Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Mark Driscoll, Stuff Burning, and the Environment

Warning: Since I'm writing on the environment, I'm gonna be posting random nature pictures everywhere.

While at a conference in Texas a couple of weeks ago, Mark Driscoll tossed out an off-hand quip about the relationship of Christians to the environment, saying “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” A reply was shot off by Pastor Nate Pyle of Christ Community Church in Indiana, and the comment was picked up on by the progressive Christian and atheist watchdog bloggers committed to combating the evils of SUV driving and failure to recycle rampant in the nether reaches of right-wing Christianity.

Driscoll clarified his comment on his blog yesterday.
For the record, I really like this planet. God did a good job making this planet. We should take good care of this planet until he comes back to make a new earth, like the Bible says he will. So at the Driscoll house we recycle a lot; we organize our lives to drive very, very few miles in a vehicle; we buy local organic produce; and we do other things that would make a hippie happy.
So..... Driscoll: 1. Liberal Christianity: 0? (there, Glenn, that one was for you).

Burn, Baby, Burn

Anyways, the problem wasn’t so much Driscoll’s driving an SUV (though one might disagree with his take on everything burning), but the flurry of tweets and comments and stuff afterwards that make it quite evident that disposable-environment Christianity is still quite popular (Stuff Christian Culture Likes: Not Environmentalism), based largely on the thesis that “it’s all going to burn anyways.”

There seem to be two ways that a Christian can treat the environment. The first is as a consumer, the second is as a steward (there’s technically a third, and that’s as Gaia, but we’ll not delve into the neo-pagan fringes of progressive Christianity at the moment).

The first mentality is all wrapped up with a bunch of the self-determined, self-centered hedonism that has characterized Christianity in the 20th century (Joel Olsteen, anyone?). This mentality is based on a philosophy that has denied the old-school conception of human nature, namely, that there is one, that it’s relevant at all places and times, that it can be observed in the world around us, and that we ought to live in accordance with it. Instead, the self-determining Christian sees limitless possibilities and rallies around a bizarre conception of sola Scriptura that would make Martin Luther turn over in his grave, declaring “if it ain’t in the Bible, it don’t matter.”

For the self-determining Christian, Scripture is a list of dos and don’ts given by God that we have to follow in order to get our fire insurance. In its worst form, it’s an opportunity to loophole, using the finer points of hermeneutics and exegesis to ask “did God really say?” on, well, everything. The self-determining Christian goes straight for the “all things are permissible” point of Paul’s teaching, side-stepping the “but not all things are profitable” point (1 Cor 10:23). If there isn’t clear Scriptural prohibition, it’s fair game.

The self-determining Christian is a consumerist because he views the environment as a means for getting what he wants out of life. He creates his own value, and if that value doesn’t correlate with what’s best for the environment, well, too bad for the environment. The mentality is actually built into the word environment itself – which means “the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.” In short, it is the surrounding circumstances considered apart from mankind, splitting reality into the categories of “us” and “everything else.” If you have an elevated view of man as privileged and free to craft his own little world, “everything else” quickly turns into “that which can be used up and exploited at a whim.”

St. Francis of Assisi enjoying nature.
The second mentality, that of stewardship, appeals to the old-school theory of human nature and traces its way through the works of St. Thomas of Aquinas, Martin Luther, and pretty much any healthy theology today. It says “Hey, wait a second, maybe God wasn’t just giving us a bunch of dos and don’ts to restrict our freedom and self-expression. Maybe everything that was said in Scripture was said to tell us what it actually means to be human and how man relates to God, others, and the world around him.”

I heartily agree. And what we see in Scripture about the relationship of man and the world is that it is integrated. Man was created, just like everything else, to be a part of a complicated and intricate natural world, just like everything else. The difference, of course, is that man possesses spirit, and is made in the image of God himself, which gives him an exalted place in the created order. But that doesn’t change the fact that man was supposed to live as a part of the world. It actually raises the stakes by telling us that he is also supposed to care for it. In fact, the first job that God ever created was that of a gardener – one who tends and keeps the ground and stewards it in a two-way relationship. Adam’s interaction with the environment improved it, and it was by caring for the environment that Adam’s needs were met. Man takes care of the environment and the environment takes care of man.

This two-way relationship is often missed by Christians. We tend to emphasize either our role in sustaining or the environment’s role in sustaining us. We don’t get the balance. We don’t get that if you have a large family and are planning on driving around in mountainous areas, it’s okay to have an SUV, while paper waste actually is a problem, and recycling probably isn’t that bad of an idea.

Anyways. Longer post for today, sorry for making you wait, feel free to post any questions, comments or objections below.

Posted by Nick Barden
Pictures pretty much all from Wikipedia.

Also, check out this picture of Mark Driscoll punching John Piper in the face.

just kidding, he's really fist-bumping Matt Chandler

1 comment:

  1. I think Driscoll's comment was very well put, as it combats radical environmentalism in such a pithy way.

    A total transformation has taken place in the way the environment is viewed nowadays. Whereas in time past the consumerist attitude you mention was most certainly the mainstream opinion, today an idolatrous love of nature has taken hold on society.

    Granted, if taken literally, Driscoll's comment is a complete reversal back to a very extreme consumerist mentality; however, his explanation on his blog shows that he made such an extreme statement to illustrate the foolishness of worshiping nature, and that certainly needs to be revealed as the sin that it is.

    I agree with your opinion, Mr. Barden, on the Christian's responsibility to the environment. We Christians are stewards of the earth. We should not destroy it, and at the same time we should not allow vines to grow on our skyscrapers.