Green Like God?

It’s a point of some irony that those who most loudly maintain that the Earth is a personal expression of God’s creativity and artistry are often the most silent when it comes to protecting that art from mistreatment and vandalism by humanity.

This disconnect is not lost on Jonathan Merritt.

His new book Green Like God gently takes this contradiction to one of the most conspicuous areas of environmental silence in American society, evangelical christians.

Being a bit outside of that target audience, I found the early chapters challenging to my patience. I kept asking myself, “How many Bible verses do you really need to justify doing the right thing?”

But over the course of the book I came to respect Merritt’s commitment to developing a solid framework for environmental concern, one grounded in the Biblical narrative and designed to outlast fads and shifts in public opinion.

You won’t find fancy or emotional language here, just patient teaching, sound theology, and the gentle encouragement to step outside political camps and view the earth from God’s perspective.

Merritt takes not just environmentalism, but consumerism and social justice as well, strips them of their divisive political trappings, and presents them as the spiritual questions that they are.

Green Like God invites evangelicals, in their own language, into a conversation for which they are long overdue.

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14 Responses to Green Like God?

  1. Matt S says:

    I have often wondered about this contradiction. It always struck me as odd that evangelicals will argue about whether or not climate change is real, as if that should determine how much we pollute the air. I’m not sure what your feelings are on the matter, but I don’t want to breathe poison regardless of its effect on the global temperature.

    • Brent says:

      I agree. Jonathan Merritt makes a good case from the Bible, but taking care of our home is just good sense. And since many of our environmental challenges result from our wasteful level of consumption while others die of want, it is a moral issue as well.

      It is strange to me how many church-going folk adamantly declare that the world will go to hell if a certain proposition doesn’t pass or a specific person doesn’t get elected, while at the same time blithely assuming that God will simply erase the damage we are doing to the only known habitable planet in this galaxy.

      Selective faith, I guess.

  2. Debbie says:

    “But over the course of the book I came to respect Merritt’s commitment to developing a solid framework for environmental concern, one grounded in the Biblical narrative and designed to outlast fads and shifts in public opinion.
    You won’t find fancy or emotional language here, just patient teaching, sound theology, and the gentle encouragement to step outside political camps and view the earth from God’s perspective.”

    So it sounds like evangelical Christians want to take up the issue of environmentalism but are hesitant because they don’t want to be associated with a political group that has thus far championed the issue? Is it an impossible notion that evangelical Christians could consider governance and/or political thought as important in and of itself and not always a divisive tool to confuse and distract but rather a means to form a more perfect union of culture? Why would they want to step outside of a political camp that advocates a more conservationist community? Shouldn’t the question be how can we embrace a political party that already acknowledges the importance of caring for God’s creation or would that idea change the title of Merritt’s book from Green Like God to Is God Green?

    I realize the need for separation of Church and State but sometimes the line can be so thin…

    • Brent says:

      I suppose I can see your point, that the most efficient way to embrace environmentalism would be to get on board with what (party) is already working, but I can’t say that I agree.

      One of my favorite stories is of a group of blind men who discover an elephant. One man grabs an ear and determines the elephant is just like a fan. Another grabs the trunk and declares an elephant to be a snake. A third grabs a leg and is convinced the animal is much like a tree.

      This is the problem with politics. Although each party gets a few things correct, they are still mostly blind, more concerned with being right than doing right.

      It is this narrow, polarized, politicized type of thinking that has made evangelicals so slow to adopt “a tenet of the enemy” like environmentalism. So much so, that they have even branded their efforts with the title “creation care” just so no one gets confused and think they’ve changed sides.

      Its not that they’re stupid or stubborn, its just that they have bought into the power games of politics. Just like everyone else.

      So when I see people like Merritt step outside this “for me to win, you have to lose” mentality and clear a path for others to follow, it gives me more hope than any number of people trading up sides on the elephant.

      • Debbie says:

        Maybe not necessarily getting on board with the party already working on the issue but at least acknowledge the common ground. I guess sometimes I forget how poorly liberals are portrayed by opposing political parties as well as the church. Conservatism is much more popular with evangelical Christians, however; as evidenced by some of the books you and I have both read; it can be very dangerous to mix conservatism with Christianity because serving the “god of patriotism” is not the same as eternal allegiance to Almighty God. The confusion seems to innocently stem from the idea that morality can be politically based and in theory this may be true but in practice everything falls short. Neither the judicial, legislative nor executive branch of our government is the ultimate solution to our problems. Isaiah 33:22 tells us the solution” For the LORD is our judge (judicial), the LORD is our lawgiver (legislative), the LORD is our king (executive), it is he who will save us.” The same results would be evident with any political party. It has been extremely difficult for me to acknowledge this but it is true and how quickly I forget (my comment above). My instinct was to immediately state, “See liberals are RIGHT on this issue so why not give credit where credit is due.” Initially missing the point completely, I came to the realization that while there may be a seemingly thin line between religion and politics, there IS a line and it can be dangerous to cross if one is to be a Christian first and conservative and/or liberal second.

        “The major problem with basing our present attitude toward the earth on an uncertain chronology of the future is that we fail to remember the very clear mandates of the past. Caring for creation is a matter of obedience: it is our God-given responsibility to care for the earth regardless of what we think God
        might have to do to put things right with the material world He created.”

        I guess environmental issues always have a way of polarizing people politically. Many who consider themselves left-wing and liberal are often opposed to the ethical standards and religious beliefs of conservative Christians. It also appears that issues related to caring for creation are championed more often by the left side of the political spectrum. Those on the right side politically are often identified by their strident demands for less governmental regulation on individuals and corporations to allow them the opportunity to profit from land and its “natural resources.” Conservatives are more likely to see proposed environmental protection measures as the result of unfounded liberal economic and political policies rather than viewing protection of the natural world as the legitimate responsibility of government.

        Back and forth, back and forth…*sigh*

        Sounds like Merritt’s view would be a welcome change for me. I’ll add it to my list, although my “must read” list is growing out of control! :)

        • Brent says:

          Debbie you are so right. As a Christ-follower you begin to see more and more clearly that politics is just a tool (and not a particularly effective one if you ask me) and not an identity or ego-domain.

          Your comments really encourage me. One thing that we all seem to have in common is a susceptibility to knee-jerk reactions. To be able to go beyond our entrenched arguments and find deeper truths or even see things from another point of view is a real gift, one that I hope more people develop.

          Further reading on these points would be Greg Boyd’s books, The Myth of a Christian Nation and The Myth of a Christin Religion in which he contrasts the power-under approach of Jesus that changes hearts with the power-over approach of government that can only enforce behavior.

  3. ScottL says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Brent. I’m up for exemplifying what happened in the beginning – taking care of the earth – and exemplifying what will one day fully take place – complete renewal of the earth. Maybe our caring for the earth can point towards the great future renewal.

  4. Mike'itect says:

    I think nearly everyone is for clean air, clean soil, clean water and wise wildlife management. In the fifties to mid-sixties we simply called this “conservation” in our mid-western public schools.

    As environmentalism began to emerge as a movement in the seventies, it birthed a radical, political sub-group, which treats the earth not as a place for the Heavenly Father to express his creativity, love and character in physical form, and home for his children, but as the idol of (false) worship in the form of nature: Nature carries the supreme value, mankind is of sub-ordinate importance to nature, and the true and living God is divorced, in many men’s minds, from both. This group’s agenda (whales and dolphins good; people bad) has become deeply rooted in the domains of media, government and entertainment.

    This latter movement is a demonstration of the suppression of truth Paul writes about in Roman 1: 18-32, where man worships and serves “created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised.” The resulting devolution process Paul describes is a pretty good description of the moral conditions we’re seeing in society today.

    As Christians, our responsibility is, as Paul told Timothy, to rightly handle the word of truth. We can only do this by seeking God personally and letting scripture interpret scripture to bring a true and balanced understanding of God and His purposes for the world around us.

    Stewardship under God’s law – yes. Alignment with those who follow Gaia – no.

    • Brent says:

      Mike, I hear what you say and I don’t disagree, but just as misguided as those who would worship the earth are those who make an idol of horded wealth, addictive consumption, and destroy God’s workmanship, both people and planet to worship it.

      Let’s not retreat so far from the first group that we find ourselves in the second.

      It is this book’s ability to avoid such political camps while still calling for change that I most respect.

  5. Hello, my friend.

    I haven’t been in the blogging world since last October. I have missed you and hope that you are doing well.

    Ask Dr. T. if he has any open appointments, that is, if he’s not too busy. :)

  6. cerita humor says:

    In my religion, Islam, God is can not to see.

  7. Cypress Wood says:

    Great review. I am very interested in reading this book now. Thanks for the post.