Saturday, April 24, 2010

Creation Care

I have been in Christian circles long enough to see spiritual fads come and go. Someone comes up with a so-called revelation from God or supposedly new insight from the Bible and they push it as if it were the most important thing in the world. Eventually, the whole thing is shown not to be a work of God but a human idea of not much value at all. After a little while everyone forgets it - if we are lucky.

Unfortunately, sometimes these wrong-headed ideas, which have caused some of the church to focus on the wrong thing, become a tradition that hinders the mission of the church which is to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations.

Now when I say that these are bad ideas, I am not suggesting that they are evil or spring from some bad motive. They often have good aspects to them and usually come from well-meaning people. Those who promote them use the Bible (incorrectly) to back them up. And often some good is done, but in the final analysis it usually distracts the church from its biblical goals of reconciling the world to God and bringing Him glory.

The focus of this blog is on the idea of Creation Care, specifically the notion that we humans are stewards of God's earth and that polluting or 'hurting' it will offend God. But as we carefully study the Bible we will find the language of stewardship does not apply to our relationship to the earth.

Now the Bible does use the language of stewardship in relation to various things in the Christian's life. We are to be good stewards of our finances (Luke 16), the Word of God (1 Corinthians 4), and of our ministry in the church (Titus 1:7).

But there is other language used for the believer's relationship to other things. One concept that is used is that of 'dominion'. For example, the Christian is to exercise dominion over demons. "In my name, they shall cast out demons". (Mark 16:17) "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

We find more direct language like this when the Bible describes our relationship to the earth. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26, repeated in v. 28) "You made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; you have put all things under his feet." (Psalm 8:6) This is not the language of stewardship, but of dominion.

Why, then, is the stewardship model used by some to describe our relationship to the earth. Well, one of the passages used is Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein". This clearly establishes God's ownership of the earth. So the reasoning is that if God owns it and we live on it, then we, not being owners, must be stewards. So if God is owner of it, how can we have dominion over it? Does not ownership imply dominion? If God gave us a kind of dominion, is that dominion not really a kind of stewardship?

Not necessarily. A person can have dominion over something without owning it. A person owning a home and living in it has dominion over it. But if that person leases that home to another, then a kind of dominion, not stewardship, is passed to the person leasing it. That is the kind of dominion that we can exercise over the earth. Not a dominion of ownership, but a dominion based on a lease.

You could say that God gave Adam and Eve a lease on the earth. Some day that lease will run out and the owner will return to take dominion back. Until that time, we have dominion. "The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD's: but the earth has he given to the children of men." (Psalm 115:16)

At this point, one might complain that if we use the language of dominion then that means that we can simply do as we please and ruin the environment and destroy God's creation. If we use the language of stewardship, then we will take better care of it because we are responsible to God for it.

I reject this reasoning on two grounds.

First, if the Bible uses the language of dominion and not stewardship then we ought to as well since, otherwise, we would be promoting a false concept.

Second, I reject the conclusion that exercising dominion means we will ruin it. If I lease a home does that mean that I would ruin it because I was not a steward? Not at all. I would care for the place because I live in it and I want it nice for myself and my family. I do not want to live in filth.

I want to live in a nice, clean environment. That goes for wherever I am. If I go to work, I want it to be clean as well. But there is a catch. Since the Fall of Man the environment tends to disorder and chaos. I have to work hard to create a good environment and to make a living. But to make a living some pollution is necessary. I certainly believe that God understands that some pollution is necessary when we are producing goods that make our lives better. But we can take reasonable steps to keep from polluting unnecessarily.

I am afraid, though, that this whole 'stewardship/creation care' model is just an attempt to hijack Christianity and use it to promote the radical environmental agenda. I am always suspicious when Christians begin talking like the world. We do not get our agenda from the world but from the Word.

Another point that I think is relevant is the impression given by the advocates of 'creation care' is that we sin if we do not focus on the environment and care for it. I am not implying that we should be careless about the environment; I just think that we need to focus on what God has directly told us to do in His Word and not get into these side issues.

There is no scripture that indicates that God will judge us regarding our care of creation. We will be judged by how we treat our fellow human beings (Matt 25) and by how we fulfill our ministry (1Cor4:4), but never by how we treated the environment. These things are not biblical matters. Rather they come under our dominion and our judgment as to what kind of environment we wish to live in. If we mess it up, then we have to live in our mess. If our rules are too strict then we endanger our means of making a living.

We need to focus on winning people to the Lord, caring for their needs, and discipling them in the faith. Now if caring for their needs to help clean up their environment, then we can address those issues. But it is too easy to get distracted from those things that the Lord has called us to do and to focus on other less important issues.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wisdom - Conventional or Divine, part 2

There are many ideas in our society that have recently become part of conventional wisdom. Some of them are just human foolishness and wonderful-sounding ideas and things that just seem like they would be good solutions in the real world.

But when we test them in the real world we find out if they are truly practical or if they are not all that they are cracked up to be. In this blog we will discuss the use of ethanol (fuel make from corn) to use in running car engines. Now I must confess that I fell for this one and supported it for some time until it was clearly shown to be a terrible idea.

The basic idea is this: it is better to use renewable resources like corn we can grow rather than the limited resources like oil which must eventually run out. Sounds good, so far. Then we should make an abundant crop like corn to burn in car engines while at the same time making new car engines burn different kinds of fuel - gasoline and ethanol, for example. In the end, all engines will run on ethanol and similar fuels, and we will never run out of fuel. Energy problem solved.

Or not. First of all, to make ethanol from corn, it takes about 3/4 of a gallon of oil or more to make it. It takes a lot of energy to make ethanol, far less to make gasoline. Perhaps if we had a lot more nuclear energy we would overcome this, though the same environmentalists who have been touting this, object to nuclear power.

Anyway, even if we took all the corn in the US and made it into fuel, we could only produce enough fuel for 16% of our vehicles. (Remember that we not only use corn for food but for many other things as well, like various kinds of plastics.) We also must keep in mind that the corn we produce feeds much of the world. The poor, especially, rely on it. If too much goes to fuel, then the price will rise and the poor of the world will starve. This happened a couple of years ago when corn prices rose dramatically and poor countries did not get theirs.

Then there is the issue of efficiency. I and others have noticed that when we put 10% ethanol in our gas tanks (notice the sign at most service stations) then our mileage is reduced by more than 10%. So ethanol causes us to use more oil (gasoline) even if we used nuclear power to produce it. It is very wasteful.

So, what sounded like a great idea is really a disaster, and, unfortunately, it has become government policy. Even with the revelation of recent years that this ethanol is a complete debacle, the government is subsidizing it and supporting it.

The auto industry, responding to market forces, is going in the direction of hybrid vehicles, combining big batteries with traditional engines backing them up. We are not seeing too many of the flex-fuel vehicles.

So, knowing this, what has the government done? Stop supporting or subsidizing ethanol? No. It continues its policies because farmers like it. And when a small and powerful constituency benefits from subsidies, then politicians give them what they are now used to getting.

This is why we need to examine conventional wisdom, especially from so-called experts, and why we need for government to keep out of it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wisdom - Conventional or Divine, part 1

"Conventional wisdom is a term used to describe ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. The term implies that the ideas or explanations, though widely held, are unexamined and, hence, may be reevaluated upon further examination or as events unfold." (Wikipedia definition)

There are many ideas in our society that have recently become part of conventional wisdom. In the next few posts, I will examine some of these to find if these ideas are the wisdom of God or just human foolishness. I think that we will find is that the opinion of so-called experts and other well-meaning people may not be wise at all. Now I understand that not all will agree with my conclusions, but I hope that they will realize that conventional wisdom is often mere opinion and that there is more than one side to every issue. Let's keep an open mind as we examine some of these things.

The first idea that I want to examine is the notion that it is better for the environment and our wallets if homeowners replace their incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs. We are told that they use 75% less electricity and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. So, even though fluorescent bulbs cost a lot more, it will save the homeowner money and help the environment by using less energy. Sounds like a win-win situation. And we are assured that there is no down side to this.

But there is a down side. I know about fluorescent bulbs because I used them in my business. I had a bakery and a deli operation. The Health Department required me to put shields over my fluorescent bulbs. The reason: fluorescent bulbs contain mercury and if they are broken they release that mercury in the air. Everyone knows that that is a serious hazard, especially in a place where food is kept.

On the same website where the federal government recommends the use of these bulbs, there is a link containing information about what to do if a fluorescent bulb breaks. Let me summarize: First, clear the room for 15 minutes, especially removing delicate things like children and pets. Turn off central heat or a/c. If the mess is on a hard surface, DO NOT vacuum up. Use sticky tape to clean and then damp rags. Put all cleaning stuff and broken light bulb pieces in a sealed plastic bag and put outside in the trash. If it is carpeting that needs cleaning, then do vacuum but immediately replace the vacuum bag by putting it in a sealed plastic bag. If any stuff gets onto clothing, DO NOT put the clothing in a washing machine because the mercury will get into the washer and contaminate what is washed in it later. And I hope that you remember to wear a mask and gloves to do all this. Shall I go on?

Here's more. While these bulbs are efficient, they actually flicker 60 times per second. Most people cannot see this consciously, but it is not good for your eyes and some people get headaches from it. What is worse is that most autistic people do see the flickering and it is really bad for them.

Will it save money and the environment (outside the home)? That is actually uncertain. There is a lot of evidence that fluorescents do not last any longer that regular bulbs. People do not seem to be experiencing longer usage. They seem to burn out like any other bulb. Also, there is anecdotal evidence that most people do not see a drop in their electric bills. So it is uncertain that the benefits which are touted by the 'experts' really pan out.

No doubt you have guessed my conclusion. Fluorescent bulbs are not a good idea for a home environment. I have no plans to use them even if they would save me money. I consider them an unacceptable risk. I will pay a few more dollars a month to get lighting that is much more safe and easier on the eyes.

I have no objection if someone decides to use these bulbs. But I think that we need to be fully informed and weigh the risks and benefits in a rational way instead of pushing it as if it is necessary to 'save the earth'.

It is important that we carefully examine conventional wisdom to find whether it is wisdom from God or just someone's bad idea. It is too easy to be taken in by so-called experts who are pushing something out of some ideology like what we get in our current environmental movement.