The pope has weighed in. Maybe you saw Pope Francis’ “Encyclical on The Environment” released last month. Here are some quotes:
“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”
“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. … A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”
Later this month I will attend a national conference of evangelicals focused on the compelling issue of creation care. The foundational document that brings this group together is the Cape Town Commitment (CTC), and its statements under the banner, “We Love God’s World.” In that section we are told that, “Creation care is thus a gospel issue (emphasis mine) within the Lordship of Christ.” (CTC 1.7.A page 19).
My question to the conference and other Biblically based Creation Care supporters is this: Is the care of creation really a “gospel issue?” I know I may be splitting hairs here, but I have difficulty seeing that it is. Creation care is not a gospel issue per say, but a “gospel-related issue.” That additional word “related” is important, and makes all the difference on our view of what constitutes the “gospel.” It separates the essence of the gospel with that which becomes related to and an extension of the gospel.
Here is my concern. If we infuse the “gospel” with good and compelling yet secondary causes, we loose the essence of what the gospel primarily is – the good news of the redemption of mankind. Yes, as an outcome of our new position in Christ, our God-directed lives should spill over into redeeming culture and even creation. But, those are “related” gospel issues and undeniably, are important.
As Christ followers we should never, ever shirk our environmental responsibility since we are now enlightened stewards of the world in which we live, and oppose the diabolic systems of this world that are diametrically opposed to all that is good for mankind. This indeed is ”the logical outworking of our love for God by caring for what belongs to him.” (CTC 1.7.A page 19).
However, we dare not make creation care synonymous with the essential meaning of the gospel itself. Pure and simple, the gospel is the good news that “Christ died for OUR sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). He died for the world’s caretakers– the marred and spiritually depraved human inhabitants of this good earth who are causing the environment to be damaged. That is why Jesus commanded that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Why? Because, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14).
Granted the essence of the gospel can also be expressed as, “in Christ God was reconciling the world (kosmos) to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19), but the passage makes clear that it was the world of humanity being referenced by going on to say “not counting their trespasses against them.”
Now, I want to be fair here. There was a follow-up to Cape Town Creation Care conference held in Jamaica in 2012 that produced the “Jamaica Call to Action.” That document brings clarity to what the movement represents and seeks to also clarify the Christian creation care’s relation to the gospel and the fuller tenor of Scripture. Though commendable, that statement did not rescind this imprecise phrase from the Cape Town Commitment. Rather, it reaffirms it by stating that, “Creation Care is indeed a ‘gospel issue within the lordship of Christ.’” The optimal moment was missed to rectify this gospel drift.
Now back to the CTC. Yes, we can agree that, “Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming and living out the biblical truth…for individual persons, for society, and for creation.”(CTC 1.A. page 20). That can legitimately be part of our mission. But it is not the essence of Christ’s gospel. It is not a gospel issue; it is a gospel–related issue. We dare not confuse the two. We dare not equate our mission – no matter how “integral” we conceive it – with our message. That is sloppy missiology.
Yes, by all means let’s all do our part in taking care of creation. Our environment needs our careful attention. But let us also take care of the gospel itself; not dilute it, divert it, or distill it into something other than what it fundamentally is.