Sunday, November 02, 2008

Creation Stewardship

Much thanks is extended to all who participated in this morning's "Creation Stewardship" class at Elim.

This morning's class focused on three things:

1) My assumptions
2) A Biblical Framework for Creation Stewardship
3) A Recent History of Both Sociopolitical and Evangelical Response to Climate Change Issues

Week after next (Nov. 16) we will meet for a second session during the adult education hour at Elim, to examine specific climate change claims being made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and echoed by the Evangelical Climate Initiative's 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.

In this blog post, as promised, I am providing the following four appendices:

A) A list of questions I intend to discuss during this session, related to those claims.
B) Scripture passages referenced in today's "Biblical Framework" session.
C) Links and other resources associated with today's "Recent History" session.
D) Details on "My Assumptions" which I omitted for sake of time today.

I would encourage you to click the "Comments" link at the bottom of this post, if you have any additional issues or questions we should address on Nov. 16.

- Larry

APPENDIX A: Questions for Discussion Nov. 16

  • Is global climate change truly a reality? What do we know about climate change? Is there a consensus? How many detractors are there, and what is the basis for their disagreement?
  • What do we know or postulate about the history of global climate change?
  • What do we know or postulate about the real or potential impacts of global climate change?
  • What is being hypothesized about the causes of global climate change? Is it anthropogenic (human-caused)? We will attempt to examine each hypothesis in terms of its support, as well as looking at the arguments of detractors.
  • Politically and socially, how are these hypotheses about the causes of climate change being embraced? (This is where we'll look specifically at the global drive to eliminate or reduce carbon emissions as a possible causative factor in global warming/climate change.) What are the real or possible costs associated with changes that are being made or recommended as a result of this?
  • What about social justice and access to or distribution of natural resources among the neighbors who inhabit planet earth with us? What changes if any are we called to make to ensure that our biblical responsibility for upholding social justice is achieved?
  • If we as citizens and Christians do indeed have a responsibility to make personal or corporate lifestyle changes as a result of environmental concerns, how urgent and critical are the changes that we are being called to make?

  • Additional questions suggested this morning:

    • How are evangelicals in developing countries responding to the climate change issue, as compared to how we are responding here in the United States?
    • Some have criticized the validity of the claims made in Vice President Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. What are we to think of this?

    If you have suggestions for additional questions you would like me to address, please click the "Comments" link at the bottom of this blog posting.

    Also, check back on this blog next weekend, when I intend to post some of the specific links and resources that I will be using on Nov. 16. Thank you!

    APPENDIX B: Biblical Framework Scripture Passages

    Special thanks to the Evangelical Environmental Network, from whose site this framework was adapted.

    1: God created the universe, including the earth (our environment), as well as the heavens beyond, for His pleasure and glory, and as a place for us to dwell as we seek to bring Him pleasure and glory. As its creator He both brings life to the earth, and sustains it through the word of His power. As humans we are intimately tied to this creation. We were created out of the dust of the earth, and to this dust we will return when we die.

    Witness of the Old Testament:
    Genesis 1:1-25, 26-31, 2:1-4
    Psalm 104
    Isaiah 40:12,26
    Isaiah 42:5-7

    Creation declares His glory:
    Psalm 19:1-4
    Psalm 96:1,11-12
    Rom. 1:20-23
    Rev. 4:11

    Jesus’ relationship to all of creation:
    Col. 1:15-20
    John 1:1-3
    Heb. 1:2-3
    1 Cor. 8:6
    Eph. 1:10

    2: When God created the earth, He saw that "it was good." He then committed it into the hands of human beings to steward, or to manage and be responsible for.

    The earth is the Lord’s:
    Col. 1:16
    Heb. 1:2
    1 Cor. 10:26
    Psalm 24:1
    Lev. 25:23
    Deut. 10:14
    Neh. 9:6
    Isa. 66:1-2

    3: Our responsibility as stewards means that we will be held accountable for our efforts in leveraging that which has been committed to us, into greater blessings for God and others. In other words, we are not merely to be self-centered consumers; we are to be multipliers of blessing and goodness.
    What does it mean to “be a steward?”
    Luke 12:42-48 (Parable of the Wise and Foolish Stewards)
    Matt. 25:14-30 (Parable of the Talents)
    4: We human beings have already, fundamentally, failed as stewards. We sinned, and both we and the entire earth came under a curse as a result. Entropy and death is the rule of the day in our bodies as well as our environment, thanks to our failure and the resulting curse.
    Creation cursed by humanity’s sin
    Gen. 3:17
    Isa. 24:5-6
    Hosea 4:1-3
    Jer. 4:18-28
    Rev. 11:18

    5: Our failure, nonetheless, does not absolve us of our responsibility to either take care of our (dying) bodies or steward the (decaying) environment. These responsibilities are personal and they are corporate.
    1 Cor. 6:19-20
    6: God has created resources for us to consume in order for us to be healthy and blessed. However, social justice and the law of love demand that we think about others above ourselves when it comes to the distribution of (and access to) these resources. In other words, love demands we ensure that we leave our children and our children's children a world that they can live in.
    He provides the resources we need
    Psalm 104:10-30
    Gen. 6:19-21
    Exod. 23:12
    Lev. 25:1-7
    Job 38:39-41
    Job 39:5-8
    Matt. 6:25-27
    2 Chron. 7:13-14

    He uses us to provide the resources others need
    Col. 1:20
    2 Cor. 5:14-21
    Phil. 2:4-8
    Luke 4:18-19
    John 13:34
    1 John 4:7-8
    Matt. 25:34-45
    Luke 6:31
    Micah 6:1-4, 7-8
    Psalm 72:1,12-14
    Matt. 22:37-40

    7: The earth as we know it is temporary and will someday be redeemed and changed (by God) into a new earth where our current environmental woes will be only a distant memory, if that.
    God’s future kingdom
    Rom. 8:19-23
    Isa. 11:1-9
    Isa. 35:1-2,6
    Isa. 55:12-13

    Isa. 65:17-23
    Rev. 21:1,5

    APPENDIX C: Links & Resources for Recent History

    Initial Concerns Expressed About Climate Change

    1988: Formation of the UN’s “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC)
    1990, 1992, 1995, 2001, 2007: IPCC assessment reports (& sharing the Nobel prize w/ Al Gore in 2007)

    Evangelical Response To These Concerns

    2006: Evangelical Climate Initiative’s Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action
    >2006: Other supporting organizations …
    National Religious Partnership for the Environment --
    Evangelical Environmental Network --
    2006+: Responses to the Evangelical Climate Initiative …
    Interfaith Stewardship Alliance
    Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (Dobson/Colson)
    2008: Southern Baptist Convention
    Leaders do an about-face on climate change …
    What about the rest of us?
    2007 Barna poll says evangelicals “going green” with caution …
    Only 33% of evangelicals describe global warming as a “major issue,” in contrast to 62% of those associated with other faiths.

    APPENDIX D: My Assumptions

    1) The supremacy of the Bible as the source of truth. I think probably the key assumption that I carry, through which I am going to filter my approach to this topic, is that God's revealed Word to us, the Bible, deals in some manner with every controversial issue, including this one, that confronts us. By "deals with it," I mean that God in His wisdom has given us through His Word an intellectual, spiritual, and philosophical framework to equip us for how we respond to this hot topic. It may not be overt. It usually isn't. We won't find any verses or proof texts to say either, "The current debate about the environment is of the Devil" or "Global warming is a huge danger confronting the planet and we should all focus our time and energy being green." But I do believe we can draw from it principles that will help us frame the debate.

    2) My sociopolitical framework. Socially, I am a conservative evangelical and politically I am a Republican, though like many others, I am always enamored with the attitudes and actions of the Republican Party. I consider it a lesser of two evils, as it were. However, I also work with many evangelicals who are not conservative Republicans and I respect and dialogue with them. And I don't think being either a conservative evangelical and a Republican or not necessarily has a bearing on this debate, but you do have a tendency to see different responses from people about questions of environmentalism and climate change depending on which political party they align themselves with. Hence you don't really see Joe Biden out there crusading for opening up the Alaskan wilderness for oil drilling, like you do Sarah Palin.

    That said, I do think it is interesting to acknowledge that both sides of the political spectrum, Republican and Democrat, pretty much now embrace the conclusions of the IPCC on climate change, which has created all the fuss about global warming, as we will soon discuss. So, whether we agree or not, this is going to be something that is going to be a part of each our our lives in the coming years.

    3) My ad hominem assumptions. "Ad hominem" means "to the man," and here I wanted to reveal my assumptions regarding parties on both sides of this debate.

    In truth, I have struggled with some of the more political, radical manifestations of the environmentalist movement, partly because of the perceived assumptions of those who have led it ... their tendency to embrace anti-Christian practices of placing all of their faith in science and big government, and none of their faith in God. It has been my belief since college, partly because of reading books like Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," and other works more recently, that we know less than we think we know about some of the bigger questions in the universe. There are a lot of different questions in this debate, and I think they fall along a spectrum. Some questions have, in my mind, very obvious answers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if humankind is consuming a nonrenewable resource like fossil fuel at an accelerated rate, there is going to come a point in time, though I'm not sure any of us really know how soon, when the availability of that resource is going to diminish, when its price and value is therefore going to increase, and when it will eventually run out. It would therefore behoove us to be planning for that eventuality and developing more renewable sources of energy.

    Another no-brainer is that if you continue to dump untold millions of tons of pollutants into the air we breathe, which is a nonrenewable resource, or if you continue to allow the destruction of the rainforests and habitats that are responsible for converting the carbon dioxide that we breathe out into the oxygen that we breathe in, that this can't be good for the planet and eventually is going to put is into some sort of crisis.

    I think we can put those kind of assumptions and questions into a category of "no duh." There are others that are not so easy. For instance, are burning fossil fuels and carbon emissions speeding exponentially the climate change we are seeing? Is it the primary cause? Does "global warming" on a macro level truly exist and is it within our control to stop it by changing our carbon footprint? Are we fast approaching, or are we past, some point of "no return" where we are dooming all of humanity by our global inability or refusal to cut back our consumption of nonrenewable resources? These assertions are all being made, but I don't think the answers here are as easy to come by.

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that I have a personal relationship with two of the key signatories of the Evangelical Climate Initiative's landmark 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action. We will talk more about this important document a little later on during this hour. Those two individuals are Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, and my employer; and also Dr. Robert Acker, the senior pastor of my home church in Southern California, whom I consider a close friend and colleague. I have an enormous amount of respect for both the intellect and integrity of both of these men, as well as many of the other of dozens of evangelical leaders who signed this document.

    4) The nature of scientific dogma. My fourth assumption is best introduced by saying that I am not a rocket scientist, and even if I were I'm not sure how much that would help us. There are difficult questions out there which are a challenge to answer. Our tendency in the face of difficult questions is sometimes to become dogmatic in our assertion of our beliefs which are founded on our assumptions. I think we need to recognize this as a problem which is founded in our human nature to be egotistical and selfish. We often feel we have to know all the answers. It takes some humility to recognize that we are only human, that we are limited, and that we often don't know the answers. It takes humility to listen to others' perspectives and acknowledge that there may be some truth in what they say.

    I think it's okay for us to be dogmatic when it comes to dogma. The definition of dogma is: "settled or established opinion, belief, or principle; specific tenets or doctrines authoritatively laid down." In the case of we Bible-believing Christians our most authoritative doctrine, our dogma, is the body of truths found plainly expressed in the Scriptures. We can be dogmatic about who God is, about who He created us to be, and about how He wants us to live our lives, because we find these truths plainly expressed in the Bible.

    I think our problem comes when we get dogmatic about other things. Our political beliefs are a case in point. If we argue dogmatically about the rightness of our own political framework, and reject out of hand the political philosophies of others, we risk dogmatic arrogance, in my opinion.

    Hence, I am going to be very dogmatic about the Cross. I will be less dogmatic about global warming, or the role of government, or taxes.

    I think the same thing is true of science. Too many people have it backwards. They reject belief in Scripture as arrogant religious dogma, yet enshrine their scientific hypotheses as ultimate truth. So, to many scientists, we Christians are arrogantly dogmatic and they themselves carry the light of truth within their beings. Opposite worldviews.

    I do believe that thinking global Christians will give science its proper respect, it's proper place. The scientific method has yielded many benefits to mankind, including the creation of medicines and medical techniques which save lives and extend lifespans. However, it's also created many monsters. Witness Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And particularly, when science begins to stray beyond its own borders, for instance into realms of history and philosophy; when for instance it starts trying to tell us that scientific hypotheses about our origins are enshrined truth and proven fact; I think we are right in accusing it of arrogance. In truth, science still hasn't been able to establish some of the most fundamental truths about the created order. What is light? Is it a particle? A wave? What is dark matter? Etc. If science is yet unclear about such basic operating principles of this physical world in which we live, how can it so arrogantly assert that its version of history (be it the big bang, or evolution, or any other matters related to origins) is unreproachable truth? And are issues like the causes of environmental phenomena such as global warming really so cut-and-dried? How are we to know that tomorrow's paradigm shift won't change everything we think we know about such matters, once again, just as prior scientific paradigm shifts during the last century or two have done?

    A century or two is, after all, a very short timeframe in the big scheme of things.

    So, I guess all that is a longwinded way of presenting my fourth assumption, and that is that in most cases it is arrogant for us to assert that the science we think we know is in all cases unreproachable truth. I am obviously not a scientist, but I believe this is an assumption also embraced by many honest scientists.

    However, one mitigating factor against this healthy skepticism, in the case of the discussion at hand today, the issue of climate change (global warming) and whether or not it is human-induced, is the issue of urgency. I mentioned the 2006 document, Climate Change: An Evangelical Call To Action. I have several copies of this document here, hopefully one for each table, which you can be reading this morning. Also you can access this at the web site address given on the overhead and on your notes. This document contains four very noteworthy claims:
    • Claim 1: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real

    • Claim 2: The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest

    • Claim 3: Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem

    • Claim 4: The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now.

    I would postulate that these claims warrant our close attention to this issue. For, IF THEY ARE TRUE, healthy skepticism such as mine shouldn't be allowed to stand in our way of us acting. If human-induced climate change is indeed real, and if its consequences will be significant and hit the poor the hardest; and if our moral convictions do indeed demand our response to this situation, and IF the need to act now is urgent, then truly we would be amiss to delay.

    I am hoping people aren't attending this class looking for me to give easy answers to very complex questions. In many ways I truly am sitting on the fence on this issue right now, whether or not I should be. But if I can provide some of the key questions, and encourage you to think them through honestly; as well as some key resources on both sides, and in doing so you can come to conclusions on your own and be motivated to act based on those conclusions, then I think this session will have been time well spent, regardless of what that conclusion may be.

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