Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earth Day Thoughts...

This past Thursday, April 22, was celebrated by many people as "Earth Day." BGCT Theologian-in-Residence Dr. Jim Denison recently commented on the phenomenon, which was then received with great criticism by his readers. Interestingly, I understand a bit of why his 'positive' understanding of this event was received so negatively by a handful of the folks that read his blog. So in light of this issue and my strange desire to join the fray and take some of the heat off of my brother, let me take my own stand.

First, Wikipedia has the following entry for Earth Day:

Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in held on April 22, 1970 and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. Earth Day is celebrated in spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Many communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues. While the first Earth Day was focused entirely on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes—the original national coordinator in 1970—took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. Earth Day is now observed each year on April 22 in virtually every country on Earth. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5 in a different nation every year, is the principal United Nations environmental observance.

There is a website as well - that seeks to inform others about the issue. The issue, as stated above, is environmental concern. The late 1960s and 70s saw a massive escalation of pollutants in the Northern hemisphere, particularly in the industrialized nations. Now this was not new, pollution comes hand in hand with industrialization for the most part. The depth, breadth and impact of the problem however had not been assessed until late in the twentieth century. Then the verdict of the environmental scientists came out: pollution is bad and something should be done. So government steps in and regulation occurs. Thus, most human beings would agree that pollution is bad and that steps should be taken to control or eradicate it. For the last 40 years, however, scientists have been divided over the impact of humankind on the Earth and the issue of pollution with the side effect of global warming.

So what are the problems for the church and what position should Christians affirm on the issue?

1) Earth Day as government sponsored day to encourage environmental responsibility is not a bad thing. Christians affirm that the Triune God created the earth, sun, moon and stars and all that is in it. Indeed, Christians affirm that God appointed Adam and Eve as stewards of creation, commanding them to protect and cultivate it. It is that for which we are created in Genesis 1 and 2. Paul, in his letter to the Romans describes that the sin of Adam has even corrupted creation. Paul states:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22 NASB95)

Christians have a responsibility, as human beings, to be aware of their responsibilities as stewards of creation, by not only cultivating, but also by protecting creation. Indeed, Biblical Christians should be at the front of the environmental movement for all intents and purposes as part of the redemptive strategy of God.

Then why are Christians so divided over the topic? Two words: bad theology. One interpretation of the end times have left Christians with the residual thought that the degradation of creation is a 'sign' of the end and that this degradation must be left to run its course, or else Jesus won't return. Another interpretation of the King James translation of Genesis 1 and 2 asserts that human beings are to 'subdue' creation - as if it were a wild beast - in order to force it to serve human ends, whatever they may be. The worst theological spin on creation however, is what I call "the lazy view," which simply states, "If God is going to destroy the heavens and the earth by fire in the end, before the coming of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22), then why should it matter what human beings do to creation? This is simply a poor, uniformed interpretation of an even poorer translation of the original Greek text.

No. All human beings, but especially those who have a developed theological sense of creation - as Christians should - must be aware of our dependence upon, and responsibility toward our co-creation, the earth.

2) On the other hand, elevating Earth Day to the status of worship, as some in the neo-Pagan or Wicca movement have done, is abominable sin. Christians do not worship the earth nor the creatures in it. This neo-Pagan (pagan, meaning 'rustic', in reference to the simple life of rural folk in ancient Greece, but evolving to mean 'uneducated non-Christian) movement has turned Earth Day into a regular liturgical event, a sacred day, on par with the summer and winter solstices. Sadly, this understanding of Earth Day is becoming more and more pervasive.

Can Christians ignore the earth? No. We have a mandate to be stewards of the earth, our environment. God has plans to redeem the earth in the eschaton, just as God is redeeming us. According to my mentor Stanley Grenz, God, in "making all things new" will be renewing the heaven and the earth, not destroying the earth itself, but destroying the degradation - sin, pollution, destruction and death - and in the process, bringing the Earth again to its edenic destiny. No, let's give Jim Denison a break. He's getting it right. If you don't believe me, just look at the words to Folliott Pierpont's timeless Christian hymn:

For the beauty of the earth
For the Glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
'Lord of all, to Thee we raise
this our grateful hymn of praise.
Alternative refrain:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This, our sacrifice of praise.
For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flow'r
Sun and Moon and stars of light
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child.
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
For each perfect gift of Thine
To our race so freely given.
Graces human and divine
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n.
[For the Beauty of the Earth (1864) Folliott S. Pierpont]


  1. Wow, Jay! This is a wonderful article on your thoughts on Earth Day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for this teaching on a subject I've been hearing much of recently. Right on! BTW, I really like the newest picture. Now, this one looks like the friend from Bellingham I know!