Monday, January 17, 2011

The Christian View of Ecology

I started reading Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology by Francis Schaeffer last year and blogging chapter by chapter, but other things came up, so I thought I'd combine them and the rest of my thoughts into one review.

I've grown up in a family that's always been in favour of caring for our environment.  But the whole global warming thing has prompted me to reexamine my views on ecology and I believe Schaeffer, a traditional theologian who was tuned into the patterns of culture is the best place to turn.  In the opening chapter he suggests Christianity as a whole has lost delight in the natural creation and sometimes the mandate of stewardship has been abused.  However he warns against overemphasizing the natural in our efforts to care for it. Schaeffer correctly states that the modern environmental approach "wants a moral base on which to deal with the ecological problem" (p20).  That there is an ecological problem is clear; "Modern man has seen that we are upsetting the balance of nature and the problem is drastic and urgent.  It's not just a matter of aesthetics, nor is the problem only future - the quality of life has already diminished for most modern men" (p22).

Schaeffer then lays the basis for a Christian view of ecology. "The material and the spiritual are not opposed. The fact that our bodies are going to be raised also speaks of this." (p56) Schaeffer notes that there is a biblical pattern to redemption and resurrection, that the animals of the Israelites were also spared the angel of death at the Passover. Although Schaeffer correctly notes that "real spirituality lies in the existential, moment-by-moment looking to the blood of Christ seeking and asking God in faith for a substantial reality in our relationship with Him." (p67) But "substantial" healing of all of sin's ruptures exists now because of the promised complete healing. This healing comes from exercising stewardship ("dominion") but not tyranny, treating our fellow created things with dignity.

In application the Christian view takes longer and is more expensive says Schaeffer. Mining, harvesting or building means restoring something afterwards, even if it takes extra time and money.  A "self-imposed" (p87) limit to our activities is best argues Schaeffer, because the natural world has a God-created value.  At the time he wrote, 1970, environmentalism wasn't a mainstream, government-endorsed movement.  He rightly noted the correction it offered to Christianity.  Schaeffer makes such a point of having a correct theological view of the natural world and caring for it that he would be frustrated by the 'top-down' legislating approach of our contemporary world. Christians should be theologically motivated to care for the environment, it's not part of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's.