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Should Christians be at the forefront of the ecological bandwagon, promoting care for the earth because we care about the people who depend on it?

Or should we focus solely on souls and not worry about the earth because our eschatology predicts a bad end for this world and the divine gift of a new one?

It’s not a new question, but I raise it in the light of recent comments by Al Mohler, who is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, host of a regular radio program, a frequent blogger, and an outspoken proponent of a conservative and Calvinist remaking of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

According to EthicsDaily.com, Mohler recently discussed a Christian approach to environmentalism on his radio show, responding to news that fellow Baptist but political foe Al Gore had received a share of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mohler said Christians shouldn’t be immune to environmental concerns, but shouldn’t make them a top priority, either. “We’ve got to expect this world to end badly,” Mohler said, voicing a reference to the biblical Book of Revelation, which predicts the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

One of Mohler’s main concerns with environmentalists seems to be their efforts to curb overpopulation. “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 has previously described deliberate childlessness as “moral rebellion” against God’s plan for the world.

Mohler’s response, at least, is more measured than that of some outspoken preachers like John Hagee, who seriously want to provoke an all-out war in the Middle East in order to bring on Armaggedon and the end of the world.

An eschatological emphasis is also behind the change in focus at the SBC’s mammoth international mission enterprise, the International Mission Board (IMB). The IMB once sponsored hospitals, schools, and other humanitarian efforts in many countries. Southern Baptists made many friends and won great respect for their humanitarian efforts.

That is no longer the case, however. While IMB missionaries still engage in some relief and community health efforts, the primary goal is winning souls rather than improving lives. IMB president Jerry Rankin said several years ago that God had convicted him that the world would end soon, and thus he has focused all efforts on bringing people to faith before the curtain falls.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who think humanity’s spiritual condition should always take priority over their physical condition, but I’m reminded of two things: (1) the Bible gives us a clear mandate to care for the earth as stewards, not exploiters, and (2) Jesus made it very clear that no one knows when the end will be.

Ignoring the environment because we expect the world to end before humans can use up the oil or melt Antarctica is a gamble we cannot afford to take.

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