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E. Calvin Beisner

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Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Evangelical Philosophical Society annual meeting (check out my thoughts on the whole thing). The theme of the meeting was “Caring for Creation” and although I generally went to other talks with topics that interested me more, I did get the chance to listen to a talk by Douglas Moo, “Biblical Theology and Creation Care” followed by a panel discussion on caring for creation. The talk by Moo was one of the best papers I attended, and the panel discussion afterwards was both informative and contentious. Readers, I hope you’ll look through the whole thing and engage in some dialogue here. This is an extremely interesting topic and I’d love to read your thoughts on it. I’ll start here by summarizing the highlights of Moo’s paper. Then I’ll look at the panel discussion.

Douglas Moo- “Biblical Theology and Creation Care”

The thrust of Moo’s argument was twofold: first, to outline a “Biblical Theology” and apply that to the notion of stewardship; second, to hint at a strategy going forward for evangelicals interacting with creation care.

There are three ways to look at the texts in regards to creation care: resistance (a pattern which allows one specific interpretation or approach to trump all others and therefore forces all texts into a certain paradigm); recovery (look at different texts and incorporate a broad view that supports an ecological interpretation); and revisionism (adopt a constructive and creative approach that makes meaning from the text while recognizing broad continuity with the text). Moo noted difficulties with all three of these and endorsed a kind of recovery/revisionist approach which “sees the ‘Green'” in the texts while also not forcing texts to be about environmentalism in every case. Furthermore, a sparseness of texts does not necessarily entail that no theology can be drawn from a topic. Instead, there are enough verses which can address creation care to paint in broad strokes.

From this approach, Moo argued that there is a pattern of fulfillment in the New Testament which does not abrogate the Old Testament teachings on creation care but rather incorporates them into the whole world. We are called, Moo argued, to see our authority over the earth as not our own but as Christ’s as Creator.
Moo argued that we must not ignore God’s broad interpretation of “neighbor.” God’s view of neighbor includes not just your friends and your enemies but also those yet unborn. Our culture can be a positive influence in some ways by informing how we can prioritize our work in caring for creation. Furthermore, the concerns of our surrounding culture can inform the directions theology must take. For example, he noted that it was no accident that theologians turned to investigating texts in light of personhood debates in the 1970s with the abortion movement: culture can inform the direction that theology needs to explore, thus giving a more robust theology for coming generations. “When faced with challenges or large scale movements, the church rightly turns to the Bible to see what it may say on that issue.”

Moo then turned to the created world. We are able to learn truths about the world through scientific research. Moo argued that “truth discovered by scientists in the natural world” can inform our worldview because they are viewing the  evidence left behind from Creation. It is not scientific theory vs. scientific fact or science vs. the Bible. Instead, Christians must see truth as both interpretations of the science as well as interpretations of the Bible. “We cannot dictate Scripture by science but… current scientific data should not be dismissed unless there is an extremely solid Biblical ground that contradicts this data.” Yes, science changes, but so do interpretations. Sometimes science can inform us of a faulty interpretation of the text. It can cause us to turn to the text to look for a better understanding of both special and natural revelation.

Moo argued that there is a broad scientific consensus regarding climate change. It is happening and it is at least partially caused by humans. Not all scientists are saying the exact same thing in regards to climate change, but the broad consensus is that it is at least partially anthropogenic.–caused by humans.

Thus, Moo argued, “Biblical theologians have no basis as laity in science to reject what science is telling us on this topic [global warming].” The Bible informs us of the disastrous effects humans can have on the earth, from the fall to Israel’s continued rebellions, which brought harm to the earth itself. Similarly, our own modern rebellions can lead to horrifying effects on the earth.

Moo concluded with a call to Christian philosophers and theologians–and more generally, to Christians at large. “We should be at the forefront of confronting” climate change. We must be concerned with caring for creation.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion after Moo’s talk quickly became contentious. E. Calvin Beisner began by arguing that we must not lose the distinction between scientific models and reality. He noted that a scientific consensus does not necessarily mean reality, and that dissenting scientists were often those whose careers couldn’t be threatened by loss of livelihood. He generally expressed skepticism over the extent of humanity’s causing climate change.

After Beisner’s general response, the moderator began a Q+A session in which all the panelists- Moo, Beisner, Russell Moore, and Richard Bauckham would be allowed to respond to each question. The first question asked about the political nature of the discussion. All the panelists generally agreed that the discussion goes beyond politics and into interdisciplinary studies of geology, climatology, philosophy, theology, and beyond.

Next, “What can churches do to enhance creation care?” Moo argued that it needs to become an agenda item that churches regularly touch upon. He also said there are a number of easy ways to reduce one’s climate impact that can be incorporated in one’s daily routines. Bauckham expressed a desire for every church to have a ‘care of creation’ group which would inform their church on issues involved in creation care. Beisner also advocated easy things that can be incorporated into one’s life to take care of creation. Moore was concerned with a tangible connection to creation–he advocated getting people out into nature for walks and camping and a fuller understanding of God’s creation.

The next question related to the facts that each would say are agreed upon by all panelists despite their some contradictory opinions. It seemed that across the board they agreed that some climate change is happening. Moo noted that it is easy to find someone to disagree with any fact, but that doesn’t undermine truth.

Another question that came up was where the panelists thought creation care should rank in regards to a priority for Christians. The general view expressed across the board was that there is no easy way to say this should be a number one concern or where it fell in line with other major concerns like abortion, evangelism, and the like. Instead, all the scholars seemed to say that it is people’s duty to be informed on this topic and to do what they can.

Interestingly, the question: “What are areas of agreement with the other panelists?” was the one that generated the most controversy. It started off well enough with the panelists noting actual areas of agreement. However, once the moderator (whose name I didn’t catch) noted the problem of the West’s excessive consumption, the discussion became heated. Beisner followed this comment with a rather lengthy argument that we need to move past the current scenario of reducing CO2 as a brute cure to the problem. He argued that this could be disastrous to the developing world. The developing world often is still using wood for fuel and to try to prevent them from using coal and other carbon-dioxide producing fuels would not only slow their development but also possibly cause deaths now due to inadequate heating, poor quality water, and the like. He made note of a few studies to this effect and argued that we can’t reduce climate change at the cost of humans who are here now struggling to get enough food and water to survive. He noted one study which showed that the more money spent on reducing climate change, the less the per capita income in the developing world becomes. Thus, he expressed concern for the people on earth now who might suffer from these measures.

Moo then noted truth in what Beisner was saying–we need to be aware of the harm we can cause and see if certain methods of prevention have a cost too high–but dissented from Beisner in arguing that we must also take into account sustainability and future generations, even if that may not make for the ideal “now” for everyone.

Bauckham really turned up the heat when he started his response by saying “Remember Galileo.” He noted that Galileo was initally condemned due to Scripture, but his example shows how trying to “predict from Scripture what science must observe is extremely dangerous.” He said that we need to stop playing “silly games with pseudoscience” [clearly aimed at Beisner’s use of arguments against the consensus Moo and the others argued was in place] and step outside of the Amero-centric view of the world. Regarding the developing world, he responded to Beisner by saying that whole nations are afraid of being consumed by the oceans, which is of course of utmost concern. He expressed worry that Christians in other countries saw Christians in the U.S. as disregarding the ecological crises of our time. Finally, he made a jab at Beisner saying that denying anthropogenic climate change is to the scientific community like denying the existence of Jesus would be to the panel.

Beisner immediately responded, saying that Bauckham had been disingenuous and that he felt the language used was troubling. He argued that the supposed consensus is not a true consensus and that there is debate among experts related to the extent of anthropogenic climate change.

Moore closed this part of the discussion by noting that it is easy to attack each other but that there is a general agreement: things need to change. He advocated change on a local level, with everyone trying to carry a bit of the load for a “full reform of culture.”

Conclusion

There were a number of themes I took away from this discussion. First, I think Moo is spot on when he notes that Biblical theologians have no right to tell scientists what their data is. Moo’s presentation has reverberations for other issues, such as the age of the earth. Not only that, but his general notion of culture driving theology and vice versa was a very interesting concept of which people should take note. Finally, his call to Christians to be at the forefront of confronting climate change and being good stewards of Creation must be taken to heart.

Despite the generally contentious nature of the panel discussion, it remains the case that all the panelists advocated a need to care for creation. The debate was over how that must take place. Clearly, the notion of anthropogenic global warming was a hot topic, but again all the panelists agreed that we need to be doing better than we are now.

What do you think of all these discussions? What can we do? What should we do? Let’s hear it!

Image

The third image is credited to: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forest_in_Yakushima_30.jpg.

SDG.

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