How Green Was Paul?

Creation care or environmentalism is a hot topic among evangelical Christians (the fact that it is saddens me, honestly, whether we should care for God’s creation or not should not even be a question). Nevertheless, many Christians tend to err on one side or another: either they overemphasize the care of creation over and above human beings or they fall on the opposite side – completely neglecting the importance of proactively caring for God’s creation.

Douglas Moo – in his book Encountering Romans – explains the logic behind these two sides and shows us that Paul (yes the apostle) gives us a way forward:

Paul would steer something of a middle course between two extremes often found in current attitudes about environmental issues. At the one extreme are those who make nature equal in importance to human beings. Edward Abbey, one of the most famous of the radical environmentalists, once claimed that he would rather kill a human being than a snake. Indeed, powerful voices in our culture suggest that we have no reason to think that the human species is more important than any other. Paul, however, reflects in these verses the biblical perspective that human beings, and they only, were created in God’s image. We have a right, based on Scripture, to give precedence to human beings.

Sadly, however, this legitimate biblical insight is used by some Christians to justify the other extreme: dismissing or downplaying concern for nature. God’s charge to our human parents to “subdue” the earth (Gn 1:28) is taken to mean that we have the right to use the world of nature in any way we choose. The upshot is that some Christians teach that human needs and wants take precedence over the good of the natural world. We have a right, they argue, to exploit nature for our own good—defined quite broadly to include a high standard of living, with its demand for cheap energy and the comforts of big cars, big houses, and easy access to wilderness. But such an attitude stands in basic tension with the biblical emphasis, reflected here by Paul, that nature was created by God and has value in its own right. Our attitude toward nature should not be one of exploitation but of stewardship. Paul, I am convinced, was a lot “greener” than many Christians have recognized.

Moo, D. J. (2002). Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (p. 139). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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