by Joe R. Price
Synopsis: Radical environmentalism is a denial of man's dominion. Joe weighs the balanced biblical approach we should take toward God's creation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ warns against our treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ being plundered by men and their deceptive philosophies (Col. 2:3, 8, 20-22). The philosophy of radical environmentalism distorts the biblical view of God, of the world, and man's delegated place of honor and rule over it.
The Bible announces, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The created world proclaims God's glorious power: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Ps. 19:1, cf. vv. 2-4; Rom. 1:20). David acknowledged and praised God for His works and for placing mankind over His creation:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:3-9)
Concerning our environment, God has given man the dual roles of dominion and stewardship. On the sixth day of creation, God said, "'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth' … Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'" (Gen. 1:26, 28). All things have not been created equal. God gave human beings dominion over the world to subdue it for his provisions and livelihood.
The privilege of dominion comes with the responsibility of stewardship; the world does belong to its Creator, not its creatures (Ps. 50:10-12; Acts 14:15-17). Just as we are to be good stewards of our spiritual blessings, we should be good stewards of the material things entrused to our care (Luke 16:8-12). God has given humanity rule over the world's resources so that we may survive and thrive. With stewardship comes accountability to Him to be faithful stewards of His goods (1 Cor. 4:2). Societies flourish when the earth's natural resources are used with care and conservation. Societies flounder when this dominion and stewardship are abused through selfishness, greed, indulgence, waste, and violence.
We generally think of environmentalism as the "advocacy for, or work toward, protecting the natural environment from destruction or pollution" (AHD). We have briefly outlined the biblical agreement with this basic definition. We ought to protect our environment for its safe use and enjoyment because we have dominion over it and because we are stewards of its resources.
Nevertheless, radical environmentalism goes far beyond a statement of good stewardship of the earth's resources. Rooted in pagan theology and a rejection of God, modern environmentalism has formulated an alternate and opposing view of man and nature. It is an ethic based on the assumed rights of nature. As Jo Kwong explains, "Rather than supporting man's limitless rule of creation in which nature has no reason for existence save to serve man, we need to substitute the idea of the equality of all creatures" (Kwong). She continued, "In articles including 'Should Trees Have Standing—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects?' and 'Do Rocks have Rights?' writers raised legal questions about the rights of nature. Philosophers argued that the 'shallow ecology' of mainstream conservation groups is too anthropocentric or homocentric, that is, centered on man, and is aimed only at improving the environment for the benefit of humans. 'Deep ecology,' on the other hand, leads to a view of 'biospheric egalitarianism... the right [of all things] to live and blossom.'" Summarizing modern environmentalism's view of man and this world, she wrote, "The 'rights of nature' proponents, then, contend that all things are created equal; they should be venerated as ends in themselves, as intrinsically valuable apart from man; and they have equal rights to their own kinds of 'self realization (sic),' without human interference or exploitation. Failure to recognize such truths will lead to our downfall" (ibid.).
Devoid of a Creator who grants us privilege and responsibility over the earth, modern environmentalism envisions humans as equal to the rocks and the trees, the sky and the seas. To them, all living things have equal rights. The planet is doomed, they say, unless and until these equal rights are not only acknowledged but drive our decisions and actions toward the environment.
Unquestionably, radical environmentalism depreciates humanity and deifies nature. While the humanistic rejection of God has played a significant role in developing this philosophy of the equality of all living things, paganism's part in the rise of radical environmentalism should not be neglected. "Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes that the environmental awakening of 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, 'was a year when Wicca (in the broad sense) became "nature religion," as opposed to the "mystery religion" or "metaphorical fertility religion" labels that it had brought from England.' Since then, modern Pagans of many stripes, particularly Wiccans and Druids, have placed a special emphasis on being religions that care for, and have concern about, our natural environment" (Pitzl-Waters). In effect, these pagan environmentalists tell us we should fall down and worship the earth instead of Him who created the earth and everything in it (cf. Jer. 10:1-16; Acts 4:24).
Exploiting the land, the sea, and the sky and their inhabitants with greedy abandon, as if it were our God-given "right" to do so, is an extreme and unbiblical view of man's dominion and stewardship of the earth. It is also extreme and false to view all living things as equal, with Mother Earth as the giver and sustainer of all life. Humans alone are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). This distinction necessarily demands we use and tend to the earth responsibly, knowing we are accountable to Him who made us and it. Therefore, we must develop and maintain some fundamental traits to successfully subdue the earth as responsible stewards of God's world.
Pride leads to actions without a thought of God's sovereignty. He is in charge of His world, not us. We are both recipients and stewards of God's great earth. Thankful hearts are immunized against disregarding the earth's gifts and disrespecting the Giver of such gifts. Humility and gratitude respect the earth God has given us.
Do not be deceived by the world's greediness. To be satisfied with God's daily bread will produce careful use of what God gives us. We must learn contentment, whether we have a little or a lot (Phil. 4:11-13). Contentment replaces waste with the respectful and careful use of the earth's resources as we trust the Lord to be our helper rather than covetously disregarding His provisions (Heb. 13:5-6).
We are only on this planet a short while, and then all we have will be left to the care of others (Eccles. 2:18-19; 5:15). Respect for God and caring for others was characteristic of Christ, who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:34-35). The Lord's earth gives us what we need to meet our necessities and to be able to help others. Environmental stewardship prompts us to work honestly and respectfully so that we can serve one another. Greedy consumption is selfish and thoughtless of the needs of others.
This is our Father's world. God created nature; Nature is not our god. With respect for God and gratitude for the provisions of the earth's environment, let us use it and maintain it responsibly. Humble dominion over God's creation combines with reverent faith to praise His excellent name in all the earth (Ps. 8:9).
AHD = American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016.
Kwong, Jo. 2010. "Environmentalism: The Newest Paganism?" Acton Institute. Religion & Liberty: Volume 2, Number 7. June 20, 2010. https://acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-2-number-7/environmentalism-newest-paganism.
Pitzl-Waters, Jason. 2013. "Environmentalism, Modern Paganism, and Civil Disobedience." The Wild Hunt. January 23, 2013. https://wildhunt.org/2013/01/environmentalism-modern-paganism-and-civil-disobedience.html.
Author Bio: Joe has preached the gospel for over forty years, working the last twenty-two years with the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA. His teaching material is available at bibleanswer.com and swordtips1.wordpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.