The environment is a second-tier concern for Christians–in part because the Bible teaches that the world is coming to an end, anyway–and the church’s top priority is saving souls, according to a Southern Baptist Convention leader.
Discussing fellow Baptist Al Gore’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming Albert Mohler cautioned that a “Christian worldview” must deal with the issue not just in the here-and-now but also consider “how this fits with God’s purposes through eternity.”
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said on Friday’s “Albert Mohler Radio Program” that he takes a “middle position” on global warming. He believes the evidence shows the earth is warming and that human activity is at least a contributing factor, but he doesn’t know how much humans can do to reverse it. He also argued that most Americans aren’t ready to support the radical lifestyle changes required if Gore’s doomsday scenario is accurate.
“I am one who is thankful that human beings discovered carbon-based fuels,” Mohler said. “I am thankful that we discovered electricity and how to use it.”
Mohler said those things “come with a tradeoff.” He called it a sin to “deliberately misuse” the earth, because the Bible says the planet ultimately belongs to God and is entrusted to humanity as a matter of stewardship.”
“We do not in our motivation seek to care for the earth because we care for the earth,” he said. “We care for the earth because we care for the Creator, and it’s his. It’s like a garden that he’s allowing us to use. We need to return it to him better than it was before.”
But Mohler said he rejects arguments from the left that human beings are the root problem.
“There are serious proposals out there, coming from the secular left, that one of the ways to deal with global warming is to stop having babies,” Mohler said.
Mohler called that a “fundamentally unbiblical proposition” that is “not congruent with a biblical worldview.”
“Even though human beings need to take responsibility for the fact that our use of carbon-based fuels, and many other decisions, will come with an environmental cost, we can’t blame the existence of human beings as the cause of the problem,” he said.
“We can’t buy into a mentality that says human beings are blight upon the planet,” Mohler said. “But as Christians we can and should accept a worldview and an analysis that says we nonetheless have responsibilities as human beings.”
Mohler said it is ultimately not humankind’s responsibility to save the earth.
“We are basically told–and I know this is going to drive some people crazy–there are going to be some people who will say ‘I can’t believe he actually said that,’ when they hear what I’m going to say next,” he said. “We’ve got to expect this world to end badly ¦. Read the book. It doesn’t end well.”
“In fact, God’s glory is shown in the fact that in his perfect will there is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth,” Mohler continued. “The old has passed away. There’s a new heaven and a new earth. We are not taught the perfection of this world. We are told indeed in Romans Chapter 8 that the entire creation is groaning for the appearing of the sons of men.
“In other words creation is suffering under the curse of sin. And when you talk about a picture of redemption, it’s not this earth that is just patched up. It’s a new heaven and a new earth that will show the glory of God in an undiluted way, untainted by sin.”
“That’s not an excuse for ecological disaster and mischief and ecological sin,” Mohler said. “It’s just a warning against the kind of human hubris that our main mission in life is somehow to reverse the curse on the planet, any more than we can reverse the curse on ourselves. Only Jesus Christ can reverse that curse, and he did so on the cross.”
A moderate Baptist ethicist said Mohler’s views are outside the mainstream.
“Most of the Christian community prioritizes the environment as a first-tier moral issue,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“The biblical imperative is crystal clear,” Parham said. “The environment intersects virtually every other issue–war for resources, global poverty, cancer–and challenges our vices–pride, greed, sloth, gluttony.
Parham said the Bible’s demand to love neighbor also extends beyond time. “Jesus’ Great Commandment to love neighbor requires us to act now for our children’s children and their children,” he said. “Neighborhood extends beyond our own timeline.”
In a recent blog, Mohler suggested liberal churches no longer concerned with saving souls are now replacing theology with ecology.
“Christians do bear a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth,” Mohler wrote ¦. “But the church of Jesus Christ bears the responsibility to be the steward of the Gospel above all other concerns. The temptation to turn to this-worldly concerns at the expense of spiritual concerns is very strong. Beyond this, human beings will worship either the Creator or the creation. When the authority of the Bible is undermined and confidence that we can know the Creator is compromised, the creation itself looms larger and larger as a central passion.”
“When a passion for seeing sinners converted to faith in Christ declines, a passion for converting people into environmentalists can appear as a replacement purpose and a culturally-attractive mission,” he wrote.
Parham credited Mohler for recognizing “the Bible’s call for earth care and reality of global warming” but criticized him for evading responsibility “by distorting what environmentalists say and escaping into end-times theology.”
On Friday’s broadcast, Mohler said he has changed his mind about some aspects of the global-warming debate, but it isn’t because of anything said or written by Gore.
He described Gore’s book Earth in the Balance as “a mishmash of some really sloppy thinking and some mixture of paganism.”
Mohler said his disagreements with Gore “don’t start with the environment but go to issues like abortion and homosexuality and marriage and all the rest.”
“If the problem is as Al Gore describes it, then the response would have to be far more than what has yet been proposed,” Mohler said. “You’re going to have to look at a fundamental reordering of the way human beings live. I don’t that that is likely.”
Mohler said the “liberal secular worldview” represented by Gore and others “says that we are to be stewards but not to have dominion” of the earth.
“Well, that’s not the way it works,” Mohler said. “In the Scripture we are told to be stewards; we are also told to have dominion. There is a biblical warrant for eating, for tilling the ground, for toiling in the earth, for doing the kind of things we do to make the earth yield forth its goodness for us. We dam up rivers in order to have electricity. There are a lot of things we do in subduing the earth, and a lot of these things have led to human happiness.”
Parham said Mohler “creates false choices” and “misuses the word dominion to justify a do-nothing approach.” He also said Mohler appeared “confused” about Gore’s 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, and his 2006 work, An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.