Climate Change and the Gospel



Many Christians deny that climate change is happening, perhaps because many Christians distrust science. More accurately, perhaps, they distrust scientists, as a large number of scientists are atheists, especially some extremely vocal scientists who “preach” a form of scientism[1].

As Christians, though, we need to be careful here. We need to respect truth wherever we find it and wherever it leads. Without letting go of the revealed truth of God in Scripture, we need to recognize and acknowledge truth that science reveals – the truth of God’s creation.

We also need to recognize and understand the difference between science and scientists. Science, done right, reveals the truth of God’s creation. The scientists who do science are influenced by their own biases, assumptions and preconceptions, worldviews and individual perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that the results of the science they do can’t be trusted.

We have to separate out the science and the conclusions drawn by scientists from the science. Even there, those conclusions shouldn’t be discarded without consideration. Scientific conclusions (conclusions that naturally and inevitably follow from proven premises) should be distinguished from philosophical conclusions (extrapolations from the scientific conclusions that go beyond the bare facts and enter into philosophical territory).

What does that mean? A very extreme example might be the assertion by Neil deGrasse Tyson that science has replaced philosophy and made it irrelevant. He maintains that science tells us everything we need to know about reality. This very statement is a philosophical statement. (Hint: it’s not science.) Just because a scientist says something doesn’t make it true.

We also have to keep in mind that science has been reduced over the decades and centuries to mean something more limited than what it once meant. (Theology was once known as the Queen of the Sciences). Science is now limited in its definition to mean the study of the natural world and its material components and processes. Scientific method is limited to what can be proven by observation of the material world and its processes.

Science is a species of knowledge, but we sometimes conflate science with knowledge, thinking that science is the end-all and be-all of knowledge and that knowledge is only that which science reveals to us. As Christians, we don’t believe this. Philosophers don’t believe this. Artists, and poets and musicians don’t believe this. Many scientists don’t believe this as well.

But, I digress. I believe that the science for climate change is accurate – at least to some extent. To what extent, I am unable to conclude, as I don’t know the science well enough. But that the climate is changing is fact. It is changing, and we shouldn’t be ignorant of that fact.

It is also fact that we are contributing to that change. CO2 emissions, for example, have gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution. That is science that can’t (shouldn’t) be denied. It’s been substantially demonstrated in a multitude of ways.

To what extent has our activity contributed to the change? To what extent is our activity driving the change? To what extent can we reverse the change? Can we reverse climate change by our efforts? I think these are all open questions as I understand the state of the science.

As Christians, I think we need to be careful to respect the truth of science; otherwise we are guilty of denying and misrepresenting truth. We need to respect truth wherever it is found because our God is true, Jesus was truth personified. For that reason, also, we have no reason to be afraid of the truth.

Our approach should be appropriately nuanced on issues like climate change. How we deal with the truth and respond to it must be placed into context. There is a higher truth than climate change: God and His purposes that we learn from revealed truth found in Scripture.

For the Christian, the prospect of climate change does not appear as the ominous a threat it is for the non-believer. This is because we understand that the earth is passing away;[2] and God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.[3] In fact, Jesus warns us not to store up our treasures on earth where they are subject to rot, decay and destruction (sounds like the second law of thermodynamics), but to store them up in heaven.[4]

But we also need to be mindful that God made us stewards of the earth, and He expects us to be good stewards. In this principal, we can find some common ground with the non-believer. Paul urges us not only to find the common ground, but to use it as a vehicle for sharing the Gospel.

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

When Christians fight with the secular world over climate change, I fear that we are being short-sighted. We don’t have the kingdom of God or the Gospel as our guide. Not just because the science is clear, but because our highest goal must always be to represent God in truth and to be mindful of His purposes.

When we fight about climate change, it’s almost always in the context of politics – the prioritization of the spending of tax dollars, the propriety of imposing (or relaxing) regulations on commercial activity, etc. These are extremely peripheral issues for the Christian. Our kingdom is not of this world. We are sojourners and aliens in this world[5], just passing through, waiting for God’s kingdom.

We can agree with the non-believers in the fact that we are contributing emissions into the atmosphere at dramatically increased rates by our modern activity. We can agree with them that the climate is changing. We can agree that we should be good stewards of the earth God gave us, not necessarily because we think we can save the earth for future generations, but because God simply wants us to care for what He gave us.

We don’t have to make climate change our highest end. That would be idolatry. And it’s nothing new. People have made nature their god for millennia, even God’s people. That was Isaiah’s charge (among other things) when he said:

“You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
like a garden without water.” [6]

Before getting too self-righteous about modern devotion to nature, we should take stock of things to which we devote ourselves too religiously. Anything that we exalt above God and to which we devote ourselves in competition with our devotion to Him is idolatry. Christians should not make climate change their first priority, but neither should be eschew it altogether.

Not only has God given us the command to care for the earth He gave us; God commanded us to go to all the nations, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Lord. Some of those “nations” consist of people who are concerned (with some justification) about climate change. So, in becoming a conservationist to win the conservationists, we advance the Gospel and God’s kingdom.

We simply need to maintain perspective, which is always our struggle. We need to worship God, and God alone, devoting ourselves to Him and His purposes. But that doesn’t mean that we must deny climate change or fight the movement to clean up the earth and reduce our carbon footprint.

We should recognize what is true, because God is a God of Truth. We should care for the earth because God gave it to us to care for. We should not let this issue come between us and people God wants to reach with the Gospel. Climate change becomes another bridge by which we can connect with and reach the lost, perhaps winning some as Paul demonstrated in his own life of service to the Gentiles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] I define scientism has particularly dogmatic form of confidence in science above all other things and to the exclusion of other forms of knowledge, like philosophy and theology, that rises to the level of a type of faith in science and our ability to do science that becomes evangelistic.

[2] Psalm 102:25-26 (“In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.”); and 2 Peter 3:7, 10 (“…the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire…. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

[3] Isaiah 65:17 (“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”); and 2 Peter 3:13 (“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”)

[4] Matthew 6:19-20

[5] 1 Peter 2:11-12 (“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”)

[6] Isaiah 1:29-30. According to Ellicot’s Commentary for English Readers, “The words point to the groves that were so closely connected with the idolatry of Canaan, especially with the worship of the asherah, and which the people had chosen in preference to the sanctuary of Jehovah (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17; Deuteronomy 16:21; 2Kings 16:4; Jeremiah 3:6). The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges observes, “These and the gardens are emblems not of luxury, but of nature-worship.” (See biblehub.com)

3 thoughts on “Climate Change and the Gospel

  1. I agree with you on all of this. I like your explanation of the value of science and also of its limitations. I also agree that we should be good stewards of the world God made. But ultimately we trust him and not ourselves for our future. J.

    Liked by 1 person

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