One of us was in Seattle this past weekend to speak at a meeting of biblical scholars. The subject:Evangelicals and the Environment. Seattle was stunningly beautiful, with ample sunshine, clear skies, and an occasional happy breeze. Having grown up in nearby Tacoma, seeing majestic Mount Rainier for the first time in a long while brought back memories of this silent guardian from childhood.
Alas, while it was sunny in Seattle, it was theologically cloudy in Dallas, where one of Seattle's famous residents — young, hip pastor, Mark Driscoll — was speaking at a major evangelical conference: Catalyst. By many accounts on Twitter and in the blogosphere (see Nate Pyle's blog), Driscoll said:
"I know who made the environment. He's coming back and he's going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV."
And after presenting his driving credentials, Rev. Driscoll reportedly added:
"If you drive a mini-van, you're a mini-man."
Now it seems these comments came early in his session and were not intended to be his primary point. But it's no wonder they have attracted attention. They suggest a throwaway theology which sees the created world as disposable, "burned up" as rubbish, while Christians are snatched away. His comments also, oddly, link masculine identity with an attitude of destructiveness to the natural world.
There are many evangelical Christians who don't follow this throwaway theology. We take our cue from a familiar and well-loved Scripture verse — John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that God gave..." In the New Testament there are two Greek words commonly translated as "world." One — oikoumene — is based on the word for "house," used in reference to the human sphere, our world of laws and government, and social norms. But here in John 3:16 — and in fact, far more often than not — the word that is translated "world" is a Greek word that has become part of the English language. The word is kosmos, the universe and everything in it. In other words, the scope of God's redemption extends to all of creation.
Pastor Driscoll also seems to miss the fact that we are all bound together within God's Earth, that our relationships with God and with one another are mediated by the creation. For example, when Pastor Driscoll follows Jesus' call in Matthew 10:42 to give "a cup of cold water" to a humble disciple, the drink of water would be valuable in two ways: in itself (as a drink) and as a sign of hospitality and fellowship. In other words, the water establishes both a physical and spiritual bond. In the spirit of Christ and of this passage, we assume that Pastor Driscoll wouldn't want to share contaminated water! Yet water, too, is part of the environment that will "burn up." According to "disposable planet theology," water and everything else lies outside of the realm of God's care and love.
Contrary to "burn it up," the Bible teaches that something in the heart of God cares deeply for all of creation. In a full-orbed Christian understanding of the "good news," God gave Jesus not only for the human sphere, but because God loves the entirety of the cosmos. Humanity — and the earth itself — are renewed and restored at the end of the age, not roasted and replaced.
Russ Pierson is an ordained minister, a 2012 GreenFaith Fellow, a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor and a GreenAdvantage™ certified professional. He serves as a Project Coordinator and the Transportation Coordinator at one of the nation’s premier green higher education institutions, Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore.
John Roe holds a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Cambridge and a doctorate from Oxford. He now lives in State College, Penn.
Photo: Mark Driscoll, Photo by James Gordon, Flickr.