Christians & Climate Change

Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

I did a crazy thing for a 72 year old emeritus Campus Pastor and Institute Director: I enrolled as an student to audit a college class. So now I find myself reading hundreds of pages of assigned reading each week and trying to keep up with both regular students and other auditors in discussion groups.

What class am I taking? Glad you asked and bet you would never guess it: my class is “God, Country and Climate Change”. It is live streamed weekly from the campus of Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college in upstate New York. The classes have been great, featuring lecturers who are climate scientists, environment activists, and theologians.

The classes are challenging, informative and sometimes discouraging. One week we compiled a list of things to personally do to lower our carbon footprints. On this list were things like buy less, create less waste, and be more mindful about how our choices impact the environment. I looked at the list and thought “If I did everything on this list I doubt it would contribute enough toward solving our ecological crisis to be noticed.” It was a discouraging thought.

That is when I had an epiphany. God doesn’t call us to results but to obedience. No good work done for the sake of Jesus is ever wasted. Even the smallest acts of goodness and love reflect Jesus to the world around us. Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

Since I believe Christians are mandated to take care of this world, whether making lifestyle changes will solve the climate crisis, is really not the issue.  My obedience to God is the issue. Every small step toward a more sustainable lifestyle is a way for me to obey God’s mandate to take care of His creation.

This epiphany caused me to take off my environmental glasses and put on my Biblical glasses. Then it hit me: the whole human caused global warming crisis is not an environmental issue as much as it is a sin issue. Gus Speth, an environment lawyer and US advisor, was cited in Christianity Today as saying:

“I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Gus Speth

It is easy to attribute selfishness, greed, and apathy to industrial polluters and corporate greenhouse gas emitters. What is not so easy is to realize that they are all too often the reason for our lifestyle choices.  Can I have a positive impact on the world around me if my lifestyle choices are selfish, greedy, or apathetic?  For example:

  • How do I choose the clothes that I buy? Is price and style my only criteria? Or do I ask, “Does my low price come because they are made by overworked impoverished women in underdeveloped countries?
  • How do I choose the food I eat? By taste and price? Or do I ask, “How was this food produced and brought to my supermarket?”
  • How do I choose the snacks I munch on? By taste and convenience? Or do I ask, “What happens to the wrappers and packaging when I finish my snacks, are they destined to sit in a landfill forever?  

If you think I’ve gotten a little obsessed you are right, that is what happens when I turn my internal spotlight on my sin. I feel like I am directly polluting the oceans whenever I drink from a plastic cup or through a plastic straw. My choices are so often selfish, greedy and apathetic that I am consumed with guilt. Fortunately, I know that guilt is meant to alert me not overwhelm me. God loves me, sinner that I am! So when I feel guilty I go to Him and pray for forgiveness and the grace to be a better caretaker of the world in which He has placed me.

The solution to our climate change crisis isn’t just to buy secondhand clothes, or to become vegetarians, or to call our legislators and give them our top ten environmental reforms list. Those things are good things to do to protect and serve God’s creation, but they won’t fix the main problem: us. Our disregard for the environment is a heart issue. Most Christians are aware that sin broke humanity and that “selfishness, greed, and apathy” are symptoms of our individual fallenness.  What took me much longer to come to terms with is that sin broke not only humanity but all of creation. Evidence that sin broke both humanity and this world is all around us. If broken people living in a broken world was the end of the story then being consumed with guilt would be the least of our problems. But the story of the Fall is the beginning of the story of how our Redeemer God loved us and His creation so much that He provided One to set things right.  One who can transform our broken world into the world it was when He pronounced it “very good”.

Most believers are familiar with the words “For God so loved the world that…” He loved the world so much that he incarnated Himself into creation in order to redeem it back to himself. God saw our brokenness and loved us enough to pay the great price to restore it—the price of making His incarnate Son Jesus our Paschal Lamb.

I no longer believe that John 3:16 only refers to God’s love for humanity. God so loved us, yes, but He also loved all creation so much that he lovingly infused every animal and plant, down to their very cells and molecules with evidence of His character. The Psalmist wrote that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”1 and “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”2. In the book of Job, God tells Job how His sovereignty is on display throughout nature:

“Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: ‘Who is it that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?’”3.

The entire book of Job emphasizes the sovereignty of God over mankind and all the earth. But as the ultimate sovereign, God delegated to humans sovereignty over the rest of creation:

“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”4

He has delegated responsibility for caring for creation to us. This delegated responsibility is anything but permission to exploit, instead it is a mandate to care for this world so it can sustain us both physically and emotionally.  The climate crisis we are facing is proof of our failure to take God’s delegated sovereignty seriously.

Jesus, in His last monologue to his disciples before his crucifixion said:

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”5.


When I get discouraged over the the harm we have done to God’s creation and how this has made life so much harder for the impoverished, I feel so overwhelmed that, to my shame, I often do nothing. My inaction is my sinful nature controlling me. But I don’t have to be bullied by my old nature because Christ has defeated it. Jesus’ atoning death wiped the slate clean. The more I trust in Him the more His indwelling Holy Spirit empowers me to go into the world and love as He loves. As the Apostle John wrote, “by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments… For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world”6

Right about now you are thinking “Nice sermon Tim but what does this have to do with climate change?” Don’t worry I’m not going to leave you hanging. One important thing is that looking at it through the lens of Scripture gives us the assurance that one day all of creation will be made whole again:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.”7


All creation eagerly awaits the return of our Savior. Until then, he instructs us to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”8. Certainly as caretakers of creation and as followers of Jesus, justice, mercy and humility should characterize how we respond to the world around us. It also means that whenever natural disasters strike (and unless we control global warming we must expect more severe disasters), we Christians should be first responders, ready to get our hands dirty, humbly showing mercy and advocating justice for the vulnerable.  This is how we love the world as Jesus loves it.

Where you go from here is up to you. I suggest you start with some introspection. A good place to begin is to seriously consider the ways your lifestyle choices affect the environment. Be fearless, this is not a pledge to change everything at once. Once you’ve done an internal audit I challenge you to sit quietly, pray, repent, accept God’s forgiveness and love then write an action statement on how you will better love the world God created and the people in it.

Obedience and Pragmatism don’t play well together. God calls us to obedience not results.

Scripture references:

1 Psalm19:1ESV

2 Psalm 24:1 NIV

3Job 38:1-7 NIV

4Genesis 1:28 NIV

5John 16:33 NIV

6I John 5:2, 4 ESV

7Romans 8:18-24

8Micah 6:8

50 Years Too Late

I came to value Creation Care 50 years too late.

When Fledge Fiamingo started Son Safaris I got involved, frankly, because of Fledge, rather than out of any great zeal for God’s creation. I am indebted to Son Safaris for drawing me into a deeper appreciation of creation and my place in it. That motivated me to try to understand and obey God’s mandate in Genesis 1:28(NIV):

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.”

Rhino getting a GPS Collar

God created humans in His image as his representatives on earth to “rule over” the rest of creation. Rule implies lordship but not exploitation. As God’s representatives, we must rule His subjects, as He does: for their own good.

We have the right to use the world’s resources but have no right to abuse what God has created. This Biblical principle has made me ask why we humans behave in ways that are harmful to ourselves and to the environment.  Understanding why we engage in such aberrant behavior toward God’s creation is key to helping us change our behavior.

Do we practice behaviors harmful to the environment because we aren’t aware of the negative impact our actions have?  If so, then education and increased public awareness should stop our harmful behavior. How has that worked out? Not very well. We’ve pumped massive amounts of environmental facts into our school curicula, TV shows, movies, and social media without seeing proportionate behavioral changes.

So, what will it take to get us to change from creation destruction to creation care? Facts alone are not enough. They must be effectively paired with our individual values, motivations and convictions to effect the desired behavioral changes.

Faith based environment groups are critical to this process since more than 80% of all humans identify as persons of Faith. Faith influences not just our beliefs, but our understanding of the world and our preferences toward it. Our faith reinforces our behavior or provides the motivation to change it. Our faith provides a moral framework for both our individual behavior and our social interactions.

I am a faith-based person, but I am not a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Buddhist. I am a Christian. So going forward I will speak not just as a faith based person but specifically as a Christian.

Christian Creation Care groups can be a powerful tool for producing a more sustainable world. How? By leading by example. Sociological studies show that when Christians set specific goals based on their faith, they monitor themselves and are more disciplined in meeting them than non faith based people. Balancing meeting human needs with protecting natural resources is the key to a sustainable future . Achieving this balance will require a massive shift in attitude and behavior. I believe earth scientists and activists need what Christian and other faith based groups bring to the table in order to accomplish attitudinal and behavioral changes at the scale required.

Christian groups like Son Safaris and environmental groups like the Welgevonden Research Camp can cooperate because they both hold a similar view of how humanity fits in the context of the larger world. Both groups see humans as part of and yet separate from the rest of the environment. Both Christian and environmental groups agree that we humans are biological components of our world and therefore the well-being of our ecosystem is directly affected by our behavor. Both groups believe that when we ignore our connection to the Creation we end up destroying both ourselves and the Earth. 

I believe the common ground between Christians and conservationists is the belief that sustainability begins with letting go of our own self-importance and awakening to our kinship with all of creation. 

Christians value nature, as seen in the Biblical concepts of stewardship of creation and compassion for all life. This common ground is what allows us to work with environmental groups and wildlife reserves. Together we are stronger than we are apart. Together we not only motivate but validate earth friendly behavioral,

Being part of Son Safaris for more than 10 years has taught me that Christians and conservationists are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, we each make the other more aware that we are all in this together—with the same goal: to stop the abuse of God’s creation.

I came to value Creation Care 50 years too late. What about you?

Creation Care


Through my work with Son Safaris I have developed a strong desire to see Christians take a more active role in caring for God’s creation.  The term “creation care” may be new to you but it simply means being stewards of God’s creation of which we are apart. But why is this stewardship important? To oversimplify I believe creation care is a “gospel issue”.
The “gospel” (“Good News” in Greek) is a way of speaking of the teachings at the heart of the Christian faith -the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When I place creation care as a “gospel issue” I am saying that it is an expression of our worship to God for our redemption through Jesus Christ. That means that we should care for God’s creation whether it were in crisis or not.
However there is a real crisis in God’s creation now. People, animals and plants are dying because we human beings have abused God’s world. But I believe this present environmental crisis is not the primary reason for creation care. Christians should be set apart from other environmentalists because we do what we do because we love God and His creation. So if we lived in a world with no environmental problems, we would still be tending God’s world. As the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment put it:
“Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.”
Just imagine if the global community of Christians were to accept the premise that caring for God’s creation is a core part of our identity. Love God! Love others! Care for God’s creation.  Perhaps we would not have such a critical crisis in God’s creation as we do today. But we haven’t taken creation care seriously and there is an environmental crisis that must be addressed by everyone in society, especially God’s people.  Today both God’s human and  non-human creation is being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  Just imagine if Christians were to lead the charge to solve these ecological challenges.
Much suffering and devastation is directly tied to human activity. Some of the damage is directly caused when poor farmers abuse their land in a futile attempt to wrest a little more food from already exhausted soils. Much of the suffering though, comes not from their own actions but from that of others. Excess consumption in the richer parts of the world is creating great problems among people who have had nothing to consume.
We are failing in the sacred trust given to us by God to care for His creatures. In the last 40 years we have lost half of earth’s entire stock of wildlife, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This should bother any human being; it should devastate those of us who are Christians.
Christians have a unique role to play in guiding human society toward a healthier and happier relationship with God’s creation. The church has global reach – a truly multinational network. The church has political influence. The church has money. And the church has people – billions of them. All of these are reasons why anyone who cares about God’s creation or the environmental crisis should want the church to be involved.
But there is another deeper but more important reason why the church needs to take on this task.  Bluntly stated environmental problems are sin problems. What I mean is that the root causes of every environmental issue in some way gets back to flawed human beings and sinful hearts: Materialism, greed, selfishness, fear. All of these lie at the root of the things that we do as individuals and as a society that have produced the crisis we now find ourselves in.
For environmental problems to be conquered, human hearts must be reconciled to God. Human hearts can only be reconciled to God by the Gospel – the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What better platform for the Gospel could there be than to mobilize the church to care for God’s creation? Imagine the impact if Christians were leading the charge to care for God’s creation!