Douglas Moo: Should Christians Be Environmentalists?

For 40 years, Dr. Douglas Moo has been studying, teaching, and writing about Paul and Romans.

These words from theologian Johann Albrecht Bengel hang on his wall: “Apply yourself wholly to the text. Apply the text wholly to yourself.”

It’s with that spirit he studies and teaches New Testament at Wheaton College.  And that’s why we’re featuring him in this month’s author spotlight

Below you’ll find an adapted excerpt from one of his many Logos Mobile Education courses—Paul’s Letter to the Romans (10 hour course).

The course traces the major theological themes of Romans, following Paul’s flow of thought from argument to argument. Logos users consistently give it five-star reviews. 

Here’s a glimpse at why.

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I probably don’t need to tell any of you that one of the most powerful cultural movements that we’ve seen in the last decades is what we might call, broadly, the environmental movement. 

People [are] concerned about the world in which we live, its sustainability, seeking to do things to enhance its health. 

Christians have had varied reactions to this environmental movement. 

In my view, it’s very sad that many Christians have simply rejected the whole thing, arguing that all that God is concerned about is human beings and their redemption. [That] this world [is] bound to be destroyed is something we really don’t need to bother with as believers. 

Douglass Moo blogpost

Let me explain why I think that’s fundamentally wrong and tie it in . . .  [to] Romans 8.

God’s continuing concern for creation

. . . Paul talks about creation as something that God is not going to simply toss away, but something that he himself is going to redeem and to liberate in the last day. In other words, there is continuity in the present creation and a continuing concern of God about his created world. 

It’s true that the New Testament has very little to say about the created world. It does focus, almost exclusively at times, on the world of humans—their need for redemption and so on. 

But in passages like Romans 8, we realize that the Old Testament focus on this world has not been dropped in New Testament teaching. This is confirmed by passages such as Colossians 1:20, where Paul says that God in Christ has reconciled all things to himself. The work of Christ on the cross somehow affects not only humans but the entire created world. 

. . .

Now, again, it’s typical for Christians to say, “Well, God’s going to destroy this world anyway. So why bother?” 

But Romans 8 would suggest God is not going to destroy but redeem this world. 

And God wants his people now to be doing all they can to bring about what God himself will plan to do in the future. So in other words, because God wants to cleanse and liberate this world—the created world itself—we as Christians I think have the implicit mandate to be involved in doing what God ultimately plans to do himself: to seek to make this world a better place, a healthier place, not only for humans, but for the world itself.

Wisdom and love

I think ultimately, as we think about Christian environmentalism, we think of two great emphases in what it means to be Christians in thinking and relating to our world. 

First is wisdom. 

Wisdom is the biblical quality that enables us to assess our situation and to act rightly in terms of God’s will. Christians need wisely to look at the world around us, to listen to what key scientists are saying about our world, the dangers it faces, its unhealthiness—to take that evidence seriously so that we might have a wise basis to involve ourselves in care for the creation. 

Finally, of course, Christian love figures in here. 

We are called upon to love the neighbor—clearly defined in the New Testament in terms of a very broad perspective—that is, not just those who live next door but those who live all around our world where people are being very, very dramatically affected by certain issues such as climate change and other environmental degradations that a lot of us in the more affluent Western world are immune from. 

A fresh look at environmentalism

In love to these others, we need to have a greater concern about the health of our earth. At the same time, I would argue that our love for the neighbor extends to future generations. In love for my grandchildren, I should be concerned about the world they are going to live in. I need to ask myself whether I am using up selfishly too many of the world’s resources for myself, not leaving enough of those resources for my children and grandchildren and their children to use and to live by.

Let me encourage you to take a fresh look at environmentalism from a Christian perspective. 

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In addition to commentaries and Logos mobile education courses, Dr. Moo’s work includes single titles like Five Views on Law and Gospel (Counterpoints), Fallen: A Theology of Sin (Theology in Community), and Encountering the Book of Romans.

Read more about his scholarship and browse featured works in this month’s author spotlight.

The title of this post is the addition of the editor. The author’s views about environmentalism do not necessarily represent those of Faithlife.

Douglass Moo blogpost

Comments

  1. First, I’ve never heard a Christian say, “Well, God’s going to destroy this world anyway. So why bother?” I think that’s a bit of a straw-man. Secondly, the “environmental movement” in the US is much more concerned with control than it is with actually preserving and protecting God’s creation. One can very well be concerned with preserving and protecting the created world and still be adamantly opposed to “environmentalism” as it is practiced today, much of which is directly opposed to the Christian worldview.

    • Tim White says:

      Bruce Smith, I too have never heard that spoken by a believer. I have heard atheist say we say it.

  2. What resources would you recommend to read regarding climate change from a christian perspective?

  3. This all boils down to stewardship. We do not have to join a US movement. We already belong to a movement where we are to represent God to the world. Out of true gratitude for the blessing of creation, we should be righteous stewards of what he gave us in creation. It is plain and simple. Following what we study, if we have thankfulness and humility for his blessings, knowing we deserve nothing but have been given everything, in love we take good care of it. As a parent I have given my children many great Christmas presents. When they run and hug me and thank me, and take care of the gift, my heart is full. However, if they throw it aside ready to dive into the next gift, it would be heartbreaking, especially if they break it in a week and demand a new one. Awe, thankfulness, and righteous stewardship solves the problem without making it political or secular.

  4. Carl F. Lindstrom says:

    I may have already said this, but, are the Scroll and the Lamb in Revelation 5 representing the title deed to Earth and the Kinsman Redeemer? Thus Jesus redeems the Earth. Surely it has been noted numerous times elsewhere. If Apocalyptic ecocide (and genocide) happens, it shall because of bad stewardship and bad leadership. Sheep can muddy waters and erode land. This should be no secret to pastoralists. Atheists (perhaps) such as in Aldous Huxley’s “The Human Situation” and “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn mention farmers and ranchers. It was in the book of beginnings. But is adequately studying environmentalism and studying Christianity a trade-off? Should it be? There was a Critical Concerns book called “Project Earth” by a Christian (Bill Badke, IIRC). True, it is older. I did some of the Wikipedia page about “Green Theory” but the subject would need more adjustments to be more friendly to a Christian worldview. Timothy Clark has written recent material on Literature and the Environment; but, it is not necessarily Christian-friendly. Theology of friends of the Earth but not worldly would have to be better developed. Can I love and protect a species without being charged with a form of worldliness? Can I work to delay an apocalyptic ecocide even if it be a judgment?