If To Die is Gain, Is Climate Change Loss?

Here‘s an old-fashioned Christian way of viewing death:

For the faithful—and Mother Mary Angelica was surely that—the day we die is the greatest day of our life on this earth. And even if some final purifications await us, the beatific vision for which we long lies just ahead; the exile in this valley of tears is ended.

Is calling the day we die the greatest day of our life too strong a statement? I have seen some fellow Christians wince when I say this. But in this age of emphasis on worldly comforts, medicine, and the secular, this age in which we rarely speak of Heaven (or Hell), I wonder if we have lost some of our longing for Heaven and cling too strongly to the trinkets of this life.

So do those Christians who advocate care for the creation take proper note of the impermanence of this world compared to the “solid joys and lasting treasures” that await believers in glory (and we know which ones go straight there)?

Or do Christian environmentalists wind up turning creation care into a gospel endeavor to make up for what the Bible teaches about the death of saints?

The former National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) official stated that some on the Left believe it is “our job, our calling” to restore the goodness to creation and that “ours is the work of being good people”.

Recalling a visit with an environmentalist from Maine who claimed the trees sent him, Cizik replied, “For me, it is the salvific work of Christ” that drove special concern for the environment.

Cizik compared climate change skeptics to the biblical persecutor Saul, who in the book of Acts sees Jesus and is blinded.

“Human beings are in rebellion against God and suppress the truth – faith comes by the supernatural work of God’s spirit in regenerating a person – given that they are our friends then (many of whom do follow Jesus) and yet do not see any responsibility to address the care of creation or the coming catastrophe called climate disruption – what gives?” Cizik asked. “What is this blindness?”

I wonder if Mr. Cizik should be more careful throwing around “blindness.”


When Ecumenism and Environmentalism Collide

Pope Francis’ determination to meet with the Patriarch of Moscow involves several risks according to Massimo Faggioli:

First, there’s the political-diplomatic dimension of the meeting. The pope is going to meet the leader of a church that is seen more and more as part of the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin and an ideological support for his neo-imperial foreign policy. This criticism stresses the risks to Francis’s credibility, especially if considering the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in supporting Putin’s military actions in Syria and in Ukraine. (Kirill was, however, more cautious about Ukraine, given the potential consequences of the loss of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine for inter-Orthodox relations between Moscow and Kiev).

Second, there’s the internal politics of the Orthodox churches, in light not only of the historical rivalries between Moscow and Constantinople for supremacy within Eastern Orthodoxy, but also of the upcoming Great Synod of the Orthodox Churches on the Greek island of Crete in June. Some see Francis as naïve in regard as to how the patriarchate of Moscow could use the meeting to assert a new supremacy at a critical time for the future of the Orthodox churches. Here too the war in Ukraine factors into the equation.

Third, there’s the ecumenical dimension of the meeting. The Russian Orthodox Church has been far less engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church than the patriarch of Constantinople has; in agreeing to meet with Kirill, Francis is accused of sitting at the table with a leader who has not shown the minimum amount of ecumenical spirit required to start a conversation with the pope.

Professor Faggioli leaves out the risk to the environment. Since the Pope is meeting Kirill in Cuba, both church officials will be emitting lots of carbons into an environment on the brink of overheating.

How is this trip consistent with Pope Francis’ recent prayer video?

Unencumbered by W-w

Noah Millman is not merely on one roll, he’s on four. See below.

But his writing on contemporary events leads me again to ponder whether Christians are limited (dumber?) when it comes to non-spiritual subjects precisely because Scripture and church dogma establish limits that block creative and critical thought. (The 2k solution, by the way, is to say that Christians have great liberty where the Bible is silent.) I know Millman is a Jewish-American, but I suspect he is not bound the way Reformed Protestants are by divine revelation and faith-community officers.

And it is the sense of needing to run every piece of analysis or op-ed (“take every thought captive”) through the prism of w-w that winds up limiting the ability of Christians to interact thoughtfully in the wider world. If we/they simply looked at matters as regular human beings or as Americans or as bankers, would we be able to see the world the way Millman does? (My answer is, I hope so.)

But to their credit, Christians are attached to the Bible and to church teaching in ways that show great love for the truths of special revelation. That is something that is likely in short supply among those who only use their smarts to assess the world. T

So here is a quick summary of Millman’s recent w-w-free insights. On Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si:

To my reading, the encyclical starts with a fairy tale. Once upon a time, human beings lived in relative harmony with the environment, because we understood our place within creation. But with the advent of modernity, we have lost sight of that place, both in terms of our proper humility and in terms of our proper responsibility for good stewardship. And the devastating consequences for humanity and the non-human world are all around us. Modernity cannot really be repaired from within; it must be re-founded on a proper moral basis, such that the fruits of the earth are properly shared and exploitation of both the human and non-human world is no longer the basis of our world economy.

I call this a fairy tale because there’s no evidence offered that the pre-modern history is at all true. That is to say, there’s no evidence that medieval Europeans, or the cultures of Africa or the Americas before the arrival of Europeans, avoided exploiting their environment to the best of their ability. And this is to say nothing of the cultures of Asia, from China to India to the Fertile Crescent, which were much more systematic and effective at maximizing their exploitation of the local environment, and which consequently lived closer to the Malthusian edge.

Would that Roman Catholics were not so prone to root, root, root for the home team or for Protestants (like all about meEEEE) to be so suspicious.

On the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage:

My (partial) defense of Kennedy’s opinion begins with the following thought experiment. Imagine that Loving had been decided the opposite way, upholding miscegenation statutes, and that, in response, an amendment to the Constitution had been passed with the following wording:

The family being the fundamental basis of society, the right to matrimony shall not be infringed.

The passage of this amendment would surely have overturned miscegenation statutes nationally – as it would have been intended to do. It would also have made it clear that prisoners, the mentally handicapped, the carriers of genetic diseases – that none of these can be denied access to matrimony. How, though, would it be applied today in the context of same-sex marriage? How should it be applied?

The answer hinges on the question of what marriage is. At the time of the passage of the amendment, it’s true, only a few would have argued that it encompassed same-sex unions. But in 2015 a great many people thought it did, and many states had come to express that view in their laws (whether prompted by the state-level judiciary or not). Once such a view is current, it becomes necessary for the Court to decide whether or not it is correct – because it is necessary to determine whether the definition of marriage restricting it to unions between men and women is, in fact, an infringement on a fundamental right. This is particularly the case when states have undertaken explicitly to define marriage as exclusively a male-female bond, and not merely done so implicitly.

That’s basically the situation the Court found itself in if it took the Loving precedent seriously. Loving clearly established the right to marry as fundamental, pre-political, and central to the Declaration of Independence’s concept of the “pursuit of happiness.” Note that there is nothing traditional about this idea. Traditionally, marriage was a matter better arranged by your parents than by you, and love was something you hoped would grow within and sustain happiness in marriage as opposed to marriage’s origin. Traditionally and cross-culturally, regulation or prohibition of exogamy has been more the rule than the exception. Loving certainly didn’t invent the idea of the love match, but it did raise it to the level of Constitutional principle.

Millman recognizes that it was the U.S. Supreme Court, not the General Assembly of the OPC, that decided this case, and that certain judicial precedents were in place. In other words, he didn’t have to worry about the Bible or about the Book of Church Order in trying to make sense of the Court’s logic. Can Christians do that? Should they?

On the Greek referendum and debt crisis:

The metropole (Brussels/Berlin) demands terms for renegotiation of Greece’s debt that leave Greece politically and economically utterly subservient to said metropole. The Greeks demand more favorable terms that allow their economy to grow again and have some measure of independence.

The Greeks have suffered far more from austerity than the American colonists did under British taxation. And the British metropole had at least as much reason to accuse us of ingratitude: its taxes were imposed to pay for a war waged on the colonists’ behalf, and the British were rather as disinclined as the German bankers are to have the relationship with the crown treated by the colonists as a blank check.

And, as with the American colonies, the remedy is either independence or genuine representation at the metropole. Either the EU needs to remedy its democratic deficit, creating political organs as powerful and responsive to the people as the ECB is to the imperatives of finance, or it needs to shrink from an empire to a club of like-minded states with already synchronized economies.

Of course, most evangelical and Reformed Protestants don’t care Eastern Orthodox Greece (talk about the limiting effects of w-w), but Millman reminds Americans (and perhaps the Scots) about the value of independence. Was it merely coincidence that the Greeks voted no only a day after the Fourth of July? I don’t think so!

Finally, Millman raises more good questions about the so-called Benedict Option:

Dreher’s surprise, honestly, feels to me just an index of alienation. Same-sex marriage is accepted as normal by a substantial majority of Americans now. How could it possibly be outrageous to learn that a sitting Supreme Court Justice is comfortable performing same-sex weddings in a jurisdiction where such weddings are legal? Wouldn’t it be more surprising if none of the sitting Justices held the same opinion as 60% of Americans?

But that’s not really the point I want to make. Dreher’s instinct, clearly, was that Ginsburg’s action was “outrageous.” That is to say: it provoked him to outrage. Now, I have to seriously ask this: is this feeling, of outrage, likely to be salved, or exacerbated by the pursuit of the Benedict Option?

The culture is going to go on, after all, doing whatever it does, and people all over the country will continue to produce Dreherbait, some of it far more obviously outrageous than Ruth Bader Ginsburg performing a legal wedding ceremony. (The article on quasi-Saudi-sounding practices of Manhattan’s upper financial echelons is a good recent example – and whadaya know, it turns out pricey Manhattan divorce lawyers say they’ve never heard of such a thing as a “wife bonus.”) But isn’t the collection of such stories, well, isn’t it kind of obsessing over precisely the parts of our culture that the whole point of the Benedict Option is to turn away from, in favor of a focus on one’s own community, and its spiritual development?

So I have to ask: is one of the strictures of the Benedict Option going to be to stop pursuing outrage porn? And if it isn’t – why isn’t it?

“Outrage porn.” Brilliant.

Make me smart like this guy.

Making Straight the Way of the Green

Lots of excitement in certain quarters of the Roman Catholic Church about Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical about the environment, but Protestants wonder where the energy was when Protestants beat the papacy to the punch.

First, what’s coming:

Vatican officials announced Tuesday that Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical letter on the environment is now finalized and is being translated into various languages, with an expected release date sometime in June.

The announcement came during a Rome summit on climate change co-sponsored by the Vatican and the United Nations, headlined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

An encyclical letter is considered the most important, and most developed, form of papal teaching. This will be the first-ever encyclical entirely devoted to environmental themes.

Next, the excitement:

Ron Pagnucco of the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University “would like to see Francis continue to use the concept of ‘solidarity’ in the encyclical, discussing what global solidarity means in regards to the environment.”

“Just as Catholic social doctrine teaches that no person exists without society,” said Vince Miller of the University of Dayton, “we need to also learn that our species does not exist without the rest of creation.”

“How climate change and related environmental issues connect with other important concerns, including war and peace, economics, and health care,” needs to be articulated in the encyclical, according to Tobias Winright of St. Louis University.

“It is very important to discuss the environment, conflict and peace,” Pagnucco agreed, since environmental degradation is a “threat multiplier.”

The relationship between the environment and the economy is especially important.

“Environmentalists are looking to the pope for continued linkages to poverty and impact of degradation on the poor,” said Catholic Climate Covenant’s Ellis. Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College would also “like to see the sustainability issues related to climate change woven into issues related to economic inequality.”

Environmental problems are also connected to racism, said Alex Mikulich of Loyola University New Orleans. And “it would be important to consider the connection between the desire to dominate the earth/cosmos and domination of women,” according to M. Shawn Copeland of Boston College.

One of the reasons environmentalists are embracing religion is because it is one of the few things that can motivate people to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of others.

David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University calls for a “forthright confrontation with so-called lifestyle choices.”

“It’s all the choices we make that cause the per capita carbon footprint of the average American to be roughly twice that of most European countries, and that cause the insanity of California lawns and water-thirsty agriculture,” he said. “I’m all for better laws and structures, but until we stop expecting strawberries in February, spacious living quarters, and large SUVs, I’m not sure how those structures change.”

Likewise, Scheid said he hopes for “a critique of consumerism and a ‘scrap culture’ or ‘throwaway culture’ that uses and then discards as trash people, especially the poor, created goods, and the Earth as a whole. I hope he ties the preferential option for the poor and solidarity with ecological concerns.”

Grazer said he hopes the pope “will call upon the larger and more wealthy nations to lead and make the ‘sacrifices’ needed to make urgent progress regarding climate change, and in particular, helping the most vulnerable people and nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.” The pope “needs to call for much greater leadership on the part of wealthier nations and also for sufficient changes in personal and corporate life style, moving away from consumerism,” he said.

But Miller of Dayton University stressed that structural change, not just individual choices, is essential. “Our moral and Christian obligation is not simply to change our consumption as individuals, but to collectively build a culture/society/civilization that is sustainable,” he said.

It requires “a broadening of moral responsibility to care for creation from individual choice to the larger, structural, policy responses that are required to address the environmental crises we face,” he said. “Yes, greed is a problem, but environmental despoliation is cooked into the system we have built.”

Peppard agreed that “market processes are not morally trustworthy guides to long-term flourishing of the physical bases on which all life depends” because the markets are oriented “towards short-term profit and economic growth without a recognition of natural capital as a substrate of those developments.”

How people and governments respond to the encyclical will be critical. “The theology of the encyclical is important,” said Marian Diaz of Loyola University Chicago, “but the implementation or the lack thereof matters more.”

But Protestants have been there and done that. First came the National Council of Churches in 200friggin’6, almost a decade ago:


Expresses its deep concern for the pending environmental, economic, and social tragedies threatened by global warming to creation, human communities, and traditional sacred spaces.

Urges the Federal Government to respond to global warming with greater urgency and leadership and gives support for mandatory measures that reduce the absolute amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular emissions of carbon dioxide, to levels recommended by nationally and internationally recognized and respected scientific bodies.

Urges the Federal, State and Local Governments to support and invest in energy conservation and efficiency, sustainable and renewable, and affordable and sustainable transportation.

Calls for business and industry to respond to global warming with increased investment in conservation and more efficient and sustainable energy technologies that are accessible, sustainable, and democratic.

Stands firmly with all of God’s children by urging that adaptive measures and financial support be forthcoming from government and industry to aid those directly impacted by global warming and in particular those least able to relocate, reconstruct, or cope with the current and pending impacts of climate change.

Calls on all Christians, people of faith and people of good will the world over to lead by example and seek active means whereby they may, individually and in community, quickly reduce their emissions of green house gas emissions and speak out for engagement by their elected officials on matters of global warming.

In the same year, evangelicals added their moral heft:

The basic task for all of the world’s inhabitants is to find ways now to begin to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are the primary cause of human-induced climate change.

There are several reasons for urgency. First, deadly impacts are being experienced now. Second, the oceans only warm slowly, creating a lag in experiencing the consequences. Much of the climate change to which we are already committed will not be realized for several decades. The consequences of the pollution we create now will be visited upon our children and grandchildren. Third, as individuals and as a society we are making long-term decisions today that will determine how much carbon dioxide we will emit in the future, such as whether to purchase energy efficient vehicles and appliances that will last for 10-20 years, or whether to build more coal-burning power plants that last for 50 years rather than investing more in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In the United States, the most important immediate step that can be taken at the federal level is to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program. On June 22, 2005 the Senate passed the Domenici-Bingaman resolution affirming this approach, and a number of major energy companies now acknowledge that this method is best both for the environment and for business.

We commend the Senators who have taken this stand and encourage them to fulfill their pledge. We also applaud the steps taken by such companies as BP, Shell, General Electric, Cinergy, Duke Energy, and DuPont, all of which have moved ahead of the pace of government action through innovative measures implemented within their companies in the U.S. and around the world. In so doing they have offered timely leadership.

Numerous positive actions to prevent and mitigate climate change are being implemented across our society by state and local governments, churches, smaller businesses, and individuals. These commendable efforts focus on such matters as energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, low CO2 emitting technologies, and the purchase of hybrid vehicles. These efforts can easily be shown to save money, save energy, reduce global warming pollution as well as air pollution that harm human health, and eventually pay for themselves. There is much more to be done, but these pioneers are already helping to show the way forward.

Finally, while we must reduce our global warming pollution to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, as a society and as individuals we must also help the poor adapt to the significant harm that global warming will cause.

We the undersigned pledge to act on the basis of the claims made in this document. We will not only teach the truths communicated here but also seek ways to implement the actions that follow from them. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in this effort.

I understand that critics often blame Protestantism for encouraging modernity and lacking a sense of tradition, and once again Protestants seem to be out in front of Rome. But does 9 years count for establishing one’s traditionalist bona fides?

Why My Pants Were Damp Yesterday

While visiting Notre Dame this week I encountered bathrooms that had gone green. That is, they had signs that instructed me (while still giving me the option) that using an electric hand dryer was environmentally positive, while using paper towels was environmentally insensitive. Why, I wondered, was something that required electricity more eco-friendly than a piece of paper that could be recycled? Confused, I wiped my hands on my pants. Later, I received a little help for my dilemma and embarrassment from an article at Slate:

Calculating the impact of electric dryers is easy enough. A fair amount of energy goes into manufacturing metal goods with mechanical parts. But the fact that dryers last so long—typically between seven and 10 years—means that production accounts for a negligible part of the hardware’s total energy consumption. The vast majority of a dryer’s environmental toll stems from the electricity it requires; a typical warm-air dryer uses around 2,200 watts of power when switched on, plus about 2 watts while in standby mode. If you dry your hands for 30 seconds (as opposed to the 43 seconds required to get them fully water-free), then you’re using about 0.018 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Do that three times a day for a year, and your insistence on dry-hand decorum has run you 19.71 kWh of electricity, which translates into roughly 26.61 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

There are several variables that can complicate the hand-dryer equation. The first is the emergence of a new generation of dryers, such as the XLerator and the Dyson Airblade, that claim to be at least 80 percent more efficient than their forerunners (due in part to much shorter drying times). You also need to consider how your local power grid generates its electricity—the more coal that is used, the more carbon a dryer will generate per kilowatt-hour. (As always, you can check out your grid’s fuel mix by using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Power Profiler tool.)

These complications, however, pale in comparison with those that bedevil the life-cycle assessment of paper towels. The main problem here is that there’s so much variation in how rolls are produced, starting with how the trees are harvested. The vast majority of American paper towels begin life in well-managed commercial timberlands, where trees are replaced after harvest, so deforestation isn’t a pressing issue. But one must account for the fossil fuels expended on machinery and log transport. Then there is the energy-intensiveness of the pulping process, which can result in the emission of harmful pollutants into nearby waterways. One must also consider the cost of trucking the towels from manufacturer to client, a data point that will vary widely according to the restroom’s distance from the paper mill. (Yes, dryers must be transported in this manner, too, but far less frequently, given how long each one lasts.)

The problem here is the experience of anyone who uses public restroom — the technology of hand-washing and hand-drying never abides for more than 18 months. I have long wondered, after seeing soap dispensers and paper towel holders and electric dryers come and go, how often the salesmen for these items visit bar and restaurant owners to push a new line of advanced products. We have long had a crisis in hand-drying and no one, not even the neo-Calvinists, seem to care!

Maybe the best option is for all of us to imitate professional golfers and carry around our own personal hand towel.

The Third Sacrament (or 8th depending on your Western Christianity)

Doug Sikkema follows up on his previous post about the earth as a sacrament, with acknowledgement to Wendell Berry. He explains why the language of sacramentalism is good for promoting care of creation:

I like this word, sacrament, because it demands a certain seriousness towards the necessity of death through which we have our life—a truth as physical as it is metaphysical. I also like its suggestion that there are not really sacred and unsacred places; rather, there are only sacred and desecrated places. There are places where we have abused water with toxic chemicals and waste; places where the air is so polluted we now have smog advisories to warn us to remain indoors; places where topsoil depletion, extreme deforestation, and mountain-top removal irrevocably alter—and diminish—landscapes for future generations. Such desecration is sickness. It’s a working “against the grain” of the natural processes of the created world within which we were made to move and have our being. It’s a breakdown of shalom.

And yet, he concludes this post with a point about the importance of language:

. . . language is important, and if we were to look back at the older meanings of certain words being tossed around, it might shape how we interact with our places today and change the landscape we pass on to those of tomorrow.

For starters, economy, from oikos (house) – nomos (law), is rooted in an understanding of household management. It’s a word rooted in local community, devotion to place, and the long labour of properly caring for a home that is passed down for future generations. Because of this, economics has always been tied to resources, much like it still is today. However, from the Latin resurgere (to rise again), resources are not simply commodities—although they must be used as such. Resources are meant to be replenished, to be a source we can return to repeatedly and, given the proper care, last as long as the sun gives us energy. Yet both words are tied together to sustainable home building.

If the industrialization of everything first ushered people off the land, the commodification of everything is keeping people off, to the land’s—and, subsequently, our—detriment. Yet if we are interested in our place, economics and resources might be the very new language we need. For if we will buy the lie of consumerist monoculture that we can be at home anywhere, one day we might realize, too late, we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

So if language is important, then perhaps someone with Sikkema’s last name should be careful about words like sacrament. I may be presumptuous in thinking Sikkema from a Dutch Calvinist background, but the name and the operation fit. In which case, he should need no reminder about what sacrament means:

We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.

He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.

Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments that Christ our Master has ordained for us. There are only two: the sacrament of baptism and the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ. (Belgic, Art. 33)

Again, I have no objections to looking to Wendell Berry for instruction about the dangers — even evils — of industrialization, nor do I believe Sikkema’s concerns about the environment are off. I just don’t know why he needs to import the language of redemption to justify an earthly conviction that generally makes sense to most creatures. We don’t like it when people dump trash on our front lawns or in the hallway outside our front door. Why would the inhabitants of a region or the God who providentially (not redemptively) put them there object to people exporting waste to these inhabitants’ homeland? I don’t know why you need to gussy this up as some kind of gracious or salvation activity, unless, that is, if you’re used to blurring the temporal and the heavenly as so many neo-Calvinists are.

I Thought Canadians Were Smarter than This

But w-w seems to obscure the clarity that comes with distinguishing between the heavenly and the earthly.

Over at the Cardus Blog, Doug Sikkema employs Wendell Berry with a view toward a higher estimate of the environment. He goes as far as to liken the earth to a sacrament:

Religion is an elusive term. Bron Taylor, author of The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, has traced the term’s origins to Roman rituals (religio) and sacrifices (sacra), and to the Latin leig, meaning “to bind fast”—definitions which place religion in opposition to mystical beliefs (superstitio). If religion, then, is concerned with unifying actions as well as unifying beliefs, it coincides nicely with Berry’s notion of caritas, a love that extends to creatures and the land. Also, this love is not meant to be abstract, but particularly applied to actual places and creatures within our purview.

. . . [Berry believes that] the Bible, read deeply and sympathetically, gives powerful support to appreciating the world’s sanctity. One of Berry’s strengths in this regard is to go beyond the conventional discussions of stewardship towards a sacramental vision of the environment. In “The Gift of Good Land” he writes: “[T]o live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully reverently, it is a sacrament.” Berry is not asking us to run from use, but to exercise discretion and self-restraint and to recognize the necessary limitations we face as creatures in a fallen world.

I don’t object to Berry‘s critique of the industrial economy nor to Sikkema’s effort to prompt Christians to think of their responsibilities to planet earth as stewards. What does concern me is a blurring of the spiritual and temporal that apparently elevates creation care to the Lord’s Supper (remember the quote from Belgic 35).

I would argue that Abraham Kuyper turned neo-Calvinists down that path when he likened every vocation to a sacred obligation:

Thus domestic life regained its independence, trade and commerce realized their strength in liberty, art and science were set free from every ecclesiastical bond and restored to their own inspirations, and man began to understand the subjection of all nature with its hidden forces and treasures to himself as a holy duty, imposed upon him by the original ordinances of Paradise : “Have dominion over them.” Henceforth the curse
should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life. (Lectures on Calvinism, 30)

Which makes the frequent charge that folks who distinguish the temporal from the spiritual are fundamentalists. Kuyperianism strikes me as a form of fundamentalism that instead of drawing the line between the movies and worship, draws the line between all legitimate activities and sin (such as prostitution, theft, card-playing, theater, and dance). Neither fundamentalists nor Kuyperians make room for those earthly activities that are common, basic, and ordinary, neither holy nor profane, the things that sustain pilgrims on earth who await a heavenly home.

Postscript: Here is Kuyper’s brief against cards, theater, and dance (in case you think I was taking a cheap shot):

. . . scarcely had Calvinism been firmly established in the Netherlands for a quarter of a century when there was a rustling of life in all directions, and an indomitable energy was fermenting in every department of human activity, and their commerce and trade, their handicrafts and industry, their agriculture and horticulture, their art and science, flourished with a brilliancy previously unknown, and imparted a new impulse for an entirely new development of life, to the whole of Western Europe.

This admits of only one exception, and this exception I wish both to maintain and to place in its proper light. What I mean is this. Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful, by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon three things, card playing, theatres, and dancing — three forms amusement. . . (74-75)

How Evangelicals Can Prove their Environmentalist Convictions

This past Sunday my wife and I visited a Baptist church in a seaside town that fifty years ago would have been the worship option for our both sets of parents when vacationing. The half-hour of singing during the first half of the service, punctuated by insights from the pianist-minister-of-music, was not surprising. This liturgical practice of unceasing song is now standard almost everywhere that Protestants do not use a prayer book even though Pentecostals were the first to introduce the period of praise songs as the way to enter into God’s presence (the invocation used to take care of that).

What was surprising, though, was that this form of service – a half-hour of song, followed by a half-hour sermon – could transpire without an order of service in the bulletin. The songs appeared on the screen above the baptistry, the singers and musicians in the front found the right music, and when the singing was finished the pastor assumed his place behind the pulpit. It seemed to transpire in an orderly way. But what happened to a prayer of praise, one of confession, one of thanksgiving? Or what about different readings from parts of Scripture? What about the dialogue between God and his people? This seemed to be one monologue (song) followed by another (sermon). The only part of the service that remained unchanged from our youth was the Lord’s Supper that concluded the service. It was a memorial of Christ’s death.

As I struggled to think about the words on the screen during the first half of the service – I could not sing because the tunes are difficult, unfamiliar and only the musicians up front had music (so much for the priesthood of all believers) – I began to wonder how this congregation would do if the power went out. Well, they would not be able to sing because the projector would not work, the microphones would also be off, and some of the instruments would no longer function. Plus, the pastor would have to do without that nifty microphone headset that made it look like he was wearing braces. Still, the sun was bright enough to let us use the hymnals, especially if the sexton would have opened the shades that darkened the room sufficiently for the projector to do its work.

This led me to think that if evangelicals really are becoming green and owning their environmental responsibilities, then perhaps such statements as “An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation” should include as one of its policy proposals the banning of all Praise & Worship worship. This would mean saving all the electricity that is used to support the praise bands, the singers, and the projectors and computers. The proposal should also call for worship music that uses only hymnals and pianos.

Of course, trees need to be felled to produce hymn books and to make parts of pianos. In which case, evangelicals might consider that the form of worship with the smallest carbon footprint is exclusive psalm-singing unaccompanied by musical instruments. Yes, the psalter still requires the demolition of trees. But unlike most hymnals that weigh in with close to 700 hymns, the psalter only has 150 songs, and so requires less paper. And without the need of a piano, organ, electric guitar, or synthesizer, psalm-singing further reduces the consumption of fossil fuels.

So if evangelicals are truly serious about the environment, one way to look for it is with a return to the worship of Geneva. Who knew Calvin was such a sensitive and trendy guy?