Save the Planet vs. Save Souls

There's a debate in Christian circles which goes like this: "We must save the planet, it's God's creation!" and the other says "No, the earth is doomed, we must save souls from this sinking ship!" Perhaps you've heard or participated in a version of this conflict yourself. I want to propose that the former is a strategy for the latter.* That is, a vibrant, flourishing planet is an irrepressibly persistent, remarkably effective and undeniably global apologetic for the God of the Bible. It can't be stopped by borders, or language barriers. It has the power catch people when their defenses are down. It can be both overpoweringly awesome and quietly insistent. Helping Creation speak, by preserving it's wildlife, habitats, and resources, ought to be a top priority for those with true evangelistic zeal. Not sure you agree?

Hear the Psalmist's claim: 

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psm 19)

And Paul's assertion:
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

And St. Augustine's rebuke:
Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book:the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?

And St. Bernard of Clairvaux's (1090-1153) opinion:
Believe an expert: you will find something far greater in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you cannot learn from the masters.

So if you're a Christian as yet unconvinced to join the green cause, someone who admits no other aim than 'saving souls' then drive a hybrid or plant a tree for those souls that will be drawn to the Creator God through the beauty of his Creation.

*Nancy Ortberg gave voice to this idea in a sermon titled
"A.K.A. Creator" at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church on 6/14/09.


  1. Chris,

    Fantastic blog. Keep 'em coming!

  2. Thank you for this argument. Interesting points. Tho I disagree. I believe a comprehensive reading of the bible places much, much, much more emphasis on loving others and winning them to Christ than on expending resources and effort on trying to save the planet.

    Not to mention that many of the popular ideas about how to save the planet have been shown to be more hype than effective.
    [tried to paste links here, but couldn't do it in blogspot =(]

    Me thinks it's not a coincidence that the creation care movement has grown along with the general movement in our culture for creation care - which seems to indicate that it's more motivated by an interest in the popular things of the world than by true, independent direction of God and conviction from the scriptures.

    I'm not against creation care, but I don't think it's a fair reading of scripture to say that creation care is a "top priority." How will it lead people to Christ? Yes, the bible is clear that creation indicates God, but does that get people saved? I think God perhaps uses it as an introduction to bring someone into their life to share the Love of Jesus with them. These scriptures merely say that creation makes God evident so people are without excuse.

    I'm all about fairness, compromise, discussion. Grace, peace. I, like you, HATE it when I'm decieved by manipulation of facts from oppositino groups, the govt, marketers, anyone. I just don't think that's a fair interpretation - do you really think it is?

  3. Chris, I totally agree with your conclusion, but I'm not sure I buy your argument.

    I think it comes down to this:
    Does your eschatology say that God is soon going to vaporize the earth and create a new one? Or does it say that God is restoring his original creation? When we die, will we enjoy disembodied bliss? Or will heaven and earth come together?

    I wasn't on board with the creation care stuff so much until I was convinced that God wanted to redeem the whole creation itself along with human beings.

    Romans 8 (NIV)
    19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    For a much more complete explanation and stronger argument, read Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright.

  4. Andrew,

    You're right about the importance of ones view of the scope of Gods redemptive intentions (Just souls or entire cosmos). That you're nit convinced by my line of reasoning doesn't disturb me, because it's not directed at you. Actually, Id be shocked if it changed anyone's mind. But you must admit the scriptural authors and saint of old all had a high view of the proclamatory power of creation.

  5. LOL! I just saw this post again, and again I feel compelled to comment. I think this is a very serious issue we need to discuss, so I'll comment again.

    Hey Chris,
    Your argument seems to imply that if we take better care of creation, we'll be focusing properly on the great commission - you're taking the scriptures about the AWESOMENESS of God's creation to mean that, unless we take deliberate creation care measures, the awesomeness of creation will cease to inspire awe, or at least be hindered in drawing people to faith.

    I disagree b/c I don't think the creation is that unscrewed-up by me driving a hybrid, or planting a tree. Has creation really lost it's power to inspire? Does not the complexity of our very own body & brain point to God? The water cycle? Magnetism? Electricity? Atomic Power?

    I just have a hard time believing that the small amount of change we can make toward creation care will make any difference in the ability of creation to point to God. Is that what you're implying?

    I agree w/ the proclamatory power of Creation, I'm just not convinced that it's significantly diminished (or enhanced) by my care or lack of care for creation.

    For the record, I recycle, save water, and turn-off lights more than anyone I know (except my mom).

  6. Hey Jesse,

    Thanks for your comments (again). I think you have basically captured my argument. I do believe that if we (collectively) don't take proper care of creation it's AWESOMENESS and proclamatory power will be diminished. While it is unlikely that this degradation will affect the privileged few of the planet who have enough resources to visit the Grand Canyon etc and enough education to deeply appreciate the water cycle, it most seriously affects the poor who often live under hazy skies near polluted streams and decimated forests. It is the poor who suffer most from environmental neglect. Yet, it is true that almost no amount of poor stewardship could make nature "shut-up" for as the Psalmist and Paul suggest, everyone everywhere can understand what its saying.

    I must admit a degree of tongue-in-cheek with this post. I think there are plenty of OTHER good, biblical reasons for creation care that are quite separate from nature's evangelistic power The top two of these might be 1) Earthcare was God's first assignment for humanity and 2) God intends to redeem this planet (along with the whole cosmos) not start over...despite that line in Amazing Grace "the earth shall soon dissolve like snow..." I was simply trying to bring an argument that addresses the Christian folks who have an eschatology and a read of Genesis' command to "subdue the earth" that dismiss the more important arguments above.