The Problem With the Green Gospel
The greatest challenge to the pagan spirituality of environmentalism is robust Christian faith. Although the faith preached in many churches these days is hardly robust, it nevertheless still wears the mantle of Jesus. It stands to reason that if the gospel of Jesus Christ is severely degraded and confused, then its power to influence the culture will be significantly diluted.
Many in mainline churches recognize this loss of power and, wishing for renewed social cachet, show themselves remarkably susceptible to cultural fads. This is particularly true at this point in time when attendance in mainline churches plummets precipitously.
The green ‘gospel’ … creates scary imaginary scenarios of a dying world contrary to Biblical teaching that as long as the earth endures, “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
Rock bands have failed. Contemporary worship services don’t seem to pump up crowds like they used to. And so environmentalism — saving the planet — is increasingly seen as a way to revitalize congregations in a culture steeped in ecological consciousness and nature spirituality.
Under the guise of ecumenicism and environmentalism, a host of professing Christians wholeheartedly embrace mixing and matching of the best traditions that religion has to offer. In this view Christianity wants an upgrade, like the change from one computer operating system to another.
Indeed, Christianity may even be handy if mainline American denominations can muster historic moral authority, vaguely remembered in the general culture, to engineer a new religion. This will do for the churches what a logic bomb does in the guts of a computer. Whenever the church has succeeded in replacing the gospel of Christ for the world, the world has swallowed up the church.
The green ‘gospel’ masquerades in Christian language, distracting attention from the real crisis of sin and separation from God. It creates scary imaginary scenarios of a dying world contrary to Biblical teaching that as long as the earth endures, “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
It argues that materialism births spiritual problems, contrary to Scriptural teaching that materialism is a symptom, not cause, of spiritual problems. It teaches that meaning in life and future hope are found in ecocentric lifestyles, self-servingly presented as sacrificial. Since when is drinking only Thai coffee, as one green leader thinks, a mark of becoming more like Jesus? Recycling, eating organic food or becoming vegan are hardly marks of a meek, humble, compassionate, thankful, forgiving and loving life. Yet they have become a form of virtue signaling in the world.
The end result of the green gospel is that “carbon-sensitive” behaviors, geography and nature become critical for a proper relationship to God. Though sounding noble and humble to serve and sacrifice for the planet, this is precisely the bondage Paul warned against in Colossians 2:18–23, where narcissistic austerity replaces a sincere love for God displayed in obedience to His commandments, which, unlike the green do’s and don’ts, “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
… the last hundred years have shown the prodigious power of socialism to bring destruction and death.
There is genuine spiritual hazard in replacing the Biblical emphasis on Christ. We may find to our dismay introduction of a false gospel that causes humans to worship the creation, instead of the Creator.
Going ‘Green’ is often just silly, such as among the latte sipping Hollywood elite who solve the problems of the world at yoga retreats and beach parties (before flying to the Cannes and Sundance film festivals in their carbon dioxide-spewing private jets). Being Green is, like, the coolest fashion accessory ever.
However, environmentalists are often power-hungry statists. As I recently wrote, they are “watermelons” — green on the outside, red on the inside, yearning for socialism to save the world. Instead, the last hundred years have shown the prodigious power of socialism to bring destruction and death.
The latest display is the pitiful suffering of Venezuelans, who now, having been blessed with socialist revolution brought by the late President Hugo Chavez, endure shortages of nearly everything and corruption on a Brobdingnagian level. Yet Claudia Salerno, the Venezuelan negotiator at the 2015 UN Paris Climate Summit, praised Chavez, saying, “He was right. We’re here because of him.”
The embrace of nature spirituality by professing Christians — a green gospel — represents a failure of nerve. It represents a loss of faith that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Important as good works or social activism may be, they can never replace, displace or substitute for the dominating focus of Christianity, articulated by the Apostle Paul: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Should the world set the agenda for the church? Of course not. The irony is that, since the world changes its agenda capriciously, the Church of the Green Gospel soon becomes rudderless.
Instead, Christians must uphold the authority of the Word of God and resist Green overtures to recast true religion. Contemporary theologians have tried to tame the truths of Christianity, but end up consumed themselves. There is no need to compromise the gospel. As J. Gresham Machen wrote one hundred years ago, “We have to-day the entrance of paganism into the Church in the name of Christianity. But in the second century a similar battle was fought and won.”
If we ever would do good, we must therefore encourage preaching of the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus. Preach the Christ! Now that would be truly dangerous, truly revolutionary in contemporary American culture.
James Wanliss, Ph.D., is Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC. He is a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, senior fellow and contributing writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and author of Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death.