NOTE: This article appears in the July/August 2006 issue of Frontline Magazine. It appears here with permission of the publisher.
By Mark Bouslog and Kevin Schaal
In early February of 2006, eighty-six prominent evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren, inaugurated the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” seeking legislation on global warming. The initiative immediately sparked a reaction from politically active evangelicals such as Charles Colson and James Dobson, declaring that “global warming is not a consensus issue.”(1) Since that time the floodgates of discussion have opened from the broader evangelical movement concerning an evangelical approach to environmental issues. Because issues of environment have now been forced into the religious and theological arena, it is appropriate for Fundamentalists to address them.
The idea that evangelicals today would seek consensus on any issue—environmental or political—seems almost comical. The movement is so fractured morally and politically that it has lost its identity completely.(2) A heated discussion on the subject was inevitable. On the other hand, Fundamentalists have generally ignored such issues as the environment. Such topics have been considered outside the realm of theology, or associated with the “social gospel” counterfeit of the last century.
But there is a debate, and it is drawing Fundamentalists into it—like it or not. It is important that we Fundamentalists address the issue for ourselves, for the next generation coming up in Fundamentalism, and for the sake of our testimony outside of our own circles. We cling tenaciously to a Bible that addresses the ethical issues at the heart of the debate. We must address issues of the environment in a way that reflects our commitment to Scripture and the ethics that necessarily flow from it. There are at least four key Biblical principles that apply directly to the debate.
The Principle of Stewardship
When God created Adam, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him to “dress it and to keep it.” It’s a wonderful passage on the gift of work, but the text also clearly indicates that the garden belonged to God, not to Adam. We—human beings—do not own this planet. It is God’s, not ours. While God has wonderfully allowed us to draw our sustenance and great joy from it, it is not ours to simply consume for our own pleasure. The dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 is about man making this planet more habitable and more productive through agriculture and the domestication of livestock, rather than the wholesale consumption of it upon our insatiable appetites.
While it is impossible for us to impose our Biblical ethics toward the environment on an unredeemed populace, we can use our influence through example and the stewardship of the vote to be consistent on the issue.
The Principle of Love
Jesus said that there are two commandments upon which hangs the whole law. Our treatment of the world around us should reflect a love for the God who created it. Psalm 19 declares that creation shows the glory of God. When we look at creation around us, we are reminded of His power, eternal wisdom, and even His love. We stand in awe at the vastness of the universe and reflect upon God’s immensity. We meditate on the intricate nature of flower or snowflake and wonder at His wisdom. We enjoy an orange or strawberry and revel in His love and provision. We gaze upon the beauty of the Grand Canyon and get a sense of a God who loves beauty.(3) While we are supposed to subdue the earth, it is not correct to think that subduing means to destroy the earth’s beauty or productivity—turning its testimony about the Creator into a monument to man.
There is a second commandment. We must also love our neighbors. In the context the word “neighbor” probably means anyone who is not me. “Neighbor” could include the person in the next house, street, city, country, or continent. For me to throw my garbage into my neighbor’s yard would be a clear violation of this commandment. In this sense, littering is a sin not only because it violates the law of the land but also because it shows a clear lack of love for my neighbor. The same principle would apply to abusing someone else’s city, country, or continent.
But is it unreasonable to also consider generations to come our “neighbors”? Scripture, from Abraham to Paul, shows a clear and intense concern for “the generation to come.” The disgusting sin of Hezekiah was not simply that he had plunged Judah into certain judgment at the hand of the Babylonians. It was that he did not care, as long as the judgment did not come in his own lifetime. The sentiment that “I’ll be dead, why should I care?” is ultimately selfish.
The Principle of Wise Planning
The book of Proverbs clearly indicates that a wise man looks ahead and anticipates potential calamity and then acts wisely now in order to avoid it. We have preached loud and often that the “pleasures of sin for a season” are the surest path to destruction financially, morally, and spiritually. We can also apply this principle to the way in which we treat the planet. We need to pray for wisdom, and seek the facts so that we can make decisions that are prudent.
The Principle of Truth
The greatest difficulty in environmental debates—especially on this issue of global warming—is to understand what is true. Such debates are a swirling cauldron, mixing various scientists seeking funding, politicians seeking votes, and even nations scratching for political advantages over others. When the motives of the fact-seekers are clearly in doubt, Fundamentalists should be very careful not connect our theology to the science of the day. Galileo and Copernicus were ridiculed and persecuted because their idea of a solar system did not have the earth at the center of it. Their views were considered a theological fallacy.
The problem was that the Scripture does not anywhere mention the earth as the center of the solar system. When we misuse Scripture to take a position on some sort of scientific matter, we have the potential to undermine the credibility of Scripture itself. In truth, it is our misuse of Scripture that is at fault.
On the issue of global warming there is nothing close to scientific consensus, and the Bible does not address the scientific facts (as in a discussion of creation). While the politically correct position is to accept human-induced global warming as a scientific fact, there is scientific evidence on the other side as well.
A Texas A&M study concludes that the “global surface warming since the 1970s may simply reflect natural climate variation.” Also from the same study: “This natural variation would help to counter the greenhouse gas warming effect. In fact, careful study reveals that global warming and cooling has occurred in the past in cyclical patterns.”(4)
The gap between land-based and satellite temperature readings produces no consensus about human-induced global warming. In the Journal of Climate (5) G. C. Hegerl and J.M. Wallace conclude, “all attempts to explain all or a significant part of the observed lapse rate trend by models of climate variability with structured patterns from observations have failed.” This is significant because the satellite readings show no overall warming trend since 1979. The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, in an effort to explain the discrepancy between land and satellite temperature readings, stated, “The evidence points to human error in the land based temperature record and until the human collected surface readings can be reconciled with the satellite readings, it would be scientifically reckless to conclude global warming is occurring.”
Richard Lindzen, Ph.D., professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of eleven scientists who prepared a 2001 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on climate change, estimates that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would produce a temperature increase of only one degree Celsius.(6) In fact, clouds and water vapor appear to be far more important factors related to global temperature. According to Dr. Lindzen and NASA scientists, clouds and water vapor may play a significant role in regulating the earth’s temperature to keep it more constant.(7)
There is seldom 100% consensus on any scientific issue, so at some point it will become necessary to accept what is obvious and set aside the views of a dwindling few. But the scientific community is not near that level on this issue. Fundamentalists should let the dust settle in order to come to a clear understanding of what is true.
(1) Laurie Goodstein, “Evangelicals Joining Global Warming Initiative,” New York Times, February 8, 2006.
(2) See FrontLine Magazine’s The Evangelical Disaster (January/February 2005) issue as well as David Wells’s No Place for Truth for documentation on this.
(3) Philippians 4:8 combined with the “It was good” statements in Genesis 1 certainly give an indication that God loves beauty.
(4) Benjamin Giese, Oceanographer, Professor, Texas A&M College of Geosciences.
(5) Vol. 15: 2412–2428 (2002).
(6) Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, “Scientists’ Report Doesn’t Support the Kyoto Treaty,” Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2001.
(7) James K. Glassman and Sallie Baliunas, Weekly Standard, June 25, 2001.
Mark Bouslog, FBFI Advisory Board member, pastors Bible Baptist Church in Bloomington, Illinois.
Kevin Schaal, FBFI Advisory Board member, pastors Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Glendale, Arizona.