The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Environment

Book Review: Embracing Creation

At the end of December, I finished one of the better books I read in 2016: Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson. Dr. Hicks is a former professor of mine, and I “know” Bobby through social media. Both men have written much that has challenged me, and I have been blessed by their thoughts on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (Hicks and Valentine), suffering and the problem of evil (Hicks), and the “Jewishness” of Christianity (Valentine). I had not previously read anything by Wilson.

I will go ahead and jump to my overall conclusion and recommendation: this is an important book, deserving of a wide readership (especially within Churches of Christ, which is the primary intended audience). Although Embracing Creation is more complex than I am indicating here, it largely comes down to two significant arguments, which are both based on the biblical reality that God cares deeply about what He has created.

First, humans are to reflect God’s care and concern for creation, and should practice thoughtful stewardship of our planet. Truly, this should not be a controversial claim, but because conversations surrounding care for the environment are frequently hijacked for political purposes, it often is made out to be controversial. Embracing Creation does not argue for a godless environmentalism that holds up nature as something to be worshipped; it does encourage a deep, biblical care for a creation that God calls good, but has been too often treated as expendable and unimportant by humans.

Second, God does not intend that His creation be destroyed, but will redeem and recreate it, and will dwell with creation in the New Heavens and New Earth. This will also be a controversial claim for many, but again, it need not be.* Hicks, Valentine, and Wilson argue (and effectively, in my opinion) that the notion of an annihilated and completely destroyed earth and an eternal existence for God’s saints in an other-worldly heaven is actually a fairly modern notion, and does not reflect the biblical text, the belief of the early church, or the beliefs of pioneers in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. Instead, these witnesses all point to a redeemed earth, which will be refined and recreated in a way that is analogous to our own resurrection bodies, and will serve as the location of our joyous eternal existence with God. Three texts which are generally brought up to refute this perspective—John 14.2-3, 2 Peter 3.6-7,13; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17—are all addressed (and quite adequately, I thought).

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book:

Creation does not belong to human beings. It belongs to God, and it is the Messiah’s inheritance. We are only stewards and junior partners, though we are coheirs with Christ. (16)

Too often we hear “dominion” in tyrannical, oppressive, militaristic, or manipulative ways, but this is not how God rules. As images of God, we rule in the likeness of God. (39)

Above all, Psalm 104 reveals an astounding truth: creation, animate and inanimate, is the object of divine love. If God, like an artist, dotes so tenderly over it, then should not those created in God’s image reflect the same divine delight, love, and care for creation? (53)

The resurrection of Jesus, then, is the pledge of a future harvest, a preview of coming attractions. It is God’s answer to creation’s lament. (91)

Though chaos remains in the old creation, chaos will disappear in the new. (130)

God’s promise is “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The text does not say that God will make new things. Rather, God will make all things new. This is restoration, healing, and renewal. (131)

Creation is intrinsically good, and this goodness is not based on its utility for humans. (139)

On one level, it does not matter if “global warming” is real or imagined, caused by nature or humans. Caring for God’s good world is a matter of obedience and discipleship…If the Father is mindful of the death of even a single sparrow (Matt. 10:29), then we, who reflect the divine image, will care as well. (140)

Scripture never says heaven, separated from the earth, is the eternal destiny of the redeemed. Forecasting a doomed earth and an eternal celestial abode can result in an escapist outlook that hunkers down until we “fly away,” diminishing support for creation stewardship. (166)

Before closing, there were a couple areas of the book which I thought were weaknesses. First, I think Embracing Creation is a very challenging read for the average Christian. I have spent years (and years!) in grad school reading books on Scripture, theology, and ministry on a regular basis, and felt right at home with this work, but I found myself wondering how well I would have followed it if I had read it as a young minister before I had any sort of seminary training. Now, the exact intended audience of the book is never stated directly (that I can remember), but because I feel the two main points described above are so important and so often neglected, I wish the book would have been written at a somewhat simpler level to make it more accessible.

Second, there is an intriguing chapter at the end of the book entitled, “God’s Restoration Movement: Revisioning the Restoration Plea.” This chapter will be of special interest for readers from Churches of Christ (or other branches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement), and basically argues that we should view the concept of Restoration not as a return to the practice and beliefs of the first century church (i.e., a look back to restore the church), but rather, a working towards the time when God will come and redeem all of creation (i.e., a look ahead to restore the entire cosmos). This is a thought-provoking proposal, but ultimately, I think it presents an either/or dichotomy which is not necessary: can we not be a people who seek to follow the basic design, practice, and spirit of the early church while also eagerly anticipating and working toward the day when God will make all things new? Interestingly, throughout Embracing Creation, early Restoration pioneers such as Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and David Lipscomb are quoted as men who understood God’s plan of Restoration for all creation, and yet they still held to the idea of Restoration as we have typically conceived and discussed itCan we not do the same?

With these gentle critiques in mind, the fact remains that Embracing Creation is a compelling and important book. It is a book that not everyone will agree with, but perhaps for that reason alone, it should be read by many people. And as I described above, I think its two main points are scripturally spot-on, and their understanding is greatly needed in the church today.


*Some will hear this and associate it with some version of Premillennialism or Jehovah’s Witness eschatology. What Embracing Creation proposes has nothing to do with either.

The Fall of Man and the Ecological Consequences of Sin

In the first post of this series on the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the widespread devastation of sin, I mentioned that we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; 

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” 
This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been destroyed as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies which have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

And I think there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” 

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.1

In sum, sin has devastated this aspect of our existence as well. Creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.2
• • •

1If my thinking on this is correct, then it stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.

2I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of the creation care is considered to be a “political” or “liberal” idea, despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clearly biblical principle!

Creation and Stewardship

Genesis 1.27-28 says,

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’”

Referring to that passage of Scripture, I came upon a wonderful quotation from Father Robert A. Sirico in Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition regarding the way we should treat the environment from a biblical perspective:

“In our modern times, however, this biblical vision of the relationship between God, man, and nature is muddled by two false views. The one sees the natural world as the source of all value, man as an intruder, and God, if he exists at all, as so immanent in the natural order that he ceases to be distinguishable from it. The other places man as the source of all values, the natural order as merely instrumental to his aims, and God as often irrelevant. Genesis presents a radically different picture of how the world is put together.”

Discussions on the environment become highly charged and highly politicized in today’s climate (think global warming), and often the issue is painted as if there are only two options: either the protection of the environment is most important issue, or it isn’t important at all. The biblical perspective of stewardship falls between those two extremes, and is the position that Christians should seek to embrace.

Abortion, Part 3: How I Vote

This is the third part in a series on abortion, and specifically on why I feel abortion is the single most important issue when it comes to voting. My views on abortion are based on certain philosophies and premises, which you can catch in Part 1 and Part 2.

In this post, I’m going to shift gears a bit and try to explain how I vote in general. It’s been a difficult post to write in a lot of ways, but it’s been good for me to flesh out my thoughts.

Abstaining From Politics

As a quick note, I should mention that there are some who believe that Christians should abstain from politics and voting altogether. After all, our true allegiance is to Christ, not some earthly office or entity, and Christianity is about being salt and light, not about getting others to do what God wants via legislation.

While I respect that view, I also believe that the thinking behind it is flawed—I’m confident that God wants us to use every avenue we have to influence others for good and inject the values of His Kingdom into the world, including our political voice.

Political Parties

On my Facebook profile, my political views are listed as “Inconsistent”. I described them as such not because I consider them to be inconsistent with each other, but because I consider them to be inconsistent with either of the two major parties that dominate our political landscape today.

Generally, I have conservative views on economic issues. As a product of (among other things) Harding University’s Belden Center for Private Enterprise, I believe that capitalism, low taxation, and limited government regulation of business are generally good things.

That being said, those views (some of which are pretty strong) don’t really impact my vote that much because at the end of the day, no matter which party is in control, as Americans, we are among the wealthiest people in the world. If our economic recession lasts longer than expected and cuts deeper than expected, as Americans, we will still be among the wealthiest people in the world.

Instead, the side of politics that matters more to me are the “social” issues, or maybe a better term (which I’ll use for the rest of this post) would be “moral” issues. From a Christian perspective, it’s fundamental that morality is more important than money—how good you are is more important than how rich you are.

And that’s my major problem with the Republican Party—while they may agree with me on many moral issues, when push comes to shove, they just don’t consider those issues to be as important as money. And worse, I think some Republican candidates don’t care about them at all, but just pay lip service to them in order entice me to vote for them.

Of course, on the other hand, you have the Democrats, who I disagree with on a lot of moral issues and disagree with on economic policies.

So here I am, inconsistent with both major political parties, determining my vote based on the issues that I think are most important—the moral ones.

Moral Issues

Christians (and others) who support pro-choice candidates are quick to point out that there are a lot of moral issues besides just abortion—and they’re right. There’s a bunch of them, and I could probably do weeks’ worth of posts covering them all, but instead, I’ll just briefly mention a few in order to illustrate that my views are somewhat scattered across the political spectrum (I won’t mention abortion, since that’s the subject of the next post).

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, the teachings of Jesus on the “Least of These” influence my thinking on a lot of these issues:

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Matthew 25.41-46.)

Environment

God created this world for us to use, and also for us to take care of. This idea of stewardship represents a balance that I think a lot of people miss.

Having said that, I think the case for Global Warming (or, “Global Climate Change” now that statistics show that we’re not warming as originally predicted) is unconvincing, and has become overly politicized, as evidenced by the fact that the significant number of scientists who have refuted global warming have been silenced and ridiculed.

Gay Marriage

God defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, and as Christians, I think we should do what we can to support that definition. To me, that certainly includes opposing gay marriage, but at the same time acknowledging that, with the divorce rates we have, American heterosexual couples are doing a good enough job of destroying marriage without help from anyone else. Let’s protect marriage, but let’s also admit that homosexuals aren’t the only ones who are bringing damage upon it.

Immigration

The Bible is pretty clear as to how we are to treat the foreigner—with hospitality. Because of this, I have very little patience with the general position of the Right on immigration.

I realize that we have a lot of illegal immigrants in this country, but I’m also virtually certain that the vast majority of them would choose to become legal if it were easier for them to do so. That’s what I call the iTunes Effect: when the iTunes store gave people an affordable, legal alternative to stealing music, many, many people immediately took advantage of it. I may be naive, but I think immigration would work in much the same way.

Furthermore the U.S. has always been a country of immigrants. It’s how we got our beginning, and it’s what gives us our identity. The Statue of Liberty actually says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free…” but all too many people seem to want to add an “unless they’re from Mexico” clause to the end. I think that’s ridiculous. And sad. And not biblical.

Poverty

I feel convinced in my own mind that ideally, it should be the job of the Church, not government, to take care of the poor, but considering that Christendom as a whole hasn’t done a very good job of that, government helping out might not be a bad idea.

I question whether or not the typical policies of the Democratic Party really help out the poor that much, but at least, in theory, their heart is in the right place. And to those with more conservative views who think that taxation basically amounts to stealing (a view I’m sensitive to), I think it’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t say, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s—unless he asks for more than you want to give him.”

At the same time, I see a lot of inconsistency regarding political views on poverty. If poverty was such a big deal to the Left, you would think they would also oppose things like state lotteries (which statistics have shown feed off of the poor) and alternative fuel sources such as ethanol, which take food (corn) and turn it into fuel when thousands of people around the world starve every day. It makes me wonder if poverty is the Left’s lip service issue just as abortion is the Right’s.

War

I know that this is a major issue with some people, so I may not do it justice in my brief comments, but I’ll try.

I’m not a pacifist. I think war is a terrible thing, and should be avoided when possible, but I also think it can be justified. I think that’s a Biblical view, although I respect the opinions of those who disagree.

Regarding our current war, I know it’s very unpopular, but if we’re honest, I think we’d acknowledge two things. First, back when war was declared, the vast majority of politicians (although our President-Elect is a notable exception) and the vast majority of American citizens were in favor of it. I think too many people are trying to deny responsibility for that. Secondly, having made the decision to go to war, it’s incredibly irresponsible to just pack up and leave in the middle when all indications are that things will get worse if you do. That might be the case now, and it certainly was the case back when the Left first started demanding a pullout.

Having said that, if all the Iraq War accomplished or all it was about was removing a dictator from power who had committed genocide on his own people, then I think it was justified. Similarly, if Hitler had decided not to invade every country in Europe but had still gassed every Jew he could get his hands on, I think war would have been justified in that situation as well.

Conclusion

Once again, my point in bringing up all these issues is not so much to convince anyone on any particular subject, but rather to illustrate what I believe is a consistency among my views on different moral subjects, but an inconsistency between the moral views I hold and the views generally held by either major political party.

So what does that leave me with? Since there are clearly a lot of moral issues, and my views on these issues don’t all line up neatly with a specific party, how can I ever choose to vote for one candidate or another?

Well, if all issues were created equal (you can see where I’m going with this), I wouldn’t be able to—I’d be locked in a stalemate of conscience. But that’s not the case. Sometimes, the magnitude of a particular issue can make it so important that it should take preeminence over all others.

Slavery was such an issue, and abortion is another.

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