Monthly Archives: April 2015

Earth Day

pollition

In honor of Earth Day I have decided to post a summary of Francis Schaeffer’s little book from 1970 Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. The book is only 93 pages long but is really an excellent summary of how Christians ought to relate to nature. If you have any interest in the topic of ecology, I highly recommend getting your hands on this gem.

The book was written in 1970 and so it feels a little dated. Schaeffer deals quite a bit with the ideas present in the hippie movement of the time, especially in its relation to pantheism. However, while the hippie movement has since lost its prominent place in American culture, many of the ideas of pantheism are still alive and well in the culture, and really make their presence known on Earth Day.

Is Pantheism the Answer?

“Pollution and the Death of Man” is a response of a sort to two articles. The first article, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White laid the blame for the modern ecological crisis on Christianity. White argues that “the Christian notion of a transcendent God, removed from nature and breaking into nature only through revelation, removed spirit from nature and allows, in an ideological sense, for an easy exploitation of nature.” Agreeing with White, Richard Means in “Why Worry About Nature?” makes the case that we as a society should instead turn to pantheism as the moral base for how we treat nature.

Schaeffer addresses both articles, though he focuses on the one by Means. His first criticism of Means’ article is that while he uses the term “moral basis” he really has no moral base. He is only using pantheism in a pragmatic way, as a means of motivating people to action. As a “modern man” Means really has no categories to speak about morality. He recognizes that there is a pragmatic problem and he discerns that the existing moral structure has led to an ecological crisis, but he himself does not really possess a moral base. Schaeffer rightly points at that he is “using science and religion for purely sociological ends” so that all he has left is “sociological manipulation.”

The question of Means’ method aside, one must still ask, does pantheism produce a moral basis with which to solve ecological problems? Schaeffer says “no.” “Pantheism,” says Schaeffer, “eventually gives no meaning to any particulars.” If we are all really one substance and one entity then we have meaning in unity, but we have no meaning in the particulars, in man as man, in tree as tree, or in stone as stone. Schaeffer notes that this is true both in Eastern pantheism and in Western scientism, which is its own kind of pantheism where everything is only energy particles.

This is a philosophical problem and also a practical problem. Schaeffer states that “any ‘results’ one does get from pantheism are obtained only by projecting man’s feelings into nature.” This is simply romanticism. When we project man’s feelings onto a chicken we “evade the reality of the chicken.” Secondly, this is a practical problem because, in pantheism, everything in nature must be “normal” but within nature there is a “benevolent face, but it may also be an enemy.” Schaeffer puts it this way: “If everything is one, and a part of one essence with no basic distinction, how does one explain nature when it is destructive?” Third, Schaeffer observes that pantheism, while aiming perhaps to elevate nature, instead only reduces man. “Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into the bog… man becomes no more than the grass.” In fact, in modern day, man is often seen as less than nature, as the enemy. This is the absurdity of those who go to great lengths to save the egg of an eagle on the one hand and promote abortion as population control on the other.

Platonic Dualism

But, Schaeffer argues, not every form of Christianity has an answer for ecology that is any better than the answer given by pantheism. Schaeffer specifically addresses Christianity influenced by platonic dualism of the natural vs the spiritual. This kind of Christianity is only interested in the “higher life” of the spiritual world. The physical world is at best unimportant and at worst a hindrance to following the “higher” spiritual life. Christians of this ilk may see nature as a kind of pointer to God (natural revelation) but they have no interest in nature as itself and thus have no interest in ecology. If the world is simply going to be burned up in the end, what reason do we have to find solutions to ecological problems?

The Christian View

Schaeffer believes the answer is found in Reformation theology. It is worth noting that at this point Schaeffer follows the same script as Mike Wittmer (see Becoming Worldly Saints). Both are fond of referencing Abraham Kuyper and both use the Creation-Fall-Redemption metanarrative to frame their arguments.

Creation

Schaffer’s solution to ecological problems is rooted in creation. The created world is not an extension of God’s essence, as in pantheism, but has an existence in itself. The created world has value, then, not only as a pointer to God (which it is) but because God made it. This gives meaning to the particulars, something which pantheism cannot do. God made the tree as a tree and so it has value as a tree and therefore we must value it as a tree.

The nature of creation also matters. Schaeffer makes two distinctions, between the infinite and the finite and between the impersonal and personal. On the one hand we have a distinction between the infinite and the finite. (I prefer the terminology created vs uncreated.) God alone is infinite. He alone is independent. Everything in creation is finite and dependent. On the other hand we have a distinction between the personal and impersonal. Because humans alone are made in God’s image we possess a “personality” not otherwise known in the created order. Humans, then, have a unique place in creation. On the one hand we can say, “Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended? No, I am made in the image of God.” And yet we can also say, “I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atoms are created.” The result is that we are both separated and united with all of creation. We are united in the sense that we are all part of the created order. But we are separated in the fact that we are uniquely created in the image of God.

The result of this worldview is that we learn to treat God’s creation with integrity. We treat a tree as a tree, a fish as a fish, a man as a man, etc. We love each according to its own order because we love the Creator. Schaeffer puts it well when he says: “Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing he has made.”

Fall-Redemption

Schaeffer next offers hope for what he calls “substantial healing.” This substantial healing is rooted in his view of both the Fall and Redemption. The Fall led to division throughout the created order. There was, first and foremost the division between God and man, but there was also a division between man and self, between man and man, and between man and nature. We can only heal this division through reconciliation and the only possible Reconciler between God and the created order is the God-man Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ as our Savior we are reconciled to God. In our spiritual lives we also look forward to the Day of Redemption and the complete healing of our relationship with God. In the meantime we must day-to-day seek God and fellowship with him.

The same principle applies to our other relationships (to self, man, and nature). It is the same gospel and the same Reconciler in all cases. In each case while we wait for complete redemption we continue to seek substantial healing. The gospel offers us internal peace, reconciliation with our brothers, and it provides hope for substantial healing in nature. Just like the consummation does not invalidate our search for daily healing with God it does not invalidate our search for healing with nature.

But what about our dominion over nature? Since this was one of the issues which White and Means saw as one of the causes of our ecological problem (they saw it as arrogance) Schaeffer addresses this issue next. He suggests that perhaps dominion is misunderstood. We do not exercise dominion in an autonomous way but as stewards. Schaeffer does not use the term “stewardship” but he draws the parallel to the parable of the talents. We exercise dominion, but in a way that acknowledges the fact that only God is sovereign and that it all belongs to Him. We have dominion over the fish and so we treat the fish as a fish. We can use it for food, but we don’t treat it as though it is a “nothing” or with contempt. Schaeffer states, “On the one hand it is wrong to treat the fish as though it were a human baby; on the other hand, neither is it merely a chip of wood.”

The “Pilot Plan”

Schaeffer concludes his book by calling the Church to be a “pilot plant” or a community of individuals who model what proper ecological stewardship looks like with the worldview of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. To this degree Schaeffer believes the church has failed.

Scienctism fails, but Christianity has not provided the ecological solution we have. “Science today treats man as less than man, and nature as less than nature. And the reason for this is that modern science has the wrong sense of origin, and having the wrong sense of origin it has no category sufficient to treat nature as nature any more than it has to treat man as man.” But Christians have not done much better, even though we have the philosophical and moral tools to properly care for God’s creation.

We succeed to the extent we exercise dominion over nature with self-constraint. It is this self-restraint that separates us as unique members of God’s creation. It sets us apart as human. A cow simply eats the grass, it can do no less. But as humans we have a self-limiting principle. Specifically Schaeffer calls us to practice self-restraint in the areas of greed and haste, which he sees as the primary causes of our ecological problems. If we, as Christian individuals, business people, consumers, etc. would give up on greed and would demonstrate patience, we really could seek substantial healing in God’s creation.

Ultimately, I think Schaeffer succeeds in presenting a robust biblical view of ecology. He roots his theology in the created order and, ultimately, in love for God. One of the best quotes of the book is this:

“If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made – in the area of man, in the area of nature – and really love it because He made it, do I really love the Lover at all?”

Like many Christians, ecology isn’t something I consider terribly often so this book was a convicting read. Perhaps we all need to be challenged in this area. On the off chance you’re reading this and ecology matters to you a lot I propose to you that it’s only in the worldview of Christianity (and ultimately the person of Christ) that our created world will finally find substantial healing – and in a way that does not lower man to mere grass.

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“Every inch of you is perfect…” or a better solution to our self-esteem problem

“All about the Bass” has reached the anthem status in pop culture. It’s a song of revolt against the unrealistic picture of female beauty in our culture. Trainor sings, “I see the magazine workin’ that Photoshop / We know that s* ain’t real, come on now, make it stop.” Trainor’s response? Don’t listen to the culture that creates a cookie cutter beauty. Instead she encourages women with the words “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.”

I’m against the same thing that Trainor is against – a culture that promotes a particular vision of physical beauty to the exclusion of many people. The effect of this visually driven culture is to plunge many girls in a sense of self wherein they evaluate themselves in terms of physical appearance and against a standard that isn’t physically attainable by 99% of the population. I have a daughter, and I am deeply concerned about what this culture could do to her self-esteem. I also have a son, and I worry that he, too, will have a false understanding of feminine (and masculine) beauty. To the degree that Trainor is in revolt against that culture, I’m with her.

But her response is inadequate and, I think, doesn’t actually lead to long-term improved self-image. Now, granted, Trainor is singing a catchy pop song, not writing an essay, so perhaps I’m expecting too much. OK, I’m definitely expecting too much! Nevertheless, her song gives voice to a broad worldview and that worldview is inadequate for at least three reaons.

First, it still gives men too much power to define beauty. For all its supposed girl-power the message of the song still puts a lot of power in the hands of men. “Yeah, my mama she told me “don’t worry about your size” // She says, “Boys like a little more booty to hold at night” And again, “’Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase” What’s the message? If you have that extra “booty” that’s just fine because boys will still want you and will be attracted to you. If I were singing this to my daughter I might say, “Yeah, my mama she told me “don’t worry about your size… because what a man thinks really isn’t all that important anyway!” Instead, Trainor is still stuck justifying why not being a size two is beautiful by saying that it is so because “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”

Second, it still puts too much emphasis on physical beauty. Yes, it’s a revolt against a narrow vision of beauty but the emphasis is still on outward appearance entirely. This is, unfortunately, about the only place our materialistic age can go. Again, singing Trainor’s lyrics to my daughter I would modify them to be…”don’t worry about your size… because inner beauty is far more important than outer beauty any day!” (I know what you’re thinking, it’s a good thing I don’t write song lyrics.)

Third, it’s a lie. Trainor’s line, “every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” sounds good but it’s just not true, and everyone knows it’s not true. No one is physically perfect, no matter what they look like. Telling ourselves we are is just untrue and since we KNOW it to be untrue the encouragement eventually loses its meaning and dies.

So none of us our physically perfect, but guess what, IT DOESN’T MATTER, and that’s the message we need to get across to our Photoshop world.

Is there a better way? I think so – and it comes from recognizing the fact that we are more than our bodies. Our value/worth doesn’t come from men (or women), from external cultural standards of beauty (whatever they may be), from physical beauty, or even from “within.” Our value is given to us by our Eternal Creator. We are created in the image of God, body and soul, and so we are valuable to God, unconditionally, body and soul. In light of this reality physical imperfections or failure to meet particular cultural standards or less than enthusiastic response from members of the opposite sex simply melt away into insignificance – or at least can be understood within a broader perspective.

I was exceedingly self-conscious about my appearance when I was a teenager. An elderly woman said to me on regular occasions something she thought was “cute” but was not particularly helpful, especially at the time: “You’re too pretty to be a boy.” The truth of the matter is that I was humorously skinny, had (and still have) wrists the size of toothpicks, have a gap between my front teeth, had weird purplish stretch marks across my back (that have mostly faded), have an “inverted sternum,” and have freakishly long second toes. I met no cultural standards for masculine beauty. These are all things I cared a lot about as a teenager. Two things got me out of that funk. First, maturity that comes with age and provides perspective. Second, the realization that my worth was eternally secure in my Creator.

John the Baptist had it coming

Warning: Satire ahead

OK, so it was probably wrong for Herod to behead John the Baptist, but the dude totally had it coming.

Why did he feel the need to tell Herod about who he should or shouldn’t marry (Matthew 14:4)? Why would he talk about sex at all, especially having the audacity to tell a King what is lawful? Maybe you can say that in a church, but why would you expect an unbeliever to listen.

Talk about poking the bear.

You just have to be smarter than that.

Come to think of it, he was like this with everyone.

It seemed like his whole message was one of sin and impending judgment, telling people they needed to repent.

He was unnecessarily rude, calling a bunch of people a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).

He spent his time fear-mongering, telling people that “God’s wrath” was coming and that anyone who didn’t repent was going to be thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:10) and that Jesus was a judge who would “burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12).

Hey, maybe he would have been more liked if he had worn nicer clothes and had a more “normal” diet.

Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have been beheaded for the stuff that he said, that was probably an overreaction, but could the guy have been more offensive? What did he expect?

Like I said, he totally had it coming.

His message shouldn’t have been so harsh. He really didn’t need to take sin so seriously. He should have spoken more about God’s love and less about his judgment. Or he at least should have been quiet about it.

You know, I bet if this guy had been more like Jesus this would have never happened to him.

This little satirical reflection comes from a serious question I have rolling around in my head. Where is the role of the prophetic voice in the church? Are we to the point where we really see John the Baptist as a villain and not as the one who was sent to prepare the way for our Lord? Jesus said of him, “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater that John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). What would we do with someone with his voice today? Or did such a prophetic voice (that of “forthtelling” more than simply “foretelling”) end with Jesus? I don’t have any clear answers yet, but it is worth wrestling with the question, Where is the prophetic voice of the church and what would it look like to honor Christ in this prophetic voice?

What do you see when you look to the cross?

“Oh, my soul, behold Jesus, your life! Behold, Him who is life itself and has given Himself to death for your sake. Behold Jesus, your health, how He is in distress and agony for your sake! Behold Jesus, the King of Glory, who willingly allows Himself to be tormented with scorn, with wounds, and with bitter death.”

This week, with Christians around the globe, I have been meditating on the suffering and death of Jesus. With the culture wars raging I am especially meditating upon the Way of the cross, Christ’s love for his enemies displayed, his silence under unjust persecution, and his role as the reconciler. Christians are a people formed by the cross both personally and corporately. There is a lot to say about the social and ethical implications of this, but that is not the point of this post.

Before the cross forms a way of life it must first be for us the Way to Life. – Click to Tweet

For it to become that for us we must allow ourselves to look at Christ on the cross, to Behold the Lamb of God, to contemplate deeply the historical reality of the crucifixion. How easily we can think of “The Cross” in abstract terms, as a category or a system, and forget that it actually occurred, that Jesus the Son of God was really mocked and spat upon and beaten. If it remains an abstract concept for us, we may think rightly, but we will not follow closely. And so, we must look upon the cross.

“Draw nigh and behold closely and diligently, how He allows Himself to be brought to the slaughter, to shed all His blood. Behold His hear oppressed by nameless pain and woe as He goes forth with sigh upon sigh with sorrow”

But when we look at the cross what do we see? Perhaps there are many things to see, but as I have reflected over the past couple of days, I see the love of God and the horror of my sin.

The cross is an ugly thing to behold. We cannot look closely with some repulsion. The ugliness of the cross is sin. But whose sin? Certainly not that of the sinless Jesus! Is it the sin of the world? Yes, but I must go deeper still. It is my sin. If I look at the cross and think, first, how awful is the world, then I have not come to grips with my own sin. I must first think, “Oh what a wretched man that I am!” It is my sin being punished in the person of Jesus.

A young man asked me a few weeks ago, “Why did Jesus die on the cross? If he had stayed alive he could have kept going around healing people.”  He died because we have a deeper issue than physical illness and death. We are spiritually sick and we need a doctor. Indeed we are dead and we need The Resurrection and the Life.

Why did Jesus die on the cross? To display his love? Yes, but more than that. He died to pay the penalty for our sin. It is easy to trivialize our own sin – until we behold the cross and see our sin exposed, as deserving of punishment and retribution. How horrific is my sin, is my rebellion against the Creator of the universe? It’s horrific enough to put Jesus on the cross.

I also see love – the incredible, historical, personal, sacrificial love of God. Again, this is not love as abstract, but love displayed in flesh and blood.

The cross is a beautiful thing to behold when we see it through eyes of faith. When we do so we declare triumphantly, “God is Love!” Oh, that God would send his only Son. Oh, that the Shepherd would willingly lay down his life for his sheep.

The more I see my sin, the more God’s love is magnified. The more I see God’s love, the more I recognize the awfulness of my sin, the more incongruous and cruelly ironic it becomes that we have put to death the Author of Life.

When we see the sin it is always wise to keep our eyes on our own sin first but when we see God’s love we must as quickly as possible see how that love extends in ever expanding circles to the ends of the earth, to those near and to those far.

And then we will begin to be transformed. In our own lives, already having been crucified with Christ we will turn with enmity upon our own sin and slave-master and we will “crucify our flesh with its desires and passions.” And towards others we will extend the love of God, personally and sacrificially, towards our spouses, our brothers and sisters in Christ, toward the world, and toward our enemies.

It is good to spend some time thinking on the cross but we are not called to dwell there for long. When we see the cross we also see victory. We see victory because the cross was Christ’s fatal blow to Satan and we see victory because of the resurrection. Easter has come. Death has been swallowed up in victory. This is not an abstract concept but a historical reality which grants for us a flesh and blood hope.

Book Recommendation
The Cross of Christ