down the road.

Even if we’re not about to do any of these things, we might find ourselves feeling increasingly anxious, not to mention powerless, at the thought of an imminent climate-change tsunami. We’re in make-or-break territory. Change or die. The very survival of the planet, indeed of all of humanity—especially the next generation, if not our own—is at stake. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.

Reaction #2: Passive Response

The other reaction is the passive response. When anything environmental gets raised, we simply shrug our shoulders or keep our head down, maybe even roll our eyes—but basically we just carry on with life as it is.

Whether we lean to the left or to the right politically, I believe that Bible Christians need to take the environment seriously, in Bible ways. 

We might react this way for a number of reasons. Perhaps we’ve grown weary of all the alarmist rhetoric we see on the news, and so-called “climate-change fatigue” has caused us to mentally disengage from the topic. Or maybe we were never really engaged in the first place—we’ve got bigger problems to contend with. Or perhaps we’ve done our research and feel justified in our climate skepticism. After all, while it’s almost undeniable that the climate is changing in some ways, the extent, the causes (specifically how much humans are to blame) and the solutions (how far the responsibility to reverse climate change lies with us) are far more contested. Maybe all this talk about climate change is just the latest “tree-hugging” fad.

Reaction #3: Stick to What Matters Most

In addition to the passive response, you may think that all this talk about climate change or carbon footprints or saving the planet is just a distraction, like playing the violin on the deck of the Titanic. Spiritual disaster is coming, and people just need to get into the "lifeboat"! The only thing that really matters is helping people get saved. 

This is a compelling argument. People do need to be saved, and we do need to tell them how they can be saved. It’s incredibly easy to be distracted from this vital task. And yet there are a couple of problems with “the only thing that matters is evangelism” argument.

For one thing, no one really believes it. Or if they do, they don’t live it. If the only thing that mattered was sharing the gospel, then we wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) do anything else! Like study at university or make sticky toffee pudding or comb our hair or read The Gruffalo to our kids or play chess, and so on.

Now, some might say that the only reason you should do all those things is because ultimately they work towards sharing the gospel. (“I go to university to make non-Christian friends with whom I can share the gospel.” Or “I make sticky toffee pudding to give to my sweet-toothed neighbor while I invite her to church.” Or “I play chess so that I can use sacrificing my rook as an illustration of the gospel.”) But in most of life we instinctively know that we’re free to enjoy and engage with many aspects of the physical creation, and we don’t think twice about it. Life would certainly be a lot less fun if we did. But more importantly, the Bible doesn’t teach that “the only thing that matters is evangelism” either.

The Christian worldview uniquely gives us the resources to engage prudently and purposefully in all things green. 

Yes, the Bible is crystal clear on the need for people to be saved, and our responsibility to talk to people about Jesus so that they can be saved. To quote a neat though unattributed slogan, “Life is short, death is sure, sin the cause, Christ the cure.” That message must shape our lives as believers and as churches. But the logical move from affirming these important convictions to saying that “the only thing that matters is evangelism” is not supported in Scripture. Even if evangelism is a top priority, that doesn’t make everything else a non-priority.

Response #4: The Prudent Response

I want to suggest another reaction. I’ve called it the prudent response. It tries to avoid the extremes of panic and passivity by carefully digging into the topic from a whole-Bible perspective, by looking at the doctrines of creation (how things began in the first place), sin (what went wrong), humanity (what role we have), redemption (what the cross and resurrection of Jesus achieved), the end times (where it’s all heading), and the mission of the church (what we should do about now). 

Christians can and will legitimately disagree on many of the issues at play. We might land in different places on the exact causes of global warming, or on how to interpret the statistics, or on the role that governments should play in response, as well as on the many trade-offs that exist when it comes to formulating legislation (between, say, the cost of sustainable food production and the challenge of feeding a family on a low income). Whether we lean to the left or to the right politically, I believe that Bible Christians need to take the environment seriously, in Bible ways. 

Unlike the atheist, we don’t believe this physical world is all there is. We believe that God, who made our planet, owns it and rules it, and that he has promised “never again will I destroy all living creatures” (Genesis 8:21). We’re not sitting on a ticking time bomb waiting for our world to explode. So we mustn’t fall prey to panicked fixation. But neither must we passively sit by and ignore what’s happening to God’s world. We’re stewards of his planet (Genesis 1:28; 2:15), and so not caring at all about deforestation, or plastic pollution, or global warming is not an option either. The Christian worldview uniquely gives us the resources to engage prudently and purposefully in all things green. 

This article is an extract from The Environment by Dave Gobbett, which is a part of the Talking Points series.

Dave Gobbett

Dave Gobbett has been Lead Minister of Highfields Church, Cardiff, Wales, since 2014, having previously served at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He is a regular speaker at Christian Union missions as well as at Word Alive, of which he is a trustee. On his days off he enjoys exploring the beautiful Welsh outdoors with his wife Sally and their four children.

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