The BBC did a nice little piece on different evangelical universities (Liberty University aka College of Falwell and Eastern Mennonite University where I attend seminary) here in Virginia on the issue of global warming that is worth a read. You can find it here. Read the article, if you would, before looking at my remarks.
Did you read it? : )
I just want to raise a point related to the nature/nurture discussion that is probably raging more deeply than it ever has in society. When it comes to bringing that discussion to bear on the church, I found what Brian McLaren had to say on the Nick and Josh podcast matters greatly as another voice in the conversation. I’ll quote it in full here (and yes, I’m a dork that transcribed what Brian was saying to MSWord while he was talking);
“If we think the purpose of the gospel is to deliver souls to heaven after death, then we’re going to read the entire gospel in a certain way; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the rest of the New Testament and all the rest of the Bible in a certain way.
But if that’s not the primary problem that the Bible is addressing (though it is the primary problem in a lot of systematic theology approaches that say or assume that is what it addresses); but I’m asking a rather provocative question; what if that’s not really the problem it addresses, what if the problem it addresses is that God has this beautiful and good creation, and human beings rebelled against God, we have left this relationship with God (what the Bible means by sin) and that sin is suicidal…sin destroys human beings and families and cultures and civilizations, and ultimately it will destroy the planet, i mean, that’s easier for us to see now than for any generation in history (naive belief that WWI was last big war b/c humans were evolving beyond war). Other people had to take it on faith, for us it is sight.
We know very well that we can destroy the planet in our human rebellion. Human sin and evil and violence, and hatred and greed can destroy the planet, so if the gospel is the message of the kingdom, and the message of the kingdom is not evacuating Earth, but it’s as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us, “Your kingdom come,” meaning come to earth, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” then we have to look at every area of life and say, “What would this arena of human life look like if God’s will would be done?”
What Brian has to say I think matters deeply for the issue of global warming, and led to my conviction regarding this issue that I believe so strongly I created a Facebook group representing my belief that, ultimately; It’s not about global warming, it’s about caring for the earth. The issue is very polarizing (often driving folks to occupy one of two extremes), but as I see it (and Brian McLaren sees it), the issue of conservation (caring for the earth) is deeply a gospel-related issue. I would agree with McLaren that salvation as it is presently conceived of in most Christian groups is about how to get to heaven when you die rather than joining up with God in His movement to reconcile all of creation, starting now. Now, certainly, this will not happen in its fullness until the “Day of the Lord,” but this should not lead us (as most folks often do) to the place where we sit on our hands and wait for the sweet by and by because salvation is all God’s work. There’s a strong thread running through Scripture that we are to be co-creators and collaborators with God in His work to reconcile and renew all of his creation.
Thus, how one reads and the environment one grows up in deeply shapes one’s way of viewing reality. So, in a very real way, Christians should seek to embrace a deeper and fuller reading of Scripture and the purposes of God, both for their sakes and for the sakes of friends, acquaintances, and future generations. This is where my bias is exposed; I think Jerry Falwell’s perspective on reality is handicapped by the way he interprets the gospel, and his perspective is deeply affecting a LOAD of people that uncritically accept his reading; both at Thomas Road Baptist Church, at Liberty University, in the conservative Christian camp across America, and globally when folks from other religious traditions and countries see him and think he speaks for all Christians. I’m sorry Jerry recently passed away, but his perspective on the gospel, in my view, was more destructive than it was helpful. In the grand scheme of things, I think Falwell’s legacy is more negative than positive if we’re speaking of the kingdom of God and the lifestyle we are called to exhibit.
Check out the practical differences between the EMU and the Liberty responses to the question of global warming;
“A lesson taught by Dr Thomas Ice, Liberty University’s senior theologian, focuses on headaches like Armageddon, salvation and the Second Coming. Compared to these concerns, global warming is considered a mere sideshow at best, or a left-wing conspiracy at worst.
Asked his opinion on whether global warming is a reality or conspiracy, Dr Ice answers forcefully.
“It’s a hoax, certainly,” he says. “I think global warming is being used like many political issues to try to move the world from nationalism to internationalism or global governance.” And his class? Asked how many of them are worried about global warming, not one raises a hand.”
Hold that opinion and environment together with the EMU report;
“There is a massive and mounting body of scientific evidence that global warming is a reality,” he (Loren Swartzendruber) tells the gathered congregation. “Hone your God-given talents, grow your entrepreneurial skills and stretch your scientific minds to co-create with God a better world. As disciples of Jesus, we can do no less.”
Here, when asked if they are worried about global warming, almost everyone puts up their hand.
Now, I recognize that EMU isn’t perfect, and is deeply in need of critique from others who might be more conservative and challenge the leftist message some of the faculty spout off, but at the very least there is a vigorous conversation on campus where more “liberal” and more “conservative” folks have a chance to be heard and interact. In addition, I think EMU embraces what I believe to be a much deeper Biblical understanding of the gospel that includes all of creation. That seems to be almost completely lacking at Liberty; I don’t think I’m overstating the reality that, functionally speaking, Falwell is almost deity status in that environment.
If you aren’t interested in anything at all in this post other than one nugget to take away with you, please re-read the McLaren quotation several times because I think it’s so important to be aware of. What is the gospel? How does it affect the way I see the world? And how does it affect my relationships with my environment, both in human relationships and caring for the earth?
And maybe most pointedly, how can we break out of the liberal/conservative extremes that folks want to slot us into to embrace that a life of discipleship is one that will seem “liberal” to some and “conservative” to others? I’d point you to two previous posts I made that quoted Pres. Swartzendruber’s excellent article “Liberal or Conservative?” here and here where he engages what it means to reject the either/or extremes and follow Jesus with all of our being.
I love one of his quips from a mentor of his who said often, “On some issues I am rather liberal…because I take the Bible very seriously. Which is a conservative position.”