Which matters most: sin or climate change?


Which is more important for Christians to talk about: the need for action to address climate change? Or the need to repent and believe and receive the gift of life from God? When presented with all such false dichotomies, our first response might be ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here!’

But here is where we are, as highlighted by some important events in the last week. On the one hand, many church leaders have been contributing to the discussion about climate change in the light of the COP26 meeting of international leaders in Glasgow. Some, like the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, appear to have been carried away with the emotion of the moment, and spoken out of turn. He claimed that, if we did not act, we would be ‘cursed’, and compared leaders not taking action with those who failed to oppose Hitler in the 1930s, an ill-considered and offensive parallel that he later had to withdraw and apologise for. 

I confess here something of a frustration with the comments of all our church leaders. I have read poems, heard Pause for Thoughts, seen Tweets, and have heard much about justice, action and hard decisions. But I have heard relatively little about God as creator, very little about the problems of consumerism, and nothing at all about the problem of the sinful human heart. If I have missed some of these good comments which are unapologetic about bringing a deeply Christian theological perspective to this issue—if so, do please give me some examples in the comments below.

On the other hand, William Philip of the Tron Church in Glasgow erected a large banner outside the church building, boldly proclaiming:

The world’s most urgent need is churches preaching Christ crucified, not climate change.

For his trouble, the poster was vandalised and then pulled down—a sign of our intolerant times. William justified the approach by noting that it was often the ‘negatives’ in Jesus’ teaching that caused offence.

No-one is offended by Jesus when he says: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…” (John 3:36). But Jesus continues with the necessary negative: “…but whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” There is the offence for which our Lord was crucified, and all his true apostles martyred, because they witnessed publicly to the truth of that offensive gospel.

(It might be worth observing, for those in the Church of England concerned with church growth, that this theologically conservative church, questioning of the priority of the climate crisis, appears to be pretty much full of young people!)

It would be tempting, when confronted with two opposite approaches to an issue, to try and find a via media, a happy medium between the two. But it is actually much more productive to ask questions about how the assumptions behind each position. 


In relation to the climate crisis, there are two sets of assumptions we need to explore: What is the world like? And what are people like?

Climate change activism often appears to make a range of assumptions about the nature of the world. On the one hand, it is a power that threatens us, which we have misused, and is now wreaking its revenge on us. Some even talk about humanity as a kind of parasite, which the organism ‘Gaia’ (nature as a kind of divine power) wants to be rid of. Others take this Gaia language in another direction: nature is a divine power which we must respect or even worship. 

In sharp contrast, some Christian traditions see the world as nothing more than a tool for our convenience, something we make use of and are passing through, which is of no ultimate consequence. I don’t think this is the view of William Philip, but some of his comments come close to it when he says:

The message of hope we proclaim is not a hope in human endeavour, nor a hope in this world but the hope of the world to come.

This could be interpreted to mean that we should not seek to preserve the natural world, since it is ‘passing away’. Others go further and, by misreading the imagery of 2 Peter 3.10, believe that the created order will disappear, and that our destiny is to live in a non-physical ‘heaven’ with God forever. This is perfectly expressed by someone in a Tweet replying to Justin Welby:

https://twitter.com/asle67/status/1455517861632528385

 

Aside: the main issue with 2 Peter 3.10 arises from the difficulty of the final verb, and textual variants from it found in early manuscripts. The best support in manuscripts is for the verb εὑρεθήσεται, ‘will be found’, but because this is a difficult idea to make sense of, the AV of 1611 follows the reading of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, one of the four great ‘uncial’ manuscripts (along with Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus) ‘will be burned up’. The NET Bible offers a helpful explanation of how to make sense of the more likely reading from the Word Commentary of Richard Bauckham.

Bauckham puts forth an excellent case that … the meaning of the term is virtually the equivalent of “will be disclosed,” “will be manifested.” (That this meaning is not readily apparent may in fact have been the reason for so many variants and conjectures.) Thus, the force of the clause is that “the earth and the works [done by men] in it will be stripped bare [before God].” In addition, the unusualness of the expression is certainly in keeping with the author’s style throughout this little book. Hence, what looks to be suspect because of its abnormalities, upon closer inspection is actually in keeping with the author’s stylistic idiosyncrasies. The meaning of the text then is that all but the earth and men’s works will be destroyed. Everything will be removed so that humanity will stand naked before God. Textually, then, on both external and internal grounds, εὑρεθήσεται commends itself as the preferred reading.


Biblical theology says something quite different to both of these ideas—of the earth as divine, and the earth as dispensable.

God is immaterial, so that material world is not our master nor our god. Yet this immaterial God chose to create a material cosmos, and to create material humanity, male and female, in his image to exercise authority in his place.

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1.27–28)

It is striking that, after every ‘day’ of creation in Genesis 1, God declares that he saw all that he had made, and ‘it was good’. On the sixth day, having completed his creation with the forming of humanity, it was ‘very good’ (Gen 1.31). The stuff of this world is intended to be God’s good gift to us. 

But it does not belong to us, and we are to cherish and nurture, not exploit and spoil, this good gift. ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’ (Psalm 24.1); when humanity was commissioned to ‘subdue and rule over it’ (Get 1.28) this was a command to exercise God’s just and fruitful power over it, that it might be the best it can be.

Aside: We need at this point to comment on the language of ‘have dominion over’ or ‘rule over or subdue it’. The Hebrew term is רדה and in the Greek translation it is κατακυριευω; both can have negative connotations (for example, the use of the verb in Matt 20.25 ‘they lord it over them’), but they need not do so. In its context in Genesis, and within the larger perspective of Scripture, two things are important. First is that we are to exercise authority and rule over creation in place of God as king—we are to act as his vice-regents. Secondly, in a context where the natural world could often be a powerful threat to a pre-modern society (and continues to be a threat in many parts of the world today), God’s desire is that humanity should enjoy authority over the world, and not be intimidated by it.

And as we do this, Scripture repeatedly calls us to ‘act justly, and love mercy’ (Micah 6.8), so that all the blessings and wealth of this remarkable treasure are shared with all humanity. Our destiny is not a disembodied life with God ‘in heaven’, but a bodily resurrection life with God in heaven come down to earth, which John describes in Rev 21 as a ‘New Jerusalem’. The return of Jesus will be, amongst other things, a time of ‘destroying the destroyers of the earth’ (Rev 11.18); our hope is that we will ‘reign with him on earth forever’ (Rev 5.10). Although it is sometimes read as being a text which is negative about the created world (because of the images of violence), in fact creation is a central concern of the narrative. God is praised as creator in Rev 4.11; Jesus is praised for having redeemed God’s people from every people to be a priestly kingdom who will reign on earth; Jesus is introduced at the beginning as the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Rev 1.5); and the worship of God and the lamb is joined by the ‘four living creatures’, who appear to represent the created order. It is a very earthy book!


What of the nature of humanity? Again, climate activism sees humanity as lazy, self-interested or ignorant, so that we need informing, cajoling, and hassling into action from our lethargy. The alternative view sees humanity as sinful in a whole range of ways, cut off from the life of God, and in need of radical change as we receive the gift of salvation. Scripture tells us that these two issues are intricately connected, rather than being quite separate.

When Adam and Eve turned from God, and ate the fruit, one of the first consequences was that the earth was no longer fruitful (Gen 3.17)—and even their life of fruitful childbearing would become a painful struggle (Gen 3.16)—so they would struggle to fulfil the commission to rule over the earth. When Israel fails to keep faith with God, ‘the earth mourns’ Hos 4.3, Jer 12.4). The hope of restoration, when God brings his people back to the land, is that everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree (Micah 4.4). The fruitfulness of the earth marches step in step with our obedient response to God’s call on our lives. 

In fact, it is not hard to see how our climate crisis has been caused by the greed of over-consumption, the selfishness of those nations who have exploited the resources of others, often enslaving them in order to do so, and the relentless drive to have more. Jesus described money and wealth as the god Mammon, and the need to possess and consume appears to have a spiritual grip on Western culture. 

I think this is part of the reason for my frustration at what we hear in public from church leaders—at least as they are reported in the media. The danger in contributing to the public comments about the climate crisis is that we share in some of the basic assumptions, that our approach to life is essential fine, but that, as autonomous individuals, we just need to make some better choices. In fact, we need to ask some major questions about Western materialism, globalisation, neoliberal economics, and the narratives created by advertising in the media. These are complex questions, but we need to ask them not because to be a Christian is to be a beardy lefty, but because we have a quite different narrative to offer about the problem at the heart of this issue—the problem of the human heart.

So we need to act—but to do so we also need to repent, of sins against God and against our neighbour. It is only when, as a culture, we repent of our greed and selfishness that we will see a lasting solution to the climate crisis. And this will be helped when we preach of God’s goodness, our sin, and his free gift of life. 

I hope that these two different issues can actually work in partnerships with one another, rather than in opposition. As we build bridges with those concerned about the climate, we can share our hope of life everlasting. The call to repentance more generally includes a call to repent of our sinful attitudes to the creation God has given us—and the call care for the earth should also lead to a call to turn to God, the creator and giver of life, forgiveness and healing.

(A shorter version of this was previously published at Premier Christianity online.)


How can we make sense of what the Bible says about the end of the world? What are we to make of things like end times prophecies, the ‘rapture’, ‘tribulation’ and ‘millennium’? Are these things important? Come and find out at my Zoom teaching morning on Saturday December 4th!


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82 thoughts on “Which matters most: sin or climate change?”

  1. Really excellent. The inset note on II Peter 3:10 is very helpful and will go into my notes straight away. My little tuppence worth is to add that any practical act we can do in caring for things around us is a vote of confidence in the coming of the New Heaven and Earth.

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  2. I was green before I was ordained in 1974! Since then I’ve striven to keep the basic gospel foremost, without neglecting the environment. Often my teaching on the environment has been occasional or as an aside. I’ve probably changed more views on the environment than on the gospel since 1974. Thus in the 70s I was v anti-nuclear and now am in favour as the best option. I could make many more comments and why as an ancient greenie I am opposed to much of the green movement today and of the green church!!
    Gospel first, and care of environment is not primary but an out working of that

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  3. Yes, many good points here.

    God made an amazing material world full of riotous, bizarre, and one might suggest excess and excessive variety. Are 50,000 species of spider really necessary? So, I think we should be cautious when we speak of excessive consumption, I would be happier with the term irresponsible consumption.

    Some Hebrew Bible scholars point out that when we are said to be made in the image of God it is actually a verbal concept: we are made to image God. So how are we to image God in this? He seemingly enjoyed making this amazing material excess—and for our benefit?

    Jesus outlined in his summary of the law in Matthew 22:36–39 our twin duties—to God and our neighbour. So, consumption at the expense of our neighbour, be it today, or in the world we leave behind us, is not good.

    It might be better if the church approached climate change this way—tying it in with our duty to God?

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    • Some Hebrew Bible scholars point out …
      In that case, they are not scholars worthy of the term and they don’t know much about the language. Where in the Bible is the evidence for that verbal concept? The Hebrew word ‘image’, tselem, has a purely physical meaning, cf. Num 33:52, I Sam 6:5, II Ki 11:18. Paul understood this, even if 21st-century theologians do not: We bear the image of the man of dust, being made of dust (I Cor 15:47-49). To suppose that Genesis means that ‘we are made to image God’ is completely topsy-turvy. We are given physical bodies that image God from the start; that is what ‘made’ means – we don’t make ourselves, and we are not required to mould our bodies into some other imagined form of the deity. Ps 100:3.

      One should not need any special biblical justification for the moral rightness of looking after the planet. If you believe in the God who created the earth and saw that it was very good, then it follows that we should do what we can to ensure that it stays very good. But one doesn’t need to believe in God at all to see that the moral rightness. It is extraordinary that Christians should need a special theological reason, though it is certainly true that they have behind the curve on this basic issue – a basic as the need for food and water and shelter itself.

      I am glad you see that God created an amazing world. He truly did. Though if we are to quibble over terms such as ‘excessive consumption’, surely ‘material world’ isn’t quite right either?

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      • Steven

        Are you saying God looks physically like a man? As believers we are remade in God’s image in ‘true righteousness and holiness’. Surely made in his image (the God who is Spirit) is more to do with moral and spiritual qualities. The image of Christ the man in 1 Cor 15 is somewhat different. The context is the physical body. We will have a body of glory as he has. But presently we are being ‘changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another’. Here the image/likeness is moral.

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        • I think you are mixing up the old man and the new man. The old man is created in the physical likeness of Jesus Christ, the same who walked in the garden and revealed himself to the patriarchs numerous times in the form of a man.

          I have already pointed out that ‘surely made in his image is more to do with moral and spiritual qualities’ is not supported by the Hebrew of Gen 1, nor by I Cor 15. The old man is not created Christ-like in spiritual terms. In that sense we are not made in the image of God. We have to be a new creation, born from above, and conformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of the Son. First the physical, then the spiritual (I Cor 15:46).

          I regret to say, the spiritualising of Gen 1:27 is just an attempt to save Genesis from a heretical hermeneutic that cannot take it literally, i.e. that rejects the testimony that God created the heaven and the earth and everything in them. Thus Ian Paul and the vast majority of theologians will say, “We know from our natural philosophers that God not create man physically, but the same man that we believe God did not create he did – in a manner of speaking – create spiritually.” It’s theology in a Lewis Carroll world that has absolutely no connection with ordinary canons of logic and understandings of reality.

          Thanks for asking.

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        • Also see I Cor 11:7, where the man (husband) is the ‘image and glory of God’ and the woman (wife) the ‘glory of [the] man’. The context is guidance on head coverings and hair length, so the word ‘image’ is used in a physical sense, as is ‘glory’ (cf. Prov 16:31, 20:29, I Cor 15:40f). Man in his physical body reflects the glory of God’s body, and woman, having come from man, reflects the glory of man’s body.

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          • Steven

            Im sure you know that your views here are very unusual. Indeed it is the first i have heard them. It doesn’t say that humanity was made in the image of the incarnate Christ. It says he was made in the image of God Christ himself images God. Indeed he is the image of the invisible God. Invisible God suggests God is Spirit… as Scripture affirms. Jesus images God in his nature not his body. He is the Son who is the image of the father doing all the father does. John never makes the correspondence a physical likeness.

            Physical likeness is rarely the point. I’ve ready pointed out the growing into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another and made in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness.

            I don’t think image is to do with body in 1 Cor 11. Hair is the only body reference. You are injecting the word body. The issue is authority. Man images God and so reflects his glory. Woman images man and so reflects his glory. Yet woman is not bodily identical to man – far from it.

            I’m guessing Steven you either come from a Mormon context or have been influenced by it.

          • Don’t try to slur me, John, just because you are unfamiliar with the ideas put to you. And try to grapple with the Scriptures themselves, rather than just trotting out – as you do in your first paragraph – what you think they say, without referencing them.

            It doesn’t say that humanity was made in the image of the incarnate Christ. It says he was made in the image of God. Christ himself images God. Indeed he is the image of the invisible God.
            Of course Gen 1:26f does not mention Christ. But Christ made the invisible God visible. Since the only God is invisible, he can’t have an image (a physical image, tselem). So you answer your own objection yourself. The image being referred to is that of God’s firstborn.

            To make its meaning absolutely clear, Genesis adds ‘after our likeness’. This is again a physical term, cf. e.g. Ezek 1:5. Also Gen 5:3: Adam begot a son ‘in his own likeness, after his image’ – referring to physical likeness.

            I suggest you do some research in the scholarly literature, which explores the concept of the divine image in the light of the broader contemporary culture, before you impose your modern evangelical ideas on the text and suggest that ‘my’ ideas, which are entirely in accord with this literature, derive from Mormonism.

          • My apology Stephen. I had no intention of slurring you. I don’t think my views are particularly modern evangelical. They have an older pedigree than that. Perhaps you can direct me to the sources that teach this physical likeness/image. I’ve been around a fair time and never heard of it.

            At the end of the day for me the issue is Scripture. I do not think OT believers who knew of the image could possibly have been thinking of the body of Christ. Moreover, as I point out in both Christ and his people image and likeness is not conceived in physical terms but moral terms. I think you need to grapple with that.

            Im assuming you know the texts to which I refer. Hebs 1:3 seems to me to express the likeness between God and the Son. When Christ in Col 1 is said to be in God’s image the principal idea seems to lie with all God’s fullness dwelling in him. 2 Cor 3:18. Changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another is moral.

            Again, sorry for miscalling you Steven.

        • John, see what I have already said. ‘We bear the image of the man of dust, being made of dust (I Cor 15:47-49). … We have to be a new creation, born from above, and conformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of the Son. … First the physical, then the spiritual (I Cor 15:46).’ In the reference to Rom 8:29 my belief should have been clear that Christ came into the world to show forth God’s spiritual nature, so that we might be like him spiritually. Where did I adduce any scripture to suggest that the significance of the incarnate Christ’s being the image of God was physical?

          All men are descended from Adam, who was made in the physical likeness of Christ who created him from the dust. It was Christ who walked in the garden – do you not see that one needs a body with legs to ‘walk’? Do you not see that Gen 5:3 gives us a clue, were it needed, as to how to understand Gen 1:26? And that when Christ and two angels appear to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, he appears in human form – not because God, when he appears, makes himself visible in the image of man, but because the human form is the image of God? How high is your view of humankind? Do you accept that man did not evolve from bacteria, fish and apes, but was created man?

          As for further reading, go to scholar.google.co.uk and search for image of God + Genesis. You will find a variety of views, including whole books/PhDs on the theme. And of course, commentaries also discuss the possible interpretations, among them the one I have advanced, and come to their own various conclusions.

          In my view, ‘First the physical, then the spiritual’ is a golden rule of scriptural interpretation. Everything in the NT that has a symbolic, spiritual significance depends on something that in the OT had a literal, physical existence.

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          • Thanks for thoughts Steven. If i can continue to push back a little.

            In Genesis 1 God is plural ‘let us make man in our image’. Perhaps suggesting we are looking at God in his fullness. I feel it is a huge leap to say that God in Gen 1 is Christ creating Adam in his future incarnational physical likeness. But even if that were so you agree that Christ’s physical body is not an image of God. Divine image in the one man who was divine was not physical. The body either of Christ or any other body that images it is not the divine image.

            Surely we should look at how Christ models image and how we as new creation model image to mould our ideas of image. Given the idea of physical representations of even the true God is strongly prohibited in the OT any notion of a physical resemblance Yet man is made in the divine image and likeness.

            I think you are saying that Adam was made in the image of Christ and thus in the image of God. This seems to me to be a logic Scripture does not apply. The OT reader of Genesis would recognise in image/likeness great privilege and dignity but knowing God is Spirit and strenuously forbids physical representations of himself would interpret image/likeness in a different way. Clearly no idea of Christ’s body would be in his mind yet the text must have ben meaningful to him.

            Probably image would chiefly convey representation. Man’s role as ruler in creation seems the primary idea. Man body and soul is God-like in significance. Likeness, if there is a difference, probably suggests resemblance which I take to be moral especially since the new creation image in Christ is moral. Col 3:10, Eph 5:24. Adam was made upright.

            It is true that as we have borne the image of the man of dust (Adam) so we will bear the image of the man from heaven. Here Paul is talking about new bodies but he is not talking about the image of God here. He is explaining how we will be like Christ the man.

            I’d avoid the physical/spiritual progression… first earthly or natural then heavenly or spiritual.

            I

            ‘All men are descended from Adam, who was made in the physical likeness of Christ who created him from the dust. It was Christ who walked in the garden – do you not see that one needs a body with legs to ‘walk’’. Yes the divine presence may well have been a theophany… we are not told. The language may also be metaphorical for the divine presence.

            I come back to my view that your reasoning here is somewhat convoluted. Given the absence of this view commending itself mainstream thinking (I feel that never having heard of it few must advocate it) I think that this should raise question marks in your mind. You have, however, made me think…. Not enough, i hear you saying,

  4. One leads to the other, but not vice versa. Saving the planet will not lead to our salvation. There is an eternal priority, which nevertheless, includes the physical.
    At least the Tron got it the right way around! To open up questions of eternal life. Little wonder their banner was was attacked! It was ever thus.

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    • Sadly, on the other hand, I think that Welby, lost the plot somewhat. Is it an indicator of the CoE and its root systems and spread and possibly its inverted theology, carried away, not only in the emotional, but also in the wider cultural moment, perhaps? New Age, Mother Earth, comes to mind, as identified in Ian’s article perhaps in more extreme form, as *Gaia*.
      As an end thought, the article, opens with an image of a home made placard, *There is no Planet B*.
      However, biblical theology reveals that God has *No Plan B*. There is no other, no alternative salvation choice. The whole of creation groans, as in childbirth, not as in death, in entropy. (Romans 8).
      There is a cosmic and material scope to redemption.
      This gets lost, is rarely mentioned Gospel of Christ, Good News.

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      • Matthew 5:5

        Blessed (happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the meek (the mild, patient, long-suffering), for THEY SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH!

        1 Corinthians 3:21-23

        21 So let no one exult proudly concerning men [boasting of having this or that man as a leader], FOR ALL THINGS ARE YOURS,
        22 Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter), or the universe or life or death, or the immediate and threatening present or the [subsequent and uncertain] future—all are yours,
        23 And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

        AMEN!

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  5. Exactly.

    One is the logical result of the other. The Gospel re-orientates us towards our God-given purpose as image-bearers in, and stewards of, creation. We should not separate the two.

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  6. I think a lot of this comes down to the unity of, and continuity between, the testaments. A huge temptation for many Christian thinkers has been to regard the old testament as being merely a physical picture, a backdrop to the real work of ‘spiritual’ salvation in the new testament. But in reality, it doesn’t work like that. When Jesus rose from the dead to bring us new life, that involved re-instating human beings in their commission to be the image of God on earth. This is all ultimately geared towards a a very physical resurrection and restored/renewed creation. So there is no ultimate separation between a ‘physical’ old testament and a ‘spiritual’ new testament.

    NT Wright is great on all of this, of course.

    A few other thoughts:

    “New heavens and new earth”: The bible never uses this expression to refer to the physical creation. Rather, the expression is a metaphor for a restored people of God (Isa 65:17-19, Rev 21:1-3). Scripture instead portrays this present creation as awaiting its liberation from the oppressive forces of sin and death (eg. Rom 8:18-22). That doesn’t mean there won’t be a ‘renewal’ of sorts, but the language is far more subtle than is sometimes implied.

    This remains the case in 2 Peter 3, which is drawing on Isaiah 65’s use of the expression. When Peter speaks of the heavens and corresponding ‘elements’ being dissolved by fire (the latter possibly referring to heavenly beings), he is thinking of the heavens as if they were a sort of barrier between God and humanity. The key idea in verse 10 being that once this barrier is removed, the earth will be ‘exposed’ to the watching eyes of God. It’s vivid, apocalyptic imagery, but that’s the kind of picture I think Peter is drawing for us.

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    • I should clarify here, as I phrased this a bit clunkily: “New heavens and new earth” is not simply the restored people, but a restored covenantal relationship between God and his people. It’s very similar to the notion of a “new covenant”, which is likewise a present reality, but one which will be fully consummated when Jesus returns.

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      • Thanks for these comments. Yes, that is true—though I wouldn’t want to diminish the cosmic nature of this language.

        I wonder if we shouldn’t say ‘This is not *merely* about the renewal of the material world’…

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    • Chris The first paragraph of your post is superb! I hope others pay heed to your exposition of the false dichotomies often presented between OT and NT, not least between “spiritual” and “physical” ; an aberration that is still permeating aspects of biblical teaching.
      However I would reserve judgement on the contents of your second paragraph. For example, Romans 8:21 speaks of “creation itself” implying creation apart from the forces of sin and death!

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  7. Thank you Ian for this article. I see the enormous amount of work which goes into your articles – I don’t presume that just because you are very able that this means you don’t pour a lot of yourself into your output.

    It is perfectly right and supremely helpful to summarise environmental problems as the consequence of human beings worshipping the creation instead of the creator. I wish to build on that by pointing out how removing God from his rightful place inevitably amounts to rejecting the entire created order:

    1 Cor 11:3 ESV
    “But I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

    We must consider each the effect of rejecting each of the following elements of the created order:

    – the way in which the undermining of sex differences and our refusal to accept the plain fact that the Bible directs men and women differently (as for example evidenced in homosexuality being sin but marriage of two people of opposite sexes is not when submitted to God) will have on human beings and the world in which they exist. For example when men don’t love women by seeking through a heart of service and worship to create an environment in which women are valued women will seek to build an identity outside of God. It is no coincidence that currently issues of sexuality and gender – and issues concerning the environment – are simultaneously prominent.

    – the effect on climate of children being neglected. This one is absolutely huge – without God’s help children who are starved for love will end up living grossly distorted lives in a vain attempt to make up for the absence of love. The financial cost of children not being cared for – the costs that for example our society pays out in dealing with those who are in various ways addicted – is astronomical. And people who live distorted lives damage the environment.

    – the effect of removing Jesus from the created order. In recent decades – and speaking as a whole – first world preachers have preached and lived in a way which has bypassed the cross. “In what way?” you say – “don’t most churches talk about Jesus and the cross?” It’s perfectly possible to mention Jesus and the cross without requiring people to be rightly positioned in relation to it. For example I could as a preacher tell those listening that Jesus died on the cross for their sin and now it only remains for them to receive that gift. But that isn’t a responsible way of preaching (not that in some churches even that would be said – instead the preacher might say something like “God isn’t angry with you – he loves you and has plans to give you a great life”). Only when we present the four pillars of God’s love revealed in the cross – his holiness, justice, mercy and love – will people understand the nature of faith – that saving faith involves radical life change. It is impossible to have faith that Jesus died for us without also having faith that he is lord – and it is impossible to have faith that he is lord without expressing it in repentance. If we don’t reveal that being a Christian involves dying with Jesus – not just Jesus dying for us – we have failed in our duty as believers and preachers. When preachers seek to win people to God by mentioning God’s affirming love (that God feels love for us because we are his – he made us) without mentioning his confronting love (that God showed love to us despite our behaviour) they have within their area of responsibility removed Jesus from the created order. If Jesus is removed from the created order among those who call themselves the church – by virtue of the fact that the church is God’s chosen agent to reveal Jesus’ place in the created order – and that salvation is solely available through him – he is hidden from the world. Who is God going to judge for that? Much of the blame for the breakdown of the created order in the first world – including the environment – lies with those who profess a faith but have not been faithful. If we fail to preach submission to Christ – if we open the door to knowing God by some means other than through Jesus – other than through our dying with him and not just him dying for us we should expect the rest of the created order to be trashed forthwith. If we preach and live in this way we are what scripture calls false teachers – we are those who have trampled underfoot the Son of God (Hebrews 10:29):

    Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV
    For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    A final unrelated point – Ian helpfully raised the extreme views of considering us entirely responsible for creation or believing that we have no responsibility for creation because the creation will be burned up. Our doctrine of creation should have the same balance present in a correct doctrine of conversion. Our conversion has both a divine and human dimension – God enlightens us as to our sin and his holiness and justice – and gives us through his grace the ability to turn to him – we are at every moment dependent on that grace – but we must also act. Care for creation (the creation is included in God’s salvation plan) has a similar divine and human dimension. Here are two passages which reveal the creator’s ongoing role in the creation and then two passages which showing indisputably that we also have an ongoing role in creation (which pre-existed the fall):

    Colossians 1:16-17 ESV
    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

    2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
    If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

    Genesis 2:15 ESV
    The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

    Matthew 5:13-16 ESV
    You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

    “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

    When we obey God we sustain and even heal creation – in the verses above salt preserves and light exposes darkness.

    Just as we must reject ideas which suggest that either God or we are solely responsible for our conversion (it doesn’t undermine our being at every moment reliant upon God’s grace to be saved to suggest that we must respond to God in order to be saved) we must reject doctrines of creation which suggest that care for creation is either solely divine or solely human.

    The biblical view of the created order will be offensive to those who make a god out of environmental concern. Consider the fact that God – in judging people in the Bible – at times causes what some would consider to be environmental damage – an example being the plagues in Egypt in Exodus. It’s clear that Christians cannot accept ideas which place the creation ahead of the creator. However we must not retreat – as Ian points out in this article we must stand alongside those who are lost – both affirming aspects of their priorities where we can – and leading them to change.

    Reply
    • Correction – I meant to write that the four pillars of God’s love are his holiness, justice, mercy and grace (I wrote “love” instead of “grace”).

      Reply
    • Your comments are very long, and that makes them quite hard to engage with.

      Yes, I think there is an interesting connection here between the material, created world, and the bodily differences between men and women as male and female, part of God’s creation intention. Paul makes that connection explicitly in Rom 1.

      But there is no hierarchical ordering of authority between the sexes: there is no hierarchy visible in either of the creation accounts in Gen 1 and Gen 2, since hierarchy only enters the scene after the disobedience in chapter 3; kephale in 1 Cor 11 does not have the metaphorical meaning of ‘authority over’, since that was not a meaning in contemporary Greek; and in fact Paul is explicit and clear in 1 Cor 7.4 that husband and wife exercise mutual authority over each other in marriage.

      We need to connect issues of God’s ordering of the world—but we need to read the texts more carefully to understand what that ordering looks like.

      Reply
      • Hi Ian,

        I don’t intend to engage further on this issue beyond the points I make below – which are primarily dedicated to pointing out that you haven’t in disagreeing with me presented a complete view of your own (and in the absence of your doing so this has to undermine the authority of your comments). I believe that to present one’s views on sexuality and sex differences we must both unite our understanding of the bible’s individual passages and show how that understanding relates to God’s glory and character. This prevents most presentations on sexuality from lining up at the starting line. In the name of approaching you in a helpful attitude I speak as one asking you to clarify your views – but I do this in order to leave the door open to you to fill in the missing pieces – and if you cannot clarify them I am leaving the the door open to your changing your views. Please don’t interpret my speaking in this way as if I am demanding that you do or that I am wanting to have a drawn out interaction.

        I don’t recall considering the link in Romans 1 between exchanging the truth of God for a lie (v25) and the presence of unnatural relations between the sexes. You are doing my work for me! So grateful for your having this pointed out to me. However you limit your analysis to saying only that “there is an interesting connection here” – you don’t say what the connection is. Romans 1 forces us to conclude that sex differences relate to submission to God and his character. In what way Ian do you believe sex differences relate to the glory of God and therefore the character of God? It’s simply not possible for someone to say they have a theology of sexuality and sex differences without an answer to these kinds of questions.

        I don’t support your belief that there is no hierarchy presented in the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. Again in mentioning that there are two accounts you are leading me (but not you?) to another key point – that there are two creation accounts. Again you give no broad insight into how you see these accounts. Why are there two? I believe there are two because two things are absolutely critical to the heart of God – that he show the value of all human beings to him (‘man’ in Genesis 1 is both man and woman as explained in Genesis 2 – which discusses why woman is called woman), their relationship to God, and also their place as human beings in creation (Genesis 1) but also to explain that there is hierarchy within the sexes (Genesis 2) and that the differences are relevant to the human beings faithfully representing God’s image (chapter 2 verse 27 – if this verse instead means that it is only our humanity not our sex differences which reflect the image of God it means that the church can just as easily have no men – or no women – and still function perfectly well – it’s the ultimate anti-women doctrine – and a way of making the teaching of the rest of the Bible on marriage and homosexuality nonsense). Chapter 2 also explains the relationship of the sexes to each other and therefore provides a basis for marriage between two people of opposite sexes – if the basis for marriage is the equal value of men and women before God then that is a foundation for same sex marriage as well. It’s not a big leap to come to the conclusion that the Genesis 2 creation account has a different purpose to Genesis 1 – and that is why it exists – because 1 Timothy 2 tells us how to interpret key elements in Genesis 2 – we must interpret the fact that Adam was created before Eve as a sign of creation hierarchy in relation to matters of God’s glory (if not what is it a sign of Ian – how should 1 Timothy 2 vv13-14 on this be understood – why use Genesis based reasons to present one’s reasoning for an issue which affects only the Ephesian church – and then claim that the verse has nothing universal to say? Why mention for an Ephesian issue that Adam was created before Eve? Why is Eve created our of Adam if the only point is to show that they are both human – it would have been perfectly clear that Adam and Eve were both human if each had been created from dust at the same time. What interpretation for 1 Tim 2 v13 and v14 do you have other than the most obvious meaning anyone on the street would get from the verses if read to them? You must also find a possible reason for why Eve is deceived and not Adam and yet both are made perfect – or otherwise cause the rest of the bible – which presents men and women as sinners equally before God – to again be nonsense. If you don’t subscribe to this reasoning for why there are two creation accounts what is your reasoning for the existence of two? What fundamental purpose does Genesis 2 have which isn’t covered in Genesis 1? Finally what is the foundation for marriage that you see outlined in Genesis 2 – if it is merely that men and women are both human and have a higher status than animals your foundation for marriage provides a foundation for either homosexual or heterosexual marriage (I have previously explained that if the foundation for marriage is reproduction then same sex couples need only find a surrogate to be rightly married – and three or four people could get married).
        You refer to the meaning of kephale in 1 Corinthians 11 but again you stop short of presenting a view – you only say what you believe it doesn’t mean. What does it mean? It cannot be that women is sourced from man and man from God because Jesus – in being God – is not sourced from God. I wouldn’t expect kephale to mean “authority over” because this is not a biblical idea of authority – biblical authority is about people being obligated – as God is by his character – to fulfil a designated responsibility for the benefit of others. People are only in authority in as much as they are doing that. We don’t obey God because God is God – or our boss at work because he is our boss. We do because of who God is. I don’t for example currently recognise the leadership of Justin Welby based on this reasoning. Do you? Do you believe he has authority over you?

        I used to work for Apple (Applecare) and each of our calls with customers were timed – this resulted in each advisor having an average call time. Mine was always longer than others because instead of seeking to solve the issue I was seeking to “solve the customer” – to give the customer enough understanding that they became empowered to be part of their own solution. When individual calls of mine were assessed they were always long and yet those assessing me never suggested which part of what I said would have been better left out. We clearly have a difference of opinion here – I have just pointed out that there were three areas in which your reply was less than complete and therefore in its present form incapable of being authoritative – I put it to you that if you had made your views more complete your reply would have approached the length of my original comment. I am not the only one who believes that your views in your reply to me are incomplete – you also do – you showed this a while back in printing only the part of Andrew Wilson’s article which you agreed with – promising that you would follow it up with an article or articles which laid out the rest of your views – and you never ended up writing the article or articles. You didn’t seem to think that as things stand that you had adequately presented your views. If you have changed your mind – if you believe that you have laid out your theology of sexuality and the sexes already – if you believe that you have shown for example what it is about the sexes that makes biblical marriage biblical marriage and homosexuality sin – if you have revealed the HEART of God behind the sexes – then can you please point me to the article or articles where you have? A theology of sexuality is more than a possible interpretation of contentious passages of scripture.

        Long ago I narrowed my approach on this forum to drawing attention to primary issues of God’s character and plans instead of engaging on matters of church procedure and outcomes – or secondary theological tangents. My feelings concerning you and your views are not personal in any way – my expressing on this forum that I don’t believe that those seeking to be orthodox should unite with those whose logic on sexuality amounts to support for homosexuality was not a view which was designed to extinguish your obvious qualities and contribution. I continue to learn from you – but I would not submit to your leadership in a church context and I would consider you to be in primary error if you were a member of my church. I cannot see how anyone is in a position to lead in a church if they cannot explain why for example homosexuality is sin or marriage must be between a man and a woman. It is clear when passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 say that behaviour which ignores sex differences is a sign that we are not saved that these issues are primary. Even if you disagree with this approach I hope that you can at least see why I would come to this conclusion. God bless you.

        Reply
        • At what point in our evolutionary history was Eve taken out of the side of Adam as per Genesis 2: 21-23? Is the fossil record likely to be of any help here or even archaeological sites in the Middle East? How do the Neanderthals and other archaic sub spp. of humans fit in? Were the males of these old species in the image of God, did they display God’s glory in the same way as modern human males? All I know is that as a human female I feel so very “umble” to walk in the fragrant presence of God’s direct image and glory on Earth, as I’m sure do all the other members of the even lower orders than women i.e the animals. We are so grateful.

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      • Paul seems to see a patriarchal order in creation when he says woman was made from and for the man. She is his helpmeet. The relationship here is asymmetrical. He also says the man was made first and then the woman building on this a patriarchal hierarchy. (1 Cor 11; 1 Tim 2). We could add that the naming function seems to imply authority.

        Reply
        • There is no word ‘helpmeet’. The KJV has “an help meet for him”, i.e. suitable. Then the word ‘help’ or ‘helper’ gives an image of an assistant. The Hebrew word ezer occurs about 20 times. In the majority of these it is used of God in relation to man, e.g. Ps 33:20 “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” So, ezer is hardly a word implying subordination.

          Reply
          • The word means ‘help(er)’ in Ps 33:20 and in Gen 2:18, as I think you agree. According to Gen 2:18, God made for him, Adam, a help that was kenegdow, which KJV translates ‘meet’ but more accurately means opposite in the sense of facing the other person. Eve was a help and counterpart to Adam. This is on the basis that we are dealing with a real event, not a myth. If the latter, all such verbal distinctions, fine or otherwise, are meaningless.

            What ‘help’ implies by way of relationship depends on context (again, I think you agree). If the help is God, then obviously no subordinate relationship is implied, because God is God. If the helper is another human being, then the relationship, thus far, is one of equality: the one needs help and the other gives it. The idea of subordination comes not from Gen 2:18 but from Gen 3:16 (where it is a negative consequence of the couple’s disobedience) and from the NT, viz. I Cor 11:7-10, Eph 5:22-33, I Tim 2:12-14 (all three passages alluding to Genesis) and I Pet 3:1.

            As John says, Adam’s naming the woman also implies authority.

  8. Another great article, thank you !

    I was in Glasgow briefly in the summer, including a Sunday morning, and members of the Tron Church were on the streets after their service, engaging with people. Brilliant !

    I just wanted to support your mentioning of the hard parts of Jesus teaching, and how actually people want this authenticity and not the sugar-coated variety that some churches promulgate. The story of the woman caught in adultery is a lovely one for modern sensibilities – hard-done-to woman being vindicated against the prejudiced and rotten patriarchy, etc., but they forget that Jesus’ last words are “Go home and sin no more.” Oh ! so the woman does have SOME responsibilities then ? Or dealing with camels and eyes of needles, – a great slap in the face for wealthy people, but Jesus is really on about how people use the resources given to them, a poor but highly talented person still has responsibilities to the Gospel.

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  9. I am revisiting the oratorio I wrote in 2019, Unleashing Leviathan – One area that absolutely struck me is the detailed allusion to Genesis 1 in Jeremiah 4:23-27. This little section begins with the obstinacy of the people (v22):
    For obstinate are my people. Me, they do not know. Silly children, they are, and without understanding they are.
    Shrewd they are to do evil, but to do good they do not know.

    Then the four verses following reflect Genesis 1 – so I have put the music of Genesis 1 as a reprise against Jeremiah’s allusions. I won’t go line by line here but you can see the music on page 118 in the pdf of the score here.
    The curious thing is that erets can be either ‘land’ or the earth (Psalms 24:1) – both are Yahweh’s as if to say that our exploitation of them, land or earth as a whole, does not proceed from our ‘ownership’ of them. Not that we should read too much into three letters, aleph, resh, tsade. But the overall effect is to recognize that the earth as described in Genesis is there in miniature in Jeremiah’s reflection on the land of Israel.

    I have set the music according to the te’amim in the Hebrew text. In this piece it is in two conflicting keys. Jeremiah is a bass singing with d as his tonic, but genesis has e as its tonic. The results are quite dismal at times.

    The next part of the oratorio – this is all day 6 – reflects on the what is this humanity question in a trio, Job and the two similar verses that book end the psalter: Trio (Psalms 144:3-4, Job 7:17,19, reprise Psalm 8:4-5 – page 120). The Bible is full of conundrums here – we can’t escape that the characters in miniature reflect the same confusion and conflicts that we have today. But the churches of course have a great deal of confusion to rid themselves of before they will be useful to the world and truly reflect love. There is no defense for the churches here. The banner wavers operate with lust to power, oversimplification, denial of the gift of science, all blended with ignorance and self-protection.

    Where is Jonah when we really need him to preach to Nineveh – and then himself to act in love rather than schadenfreude. (I’ve set Jonah as a cantata – it’s a hoot as well as a good lesson. I even managed to get in an allusion to Gershwin – and that directly from the music that is in the Bible. Didn’t know Gershwin was in the text, did you.)

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  10. A thought-provoking article and thanks for the insights on the 2 Peter verse. Sadly many of our churches don’t seem to truly engage with environmental issues in a very biblical way and I hope that the work of A Rocha in providing such resources as well as all its practical action will continue to bear fruit (https://www.arocha.org/en/theology-churches/). They have certainly done a lot of thinking on the issue.

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  11. In contrast to the Tron Church in Glasgow, a church a friend attended in Glasgow, while a chemistry university degree student 30 or more years ago, sadly, on the other hand, I think that Welby, lost the plot somewhat. Is it indicative of the CoE and its root systems and spread and possibly its inverted theology, carried away, not only in the emotional, but also in the wider cultural moment, perhaps? New Age, Mother Earth, comes to mind, as identified in Ian’s article perhaps in more extreme form, as *Gaia*.

    As an end thought, the article, opens with an image of a homemade placard, *There is no Planet B*.
    However, biblical theology reveals that God has *No Plan B*. There is no other, no alternative salvation choice.
    The whole of creation groans, as in childbirth, not as in death, in entropy. (Romans 8).
    There is a cosmic and material scope to redemption. It is a cause for hope, not despair, for wellness not worry.
    This gets lost, is rarely mentioned as part of the Gospel of Christ, the Good News. It is unique to Christ, to Christianity.

    Reply
    • Gaia is the name given to a space telescope now orbiting the earth about 100,000,000 miles out and getting info on the sun (according to a recent series on Nova).

      What is the point of “God has no plan B”? Are you saying “I’m right and you’re wrong”.

      There are lots of clips and banners that are not helpful to dialogue. These clips shut down communications. And this God has devolved responsibility to the human, whether humanity is futility (Psalms 144) or glorious (Psalms 8) or insists that God give us time to swallow our spit. (Job). So we had better get on with the task at hand and deal with the threat of the next “destruction of the temple”, in this case the unique temple that God created for us in the land (Jeremiah) / or on the earth (Genesis – with us as the image of the imageless in it.)

      This God works through us. If we incarnate only pithy demands for exclusive worship, we are hardly demonstrating kindness. That central verse of Jonah 2, – every word of it is unique in that story except kindness. That verse is inserted into the prayer by the storyteller as the moral for dead Jonah praying in the belly of the great fish:
      Those who keep vain futility,
      forsake their kindness.
      Wishy-washy or not, we cannot forsake kindness, the very thing that Jonah may or may not have done even after his second call when God’s command is no longer ‘against’ Nineveh but only ‘to’ her.

      What is it that we are keeping / guarding in the churches that makes us appear so futile to the world that we are called to love? There’s a very hard essay (for me) here by Andrew Perriman that is relevant. https://www.postost.net/2021/11/societal-collapse-deep-adaptation-agenda-mission.

      We are facing societal collapse. If our God is real, we will be held to account for all those children, not to mention the cattle. The promise is in another text from Qohelet which we read recently:
      Be glad, chosen one, in your childhood and let your heart make you feel good in your chosen days and walk in the ways of your heart and in the regard of your eyes,
      and know that over all these this God will conduct you into judgment.

      In case we missed this the first time, the lesson repeats it as the last verse of the book –
      For this God will make every deed come into judgment out of all obscurity,
      whether good or evil.

      Reply
      • Hello Bob,
        Could it be suggested that you are omitting large swathes of longitudinal Biblical theology, but pehaps even more important the Redeemer, of humanity and creation, Christ the Messiah, himself. I don’t see much recognition of the NT the whole of scripture, coalescing on the person of Christ and his return. But I certainly could be wrong in this view in your view of scripture and Jesus the Christ. And not forgeting the Triune Oneness of God.

        Reply
        • Every comment omits. I am careful what I chose to include. I, zealous for my faith, was told in so many words that I should learn Hebrew, or I would have nothing that I could say of what is signified by the son of God. For this gift of Tanach I am much more grateful than I was. I stopped making excuses for failing to learn. Under such a rebuke, I was not afraid to do my homework these past 2 decades. I have just published, with a Hebrew co-author, a book that will make learning Hebrew much easier for non-Hebrew speakers. The SimHebrew Bible with English Guide is a text largely free of the assumptions of the Hellenists or the churches. Polished lenses through which to learn of faith. Nothing lacking. As David says: ihvh royi la aksr. Yahweh is my shepherd. I will not lack.

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    • Hi Jeff,
      Just wondering … there might be a simple ratio between the population of the earth and the most advanced tools created* by man. So, e.g., today 7bn people = the most advanced computer system. Every age before our own conformed to the same formula. Less people = simpler tech. If this is true we will need an extra 7bn people to advance technology. The upshot is this: Civilisation has always been on the brink of extinction. More people = more problems. When technology solves a problem – viola! the population grows again.

      *Perhaps all human creativity is an illusion. God made clothing for Adam and Eve. Perhaps at every critical juncture in human history it is God who whispers in the ear the solution to the problems we face.

      Reply
      • there might be a simple ratio between the population of the earth and the most advanced tools created* by man

        Even if there is, remember that correlation is not causation.

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      • Steve,

        Yes—this is an intriguing point—God has left us an amazing and complex world where we have to work things out for ourselves and for this critical mass does help.

        He could have tucked the formula for penicillin into Adam’s top pocket as he exited Eden, but did not. I don’t think he even whispered it in his ear!

        In some ways Scripture is the same. Although the essential truths of the gospel are clear there are seemingly endless depths to be found in the text—as Ian can demonstrate with his own interest in numerology.

        God has given us intellectual and spiritual challenges to last all our lifetimes from Adam to the eschaton. I think it is an interesting aspect of God’s character that he wanted to do this.

        Reply
        • I want to refute David Attenborough who said we need to stop reproducing. I want to show that population growth = innovation. We can be good stewards of nature and sometimes, in God’s economy, he nudges the inventor with a new idea to help . Just a thought..

          Reply
        • Progress is like one of those cascading installations one sees on TV adverts from time to time. Except in history the momentum runs out and the hand of God has to intervene and get it running again. There never was and there never will be a ‘golden age’. … pub talk… want another?

          Reply
  12. The best support in manuscripts is for the verb εὑρεθήσεται, ‘will be found’, but because this is a difficult idea to make sense of, the AV of 1611 follows the reading of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, one of the four great ‘uncial’ manuscripts (along with Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus) ‘will be burned up’.
    All that the Richard Bauckham passage amounts to is defence of a discreditable theory of textual transmission. As noted, ‘will be burned up’ is the obviously superior reading. ‘Found’ does not mean ‘manifested’, either in English or Greek (though Phil 2:8 might gives colour to the suggestion that it is capable of the connotation) – still less, ‘stripped bare.’ To say that ‘will be found’ is to be preferred on internal grounds is simply logical sleight of hand.

    Peter has already said that ‘they deliberately overlook this fact that … the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire’ (physical fire, corresponding to physical water at the time of the Cataclysm). Such wilful disregard for Scripture is just what those who say that ‘all but the earth and men’s works will be destroyed’ are pushing for. As Revelation says, civilisation will be burned up with fire (Rev 17:16, 18:8). Where will the fire come from? From the Sun (Rev 16:8). ‘The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.’

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  13. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, […] compared leaders not taking action with those who failed to oppose Hitler in the 1930s, an ill-considered and offensive parallel that he later had to withdraw and apologise for.

    Did he? Unless I missed something, Welby has still not apologised to those he compared to the Nazis.

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  14. There is a simple and central point. Sin is central to the gospel perspective. Climate change is as obvious a manifestation of sin as there is. It is like humans come to a beautiful house that belongs to someone else and do not even notice that they are trashing it beyond repair and remedy.

    It is in precisely the same age that skyscrapers have blotted out the former template of communities rising to the church as the highest building that litter (even in an age of plentiful litter bins) and massive amounts of plastic and packaging and petrol consumption and unnecessary travel – which all tell of selfishness and vanity – have been features. All manifestations of the me-generations of which we have often spoken.

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  15. As I mentioned above I do not think comments like ‘excessive consumption’ and ‘unnecessary travel’ are very helpful. What is excessive and/or unnecessary? For many Christians this means adopting a lifestyle 20 years behind everybody else.

    I am not sure it works theologically either. God was not minimalist when he said be fruitful and multiply—by definition that means a lot of consumption. God seemingly loves abundance, thus I am not sure living a minimalist lifestyle is to image God.

    Reply
    • As I mentioned above I do not think comments like ‘excessive consumption’ and ‘unnecessary travel’ are very helpful.

      Likewise ‘consumption at the expense of someone else’, which seems to imply a sort of ‘lump of prosperity’ fallacy.

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      • But if we see that people actually were happier when they had less and appreciated it more, and had to work for things, then why would you sacrifice more happiness for the sake of less?

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        • Ah, Yes, Christopher, lets all blend in with the progressive, prosperity and frenetic- comsumption gospel, and be like rest of the western world, the whole world as it rockets to oblivion, according to the doomsday clock (which was five minutes to midnight, when I first came across it at 45 years ago at a launch of a ship) shrunk in size by the tyranny of technology, with no personal frugality, while some have romped in financial surplus and money printing and unrepayable debt, through responses to covid others have been brought to their knees in dispair. And we all live in cloud-cookoo land hand-wringing, hand-washing unrepentant, unregenerate, individually, corporately, nationally, globally as we build and build, higher, further, faster. Ichabod.
          Jeremiah 2.

          Reply
        • But if we see that people actually were happier when they had less and appreciated it more, and had to work for things, then why would you sacrifice more happiness for the sake of less?

          ‘Happiness’ is a slippery metric. People’s happiness tends to adjust to expectations in order to remain pretty static over time even as their lives materially improve. If you did a survey a hundred and fifty years ago and discovered that people were just as ‘happy’ as they are now, would you conclude that electricity, central heating, improved transport, and everything else was pointless because it didn’t make people any ‘happier’?

          So I think we should ignore ‘happiness’. It’s meaningless.

          Also I’m not sure of the relevance of your reply to my original point, which was to liken the idea of ‘consumption at the expense of someone else’ to the lump of labour fallacy, as if there was a fixed amount of prosperity in the world and the only decision we could make was how to share out the pie, and if someone gets more that means someone else must have got less. This ‘lump of prosperity’ fallacy is obviously nonsense and so we should point out when people are saying things based on a premise which is obviously nonsense.

          Reply
          • Yes.
            If you want to discover happiness and have a simple life go to Madagascar? I have been there many times in the last 20 years and travelled extensively within the country. Life is very simple. The average income is a £1 a day.

            But I am fairly sure none on this blog would want to live the ‘simple’ life free of excess consumption that such an income gives in Madagascar.

          • Maybe S,
            Christian contentment, as per St Paul is more appropriate, otherwise we can fall into the trap of the American Declaration of Independence in pursuit of happiness.

            As often, CS Lewis lends a hand: aim at heaven and you get the earth thrown in; aim at the earth and you get neither.

          • Hello Colin,
            You seem a little irritated at the import of Christopher’s simple comment.
            Your reference to Madagascar seems to be something of a straw- man point. Living simply does not of itself mean living in poverty, absolute or relative.

          • Why does contentment for St Paul have to have a measure.

            Well, because if you take the comment:

            ‘ But if we see that people actually were happier when they had less and appreciated it more, and had to work for things, then why would you sacrifice more happiness for the sake of less?’

            … and substitute ‘Christian contentment’ for ‘happiness’ then you get the concept of ‘more Christian contentment’.

            Not if you can have more or less of something that means it’s a quantitative thing. So what units is the amount of Christian contentment measured in? What is it that someone who has ‘more Christian contentment’ actually has more of?

            (Just to be clear because some people seem to have comprehension problems — this is a way of pointing out that the original statement was meaningless because, as I pointed out, ‘happiness’ is meaningless as a quantitative scale, and substituting in ‘Christian contentment’ doesn’t fix it, in fact probably makes it even more meaningless.)

          • Hello S,
            re your comment of 2:24pm, today.
            I’ve developed some points about contentment in a comment to Colin, but as far as our little exchange is concerned, I’d suggest that you are moving outside the context of St Paul. He doesn’t say he learned to be relatively content in each situation nor does he look for quantifiable or qualitative metrics, for his contentment.
            If it is meaningless to you, so be it.
            But I’m content to leave it there.

          • He doesn’t say he learned to be relatively content in each situation nor does he look for quantifiable or qualitative metrics, for his contentment.

            So it sounds like you’re agreeing with me. Are you agreeing with me?

  16. In one of his ‘Reflections of an Anglican Theologian’ titled ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ Dr. Martin Davie explains that he was prompted by Bill Clinton’s successful slogan ‘It’s the economy stupid’ to reflect on what should be an equally clear, brief slogan for the Church of England. He concludes:

    “When all is said and done, the Church’s core business is saving souls, and the only way that souls will be saved is if people come to realize that this life is not all there is, and that they need to put their trust in Jesus in order to avoid an eternity of damnation and enjoy an eternity of blessedness instead. The Church’s calling is to be God’s instrument to bring people to this realization, and for this to happen the leaders of the Church need to switch the focus of their message to the thing that matters most, the life of the world to come.”

    “It’s eternity, stupid”.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
      • From within a worldview where all of humanity gets to inhabit heaven, perhaps CS Lewis is caught in the scope stupidity in your infinitely intelligent comment, Penelope?
        *Aim for heaven and you get the earth thrown in; aim for the earth and you get neither*. CS Lewis. He was such an unthinking Anglican.

        Reply
        • Hi Geoff,

          I think the point I am trying to make is that ‘excessive/unnecessary’ are relative terms. Most Malagasy people (for example, most cannot afford a push bike) would see your own life style (or indeed anybody in the West, including me) as excessive and unnecessary.

          Does living a step behind our peers in consumption commend us to God?

          Reply
          • Hello Colin,
            The who, where, what and how of Christian contentment are key matters.
            Neither is it a matter of commendation to God, or merit. I find your last sentence a little odd. *A step behind*? The world is not to be our comparative measure; we are not of the world.
            Years ago, a book, Spiritual Disciplines, by Richard Forster, had some traction in Christian circles in the UK. Dallas Willard also promoted those disciplines. I fear that large parts of the book and life espoused are now consigned to the wrong side of Christian history as time lapsed.
            Sources of contentment can function as idols in our lives.
            Rest and satisfaction, I’d suggest, are close cousins of contentment.
            If I may give an illustration from visiting a small exhibition of paintings in the front room of the artist in Askrigg, N Yorks. Looking at a detailed painting of a wildflower meadow, I asked the artist, how, when do you know it is finished, when adding to it would spoil it? Is it when you are satisfied with it? Great question -yes it is, she replied. (She was also an art teacher.)

        • I don’t have a ‘worldview’ where all humanity gets to inhabit heaven, which is partly why I think Davie’s remark is so theologically inept.

          Reply
    • It is a really simplistic and seriously un-theological thing for Martin David to say. It is not the job of the Church to save souls. That’s something we pray that God does. It’s the Church’s job to be sign, and herald, and foretaste of the Kingdom.

      Reply
      • It would be good, Andrew, if you could at least get his name right,
        To you and Penelope, I’d simply say, disagreement is not the same as defamation. Perhaps you need to find out the legal difference.
        To use the term *inept* I’d say is a qualitative slur on his professional ability, reputation, defamatory, I’d say.
        No only that, you misrepresent the fulness of what he is quoted as saying…
        “and the only way that souls will be saved is if people come to realize that this life is not all there is, and that they need to put their trust in Jesus in order to avoid an eternity of damnation and enjoy an eternity of blessedness instead. The Church’s calling is to be God’s instrument to bring people to this realization, and for this to happen the leaders of the Church need to switch the focus of their message to the thing that matters most, the life of the world to come.”

        That is far from being professionally, theologically inept. You may profoundly disagree with it, but it is not inept.

        Keep digging.

        Reply
        • So, it’s defamatory for me to describe Davie’s theology as inept but your cheap slurs are OK? And your imputing views to me that I don’t hold is OK? And accusing me of claiming that Stott et al were abusers is OK?
          Any theology which speaks of saving souls and avoiding an eternity of damnation is inept. It’s also biblically unfaithful. I don’t often agree with N.T. Wright, but I do on this occasion.

          Reply
          • Do you know what he means by, souls? He may not mean what you are attributing to him.
            In the context of the full quote, it means people.
            Keep digging, by doubling down? Propounding eternal damnation is not theological inept just as it is said that universal salvation is not theologically inept.
            Repeated defamation is not an answer to the original, it only compounds it.
            Goodbye.

  17. One of the sins that the bible talks most about is failure to defend the poor and the needy. We the church in the rich countries need to recognise that our unsustainable exploitation of the resources of this planet and contribution to climate change have most impact on the poor who contributed least to it. If we are to effectively preach the Gospel in actions, not just in words, then we must repent of our despoiling of the planet and commit ourselves to make amends.
    Those actions will preach the Gospel much more effectively than a soap box preacher speaking words while continuing to take more than their fair share of the planet’s resources.

    I cannot see how a call to repent from someone who denies their own sin can bear any fruit! It is just hypocrisy.

    Reply
    • Nick
      The question is “Which matters most: sin or climate change?” Sin matters most because Jesus came to save his people from their sins.

      Phil Almond

      Reply
  18. Ian, thank you. I am responding to your request for material engaging on the issue of sin and consumerism in relation to climate change and would recommend two. First, the work of Paul Kingsnorth, a writer on Unherd, who as an environmentalist made a commitment to Christ and speaks of a radical rethink that is needed in our hearts. Secondly the work of the joy in enough project led by Green Christian the http://www.joyinenough.org blog is curated by Jeremy Williams, a Christian who writes one of the leading blogs on sustainable economics. They have developed resources that deal exactly with this radical rethink in particular their ‘Plenty!’ material. I commend them both. (NB to be transparent the joy in enough blog includes some of my work. I flag to be open but they are not the pieces i would direct you to)

    Reply
  19. A related question is: what matters most, sin, or rich Christians helping poor people sacrificially? My answer is still sin matters most but I often think (mea culpa) that one of the first questions Christ will ask me when we all stand before his judgment seat is, ‘Why didn’t you give more of your money to the poor’?
    Phil Almond

    Reply

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