Hope

The fourth and final part of a series on reasons to care for creation.

There is hope. As Christians we have been commissioned to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, to proclaim the gospel to all of creation, and to be salt and light in this world. Continue reading

Salvation

Part three of a series on reasons to care for creation.

Since early childhood I have had a particular fascination with the cat family, or Felidae. Of the 37 or so species I’ve had the great privilege to work with 17 of them in captivity, to see two in the wild and to hear a third: it’s a humbling experience to be sleeping outside and in the half-light of morning to hear a leopard calling close by!

During a university summer holiday I was working at a wildlife sanctuary, where, among other animals, I had to look after a tiger called Sonia. And after a few days I had the opportunity to go into her enclosure along with her keeper. Continue reading

The apple trees of tomorrow

A cry for church action on climate justice and fossil-fuel divestment.

It was 1963. Washington D. C. The young African-American pastor rose to his feet. Faced with the weight of history set against him; faced with the vested interests of the status quo; faced with powerful opposition, including from parts of the Church; faced with the apathy and cynicism of some, and the denial and delusion of others, he uttered these famous words.

He said ‘I have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Continue reading

Fossil Free Faith

The case for the Irish churches to tackle climate change by divesting their pensions and other investments from fossil-fuels.

The Maldives are a place close to my heart. Though I’ve never been, its stunning seas, wonderful wildlife and beautiful people have long captured my imagination. I’ve also spent many a moment and meeting praying that its restrictive regime might become more open, allowing true freedom of religion: I believe the people of the Maldives deserve the chance to hear and see the good news of Jesus Christ.

But there’s more at stake here than religious freedom alone. That’s because the Maldives faces another existential threat, one that has the potential to wipe this entire island archipelago off the face of the earth: climate change. Continue reading

Passion

Whispers from Heaven

How do we deal with the brokenness we see in the world around us? The answer lies in turning our pain into passion.

Paula’s been writing a series recently on brokenness. It’s been looking at the healing we find in God’s presence, and the grace we find in our own weakness. The deepest cry of every heart is answered by Jesus Christ.

But brokenness also exists beyond the individual. We see it in families, churches, communities, nations and throughout our beautiful, broken world. When it’s something within our own lives, by God’s power we can usually get our heads round it, however hard it may be at times. When it’s the headlines on the nightly news, however – ebola, Islamic State, recession, climate change, and the list goes on – it can seem too much for us to get a handle on. Overwhelmed, the pain we feel can quickly give…

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A letter about lifeboats

Ten reasons why looking after God’s world matters, regardless of what happens to it in the future.

Dear sister- or brother-in-Christ,

This is a letter about lifeboats. To be precise, it’s a letter about lifeboat theology, and how it influences Christian engagement with the world around us, particularly the environment. Author Paul Marshall describes lifeboat theology like this:

It is as if creation was the Titanic, and now that we’ve hit the iceberg of sin, there’s nothing left for us to do but get ourselves into lifeboats. The ship is sinking rapidly. God has given up on it and is concerned only with the survival of his people. Any efforts to salvage God’s creation amounts to rearranging the deck chairs. Instead, some say, our sole task is to get into the lifeboats, to keep them afloat, to pluck drowning victims out of the water, and to sail on until we get to heaven where all will be well.”

This letter is a heartfelt response to this argument and to my fellow Christians who hold to it. For even if the world will one day vanish in a puff in smoke, and even though it is indeed riddled with sin, pain and suffering, I passionately believe that considering our relationship to God’s world carefully and lovingly still matters in the here and now. Here are ten reasons why.

1. Revelation. Creation speaks of the glory of God (Romans 1:20). Yet the more it is degraded and despoiled, the more it reveals only our flawed human nature, rather than the Divine. We wouldn’t consider ripping pages out of God’s book of words, so why do so with God’s book of works?

2. Relationship. We weren’t just made to have right relationship with ourselves, others and God, but with the rest of creation too. That’s why contact with animals and nature is so good for body, mind and soul. It follows then that the opposite is bad for us relationally, whether due to a lack of contact or the wrong sort of contact.

3. Commission. God has ordained the natural world to provide for many of our vital needs. Dependence on it is therefore not optional but integral, and a wondrous thing at that. We need, for instance, water, food and air to preach, teach, and reach the world: there can be no Great Commission without God’s Great Creation.

4. Poverty. Dependence on local natural resources is especially pronounced for poor people the world over. And the poor are usually the most impacted by the breakdown of such ecosystems, whether locally (e.g. polluted rivers) or globally (e.g. climate change). For the sake of the poor alone, looking after the environment is essential.

5. Consumerism. Yet it is not poverty that poses the greatest threat to creation but wealth, principally the over-consumption of goods and services that accompanies it. This is usually achieved by driving down their financial costs at the expense of their social and environmental ones. Such injustices, as well as the faith-, finance- and focus-sapping effects of consumerism make it a mortal threat to not only to creation but to the Church as well.

6. Fruit. In every relationship-type, the guiding values that shape it ought to be the Fruit of the Spirit. So why is it that in many of our attitudes to nature – and the economy too – it is the rotten fruit of the human spirit that predominates: greed, selfishness, envy, apathy and denial?

7. Pressure. Despite much positive change, in some circles creation care is still seen as a distraction or even a danger. Major barriers to speaking out on this matter within the Church may include being given the dreaded label ‘liberal’, or the influence of powerful vested interests. Theological and cultural peer pressure like this cannot be allowed to triumph over truth.

8. Tradition. Similarly, much opposition to creation care within the Church is primarily influenced not by truth but by tradition. In fact, secular thinkers like Plato, Descartes and Darwin have strongly shaped negative Western attitudes towards nature, which are so deeply ingrained that they are presumed to be biblical. They’re not.

9. Grace. Every individual taught and tended today by teachers and nurses will one day die. But that does not detract from the magnificent value of these tasks. In the same way, the possibility of future planetary degradation or apocalypse cannot be used to justify apathy or antagonism towards creation today. To do so is, quite simply, an abuse of grace.

10. Fatalism. Even if the world vanishes one day in a puff of smoke, and even if nature continues to be fatally tarnished here and now, eco-fatalism is no way for Christians to live out our relationships with the rest of God’s wonderful world. The ultimate theme that should define these interactions ought to be not how much longer it will exist in the way we know it today, but how deeply God loves it, now and forever. Lifeboat theology or not, in everything that we do, this is the reason.

In light of all this, and although God in His wisdom knows best, I don’t really feel quite ready for the lifeboat just yet. For into the stormy sea of life, the Father has thrown me a life-ring, a wet-suit and a first-aid kit; the Son has gone ahead of me and shown me how it’s done; and the Holy Spirit swims beside me in these choppy waters. I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to the wreck for the others. By the grace of God, we’ve got a ship to save.

Your brother-in-Christ,

Jonny.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

For more on reasons to care for creation see the peopleplanetprophet manifesto.

 © Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Zombie theology

Holism, not dualism, should underpin our Christian faith, including in our relationships with nature.

Zombies stalk our churches.  They shuffle down the aisles, present in body, absent in spirit.  They have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  These zombie Christians sniff out any scent of abundant life in the church and devour it, intent on reducing the earthly kingdom of God to just a waiting room for eternity.  Tackling poverty and injustice leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, caring for creation makes them choke.

Admittedly, there is such a thing as murdering a metaphor, even an undead one.  But the purpose of this caricature is to point out the negative dualism that is at the root of some Christians’ engagement with the world around them, including hostile or ambivalent attitudes towards the environment, poverty alleviation and other aspects of our physical existence.  This article will argue that not only is this zombie theology damaging and inconsistent in numerous ways, but that it is actually heavily influenced by ideas outside of the Christian worldview.  It will also suggest that the positive biblical alternative is to look at life holistically, accepting and marveling at the interconnection and interdependence of all God’s created order. Continue reading