Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement?

On Earth Day ­­­­I posted about my “water woes,” and how the struggles I have with poverty and environment are really spiritual problems. I argued that Christians are to resist the curses of Genesis 3, that we are to resist poverty, alleviate toil, heal our world, and mend relationships—both human and divine. There are hundreds of people with flooded houses right now in my community, many of them poor or old and with limited resources to deal with the damage. I just dropped an industrial fan off at a senior’s house. She was wearing a sling and her husband was in the hospital and her entire basement is wet.

I appreciate the personal notes of support I got, as well as some toilet replacement advice—not the normal response to my blogs. But I also got some puzzled notes. If you are right, some asked, that Genesis tells us first that we will have environmental woes, and second that we should resist those woes, why have evangelicals largely resisted the environmental movement?

Good question.

First, it isn’t true that all or a majority of evangelicals resist the environmental movement. In an Evangelical Alliance survey of British evangelicals, they found that 94% agree that “it’s a Christian’s duty to care for the environment.” A study released in BC Christian News shows that Canadian evangelical leaders see the environment as a growing concern, and an area where Christians can agree with the general public. In Canada, the question of the environment and evangelicals is less a right-left question, but a regional one. Evangelicals on the prairies and industrial areas are less driven by environmental concern and generally more skeptical. On the coast we see a different picture.

Even in America, the picture is more mixed than the media often portrays. This survey shows that more than half of evangelicals think the earth is warming, but they are split on the cause (human or cyclical). Still, one-third of evangelicals think humans are causing climate change; the result is higher if black evangelicals are included.

I cautiously suggest a diversity among evangelicals in the United States on these issues. My caution is more about the application of belief in real life. All though most think the climate is shifting, this study by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that actual concern among evangelicals is lower than the larger population. This Yale study suggests the opposite, and this Barna study shows the diversity of opinions among evangelicals. But it also shows that despite evangelical skepticism, evangelicals do engage in practical environmental ways.

Despite this diversity, I think we can agree that among the skeptics of climate change doctrine and resisters of environmental movements, evangelicals have a strong voice. From Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs through the Al Gore religion to the growing public consensus on climate change, evangelicals have had doubts.

Why the skepticism? And if the Bible suggests we “tend the Garden”—as I argued on Earth Day—why do they resists pro-environment measures that could help in small ways with little cost?

I think the media has really answered this question by suggesting that evangelicals are anti-science. The logic is pretty elegant: 1) scientists say the climate is changing and humans are contributing to that; 2) evangelicals disbelieve these reports; therefore 3) evangelicals are anti-science. This is an easy generalization to support. Evangelicals, after all, reject the vast agreement about evolution among scientists. Evangelicals believe that the world began 15,000 years ago and the Big Bang is bunk. Certainly they are anti-scientific.

I think this a kind of media bait and switch.

First, evangelicals are less united on the question of young earth creationism than one might think. This Pew Forum survey shows the resistance that evangelicals have to human evolution. Still, though, one quarter to one third of self-identifying evangelicals think humans have evolved. Asked less pointedly, like “how old is the universe?,” and we see even more diversity. The surveys also fail to divide fundamentalism and evangelicalism—communities that have overlap, but are distinct in foundational ways.

Second, the media uses the issue of creationism as a symbol of what evangelicalism is like as a whole. A picture of some guy that build Noah’s ark in his backyard, or a clip of Ken Ham talking about the grand conspiracy of the scientific elite, or a teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron watching mustachioed Ray Comfort peeling a banana, and you have your story. Once we know what these guys think, we know what all evangelicals think.

This metonymic bait and switch is poor journalism with a profound effect. What it ignores is the real story of American evangelicalism. In David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, for example, he talks about how churches and Christians are struggle about the role of science and faith. It ignores leading evangelical scientists like Francis Collins and Alister McGrath. And, especially, it ignores the millions of evangelicals in the scientific fields, working as nurses, doctors, researchers, teachers, professors, engineers, and astronomers. These mothers, brothers, friends, and lovers tap into the long Christian tradition of using scientific knowledge to resist death and disease throughout all the world in all the generations.

No, what the media and pop culture miss when they say that evangelicals are anti-science is this basic fact: evangelicals aren’t anti-science; they are anti-media and pop culture.

What evangelicals resist in resisting global warming conversations is not so much the scientific data, but the mass culture’s blind acceptance of it. How often have you heard someone in the media say, “the scientific consensus on climate change?” Now, how often have you seen the media show data for that consensus? Or, shockingly, how often do they present the reason for the consensus? My guess it is 10:1—for every ten times someone says “consensus” on CNN they only present evidence of that once. Perhaps the ratio is 100:1.

No, evangelicals resist dominant culture. I was an environmentalist as a young believer. It was the blind consensus that made me doubt that my Christian commitment to environmental care was true. I doubt I am alone on that point.

Now, I believe this so-called consensus. I think we are in a warming cycle that is exacerbated by human activity. I think our addiction to materialism, to comfort, has the unintended consequences of global warming. I think we should resist, making wise choices and pressuring industry, government, and consumers to make, rule, and buy differently. I haven’t joined Al Gore’s apocalyptic cult, but I am otherwise in agreement with his Nobel-winning powerpoint presentation.

More personally, I think that evangelicals who write off the environmental movement as a grand conspiracy are doing great damage. They have forgotten the principles of Genesis and God’s second command to humans. More than that, they have lost a chance to stand with neighbours on a moral issue that matters. And even more than that, American (and Canadian) Christians have gained the whole world in material goods, but in doing so have sold out the world.

Still, I think that evangelical culture is wise to resist media and pop culture. They are right to avoid social media shaming techniques of dominant culture. They are probably right to look for common sense solutions in their own worlds rather than just at the grand statements of the great men and women of our day. And they are right to ask for better information from media, activists, and scientists. Skeptics can often be won over.

Why do so many American evangelicals reject global care conversations? Because we as intellectuals, writers, pundits, scientists, and activists have not demonstrated with clarity and integrity the real need. It is not that we have to get through a wall of skepticism, though that is there. It’s that we haven’t made our way through the wall of mass culture nonsense—a mass culture that has no problem disdaining evangelicalism by equating it with crammed arks, abortion clinic bombers, and Dr. Ray Comfort with his banana.

There is in evangelicalism a “Creation Care” movement, represented by popular authors (e.g., John Stott and Jonathan Merritt), signalled by a Christianity Today study guide by that name, and supported by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), environmental activists since 1993, and The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a group of prominent American Evangelical leaders. The ECI’s first claim is unambiguous:

“Human-Induced Climate Change is Real and increasing international instability, which could lead to more security threats to our nation.”

The ECI Statement continues to argue that the hardest hit will be the poor and marginalized, so it is the Christian’s moral responsibility to act. Finally, they argue, the need to respond is urgent.

Resistance remains. Wayne Grudem, is a Senior Fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (CA), which resists the ECI and mass culture environmentalism. The Cornwall Alliance also has a statement: “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.” They are likewise unambiguous:

“We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.”

The CA response is not significant, and it is mounting its pressure upon the public discourse. A recent CA book, Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death by Dr. James A. Wanliss, drives the conversation forward. The promotional video uses phrases like,

  • “one of the greatest deceptions of our day”
  • “this so-called Green Dragon [Environmentalism] is seducing your children in our classrooms and popular culture, its lusts for political power now extends to the highest global levels, and its twisted view of the world elevates nature above the needs of people—even the poorest and the most helpless”
  • “environmentalism … is your enemy”
  • and in the context of “resist the Devil” (James 4:7) the host urges the listener to “rise up, slay the Green Dragon.”

Militant language and violent images are used throughout; the CA believes that environmentalism is the threat of a generation.

Conservative evangelical novelist and philanthropist Randy Alcorn indicates that resistance to environmentalism in evangelicalism may continue despite a shift in public opinion. In his foreword to Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life, and Our World (2009) by architect and urban designer Michael Abbaté, Alcorn describe a recent speech he gave to thousands of conservative evangelical college students. He was speaking on eschatology, describing a new creation perspective, and adlibbed a rhetorical question: “of all people, as stewards [of creation], don’t you think we ought to have reasonable concern for our environment and try to take care of it?” A single person broke into spontaneous applause, and then stopped, awkwardly, apologetically. No one joined in to support the lone clapper—there was not even a token clap-along. Alcorn continued his speech, joking that one person actually applauded to “a pro-environment statement at a conservative evangelical gathering.”

Besides the lack of support for the solo clapper in Alcorn’s audience, what is intriguing is the great pains Alcorn goes to so that the reader understands that he really is theologically conservative, and generally conservative on social and political issues. This point is not insignificant, as evangelicals are concerned with avoiding a liberal label. Alcorn argues that the resistance to environmentalism among evangelicals is that it is viewed as part of “the liberal agenda.” And, therefore, “What sounds socially liberal sounds theologically liberal. And, understandably, biblical conservatives don’t want to sound liberal.”

So we see the real concerns of many evangelicals:

  1. The media and mass culture don’t understand them, so they resist the media and mass culture.
  2. There is a perception that support on this issue will mean evangelicals align themselves with the wrong people.

Evangelical environmental resisters are correct on both points. I think, though, that they miss the point on each.

On the first point, it is up to the intelligent, engaged skeptic to push through the media fog and find out if the claims of the environmental movement are true. I believe they are mostly in the right direction.

On the second point, evangelicals should never be concerned that they are connected to the wrong people. They really will be “tagged.” When an evangelical stands up and says to her church that she is an environmentalists, all kinds of images will flit through the minds of her congregation. This will include Al Gore and his million dollar speech. It will include fuzziness about Rachel Carson and DDT, failed climate accords like Kyoto, extremists like PETA covered in blood on the street, and a general sense of the “liberal” world.

But evangelicals claim to both serve and emulate the “man of no reputation.” The first concern is truth, not that our hands get dirty. Like Jesus, telling the truth may find us friends with lepers and liberals.

That’s sort of the point, actually.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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32 Responses to Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement?

  1. Doug Daniel says:

    Thank you for this perspective. I think you’re on to some important points.

    Here’s one my own– the climate issue has been manipulated by conservative politicians as much out of a cynical desire for political advantage as out of genuine concern. There is, sadly, a conspiratorial thread running through modern evangelicalism and fundamentalism (which, as you say, are not the same thing) that listens more to urban myth rather than clear reason and evidence. The reason for this is rooted in the evangelical response to modernity in the early 20th Century, a topic which would need three or four really large books to unpack. Suffice to say that politicians feed on this tendency to see conspiracy in the secular world. Evangelicals need to unlearn some of their assumptions about the rest of the world, engage with the evidence, and then, as you say, tell the truth.

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    • That’s a tough one for me. Skepticism and distrust of mass culture can become conspiratorial. I feel and see it around me. The AntiVaxers, for example, aren’t just talking about data, but a conspiracy. The Gay Agenda, Women’s Lip, the Pro Life Movement, Obama–all these becomes part of grand schemes by the outsiders.
      I think there are two anecdotes. 1. As you say, dig into real evidence. But also, 2. Make friends with people who disagree with you. It’s harder to demonize someone you love.

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      • jsydcarton says:

        This was a very interesting post. And one I agree with. I have talked with people that say we shouldn’t care for the earth, as it is fallen and will be made new. But in my mind that is illogical and unbiblical. The world is a gift, even in the fallen state it is currently in. Should we despise it then? Also, how can we truthfully say we have been faithful servants if we do not take care of ALL we have been given?
        And in the post above I agree with your second anecdote. I’ve been on a penpal site for several years and met people I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise. People with vastly different worldviews and religions. And it has increased my empathy and Christian love.
        I think also…that this topic comes done to one attitude. Many Christians today seem to have become “Possessors” of Truth, instead of “Seekers” after Truth. Settling for simply having God’s word…instead of searching for the living Word of God. Shouldn’t we continually be out in the world seeking after God’s truth, instead of simply staying in our little enclaves? To be challenged and strengthened instead of mummifying?

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        • Thanks for sharing. I actually think your two points are connecting in an interesting way. I think that the environmental movement is part of a de-centering of truth that evangelicals are resisting–a sort of relativism that you capture in your second point, about searching.
          I think what gets lost in that reaction is that when we say, “I don’t have all the truth and am a seeker,” we don’t mean there is no truth. We just mean things like:
          1. No Christian system yet seems to have all truth.
          2. There is real truth in the universe. 2+2=4 is true in all parts of the universe. I just don’t have all access to that truth, and not all people have equal access to all truth.
          3. The Holy Spirit seems to work with people on truth journeys. This is patterned in the New Testament (“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”) through today.
          Things like that.
          With that “searching” perspective, we see that culture can teach us to be tenders of the Garden, even if culture is problematic in many ways.

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  2. Great perspective.
    I think the change has arrived… we are seeing the need to care for all aspects of this creation. The 40 under crowd get it. Though i butt up against folks who want to know what i am “really doing” as we promote in Africa ecologically sound organic farming and gardening practices that heal the soil, avoids chemicals, sustains health, and conserves precious water resources. But this is only the older crew 55 +

    I think evangelicals are tired of the media portrail of us, and we feel our voice is not accuratly reflected in that medium… quite correct
    .
    However, we are equally tired about what is taking place within evangelicalism – how unqualified christians, mostly pastors, having little knowledgable or educational credibility in science, or ecology, are speaking with high authority, as the experts. They speak with authority, but many do not speak with credibility or deep knowledge. Read a few “defense” books… mustly from the young earth who have made it a test of faith.
    And consider the ecological and environmental footprint of a church. The number of vehicles arriving with one or two people inside, to multiple services, programs and meetings each week. How effective car-pooling could be, what a message to practice what we preach. Or, how smaller gatherings in existing structures save greenhouse gasses and reduce heating a building, and this decentralization eliminates longer commutes… as people meet within walking distance of each other… None of these choices of alter our fundamental theological tenants, but would speak volumes about the depth of respect we have for creation.

    Could we ever see part of our Christian message become “simplicity”, to not only preserve our well worn workers souls, but to truly unite that with the equally weighty issue of earth stewardship through environmental conservation/preservation… out of love for peoples souls, and for the creation gift of earth?
    Would this conversation soon arrise at leadership meetings? Would we call ourselves to obey the great comission and the great stewardship? Is there going to be a place for this conversation?

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    • These are great comments, and could be a post on their own. In my church world, I haven’t spent much time talking about ecological and creation care issues. I’ve simply made “environmental impact” part of normal conversation. As far as “simplicity”–we have a much bigger cultural shift in play. Well done.

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  3. dlature says:

    I have been reading George Marshall’s great Social Psychology book, “Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”, and he covers a little bit of this ground there as well. I am perhaps what I would call a “Post-Evangelical” (which , for me, remains very evangelical, as the only real good news is seeing reality and seeing God in it, behind it, emanating from it). I am convinced that our theology needs to “unearth” (bring out) it’s eco-roots (so “unearth” is a rather ironic choice of words, since it is really EARTH-inization of our theology. “Earth Honoring Faith” has been written by Larry Rasmussen and would be a great approach for seminaries from here on out, to “renovate” theology so that it’s eco-centeredness becomes a much stronger more central narrative. Yur post here is some good explorations and posing of some of these and related questions. Would love to chat sometime.

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    • You are right Dale, this great response was sitting in Spam!
      Nice play on “unearth.” While agreeing with your ideas here, let me refine this part: “to “renovate” theology so that it’s eco-centeredness becomes a much stronger more central narrative.”
      I think we are constantly renewing and renovating theology, going to the roots to strengthen the branches.
      My concern is not to bring an “issue” into the main branch–or even an important way of living ecologically. I think humanity is broken, according to Genesis, in three ways: our divine-human relationship, our human relationships, and how we fit in our world. I think a theology at focusses on any one of these is anemic.
      I suspect we largely agree here, but I’d love your critique.

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      • Dale Lature says:

        I thinjk you’re right on about this: “three ways: our divine-human relationship, our human relationships, and how we fit in our world” I think the eco part of this is in the divine-human (since the place in which we have been placed , by design, as it were, is in this ecosystem, and AS ecosystems ourselves. This also intersects with number 3 “how we fit” , and number two; “Human relationships” have a tie-in where our stewardship of the earth affects EVERYONE. So I don’t see this “AN ISSUE”, but as a deeply integrated, feedback-heavy dimension of creation. It’s an “issue” in the political world. It’s a matter of wholeness in creation. And yes, I do think we largely agree.

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        • Hmmm. I’m not sure that they are all equal, the three. I realize I am viewing them as hierarchical. For example, when we do damage to the environment, we will damage our neighbour (or the neighbour of another culture/generation). Likewise, we continue to severe the human-divine relationship.
          So I agree that it is deeply integrated–not just a matter of conscience, but of what it means to be human.

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          • dlature says:

            But what does “equal” really mean? When you have a “whole” (which is what life is, and what our ecosystem is), then to talk about one being more important is not really recognizing the whole. Which is related to the kind of thinking that led so many of us (speaking of the human race) to see nature as this vast storehouse of stuff for the “taking”). Now that we’ve passed the point where we can see how we’ve traversed the limits of our ecosystem, this realization dawns on us, and we see how things that we took for granted were the entry into a whole new level of transgression (and most of it happening without the scientific knowledge to really know, until stuff started breaking down and people started suffering because of it, not to mention, other species going extinct, which leaves voids that enable bad things to happen due to their absence). So maybe “equal” is not the right word. Interdependent is better, maybe.

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  4. clisawork says:

    Al Gore Religion? Really? I don’t think he sees himself as a religious figure. I think that may be some of the pop culture (religious – yes their is pop culture in religious communities!) that you are trying to resist.

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    • Oh, I don’t think he is a religious figure. But do you remember the first few years after that? Anyone who asked hard questions got an apocalyptic answer. The followers of Al Gorism probably misrepresented him, but it wasn’t good.
      Here in Canada we have David Suzuki and a number of others beating this drum for a long time (without the Nobel award).
      I suppose both sides are pop culture, aren’t they? The response and the action.

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      • clisawork says:

        I think that when we conflate things with religion it creates a false dichotomy that is deeply painful for those of us that are mourning the destructive vice grip that politics has on certain religious groups, especially in America. You cannot deny that – if you want proof I can give it to you. Presidential candidates speaking weekly at religious conferences, passing out bibles with political commentary to the entire US Senate, elected representatives at all levels regularly invoking, quoting the Bible, and praying to God in public legistlative sessions – all from one party. We need less less less religion in all matters of government. A ferveror for a cause, or even a person supporting a cause is not even close to a religion, and if you feel that disagreeing with an opinion makes people upset with you, or causes people to give you an apocaplyptic answer – the irony boggles the mind. Every politician who calls on God will eventually predict the end of the world if we don’t start following God’s will. The difference between an environmental apocalypse and a literal end of the world apocalypse where Jesus returns and all the world is judged for their sins is like being on the bottom and the top of the grand canyon. It is the same as saying Pat Robertson is religious figure and Al Gore is religious figure. Pat Robertson goes on TV and tells people their clothes from good will might be cursed, and he can go on tv the next day and tell another caller that the reason their husband cheated is because they aren’t taking care of their husband enough (and winking while he says it). People continue to send Pat Robertson money and he is still a non profit, while Al Gore never made any claims to know what “God” had said about the environment, and he wasn’t elected. Do you see the difference, because if you don’t you are not the smart person I thought you were.

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        • This is a pretty strong response, with some heat, I think. I’m going to set aside the Republican connection to religion. It is a long American question–Pat Robertson as candidate, Jimmy Carter as evangelical, the influence of the Moral Majority, Mitt Romney and Mormonism, and a decisive 2008 moment where Obama was comfortable in a California church and John McCain was not. I would love to hear more about how you feel that as oppressive. You might note that I didn’t make the connection of Al Gore as ‘the next President,” but of Al Gore as environmental activist. My critique isn’t Al Gore (I would critique for a lifestyle of riches in a world of poverty, not for his powerpoint presentation).
          And Pat Robertson really is a religious figure. I’ve critiqued him here, but he is a religious figure, as well as a past politician.
          You said, “A ferveror for a cause, or even a person supporting a cause is not even close to a religion, and if you feel that disagreeing with an opinion makes people upset with you, or causes people to give you an apocaplyptic answer – the irony boggles the mind.”
          Let me be clearer. I think that the Americas were founded out of a Christian religious mindset, some of which was apolcalyptic or New Hope oriented. The idea of “postmillennialism,” for example, flourished in the 1800s because it was felt culturally that the positive move forward was part of the great move of God toward an era of piece (the thousand years of Rev 20). In Mesoamerica, the apocalyptic tinge was greater, but ebbed away. In North America, it rose and fell with each of the 4 Great Awakenings, and was sort of sealed in by the return of Israel right after two global wars.
          I think that although America is still religious in make up, it has largely set aside specific belief in culture for a general “Americanism,” which differs from Canadianism or Catholicism or even Evangelicalism (globally speaking). It isn’t that Americans or Canadians are not authentic. It is that we speak out of a cultural worldview that includes religion, but our whole worldview is not Christian.
          What happens when the religion slides away is that some structures remain. All that remains of the Greek religion is the story. Of Christianity, some ethics remain, some social instincts, a definition of human life, the search for human liberty, etc.
          One of those structures is the idea that things will end, and may end in judgement, or end badly. This apocalyptic structure remains in American culture, even though the individual beliefs are left in homes and churches. What happens, then, is that sometimes culture uses eschatological thinking–the feeling of things winding up, apocalypse, a universal perspective, and judgement–but apply that thinking to secular things. The Middle East wars is a good example, though that is religious for many. A better example is the 2012 phenomenon. The North American culture of “end of the world” took over some pretty benign hints of something vague in Mexican culture, and gave it form and structure. They apocalypticized (not a real word!) what was a non apocalyptic event.
          I believe, and I might be wrong, that a group of people who followed the Al Gore message in the early 2000s had the same sort of structure. Gore did himself. His “Inconvenient Truth” is apocalyptic, and includes messages of judgement. While he is not a religious leader, it uses all the structure of religion. And some of his followers I would describe using the framework we use for studying religion: they have a deep worldview, with meaningful insights in how humans fit in the world, and they respond in ethics and social action. Worship is missing (for most), and the sense of “ultimacy” is not God, but much more like some of the Chinese religious philosophies.
          A long defense for my use of religion.
          I might still take it out, partly because it is confusing to some, and partly because it isn’t the point. I really mean that an enviro-cult has formed and Al Gore is one of the more important prophets. It’s really a message for another day. One of the fun play-outs of it is Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood.”
          This might not satisfy you, Lisa. I meant no particular offense, and I think you might have a bigger context in your response than I could anticipate.

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  5. Tom Campbell says:

    Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement?

    Having spent most of my adult life in and around evangelicals I have a gut feel for this question. First, I think the distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals is not as profound as one might think. At least up until the last decade or so. Having graduated from an evangelical bible college in the 70’s I would not have then thought of myself as a fundamentalist. But the difference was one of temperament rather than basic beliefs and actions. Someone from the planet Zongo would likely not have been able to tell us apart. Well, maybe by the haircut.

    I speak now as one reporting, not advocating.

    Regarding the environmental movement, I think we all had the same two reactions: disinterest and suspicion. Disinterest because we were all mostly some flavor of premillennialist. If Hal Lindsay was correct, and we agreed with him in the essence if not the details, then it was all going to burn up and soon. The environment had done fairly well by itself for millennia, and now that it was starting to show some signs of falling apart, what was this but another token that the end of times was upon us? Why bother propping up a tottering house? In addition, our primary concern was souls, our own, and those of the lost. Why fix attention on the celebrated but seemingly trivial causes (the infamous snail darter etc.) when that ultimate, eternal, environmental disaster, HELL, was looming for the unrepentant. It was simply a matter of priorities and the earthly environment ran a distant second compared to our putative concern for the plight of the lost. My goodness, was Jesus an environmentalist? Was Paul? Was John of Patmos? No! The world was headed for God ordained disaster, what could puny man do to accelerate the inevitable?

    Suspicion. The equation was simple. Evangelicals tended to be suspicious of the left. Communism and socialism were seen (not totally incorrectly) as opposed to many religions and conservative ones in particular. Environmentalists were perceived as from the left. Therefore, can anything good come out of Berkeley, or Boston? Beware of Geeks wearing Birkenstocks. They must be up to no good. And as well as being leftish, they had a faint odor of idolatry about them. All that tree hugging and whale watching. And when Gaia was presented, well, there you are. Case closed.

    What has changed recently? Well, there are still not a few pockets of the sentiments above. But things are changing. And I will attribute this to Lewis, which is appropriate, since the blog is centered on him for the most part. I think that evangelicalism is slowly drifting in the direction of “Great Divorce” eschatology. Sure, heaven and hell are real, sure a person can go to hell, but it’s not at all so clear cut as it used to be. Since the “Divorce”, hell is a lot smaller, and the causes of being or remaining there are more centered in sheer human moral cussedness (perhaps even postmortem) and less centered on “someone not getting out and getting them saved before it all burns up”. So, given that drift (and evangelicalism is still in denial about it), what’s a person to do if running around saving souls has less priority? Well, saving the world environmentally seems not such a bad thing to do, since Lindsay was apparently wrong and Lewis possibly right. And since the right seems less glorious than it was to evangelicals, especially to the media molded young, and the left not as ghastly as it used to be (media ditto) then why be so suspicious, let’s do save the whales. Just let’s not hug any trees right away. OK?

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    • This is quite a response!
      I think the dispensational and premillenial crowd isn’t all of evangelicalism, tho it seems so sometimes. But still, the “this earth is gonna burn” eschatology does contribute to the shoulder shrug you mention. I think you are absolutely right.
      Lewis, but others too, have started to reinvigorate us in a biblical theology of new creation. N.T. Wright and Rob Bell are more famous, but there are dozens who work in this area. My own school, Regent College, has found friends with this idea that God will renew the creation and restore earth (in some way).
      Regent is also very Green. It had early connections with environmental movements (like Green Peace Canada), and is in a greenie city. They won an environmental architecture award of all things.
      The suspicion thing is interesting. Boston, Berkeley, Birkenstocks, Beatniks all of us who are suspicious characters.

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      • Tom Campbell says:

        Yes, I think I see the same things happening in current evangelical institutions. Perhaps my hypothesis of Lewis being a prime mover towards a greener evangelicalism is a bit OTT. But I still believe that any increase in engagement with the world, be it environmentalism or whatever, on the part of evangelical institutions or opinion makers, indicates a more or less latent acceptance of something like Lewis’s quasi-universalism. I posit this as a fact of human psychology in that we are not usually able to attend to more than one important thing at a time. I know of many evangelical mission agencies that have for decades run basically on the fuel of the fear of hell. And in my neck of the woods, missions were the vanguard of the church and their promotion and support the sine qua non of spirituality. They had consciously chosen the Great Commission over what used to be called The Cultural Mandate. Note that their understanding of “The Great Commission” conflated the idea of “making disciples” with “getting individuals saved from hellfire”.

        That conflation is now slowly but surely being unraveled. I would venture to predict that in the not too distant future, western evangelicalism will have morphed into something like fifties liberalism with healthy dash of neo-orthodoxy thrown in. They will be very green and a lot less bothered about eternal damnation. And it will be much easier to distinguish between an evangelical and a fundamentalist.

        Better late than never, I guess.

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        • I see the unraveling, but as a frontline university professor, I feel like that unraveling in all of culture is quite fast–as fast as the upswing of the Great Awakenings. I’m not sure all of this unraveling is well founded.
          There are two problems with your evolution thesis, I think. The first is that I think GenX&Y won’t wait around to unravel-evolve. I think they are disconnecting at furious rates and may not reconnect. In many cases, it isn’t a great reasoning, but boredom and a general distaste.
          The second is the distinction I make between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. I think fundamentalism will be slow to grow in this way, while evangelicalism is playing with centre already.
          Is there a third factor: the relationship of the global south and new missions to the West? We will see.

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  6. Dale Lature says:

    Don’t remember I used as I was on a different machine, but didn’t I make a comment here sometime this weekend? You may not have gotten to it.

    Like

  7. Sabra says:

    As a Christian I’ve seen a lot of opinions in the evangelical circle as to why they deny or don’t care about the environment. Every thing from “it’s all going to burn anyways” to “God gave us dominion over everything else on Earth.” One perspective that I can understand is who are we as humans to think that we can “save the world” or resolve the issues of our climate. I personally feel like the climate changes are a combination of cyclical nature that’s been exacerbated by humanity. Specifically human greed, manipulation of nature, and wanting control. I don’t think there’s much we can do to reverse the effects that we have had on the environment, no matter they’re degree; and I do think that there will be a new creation, but I still think it is our duty as Christians to be responsible stewards of the land. That we work with the nature of ecosystems that God has put in place, not against them and not in an effort to control them or manipulate them. As humans it is in our nature to try to make changes that we see as harmless but we do not have the sight of God to see their ultimate consequences, I think that applies to our souls as well as our environment. When I see the destruction of our climates and world from pictures of outer space I can’t help but think it’s sin nature manifesting itself on our physical world. When I am outside, in the garden or with animals I can’t help but feel closer the nature that God created and no matter what is going to happen to this Earth, I want to care for it.

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    • I think this is pretty well said. If it is both cyclical and human contribution to the extreme, perhaps we can do little. That’s part of the break, though: we have sin in the world.
      I still think we should resist that corruption.
      And you end well: we should also enjoy our world.

      Like

  8. jubilare says:

    I get frustrated because it seems that people don’t want to actually think-out their stances… they prefer to decide who they want to stand with instead. …then I remember how damn hard it is to think critically about these things. It’s not that I excuse people from their responsibility to think, but I do kind of understand why they choose not to.

    It will be the end of us, but for the Grace of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tis hard to step back and see things a little bigger. I think, in America, the temptation to blend Christ and Culture is particularly strong. Elsewhere, where believers are grouped into minorities, the perspective is a little different.

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        Aye. Depending where one is in the country. Here, in the bible-belt, there’s a pretty insane variety of christians and christian-culture blends. But more often than not, many of them get lumped together, rightly or wrongly.

        Liked by 1 person

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