Evangelicals and Environmentalism: A Review of Douglas and Jonathan Moo’s Creation Care
Creation Care and Evangelicals
Discussion of issues related to the environment among American Evangelicals faces a number of challenges. Let me bring three important ones to the fore. First, American Evangelicalism notoriously lacks any kind of overarching governmental bodies or institutions. The best it’s been able to muster so far are alliances or coalitions of various sorts. But these hardly serve to govern evangelicalism as a whole, nor could they. This means that works coming out of groups like the Evangelical Environmental Network and Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, though making important progress in my estimation, will never have the kind of religious clout for evangelicals as, say, Laudato Si has for Roman Catholics, or the writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew I have for Eastern Orthodox Christians.
A second challenge that faces evangelicalism is the tradition of biblicism that has marked it since the late nineteenth century (note: ‘biblicism’ ought not to be confused with the classical Protestant understanding of sola scriptura). By biblicism I mean that many well meaning evangelicals have come to believe that if it is not stated explicitly in the pages of sacred writ, or cannot be immediately and directly connected to the notion of ‘saving souls,’ it is either false or unimportant. But ‘ecosystem’ or ‘biodiversity’ or climate change do not appear in scripture. Therefore, these things must be unimportant or false.
Finally, these issues have been overly politicized. This is not surprising. Anyone who has read a bit of Marx will know that squabbling over recourses is all too often the stuff of politics. The problem, as I see it anyway, is that so much of American evangelicalism has become politicized along with it. Having wed itself largely to the conservative, political right, evangelicals feel compelled to maintain the political right’s stance (or in some instances, I suppose, lack of stance) on the environment. And their biblicism affords them more than enough justification for these stances, they think. After all, no one can point to a chapter and verse which indicates that polar bears are in decline or that whales need preserving.
It is in the context of these challenges that Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World can be properly assessed, and praised. It rises to two of the three challenges. It comes from the pens of Wheaton New Testament scholar Douglas Moo and his son, Jonathan, who teaches New Testament and Environmental studies at Witworth University. They have the advantage of addressing environmental issues with the already established reputation of being firmly evangelical.
Because of this, they may well be able to show that, for evangelicals, the environmental ought not to be considered as simply a political party issue. One can be theologically conservative—indeed, can even be politically conservative broadly speaking—and still concern himself or herself with environmental issues. The Moos make the case, using a well explained biblical theological method, that the issue of environmental care is a biblical issue, not simply a matter of political expediency.
Overview of Creation Care
There is much packed into this two hundred and thirty-five page book. It is divided into three sections, “Queuing the Questions,” “Arriving at Answers,” and “Reflecting on Relevance.” The first section is devoted to methodology. For those who are persuaded that “talk about the environment is for tree-hugging New Agers or wilderness ‘freaks’—not for Christians” (126), this is a good section to wrestle with. Chapter one sets up the questions of the book as a whole, while chapter two gives a good explanation of what “biblical theology” is, and why much popular evangelical understandings of scriptural interpretation are too simplistic.
Understanding chapter two is very important for the second section, wherein the Moos discuss the biblical storyline over seven fairly extensive chapters. This section is drenched in Scripture, and very carefully and accessibly written. In it, they demonstrate that “the created world remains important in God’s purposes throughout the story of redemption” (126). Yet, the world is not merely the important backdrop to the story, “creation is not just the stage on which the story of redemption takes place; creation is a key actor in that story” (171).
In the final section, they argue that Christians need not only to hear Scripture, but also need to listen to creation, God’s other book of revelation. Citing numerous studies, here is their assessment of the current state of the creation. I quote at length:
We happen to live in a time when the scale of our impact on earth is out of all proportion to what it has ever been before. The collective force of our recent actions is comparable to geological forces that usually operate over millennia. Other creatures are disappearing at a rate never experienced in human history. The earth’s ancient forests, those great reserves of biodiversity and moderators of our climate, continue to be cut down and burned. Life in the world’s oceans, severely diminished already, remains under profound threat from overharvesting, pollution, acidification, and the loss of coral reefs. The topsoil in which we grow our food continues to blow away and run off into the sea at rates impossible to sustain. Meanwhile, all of life, already in the balance, continues to face the challenge of adapting to a climate that is changing at a rate and in ways never before experienced by humankind (219).
The evidence, the Moos conclude, does indeed suggest that we are living in a time of “creation crisis.” We must be realistic about that. Yet, they are not merely harbingers of doom or heralds or apocalyptic disaster. “The living world around us, though it faces unprecedented challenges, diminishment, and loss, is also resilient” (220). It is resilient, as they make clear in chapters eight and nine, because God’s redemptive plan includes making this earth anew.
But say that you are hung up on evidence. You don’t find it convincing. One of the most helpful themes of this book is that Christians shouldn’t need a crisis to motivate them to be thoughtful, kind, resourceful, and loving care-takers of the God’s creation. How can we begin to in such a caring way? Chapter fourteen highlights a number of ways that the Moos think we can begin to “worship the Creator by caring for the creation;” from the simple, like walking more and driving less, to much more difficult, like cutting our overly consumerist habits. It is a challenging chapter and well worth pondering.
I have only been able to highlight a few major themes in this brief review. To get the full scope and weight of the work I highly encourage a full and careful reading of the whole. Indeed, it is hoped by this reviewer that by doing so, American evangelicals (and, more broadly, American Christians) will gain a proper pair of spectacles to correct their enlightenment astigmatism. Through the corrective lens of scripture, may we again (contra Lynn White, Jr.) see creation, not simply nature; order, not merely elements; gift, not merely conquest.