Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement? #earthday

On Earth Day ­­­­2015, 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. When I wrote the initial post, there were 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.

Compound that reality globaly and we see the link between the environment and poverty.

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. This blog post is a response to that 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 coasts and in the North we WWisee 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, and there are hints of changing mentalities in the farming community.

With due respect to the media who choose to paint evangelicals with the same brush, I cautiously suggest a diversity among evangelicals in the United States on these issues. Still, evangelicals are more cautious than the rest of America. Although 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 almost religious response to Al Gore environmentalism 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 2015–why do they resist 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.

In the case of environmental care, 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 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 sit uncomfortably with pop culture movements.

How much this anti-media taste in evangelicals have contributed to the current moment is a question for another day. As the 538 analysts argue, “Americans hate the media.” What is key now, is that 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 media reports about the crisis for every 1 that takes the time to make the crisis credible.

For all kinds of good and bad reasons, 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.

I believe this consensus. I think we are in a warming cycle that is exacerbated by human activity. I think our addiction to materialism, to comfort, to the dislocation of the poor for our own pleasure 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 enviro-movement, but I am largely 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–and reducing evangelicals to mindless Trump supporters.

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.

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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78 Responses to Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement? #earthday

  1. I appreciate your perspective on this, it is a foreign world to me in more than one sense. Do you have any immediate ideas on ways science communicators could help bridge the gap without forcing either group to abandon their core values? As you indicate in your text we seem to have a cultural gap which exaggerate the actual belief gap, leaving very little common ground.


    • I would begin with farmers. So many environmental groups and activists treat farmers as an enemy (like oil producers), as if the world was not consuming what they produce. These farmers will take the most immediate hit from climate change, and the environmental movements would be wise to provide support and information from them, and get information back from them.
      Beyond that, I would add some things mentioned in other comments: avoid aligning the response to climate change with anti-religious movements, and avoid shaming people who have doubts. Being winsome works, good information works, avoiding overblown or overdrawn arguments, taking questions without judgement–this is what will win evangelicals who are distrustful (for good reasons) of the media.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for taking the time to write such a thourough and thoughtful response! Most sceptics I encounter are not evangelicals (the Swedish church have no problem in accepting an environmental responsibility) but I will certainly bring your thoughts with me.

        It worries me that large groups remain on the outside of the environmental debates. Partly of course because it could slow down a solution and worsen a problem in cases when the problem is real, but also because it limits the potential solutions. I know that science works well when it comes to identifying problems and identifying tecnical solutions but when it comes to implementing them and building a society which includes these solutions we are no longer experts. The longer some groups ignore actual problems, the fewer potential solutions will be presented and the ones that are presented will most likely not be the ones those groups would like. “Decisions are made by those who show up…” When it come to the largest issues I really want the broadest possible range of solutions to be presented.


        • I’m actually okay that people are on the outside of the debate of the science. After all, most aren’t scientists. Where people wouldn’t dive in on the scientific results of the Spalinski method in surgery, they will give their thoughts on climate change or anthropology or neural psychology. That said, I want intelligent adults to be able to talk intelligently about intelligent science. If media spent less time mocking climate change deniers or young earth creationists or spurious pscyhologists and more time presenting the real debates and conversations, more than half the battle would be won.
          Where I do think scientists and public intellectuals can make a difference is on how they invite people in to the conversation. I am a scholar of theology and literature, and can speak in very fancy ways about my work. But here, this blog is an attempt to invite intelligent adults to talk intelligently about intelligent work on literature, faith, and cultural criticism.
          Also, what are the overlapping wins? For example, California’s clean up of their air was a win for everyone, with trickle-down costs to consumers. Are there wins today for scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and businesses? If so, do that.
          Finally, I have 1000 critiques of the evangelical community. They should “show up.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, the scientific debate is scientific and especially for complex issues such as climate change it is not realistic for most people to truly join it. What I’m wishing for is discussions along the line if. If we assume that this problem is real, what are we willing to do to stop it? What kind of society do we want to live in? What are the costs of these changes (to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease) etc. Those are issues that should be relevant for everyone and were we could benefit from a diversity of view-points.

            Liked by 1 person

          • awanderson8130 says:

            Christians, too, and of all denominations, also need to learn how to invite others into their conversations. Spouting religious jargon seems to have taken the place of deep thinking about both spiritual and scientific matters — not that the two are diametrically opposed. Rather, we need to see them and to explore them as deeply intertwined and to learn/develop a common language with which to discuss them.

            As for “showing up,” I will cautiously agree with you. But, perhaps God calls each of us to show up in different ways and in different, not always visible, places. Perhaps God is still less about movements and more about one-on-one relationships with people who, added up and seen in hindsight, cause shifts. After all, God did not invade this world with a massive army but with a single baby. Your blog probably would not be seen as more than a blip in the larger conversation, comparatively speaking, but look at the ones reading and responding and who knows how many more are reading and not responding or are telling others about what they have read who, in turn, tell others? Hmmm . . . I guess that was a rhetorical question if there ever was one! 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

            • Thanks so much for your comments. I would say Amen to both of the main sections of this response. I do very much want to confirm people in their vocation of response to the world. I don’t expect everyone to become an environmental activist or a scientist or a blogger or anything else in particular. But I would like to see a little bit more critical thinking on both sides of the issue–I would like to meet you to be a little more careful on the way that it gathers people into stereotypical groups, and I would like to see Christians of all stripes thinking sensitively, spiritually, theologically, and neighbourly about their world.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Bookstooge says:

    The reason I resist it is because the Green Movement expects me to accept their social values of life, which is based on Evolution, which means human life is worthless.

    I won’t connect myself in any way with groups that believe that humans are nothing more than animals.

    And you definitely nailed it on the head with media distrust…


    • Well, maybe. The word “just” is a dangerous word. I think a lot of the environmental movement walk around treating humans like invasive species. “Just animals” is a materialist view that I just don’t hold. We are no less than animals but we are more than that, which is why we can and should respond as shepherds of the earth.
      But “just” isn’t all. I believe in evolution, but I don’t believe we are “just” animals, but amphibious, being both matter and spirit, animal and that divine image–though united as a single whole, not split into parts. We can respond morally based on sound judgement, while the animals in our world cannot.
      Which is why we should respond morally to the data of evironmental pressures. Reacting against our environmental responsibilities–built into the foundation of scripture–because someone with a damaging and horrifying view of human life is also responding to environmental responsibilities is to act like a mere animal, to go on instinct instead of making moral choices in sound judgement. When you look past the smoke screen of whack jobs and bleeding hearts and big business cronies and government double speak and ideological reductionism (we’re just animals), what is going on? what does the data say?
      It’s worth noting that many who reject the environmental movement live with their creation care responsibility. To reject climate change concensus is not to rape the earth–though it discourages me how many justify their high consumption or poor waste habits by saying that climate change is a hoax. Still, the two are separate.


      • Bookstooge says:

        I’m a strict Creationist…


        • Yes, me too. I went to Regent College to study scriptures so I could get that Hebrew and Greek story into me. And it is the creation story–at the foundation of the Scriptures–that makes us gardeners of the earth (not merely users of it).


          • Bookstooge says:

            Dang, I must have mis-read your initial comment. It is just too early for me to be reading serious stuff.
            I’ll be back tonight when my brain is actually working 🙂


            • You may not be misreading. I would be in the camp of creation theologians (that’s not a real name I suppose), people who think that the creation story resounds again and again throughout scripture, being retold and renewed again and again. But I don’t think the 5 main creation stories in Scripture mean what you might mean, as in a creation account of six 24 hour days where all we know comes into being.
              But I don’t think that makes a difference to our response to creation. We believe that we are made in God’s image, that God made a good world, and that although we are fallen, we are to try and heal the wounds of the fall: the division with God, the division against creation, and the division among ourselves. In doing so, we do good. Christ comes offering a new creation in us as individuals, in the church, and ultimately to all creation.


              • Bookstooge says:

                Would it be fair to say you’re a theistic evolutionist?

                And now that I’ve read this again, yeah, your definition of strict Creationist and mine are pretty far apart in my opinion.

                Just to be clear. I believe that Genesis is literal. From beginning to end. That is my definition of a Strict Creationist.

                Would you mind defining yours a little? That way I know for sure what you mean 🙂


              • I’m sort of anxious about titles, honestly. I believe that God lovingly made the world and that the story God left to us in history and science can help us see parts of how God made things. I suspect that there are many, many aspects of science that will change subtly in its interpretation of data, but I think they largely have the story rights.
                Were we to sit down over food and drink I’d say this (and I’m speaking about this at a conference this weekend):
                My rejection of people who press Genesis 1 into a scientific mould comes in three ways:
                1. As a biblical scholar, I was pressed as to the genres of Genesis 1 and 2, and I came first to see that it was not scientific literature, or protoscientific literature (as we see in other parts of the Bible), or meant to tell the history of how God made the world. Part of that came from asking the question, “Why don’t I treat the other creation passages literally (i.e., Job 38-41, John 1, Colossians 1, etc.)?” The reason was that I thought through what the genre was, and then I made a conclusion. I did that with Gen 1 & 2 and concluded the same. This allowed me to discover how much the whole bible is about creation, recreation, new creation–and how all of it is redemptive (i.e, turned by the cross). I think that Gen 1-3 is the most relevant OT passage in the world today, and terribly subversive.
                On the other side, genre is key. If we interpret the genre wrong, we land in weird rabbit holes. For example, prosperity gospel teachers view commands of Moses and promises to Israel as promises to the church. Or some end-world pundits with their charts don’t understand the genre of apocalypse in its Jewish setting (I hear that yesterday was a rapture day, but I missed it). Or if we interpret “spare the rod” as law or prophecy instead of proverb, we go dangerously askew. So knowing the genre of Genesis 1 & 2 is critical to faithful reading.
                2. As a historian, I came to see how local the young earth view of creation really is, that “creationists” are a reaction to Darwin and pre-Darwin materialist thinkers, and largely in the modern Euro-American context. I don’t think the “common sense” reading of Genesis 1 is that the earth was made in 6 literal days (i.e., common sense would show that we don’t get days/nights until we get sun/moon), and the larger community of Christ through history shows a much different kind of reading than the American one.
                3. As a Christian thinker (theologian), I had to ask why God would make the world in 6,000 or 100,000 years, but place much older evidence into the framework. For example, in looking into a telescope, we are looking back into distant times. There is geological evidence, and just the evidence of half-lives and the rest. As a Christian thinker, I would now encourage Christians who are scientists to use their God-given talent and critical thinking to look at the evidence and work with it. As Christians, we are never afraid of what scientific evidence demonstrates. Either it can be demonstrated as wrong, or it is “the book of Nature” speaking to us (what we call General Revelation).
                That’s my basic response. In reading Scripture faithfully and literally, based on what it seems to be teaching, I have a robust confidence as a Christian in this scientific age. There is nothing that can shatter my faith that comes from science (though there are some disturbing things).
                Does that help?

                Liked by 1 person

  3. joviator says:

    The guy who taught my Sunday School class in the 1970s was no theologian, and he didn’t think about things as deeply as the sources you cite, so I don’t know how much his statements are worth. But with those caveats, he objected to environmental science because he saw it as a stalking horse for a rival religion, which he called Deep Ecology.


    • Yes, I guess that would be an undercurrent, and I think that religious movement is still in existence in some form. But it is the Guilty By Association fallacy. I am of the same religion as Catholic priests who raped children and Westboro Baptist Church homophobes. But to close the door in my face when I am collected blankets for street people is to make the same double-hop sideways. Deep Ecology is an environmental movement, but the environmental movement is not Deep Ecology.
      There are probably a few other undercurrents like this in the community.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. AWAnderson says:

    Thank you for addressing this topic in such a thoughtful manner. So many words and phrases have been overused, misused, and ill-defined to the point they have become meaningless. We assume, wrongly, that we each mean the same things when we use particular labels and we end up shouting past each other. I don’t know the answers, but I would like to have conversations about the questions without feeling pilloried or reviled and without making anyone else feel that way.


    • Thank you for responding. Yes, you are right that there is a kind of “shame” approach to certain social issues right now, which makes dialogue and doubt difficult–not to mention critical thinking. I happen to be on the side of the shamers on many issues, and am concerned at the shout-down approach. It is resonant of the Christian culture of a couple of generations ago, which connected social propriety and holiness to create a shame-based response. The result was that North American largely changed their worldview. I believe in creation care–environmental stewardship–and so I don’t want this shout-down/shame approach because it won’t help, in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Callum Beck says:

    Good balanced presentation. I remember once working with a very liberal United Church guy on refugee sponsorship and advocacy, and being glad to have his support but also being uneasy with the camp I was climbing into bed with. This is why I love Wilberforce and his gang, they had a very broad breadth of issues that they saw as evangelical. As Christians I think we need to be unapologetically enviromentalists but be very careful of the pantheistic theology underlying much modern environmental thought. We also need to be pro-science but not necessarily pro scientific consensus.


    • I think there is danger inside of any consensus, and I like the critical distance that Christians–now on the outside of culture–can give. But I think the “guilty by association” fear is not terribly helpful.


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    As a sort of initial background note to, e.g., “With due respect to the media who choose to paint evangelicals with the same brush, I cautiously suggest a diversity among evangelicals in the United States on these issues”, I was struck by these observations in a recent interview with an Anglican Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman: ” I do not recall any Evangelicals in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh. […] The term ‘Evangelical’ was only used when talking about preaching style. Since the ’50’s just as you have enumerated different types of ‘Anglo-Catholics’, there has been an emergence of Evangelicals who have been greatly influenced by various Renewal Movements. In Pittsburgh, the addition of some English and Australian Anglicans, a seminary and a Bishop greatly influenced by these movements was the first time that the term ‘Evangelical’ became a dominant descriptor.” And, already in the 1950s, In 1956 to be precise, the Dutch (Roman) Catholic professor, Dr. Willem Hendrik van de Pol (1897-1988) (since 1948, first occupant of the Chair in the Phenomenology of Protestantism at the University of Nijmegen: formerly one of the varieties of Dutch Reformed with long happy Anglican contacts), published a popular scholarly book entitled Het Wereld Protestantisme [World Protestantism]. In it, he wrote that “Because new and old forms of Anglicanism continue to exist, undisturbed, side by side, because a number of transitional forms have come into existence, and because among the Evangelicals as well as among the Anglo-Catholics all gradations from orthodoxy to ‘free-thinking liberalism’ are to be found, contemporary Anglicanism exhibits a complexity and diversity of teachings and practices that is without parallel in the history of Christendom.” And all that is only with reference to Anglican ‘Evangelicals’!


    • J I Packer begs to differ on your comment – “The term ‘Evangelical’ was only used when talking about preaching style” – it was also used to group and label “fundamentalists” for the SJW Marxists back in the days when the German “higher criticism” was around . I happen to be reading his “Fundamentalism and the Word of God” at the moment.


      • There’s sort of two definitions of evangelical (that overlap).
        1) “evangelical” captures the English revivalism from the Wesley-Whitefield days onward, a kind of personal religion that worked itself out in various ways; so in England “evangelical” can be:
        a) the historical movement
        b) the style of revivalist preaching
        2) after fundamentalism had a crisis after the Scopes trial and the Depression-WWII era, a group of new fundamentalists arose (Billy Graham the most prominent, but not the only one); this group were known for the “evangelical” style preaching and became known as “neo-evangelicals” and then just “evangelicals.”
        and there could be a:
        3) “evangelical” in the German/Lutheran sense of their church, and they distinguish it slightly in German
        Lewis used “evangelical” in sense 1.b the most, but was aware of 1.a. His maternal grandfather was both 1.a & 1.b. I don’t know if he was aware of what was happening with sense 2, but was aware of the Billy Graham effect and how there was a renewal of sorts in the US (through his correspondents).


      • I should also know that Packer was my teacher at Regent College, and I encountered that Fund & Word book early. His term “fundamentalism” there would be “evangelicalism” a decade later.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thanks for both these! Bishop Ackerman was speaking in an American context (with attention to influences from elsewhere in the English-speaking world), and Professor Van de Pol probably more broadly. The history of how ‘Evangelical’ would be positive self-description and negative other-description in the English- and German-speaking worlds (and further?) is something I do not know much about, but would rejoice to learn more! (I have not properly caught up with Packer, though I enjoyed browsing his published doctoral dissertation on Baxter.)


        • From this book,first printed March 1958, I am learning that perhaps Christians owe a lot more than we care to admit to Packer’s determined efforts to change the perceptions of and the connotation of the word “fundamentalist” which had been grasped and distorted, not only by the secular high priests of SJW Marxism but also liberal revolutionaries within the churches.


  7. Dorothea says:

    Well-written, Brenton. A fitting post that made me think again a little about the relationship between science, faith (often mutually inclusive), and the planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    How ought one/’we’ use the word ‘sceptic’ and related forms? Charles Williams provides an interesting example:



  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not dug out my copy of Resurrection and Moral Order (1986), but I think it is there that Oliver O’Donovan has an interesting consideration of the term ‘environment’ and some possible implications – why ‘environ’, who is ‘environed’, how ‘environed’? It seems anthropocentric, which can have its dangers – consider, for example, Lewis’s discussion in his booklet-length intro to his OHEL volume – but so (as you note) can the sort of opposite approach of walking “around treating humans like invasive species”.

    And ‘-ism’ can sound alarming all by itself, though one can also note Dorothy L. Sayers in 1938 talking about “the difference between the right and the wrong kind of feminism.” As there is “a diversity among evangelicals”, there is also a diversity among ‘environmentalists’ – and indeed (I take it) ‘environmentalisms’. “Human-Induced Climate Change is Real” sounds suspiciously credal to me – is there a whole ‘Confessio Evangelicali Climatici’ which must be subscribed to as a package?

    As I had a quick online search (quite in vain) for the word-history of ‘environmentalism’, moving from the English Wikipedia article, “Environmentalism”, into other languages kept bringing me to variants of “Écologisme” (French) – with the German one including, “Nach dem Politikwissenschaftler Andrew Dobson erfüllt der Ökologismus alle Charakteristika einer politischen Ideologie” (which I render as ‘According to to the political scientist, Andrew Dobson, “ecologism”/”environmentalism” meets all the characteristics of a political ideology’). But that sounds more like ‘scientism’ than ‘science’. I wonder how far Lewis’s January 1941 essay, “Meditation on the Third Commandement”, may have some useful applicability in being thoughtfully actively stewardly concerned, without finding oneself having “to be ‘loyal'” to some ‘environmentalist’ package or ‘movement’ or ‘party’.


    • Isn’t “Human-Induced Climate Change is Real” rather a testable fact much like “limited access to health care means a higher risk of dying from treatable disease or injury”? These are either true or false (or somewhere in-between) no matter what your ideology is. Much like God either exists or doesn’t no matter whether a specific person believe in Him or not.

      In my opinion the choice of facts you believe in or not ought not to depend on ideology but ideology or faith may tell us how we should deal with the problem. Do we have a moral responsibility? On which grounds? Are there other reasons to act (e.g. selfish reasons when an unsolved issue will eventualy hurt us no matter our moral stance)? How should we act? Ecologism will provide one set of answers whereas evangelicals may have different ones, even if both groups start by assuming a certain fact to be true.

      I fear too often we go from “my ideology has a beautiful answer” thus “this fact much be true” or “no good answer” thus it’s false when it ought to be the other way around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I largely agree, though not all evidence is evaluate-able for us. There could be complexities of fact that make evaluation impossible. Climate change is pretty easy to demonstrate; the human-causes are tougher. But, a little logic goes a long way. Leaving beside our misuse of the environment, the basic CO2 output of 7 billion humans cooking and making and moving about the planet vs. 1 billion humans doing all that with few fossil fuels. So the question is whether the gas outputs of that exponential growth have effects that change the climate.
        Then your question of moral response comes in.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I really don’t believe there is much well-founded doubt that humans play a major role either but I’m not sure it’s relevant for my point. I would argue that when we have a possible problem which we can’t evaluate we should either A) trust authority, that is people working in the field in this case that would mean accepting human-induced climate-change as a fact for now. B) learn enough to independently verify the conclusion, which in this case is unrealistic for most people. Or, C) realize that we don’t know whether it is true or false and look at the consequences and consider solutions for both alternatives. Perhaps some of the solutions are things we would be willing to try even if we are not yet sure about the problem, perhaps even things which would benefit us in other ways but which we may otherwise not have thought of.

          For real and serious problems option C may be on the slow side but it means that some progress is made and also that when we eventually (for a real problem) reach the point when we can verify it for ourselves we already have some thought on what kind of solution we want.

          I fully understand why sceptical people avoid option A and that B may not be realistic but for some that stand seem to lead into D) assume it is false whereas the risk analysis in option c would be possible for many. What are the likely consequences if the problem is real
          t and we don’t act in a certain way? What are the likely consequences if we act in that same way and the problem is non-existent? Which risk are we willing to accept?

          Liked by 1 person

          • joviator says:

            Option C is easy in this case. It’s like Pascal’s Wager. If we do all the things we can to move the economy off fossil carbon but it wasn’t necessary, everybody has cleaner air and water, better transportation, and a better house. But that wasn’t the answer the Christian Right wanted, so they’re doing everything they can to obfuscate the issue.


            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              That rather depends on how one moves – I wouldn’t like more radioactive air and water, or a lot of vehicles as trickily powered as the one in Andy Weir’s The Martian or Project Orion, and I was very glad growing up when protests got ‘them’ to convert the planned nuclear power station not that far from my house to a coal-burning one!


            • Too some degree I’m sure that’s true, the classical “what if it’s all a hoax and we have created a better world for nothing!” but not everything that might need to be done will have such win-win effects for everyone. I’m sure there will be suggested solutions were the costs (non necessarily monetary costs) would be deemed to outweigh the benefits for a potential problem but be worth it for a known problem. Then we are back at either finding better solution or improving options A and B.

              In any case C allows a truly sceptical position without a deep insight in a problem and enables us to actually start the discussions and do some of the win-win changes.

              Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a cool thought, David. Douglas Adams once quipped that the world doesn’t need saving; it can save itself or not. But humans need to decide how to live in it. An honest approach I think.
      There is a neat irony: “environmentalism” is anthropocentric, but humans are often treated as invasive species by activists.


  10. L.A. Smith says:

    Thanks for this, Brenton. As an evangelical I largely agree with your broad points here. I am a little leery of being a cheerleader for Al Gore, though. 🙂


    • Yes, well. He is one of the better “next Presidents of the United States of America” who weren’t. Preston Manning in Canada was like that too–fine as politicians but interesting afterward.
      Still, we have our real world in front of us, and it’s always a shame when we have to agree with a politician.


  11. It appears that even more scientists are also having second thoughts on the subject now. A British Lord is now calling Al Gore a charlatan who has been carrying an “The end of the world is nigh” poster board for the last ten years, and an article in today’s UK Express, quoting a new study in the Journal of Climate says that “Climate change is ‘not as bad as we thought’ say scientists, It forecast that future warming will be between 30 per cent and 45 per cent lower than suggested by simulations carried out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The study in the Journal of Climate predicts rises of 1.66C compared to one IPCC forecast of 3.1C and 1.33C compared to another study predicting 1.9C.”
    But then there never really was scientific consensus on Global Warming/Climate Change or any other name they labelled it. (see “A Disgrace to the Profession” for The World’s Scientists – in Their Own Words confirming the certainty of uncertainty)
    Perhaps evangelicals “Really Reject the Environmental Movement because of the distortion in the University of East Anglia’s email scandals, Michael Mann’s blatantly false hockey stick graph and all the deception and lies surrounding its promotion by hypocrites flying around in huge personal airlines to promote “moral stewardship” and austerity in the use of our natural resources.


    • I can certainly see why you find Al Gore obnoxious but he is a politician and science communicator so what he says and does really have no influence on the actual science. Personally I haven’t even bothered to see An inconvenient truth but I have the advantage of access to the original publications. You can ignore both him and all East Anglian research and the case for human-induced climate change will still stand. This is a global research effort using multiple different lines of evidence, almost all of them indicating broadly the same thing.

      From what I can see of the scientific community it is not the case that more and more researchers reject human-induced climate change but there is a healthy scientific debate on how large the effect would be and what the consequences would be. Judith Curry who you cite is not a recent sceptic either. She has always been favouring a low sensitivity whereas other studies indicate a much larger one. Indeed, that uncertainty is reflected in the IPCC reports which state “Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high confidence), extremely unlikely less than 1°C (high confidence), and very unlikely greater than 6°C (medium confidence)”.

      From what I can tell (I don’t have full article access at home) Lewis and Curry’s new study favour a sensitivity (how much the global mean surface temperature would increase if the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled) within the range IPCC suggested but in the lower end of the range. That would be good news but would unfortunately not mean we are safe. Other studies using different methods indicate sensitivities in the higher range.

      Unfortunately one study is not enough to assume that the true value will be in the lower range (and neither is a single study finding a high value enough to assume impending doom although some newspapers are happy to suggest they do). To avoid relying too much on a single person or method (which could be flawed) we try to wait until multiple independent studies using different methods find broadly the same results before a result is really accepted. This goes equally for unexpectedly good and unexpectedly bad results.

      I’m really not sure what the opinion of a random British Lord has to do with anything.


      • I am certainly no expert on biology or science and like you I have not seen Gore’s films. I also agree that one cannot base their understanding on a single or just a few studies.
        I don’t know where you get my antipathy towards Al Gore from ?
        I was also only quoting the British Lord because the newspaper was, but if you have ever read or listened to Lord Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley on this subject I suspect you will also have a skeptical view of the way this subject has been used by many just to make money.
        BTW. Biology, when I was at school, taught that c02 was a critical ingredient for any green thing that grows to produce oxygen, which in turn is critical for human breathing, as a biological and geographical factual process, have biologists and scientists disproved this process or its relationships recently?


        • I assumed it was Al Gore you meant when you wrote “hypocrites flying around in huge personal airlines to promote “moral stewardship” and austerity in the use of our natural resources”. Not that I have any idea of whether or not he has a private yet but I know that very few climate researcher do. Although researchers are usually decently paid (if they manage to get a research position which is generally difficult) it’s not the job you should take if you want to get rich and many would be better off in the private sector from a financial point of view.

          I’m not sure why I should listen to Monckton who has no real scientific background of his own when I could just look at my colleagues in climate science (I’m not a climate researcher but I do know some) and see that they are hard-working diligent people who are not in it for the money and who are genuinely worried about climate change. I’m sure there are exceptions but in my experience most scientists get into science because we really want to understand how the world works (or most of the time rather how a tiny piece of it works) not to get rich.

          You are certainly right that plants need CO2 and some may even benefit from a slightly higher CO2 content in the atmosphere (if we ignore the negative effects of climate change which would result from it). Also from a climate perspective we are lucky to have some CO2 in our atmosphere, otherwise Earth would have been a cold and inhospitable planet. However, as the saying goes “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing”.

          Take food for example, without it we would die but when we have enough more isn’t better. Indeed over-eating leads to various health problems, sometimes fatal. The CO2 concentration works in a similar way, without CO2 in the atmosphere we would be in serious trouble but increasing it further will also make things worse. We are adapted to a climate more or less like the one we have today (e.g. we have preferentially built our cities in places which currently have a comfortable climate or at places which are currently above sea level but would not be so if too much of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets melt). If we add more CO2 we will have adapted our civilization to a climate we no longer have and the new climate would most likely be a lot less beneficial to our needs.


          • Hi Folks, thanks for the conversation.
            I wonder if I err in even bringing up Al Gore (even sarcastically). I think he is kind of a false flag, like how “Hitler” closes down a conversation.
            In my case, readers will see this article is about a certain kind of skepticism and a certain kind of public bullying. If there are individual evangelicals who weighed the evidence and concluded that the evidence is being read wrongly, fine. But I think that’s the minority.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I would agree. I don’t know if he wanted to use his influence on an important problem with the aim of doing good or if he just identified an important problem in order to increase his own influence and make himself look good. I haven’t actually seen enough of him to even guess, but in either case it is the problem that is important, not the man.


            • You couldn’t bring up “climate alarmism” without mentioning Gore, he started it and has manipulated the narrative surrounding the financial aspects of it since. Skepticism is good because it includes investigation and analysis.


              • Perhaps he plays a larger role in a North American perspective. I remember discussions about climate change long before “An Inconvenient Truth” (and not just on an academic level, the greenhouse effect was part of my school curriculum). So for me it’s weird to have him the focus of discussion as he is neither the driver of the science nor the first to promote awareness but if he was the one who really started to promoted awareness in North America it makes more sense.

                From a historical point of view it is worth noting that IPCC was founded in 1988 and that already their first report (in 1990) focused on the problem of rising temperatures due to increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth didn’t première until 2006 (although he was apparently interested in the issue much earlier).


              • Maybe Gore was new to Americans, but he was a latecomer to the environmental conversation–and a latecomer to alarmism. Based on his high profile, his work did raise the intensity of the alarm, but we have a climate change institute here on my local campus that is just a series of steps away from research that has been going on for 50 years here. We are an agricultural, fishing, and forestry province on the edge of a continent. For us, these things are super practical: our province is being overtaken by the sea, the fishing stocks have been decimated (in the new sense, not the old), our forest habitats are moving north, our planting seasons have changed, our weather is more extreme. With due respect to Gore, we are where the change happens.

                Liked by 1 person

  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I need to catch up on the comments, but, meanwhile, toss this, just encountered, in (pretty tangentially) as relating to one element, ‘Evangelicals’:


    It would be interesting to compare and contrast this with some of Lewis’s observations (based on his experience(s) – and reflections).


    • “You can tell, if your’re listening, whether the ideas you are hearing are merely being passed through a person, as if they are being memorized or if they are part of the dynamic core of the person. If they are part of the dynamic core of the person then they are almost always engaging and gripping.” [Jordan Peterson]


    • Although Lewis might have changed his way of putting things in today’s age, he did say something like this: “What Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals have in common over against modernists is that they are supernaturalists”–i.e., they believe that God reveals God’s self in history in tangible ways, including the incarnation of Christ. So Lewis would push the anglo-Catholic clergy (and I appreciated the link) to always look for unity in historical faith. As far as alarmism, this is the thing about the church of England: it is diverse and somewhat elastic. That’s its charm and its challenge.


      • If you see all the Protestants as “evangelicals” then Lewis also said, – “You see in Protestantism the “Faith” dying out in a desert: we see in Rome the “Faith” smothered in a jungle.” – which is probably the most astute observation and description of the situation I have read.


        • Where did he say that, do you know? I’m not challenging, but that it reminded me of some things in The Allegory of Love, but I haven’t been back to the book for a couple of years.
          I’m not sure that all Protestants are evangelicals in his mind, but Protestants share … image anemia, if I can use the term.




    • Thanks for the tip. It’s the one I don’t have in ebook, so I would never have found it!


      • If by “image anemia” you mean what I think you mean, wouldn’t you say that the “biblical case for not having it is quite solid ?. – “And he did what the LORD considered to be right, according to everything that his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, demolished the sacred pillars, and tore down the Asherah poles. He also demolished the bronze serpent that Moses had crafted, because the Israelis had been burning incense to it right up until that time. Hezekiah called it a piece of brass.[2Kings 18:3-4]


        • I think, on the whole, that the temptations of our age are different than the age of Hezekiah’s leadership–though we are perhaps starting to disappear into images as Israel had been tempted to do. We’ll recall that the temple was a highly imagistic place, but what tempted Israel to forget they were the image of God is different than what tempts us.
          By image anemia I don’t mean merely visual representations, the pictures I use on this blog, for example. Nor do I mean art as a whole. But an image-enriched symbolic layering of faith is missing in much of Protestantism–partly due to iconoclasm, partly to drifting from Catholicism, partly to anti-intellectualism and utilitarianism. In the North American evangelical church context, the art of our churches, our architecture, the depth of our sermons, the source of our illustrations, the poetry in our songwriting, and our obsession with orthodoxy over orthopraxy are all signs of that anemia.


          • Lewis clarified that – “Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”… so I would be interested in what you think “an image-enriched symbolic layering of faith” should consist of and what it contributes to faith?


            • Well, look at the investment in arts in a local evangelical church vs. a Catholic Church and we see different perspectives. The centrality of the pulpit in Protestantism is a shift away from Eucharistic centrality–a move from symbol to ideas. The whole texture of spirituality is different. I operate very well in the literary and word-based evangelical world, but I’m trying to increase the symbolic.


              • You could do a lot worse than watching (youtube) and listening (podcasts) to :-http://nathanmeffert.com/blog/christianity-rising-jonathan-pageau
                – he is a very qualified, knowledgeable and experienced carver of religious icons and in his work he is inclusive of both those dying out in a desert as well as those smothered in a jungle.

                Liked by 1 person

              • What made you decide that “The centrality of the pulpit in Protestantism is a shift away from Eucharistic centrality–a move from symbol to ideas” ?
                In my limited experience the “Eucharistic”, a symbolic ritual that Jesus gave us to bring people together, is the most frequently used issue used to separate congregations.


              • Well, that wasn’t a very good example of prose!
                Yes, the sacramental debates splinter protestantism. But I mean this pretty simply. Instead of the altar or communion table at the centre of most churches, it is now the cross and the pulpit. In my tradition, the communion table is central, but often sits on the floor beneath the pulpit–symbolically interesting. And in many of our churches, we have 3-5 minute talk before communion, plus about 1/2 the service is preaching or talk. So, that’s simply what I mean: not that protestants are bereft of symbols, but it is a much more world-based communion.


              • This Jonathan Pageau video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72QToVO3gLM) about 25 minutes long reminded me of your post on communion and symbolism. After watching it I concluded that “Communion or the Eucharist” is the act of “building a Body”, whether you perform this act in the grandeur of a Solomon’s Temple or in an upper room of a mud hut in the country, the symbolism should not be the focus and should not really matter at all, because the object, objective, or end of the ritual (the means to reaching that end) is making Christ’s Body – the church.

                “To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects” [Viktor E Frankl]

                Liked by 1 person

              • Patrick, I wanted to acknowledge the note and the link but I won’t get there for awhile as I’m bopping in and out of connectivity for 9 days. Thanks!


  14. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Still haven’t caught up with comments, but just encountered this: “Believing in climate change, but not behaving sustainably: Evidence from a one-year longitudinal study” by Michael P. Hall, Neil A. Lewis, Phoebe C. Ellsworth in the April issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Abstract: “We conducted a one-year longitudinal study in which 600 American adults regularly reported their climate change beliefs, pro-environmental behavior, and other climate-change related measures. Using latent class analyses, we uncovered three clusters of Americans with distinct climate belief trajectories: (1) the ‘Skeptical,’ who believed least in climate change; (2) the ‘Cautiously Worried,’ who had moderate beliefs in climate change; and (3) the ‘Highly Concerned,’ who had the strongest beliefs and concern about climate change. Cluster membership predicted different outcomes: the ‘Highly Concerned’ were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions, whereas the ‘Skeptical’ opposed policy solutions but were most likely to report engaging in individual-level pro-environmental behaviors. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.” (!) I’m not going to try to buy the article to find out if there are any explicit self-consciously Christian or other religious dimensions to this, but if anyone is near a big library…


    • Wow, that’s an amazing study. I would love to see someone reproduce it. I also wonder if it is peculiarly American.


    • Interesting! I wonder if it would be the same with a wider range of pro-environmental behaviours, their selection was rather narrow and not particularly climate focused.
      “Participants reported their frequency of engaging in the following activities (1 never – 4 every opportunity I have): recycling; using public transportation; buying environmentally friendly consumer products; and using reusable shopping bags. These four behaviors were chosen for representing a variety of behaviors that are generally accessible to people of any income or education level. “

      Liked by 1 person

      • Longitudinal studies are pretty expensive, so too dive deeply enough to get lots of cool data would cost a fortune. But I’m curious about those sorts of questions.
        I also wonder more about “transformation” than general activities. For example, have you increased, decreased, or stayed the same in recycling, public transport, etc. Status quo, given a world coming “online” to consumerism, is a pretty radical net gain in carbon use.

        Liked by 1 person

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