Some Thoughts on Christians and the Environment

Christianity is often blamed, sometimes rightfully so, as a culprit in the destruction of natural resources. This is not because of any particular organized plan or agenda that makes the environment and natural resources disposable without forward thinking about conservation, preservation, or restoration, such as in the case of big business. In addition to the attitudes already stated, the view known as subjectionism, which has been prevalent in conservative Christian circles, is a further factor in conservative Christianity’s apathy and failure with regard to the environment. Subjectionism is the view that the command in Genesis 1 to “subdue” the earth means that the earth and its resources exist solely for human consumption and so may be used to further human progress and expansion with little regard for conservation and restoration.[1]

These misconceptions are dangerous to fulfilling the Christian’s responsibility toward the earth and its resources. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that at creation humanity was given responsibility toward the earth and its resources. Thus, all humanity must seek to preserve the environment and conserve its resources, but Christians especially, who claim not only to have but to understand God’s special revelation, must actively seek to exercise good stewardship over the environment though conservation and cultivation.

Despite the actions, politics, and theology of many environmental groups, there is reason to be concerned, in some respects even alarmed, about the current state of the environment and its further degradation. Although some sources inflate the numbers, there are many species that have become extinct and many more that will become extinct in the coming years due to the destruction of their habitats through deforestation, mining, the conversion of land from one type of habitat to another, over-harvesting and other activities. What farmland is not being bought up and used for things other than farming, such as subdivisions and other development, is losing its topsoil through over-planting and failure to rotate crops. Chemicals are created, either intentionally or as by-products, whose impact on the environment is unclear and many chemicals and by-products known to be harmful to the environment are spewed into the air, drained into rivers, lakes, and other water sources, and buried in landfills or other places.[2] All of these add up to an environmental crisis that will not be rectified quickly or without much cost and labor.

It is human sinfulness that has led to the current state of the environment. Greed encourages businesses and individuals to use the cheapest and easiest means of extracting out of the environment whatever is desired with little regard for the future use of those resources or the land from which they are obtained. Big business, as a means of increasing their bottom line, lobbies Congress to allow or expedite activities that further the degradation of the environment and give little or nothing in return. Self-centeredness (some might say laziness) encourages people not to recycle and to contribute to the environment’s degradation through illegal dumping of trash, used motor oil, batteries, and other waste. While these are generalizations, they do convey accurately the attitudes of humanity, Christian and non-Christian, toward the environment and the lack of concern for a proper use of and conservation of the resources the planet has to sustain life.

The reversal of these crises must begin with the reversal of the attitudes and beliefs that lead to and encourage them. Christians, as people of the Bible, must begin by looking to what has been revealed by God regarding humanity’s relationship and responsibility to the world and its resources. This will yield a biblical understanding regarding the responsibility that humanity has toward the environment and the stewardship that has been given them from God and for which God demands an accounting.

[1] Raymond E. Grizzle, Paul E. Rothrock, and Christopher B. Barrett, “Evangelicals and Environmentalism: Past, Present, and Future,” Trinity Journal 19:1 (Spring 1998): 6.
[2] J. Kerby Anderson, Moral Dilemmas (Nashville: Word, 1998), 188-191.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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