The greenhouse effect, pollution and over population are terms which have become a common part of every individualís vocabulary. The environment and its associated issues have come to play a major role in society. This new issue of the nineties is concerned for our environment and how much longer humanity has on this great planet earth before the metre expires and there no longer is a present or a future. Concern for these environmental problems, are no longer isolated to one sector or socio-economic class of society, rather this issue has invaded and come to the forefront in the political, religious and social arena.
Society has grown to embrace this issue of the environment, it becoming primarily a worldview which now is a Ďreligioní that rivals Christianity. Environmentalism has developed into a worldview which is training society to serve creation rather than its Creator. This view is not biblical and from an orthodox Christian perspective, man was created to be a ruler over creation, yet in turn man was also designed to be ruled by his Creator: God. (Kitto, p.21 see also Internet 2)
The idea of showing concern and caring for the world in which we live began as a very noble and worthwhile cause, however, over time this concern turned into a belief, which now has an entire worldview in itself. Today extremes of environmentalism have become perverted and twisted beliefs from an issue which once had been based on biblical principles. As Christians, it is important to identify distorted ideologies such as environmentalism, examine what the Christian view of such issues are and finally be able to implement principles which can aid in transforming and renewing individuals from such erroneous beliefs.
The Christian View of Environmentalism
Today, with countless ideologies in existence, it is vital for believers to have a firm foundation and a clear understanding of a Christian standpoint of each these modern idols. Developing a clear perspective for a Christian, requires consideration and critical evaluation of the key tenets for each of these modern ideologies. Scripture always provides key answers to discovering and clearly understanding Godís position on any topics and we as Christians need to earnestly seek Godís view on an issue such as environmentalism. The initial question which may arise for a Christian dealing with the issue of environmentalism is who owns the earth?
From a Christian worldview, scripture clearly states that "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" belong to God (Ps 24:1). He is the Creator and owner of the universe. However, God is not the sole owner of the universe, man also plays a key role as part owner of the earth. While God has dominion over the heavens, he has delegated man to handle the earth and rule on His behalf (Ps 115:16). The earth is not manís possession, rather the earth should be seen by man to be like a piece of leasehold property, not freehold. Man is only the tenant of this property, God is the divine landlord (Gen 1-2). ( Kitto p.22 see also Harris, p.6;8)
Contrary to the ideologies of an environmentalist, man plays an integral role in nature, he is not just part of it. "God planted a garden in the east,Ö[and He] took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it"(Gen 2:8,15). Through scripture, God is portrayed to be a gardener, not miner, who places man in the garden to work and take care of creation on His behalf. Man is never portrayed to own the garden, he is only ever caretaker, thus demonstrating that in our world man is responsible to live with creation and not to exploit it (Stuart p.54). Even though man is caretaker, God never renounced responsibility for his creation. He is still the sustainer of all creatures (Ps 50:10-11;24:1) from the largest to the smallest, He feeds the birds and clothes the lilies and the grass of the field (Matt 5:45;6:26,28,30) (Stott p.120). God always nurtures and cares for His creation (Ps 104:27-30).
Godís creation of man was unique in comparison to other creatures. Man was created in the "image of God" and given a purpose, to have "dominion over the earth," to be fruitful and to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:26-28). Even though man was created in Godís image and given dominion, biologically man is similar to that of an animal; breathing like one(Gen 1:21,24;2:7) eating like one(1:29-30) and reproducing after its own kind(Gen 1:22,28). Yet, despite all of this God still bestowed upon man the ability to think, pray, decide and hold dominion over creation. In order to fulfil Godís law to be fruitful, man was required to work the soil and grow plants.
God never expected man to keep the earth in the initial state that it was when it was created, in fact God gave man quite a different mandate. This mandate being not to keep society in a primitive and static agricultural land, but God calls man to develop the land, to "fill the Earth, subdue it and have dominion over it"(Gen 1:28). (Stuart,p.55) The earthís natural resources are manís tools of dominion (Gen1:26ff) however, in no way does this give man licence to exploit nature. Rather, man role is to be the superintendent who is responsible to uphold the Ďdominion mandateí. This dominion is not be taken lightly, it places man with a huge responsibility. Man was created above all created things(Ps 8:4-8) and is commanded by God to use creation to serve human needs (Gen 1:29;9:3). Manís relationship with creation "is not to dominate and exploit nature, but to transfigure and hallow it." (Carson & Woodbridge p.318)
Even though the Garden of Eden was the original place in the Bible which outlined man and his relationship with creation, it is not the only place which states how man should treat His environment. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were instructed in how to care for the land (Lev 25:1-12) and how to properly care and respect domestic animals and wildlife (Deut 25:4;22:6). The result for disobeying these instructions and misusing the land was spelt out clearly through Godís judgment (Is 5:8-10). It was through these laws, that humanity realised that there was a mutual dependence on creation and that manís survival was and still depends today on the survival of creation and the earth.( Stuart p.54)
The Bible is the blueprint, which outlines every Christianís need to care for the environment, showing manís position within the eco-system and Godís plan to allow for the development of the aesthetic as well as the economic area of life.( Stuart, p.55)
Our Environment: A Concept Distorted
Environmentalism, a current issue of the 90ís has progressed from the fringes of society into the mainstream of every individualís life. It has become a religion that is calling for a new faith that will honour the earth. Environmentalism, among other religions such as Buddhism and other various forms of native spirituality, are grounded in an understanding of ones Ďenvironmentí.( Caron and Woodbridge, p.304) This Ďhot potatoí has taken over the spotlight, becoming one of the number one false gods of our times, seeking to convert every individual to their way of thinking and thus affecting every aspect of society. There is really no area of society that hasnít been touched in one way or another by this drive for society to Ďbecome greení. Over the decades, environmentalism has grown from being just a concern for our land into an issue that affects the government, society, the political and business arena and the individual mind. (Stott p.113)
An environmentalistís worldview focuses on nature, and holds that nature is to be seen as pristine and perfect. Anything which would disrupt such a state would be considered evil and needed to be dealt with appropriately. Manís position within this ideology is that he is seen to be only one part of nature and that his interests must be changed to Ďharmoniseí with nature. Humanity is not seen to be to be unique or special for being created in Godís image, rather the only distinguishing factor between man and the rest of creation is that he is a threat to the rest of nature. The environmental opinion that nature rules over all has become so strong, that leaders of environmental groups have stated that "phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental." (Internet 3) This statement demonstrates that this ideology has strayed far from a biblical Christian standpoint and in fact revolts against the dominion mandate which was given to man.
While many followers believe that an environmentalists view of protecting our environment is a relatively recent concern, it actually is a religious worldview which underlies this environmental agenda. The environmental cause while it originated as a genuine concern, now contains a pantheistic worldview which suggests that no distinction is apparent between the Creator and creation. Therefore, because there is no difference, animals, trees and humanity are all part of being and god is to be seen in every part of them. Such a worldview, is often seen by people to be good due to all of creation being in harmony, peaceful, and at one, when in actual fact this is not biblical. Patheism minimises "God and maximises creation, making God in the creation as well as locating the creation in God." ( Internet 1) However, such a Patheistic view cuts across Godís blueprint for creation.
The environmental worldview, claims four key concerns: population growth, resource depletion, technology advances and atmospheric damage. Each issue is an integral piece, relating to one another and together appear to constitute a single "interlocking global crisis."( Stott p.117) However, these tenets hold no claim when compared to scripture. Environmentalism, has become this worlds modern idol, as its followers have disobeyed and failed to observe Godís first commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"(Matt 22:37;Deut. 6:5). This idol also goes against Godís mandate to man which was to "subdue the earth" for the glory of God. Christianity claims a higher ground and as such it is important that believers are exposed to the hopeless religious presuppositions of the environmentalist idolatry (Internet 1)
Bringing about a Christian Transformation
While the environmentalists solely see man as a servant of the earth and its creatures, the bible states that the reverse is true. Man was not made for the earth, but the earth was made for man. Therefore, Christians who pledge allegiance to serving a Creator, are required to rule over creation. However, with this mandate to rule the earth accompanies with it a responsibility and standard in which man is expected to keep. Christians need to transform and renew this incorrect ideology according to that of scripture which is the blueprint for the mind of Christ. Kitto p.22)
In actual fact God may be considered the greatest environmentalist of all times, in that while there were laws giving men great freedom in ruling over His creation, Godís laws also place definite limits on what man can do to creation. Throughout scripture, God outlines how his creatures are to be cared for (Lev 25;Ex 23:12;Deut 25:4;Lev 22:28), how their lives must be valued (Proverbs 12:10a) and not wasted and how care must be taken not to deplete their populations (Deut 22:6-7). God is concerned about how His creation is treated, and no one including man has the right to abuse nature. Even though man is a ruler over creation, he is also ruled by God, who is His Creator. Man has been placed on this earth having a position of guardian and tenant, never owner, as all land is Godís (Lev 25:23). ( Harris p.15)
As discussed, the main difference between a Christian and an environmentalists is their view of God, man and creation. To begin to re-align this worldview in any form it is vital for environmentalists to realise firstly, that God is the creator and transcends all of nature(Gen 1-2; Job 38-41; Ps 19:4; 104; Rom 1:18-20; Col 1:16-17). Yet, even though God transcends creation, He is also actively involved in conserving it. Secondly, natureís value is intrinsic, it will not change because of the fact that its Creator will never change. All of creation deserves respect, not because it has value in and of itself but, because God made it. Therefore, every individual, especially Christians, are responsible to demonstrate environmental responsibility. The key to keeping a balance between these varying factors can be solved through following the principles of stewardship. The secular world has a partial understanding of the concept of a need for stewardship and for being responsible for creation.
Most people understand that they have a responsibility to creation but not a responsibility to God or any other being other than creation itself.( Carnan and Woodbridge p.319) This concept however is where the ideology of environmentalism falls apart as that point of view is really only half the story. Christians need to relearn and then develop the practises of a good steward. The definition has essentially been lost today due to more often than not the term of stewardship being narrowed down to equate to monetary terms. Perhaps Christians need to learn how to "become better stewards of the stewardship idea itself."( Carnan and Woodbridge p.319)
"The dominion God has given humankind is a conscientious and caring stewardship which involves the husbanding of the earthís resources." ( Stott p.124) It is difficult to imagine why God would create a beautiful earth and then allow His creation to be destroyed. God has established clear principles for human stewardship and responsibility for Godís creatures. Therefore, God has delegated to man dominion over the earth and it is mans responsibility to co-operate, share the earthís produce and finally be accountable to God for our stewardship.( Stott p.121;124)
It is important to realise that man has been called by God to be stewards and to protect the environment, yet at the same time man is instructed also by God to have dominion over the earth and subdue it. Man has been given a "creative, dangerous, but God-given power of dominion [which can restore, heal and lead] to an enhancement of what God has made, to an unfolding of the Creatorís purpose."( Carson and Woodbridge,p318)
Ruining the environment is a sin against God as well as humankind, God made creation with care and for a purpose. Man is not the owner of the universe, only a steward and as such he is always accountable to God, the owner of the universe, for how he treats the animals and the land. Sadly, the environmental movement does not recognise these basic principles and thus it is a movement which is seeking to bases its beliefs on a religion; it is a religion which is looking for God.( Carman and Woodridge,p.320)
Man was meant to serve the Creator, not the creation; he was meant to preserve and conserve human life, not waste his time in idolatrous worship of creation. While environmentalism may be considered the Ďwisdomí of this age, it is critical for Christian believers to remember that the "the rulers of this ageÖare coming to nothing" (1 Cor 2:6b). Instead, it is every Christianís responsibility to demonstrate the balance which needs to occur in caring for the earth, yet at the same time not turning it into an idol. As Christians in order to correct this twisted ideology it is important to first ensure that no ideology "takes man captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy," (Col 2:8) which depends on human beliefs rather than being based on the solid biblical principles of Christ.
Carson, D and Woodbridge, John God and Culture Grand Rapids, Mich:Eerdmans.1993.
Harris, John., Wilderness and Garden: Bibilical Principles for a Christian View of the Environment. Canberra, Australia: Zadok, 1989.
Internet Web Site 1:
Internet Web Site 2:
Internet Web Site3:
Kitto, Ted., "The Environment - A Biblical Perspective." Logos Journal (Feb/April 1991), p.20-22.
Stuart, Morris. So Long, Farewell and Thanks for the Church. Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton. 1992.
Stott, John Issues Facing Christians Today London:Harper Collins.1990