Should Christians Celebrate Global Warming?

global warming

Christian Nightmares found and posted this image yesterday.

While it leaves me more than a bit flabbergasted, I don’t find it all that surprising.

Countless people in the church are convinced that the Second Coming is imminent. As in Jesus is probably, no definitely coming back tomorrow.

Why are they so convinced? In a word, ok two words, terrible theology.

Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying expecting the Second Coming of Jesus is terrible theology. What I’m saying is turning the book of Revelation (or the Bible in general) into some sort of fortune telling playbook for the future is absurdly terrible theology that has plagued the church with tragic consequences ever since Americans invented the idea of the rapture right around the time of the First Great Awakening.

Since then Christians, particularly American Christians, have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to read prophetic tea leaves that simply don’t exist.

On the surface this may seem like a trivial issue. After all, Nicolas Cage remaking Left Behind may be a cinematic disaster, but it’s not hurting anybody, right?

While we’ll have to wait until that movie comes out to know just how catastrophic its effects on humanity will be, and I imagine they will be severe, the truth is that attitudes like we see displayed in the poster above are hugely problematic.

Why?

Because they have very real consequences.

The causes of global warming aside, the effects of global warming are devastating. To people. With homes. And families. And livelihoods.

In short, one person’s prophetic celebration, is another person’s catastrophe.

Or to put it another way, when we celebrate from the comfort and safety our prophetic armchairs something we’ve decided is a fulfillment of prophecy, what we’re really celebrating is a terrible flood destroying someone’s home, the financial ruin of a family after an ecological disaster obliterates their source of income, and the death of millions of men, women, and children from starvation brought on by epic droughts.

This is why theology matters.

When war, global devastation, and environmental ruin become things to celebrate as the “fulfillment of prophecy,” then not only do we ignore clear Biblical mandates to be peace makers and stewards of the earth, we who should be working to bring the kingdom of God to earth, instead, become villainous co-conspirators in the reign of evil and death.

This is what happens when we ignore Jesus’ declaration that “no man knows” the hour of his return.

These words aren’t simply a boundary line. Jesus’ isn’t saying “You can know everything about the future, except this one small detail.” In his prophetic declaration, Jesus is affirming his return, but he is also denouncing the sort of end times fervor the consumes so much of the church. When he follows this famous declaration with a command to “keep watch,” Jesus is not telling his followers to spend all their time trying to read the prophetic tea leaves. In fact, the opposite is true.

In his parable of the end of days that follows this famous declaration in Matthew 24, Jesus says the servant must care for the household which he has been entrusted with. We, the church, are those servants. The world is our household. If we are to be the wise and faithful servants Jesus calls us to be, then we must care for the world we have been entrusted with.

When, instead, our time is consumed by trying to decipher prophetic signs that don’t exist or, worse, when we celebrate the destruction of the household we have been entrusted with, then we become the wicked and lazy servant who will find his place with the hypocrites.

The sort of prophetic fervor that permeates so much of the church today, which sees prophecy around every corner and which celebrates moments of devastation and destruction as if war and global warming were benevolent signs from God, is not only misguided, it’s antithetical to a gospel which calls us to care for the world, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and defend the oppressed.

Which means our obsession with the end times doesn’t make us a holy people with privileged insight into the future.

It makes us lazy, wicked hypocrites.

 

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt

  • Bill Griffin

    Amos 5:18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light,

    • ZackHunt

      I love that passage so much. Theologically speaking. As a corrective to end times fervor. Not because I’m excited about darkness. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kmerian Kenneth Merian

    So Zack, how do you REALLY feel? Seriously, thank you for saying this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.everingham.9 Aaron D. Everingham

    Yes! Been vis-à-vis with this before.

  • Karen

    Thanks, Zack. I recently learned that the insertion of the phrase “Whose Kingdom shall have no end” in the Nicene-Constantinoplian Creed was included as a direct refutation of the heresy of “Chiliasm,” the belief that there would be a literal period of 1,000 years after a first “second coming” of Christ, after which satan would be let loose again, until a second, second coming of Christ! Seems like we could have avoided a lot of this doctrinal and interpretive confusion if we could just be more knowledgable about how and why our forbears in the faith read Scripture as they did and if we could trust them in that in the same way that we who consider ourselves “orthodox” (i.e., Trinitarian) Christians today trust them about the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ and the deity of the Holy Spirit!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshua.lococo JoSherry Lococo

    nice ;-] needs one correction though. rapture theory was not “invented by americans”. john nelson darby is the name associated with this. he was not american. he was europen, irish to be exact ;-] it was popularized in america by the scofield reference bible.

    • ZackHunt

      You are correct that Darby first popularized the rapture, but Cotton and Increase Mather talked about the idea a century earlier. That was who I was referring to. My apologies for the confusion.

  • daryl carpenter

    ‘This is what happens when we ignore Jesus’ declaration that “no man knows” the hour of his return.’ Matt 24: 36

    A few verses earlier Jesus says that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’ He places a specific time limit on his coming back: within the lifetime of those standing there. So what happened? Do you espouse Preterism? Or in this instance does the word ‘generation’ arbitrarily mean something else entirely? Just wondering.

    I must say I find it hard to blame today’s fundamentalist Christians being obsessed with the end of the world, considering what the bulk of the New Testament teaches. Jesus, Paul, the non-Pauline epistles and Revelation all gleefully look forward to the world being consumed and unbelievers getting what’s coming to them, whether it be eternal torment or plain old annihilation. It’s hardly surprising the Christians of today want to follow suit, even if they end up being completely wrong (like Jesus and Paul were), and even then the error can be safely neutralised with some handy rationalisations. I think they (modern fundamentalists) are just following where the bible leads them. Of course one can just allegorise the whole thing and make it into something more conducive to modern theology, but surely that’s just ventriloquism.

    • Karen

      Yours is clearly an informed and objective interpretation of “what the bulk of the NT teaches,” right? You (and whatever group you identify yourself with) really truly are the only ones who understand what the early Church, and the Apostles Paul, John and Peter meant about all those things, right?

      • daryl carpenter

        Hi Karen

        Yes, you’re absolutely right. My interpretation is ‘informed and objective.’ I asked God about it last night and he told me it was spot on, so that pretty much settles it, don’t you think? ;)

        Are you saying that the New Testament doesn’t talk about the end of the world, because it seems like it to me, If not, then the apostles should have made things a bit clearer in their writing. If they meant to state that the world wasn’t soon about to end, then they should have said they were only talking *metaphorically*. Shouldn’t have been too much of a problem. After all, they were being guided by the spirit.

        I haven’t a clue what the early church consisted of (flux capacitor on my time machine broken, unfortunately), but then I’d suggest that you haven’t much idea either. But if I were to hazard a guess I’d say they were closer to Pat Robertson’s mentality than what passes for today’s liberal Christian. The New Testament – as far as I can see, it’s only *my* interpretation, remember – wasn’t written by individuals who saw the world in subtle shades of grey. No, it was created by people who were fanatically convinced by the truth of their newly created religion.

        Let me stress that I am not arguing for ANY kind of fundamentalism. I think they’re bigoted anti-intellectuals and a retrogressive influence on all aspects of world society. Give me liberal minded religionists any day of the week over these people. But what I’m trying to say is that liberals can’t simply allegorise away bits of the bible they don’t like by saying, ‘no, that’s not what the original authors really meant, here’s a reading of it that’s far better suited to 21st century life and doesn’t make us all look like crazy, anti-science idiots.’ THAT’S using the Bible as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Why bother with Bible if that’s the case? If it needs so much reinterpreting and re-contextualising just to keep it relevant, then perhaps that means none of us really need an ancient authority to tell us anything about the modern world, whether scientifically, intellectually, or emotionally.

        Daryl

        • Karen

          Daryl, I appreciate your good-humored response to what I think came across as an altogether too brusque and combative reply to your earlier comment (I actually intended it more lightheartedly than it came across). I actually don’t entirely disagree with a lot of what you had to say.

          What I would question is your phrase about how Jesus, the apostles and NT Christians “. . . .gleefully look forward to the world being consumed and unbelievers getting what’s coming to them, whether it be eternal torment or plain old annihilation. . ..” Here I think there was a fair amount of projection of a very modern misunderstanding concerning the Scriptures’ teaching and language around these sorts of issues going on. I would argue your projection actually had nothing to do with the attitudes of the NT Christians. I’m quite confident (despite lacking a time machine myself) their eagerness of anticipation for the coming Kingdom and reign of Christ had everything to do with the love and glory of the coming King and the end of suffering and hell they were enduring here on earth (and not much to do with the punishment of His and their “enemies” per se. We are told in the Scriptures that God “takes no pleasure” in the death of the wicked, but desires that he turn from his wickedness and live in Ezekiel 33:11 and 18:32, and Christ taught his followers they were to love their enemies. Christ prayed for his enemies from the Cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”).

          Having become Eastern Orthodox, I also see a sort of continuity between the language, mindset and ethos of the Scriptures, the early Church of the ante-Nicene and Nicene periods (the early Church Fathers), and the language and liturgy found within Eastern Orthodoxy that doesn’t exist in the same way at all between the apostolic and patristic writings and practices and a lot of the elements and ideas of modern Christendom. That is my frame of reference.

          You wrote: “But if I were to hazard a guess I’d say they were closer to Pat Robertson’s mentality than what passes for today’s liberal Christian.”

          I’d have to say that guess is most certainly a hazard! Is “not even close to either category” another possibility in your mind?

          I want to clarify, though, that I don’t think you’re entirely incorrect to see the NT Christians as expecting the Second Advent of Christ to set up His Kingdom and reign forever potentially within their lifetimes or very soon thereafter. It’s certainly true also that the Scripture calls us all to be ready for this at any time. On the other hand, through careful consideration of the Scriptures and the experience of those first few centuries of the Church, the Fathers ended up rejecting “Chiliasm” as a heresy as I point in an earlier comment below. I have also heard that the word “generation” in the context you quoted is best translated and understood to mean “race” (meaning then in context that the Jewish race shall not pass away before Christ returns to set up His Kingdom, which leaves the chronological timing issue a lot more open).

          With regard to the details of Revelation, you were getting closer, I think, with the “allegory” idea (not in the modern liberal sense, however). Ezekiel and Revelation (and part of Daniel?) are a particular biblical genre known as “Apocalyptic” literature. This literature used highly symbolic language to describe spiritual realities and relationships that ultimately were not at the chronological “end” of linear history (as a sort of continuation of it), but rather outside of space, time and history (this temporal realm) altogether, i.e., pertaining to the eternal reality of God /Christ who is the “Alpha and the Omega”–Christ Himself is the “End” (and the Beginning) of all things, yet interpenetrating this temporal realm at many (actually any and all) points. With the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, this whole created world has become a sacrament (the Orthodox Christian term is actually “mystery” from the NT use of the Gk. “mysterion”) of Christ’s Presence (the presence of the End), but this is not yet made fully manifest to all, but only to those to whom it has been revealed (the Church).

          Even outside the apocalyptic genre, regarding the Scriptures, the early Church “Fathers” taught that there are many levels of meaning in the Scriptures with the literal surface meaning being the least important and most superficial when it came to the depth of spiritual truth contained in the Scriptures. One example would be the story of Joseph in the OT. We can read this as an incredibly encouraging story about one of the children of Israel, where God takes what is meant for evil against Joseph (his jealous brothers selling him into slavery) and uses it for good and for the preservation of Israel. And it certainly is that (it’s one of my personal favorites). But it can also be read typologically on a deeper level as a foreshadowing of Christ and the Jews’ rejection of Him becoming the occasion of their and our salvation through His voluntary embrace of our Death and defeating it forever by His glorious Resurrection (Joseph in this sense being a “type” of Christ). In this way, the entire OT speaks of Christ “typologically,” if you will.

          Another example would be those OT verses that are picked out by the NT writers and quoted as prophecies pointing to Jesus Christ as Messiah in the NT. If you were to look them up in their own OT immediate context,, most of theses verses if read with the literalistic “historical-critical” assumptions of modern Christians (whether the emphasis is put on “historical” as with Fundamentalist leaning Christians or on the “critical” as with liberal-leaning) would never be interpreted and applied in the way the NT writers have done. The only reason Fundamentalists accept that these verses speak of Christ now is because it is explicitly spelled out for them in the NT as such, but the irony is, it is very clear that the NT writers themselves certainly aren’t using a “Fundamentalist” hermeneutic!

          So on the one hand, yes, on a certain level modern Fundamentalist readings of the Scriptures are understandable. On the other, from an apostolic, patristic and Eastern Orthodox perspective, they are woefully off the mark in reading Revelation as a series of events at the end of linear temporal time (as a sort of continuation of it) and expecting to be able to connect that to current events! They also miss or dismiss a great deal of the deeper levels of meaning in the other genres of writings found in the Scriptures and on the “literal” level misinterpret what is actually a carefully stylized and shaped “historical” genre and read it as straightforward chronological and factual history in a modern empirical sense that isn’t really warranted given the cultural assumptions and modes of communication of the time. Anyway, hope that helps clarify where I am coming from.

          • daryl carpenter

            Hi Karen

            Thanks for your very interesting comments. Apologies for the length of some of my response here.

            ‘[God] desires that he turn from his wickedness and live in Ezekiel 33:11 and 18:32, and Christ taught his followers they were to love their enemies. Christ prayed for his enemies from the Cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”)’

            I agree one can go through the bible and find passages that display God’s love. But for every quote a liberal Christian can recite that shows God as a loving and caring father one could easily get another bunch of quotes that prove entirely the opposite. For example, the flood genocide of Genesis 6 and the murder of all the Egyptian first born are evidence that God is not all about love. And then there are the blitzkrieg attacks in the Book of Joshua (anyone care to rationalise these episodes as acts of compassion?)

            Now, what does this prove? Not much. It certainly doesn’t prove that God is an evil, capricious entity. But what I think it does show is that the bible is a variegated collection of differing voices and theologies, and no one can simply declare ‘I’ve found what the bible really teaches’, because it’s not possible. People find the God they want to find by privileging certain bits of the bible and by ignoring/deemphasising/harmonising/rationalising/debunking the other parts that don’t agree.

            ‘On the other hand, through careful consideration of the Scriptures and the experience of those first few centuries of the Church, the Fathers ended up rejecting “Chiliasm” as a heresy as I point in an earlier comment below.’

            I think the early church fathers were making virtue out of necessity. The necessity was that the world hadn’t ended. That was the brute fact that made them reject chiliasm. They therefore had to reinterpret their scripture and find a way around the problem that the world stubbornly continued to exist. In fact you can see even New Testament writers rowing back from the belief that the end was imminent. Witness 2 Peter’s pathetic rationalisation for the delay: ‘But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day’ (2 Peter 3:8, quoting in part Psalm 90). This is just theological expediency, not an inspired restudying of the scriptures.

            ‘I have also heard that the word “generation” in the context you quoted [Mark 13:30] is best translated and understood to mean “race” (meaning then in context that the Jewish race shall not pass away before Christ returns to set up His Kingdom, which leaves the chronological timing issue a lot more open).’

            The word (genea) can indeed mean ‘race’ in particular contexts, but I don’t think it works here. It’s just a rationalisation to prevent the bible [and Jesus] from being wrong. Is there any real reason in this context to think ‘generation’ means ‘race?’ What sense does it make in saying that this ‘race’ will not pass away before these things happen? Who was suggesting that this wouldn’t be the case? The race in question (the Jewish race) is the one that’s going to undergo the testing and tribulation; of course they’re going to be around to see these things! Such a reading makes the verse in question completely redundant.

            Furthermore, it seems from other material in the gospels that Jesus is talking about a near imminent end. For example, ‘there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom coming in power.’ (Matt 16:28; Mark 9: 1; Luke 9:27), and ‘I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes’ (Matthew 10:23). It therefore seems plausible that ‘this generation’ in verse 30 means the generation living at the time of the utterance. But for those whose operating hermeneutic is ‘the Bible must not be in error’ such a reading is, of course, intolerable (not that I’m saying this applies to you, you understand).

            ‘Even outside the apocalyptic genre, regarding the Scriptures, the early Church “Fathers” taught that there are many levels of meaning in the Scriptures with the literal surface meaning being the least important and most superficial when it came to the depth of spiritual truth contained in the Scriptures.’

            I agree that many early Christians were keen to allegorise scripture. Origen was a big one for allegorising; and Philo (a brilliant 1st century Hellenistic Jew) had already been allegorising parts of the Old Testament. But what are the criteria for deciding what is to be taken literally and what is just metaphor for something else? Is the resurrection to be taken only as symbolic for something else? Are Adam and Eve metaphorical? I imagine a lot of Christians wouldn’t think so, but what would stop someone doing such a thing if they wished.

            Many, of course, do view Adam and Eve as metaphorical, but where does that leave Christian soteriology? What did Jesus die for if not for Adam’s transgression? Picking and choosing which parts are literal and which are non-literal can create problems. Luther had a point when he criticised the Catholic Church’s method of allegorising scripture: where do you draw the line?

            ‘We can read [the story of Joseph] as an incredibly encouraging story about one of the children of Israel… But it can also be read typologically on a deeper level as a foreshadowing of Christ… Joseph in this sense [is] a “type” of Christ. In this way, the entire OT speaks of Christ “typologically.”’

            I’m not sure about the concept of typologies. Did anyone before the gospel writers state that the story of Joseph ‘foreshadowed’ the coming Messiah? Did the original writer (Moses or whoever) write it with idea of Christ in mind? How could one tell if this was the case or not? Or were the similarities between Joseph and Jesus only noticed after the fact? If so, there’s nothing all that remarkable about the whole thing.

            Another possibility (and this one I’ll admit will not go down well with bible believing Christians) is that the gospel writers simply ripped off the Joseph story. It’s then just a case of copying stuff from an older book, but somehow that doesn’t sound as good as it being a ‘typology.’

            I also have to say that viewing the entire Hebrew Bible as simply prefiguring Jesus of Nazareth is an outrageous example of Christian conceitedness. Forgive me for putting it so, but I can’t help but see it that way. To me, (and again, this is only *my* interpretation) it is not ‘self evident’ that the Hebrew Bible teaches the coming of Jesus. At least to me it isn’t, and that’s all that matters because I AM YAHWEH BESIDES ME THERE IS NO OTHER!!!…sorry ;-)

            Concerning the ‘Messianic predictions’ in the Gospels, I agree that someone like Matthew isn’t claiming that, say, Hosea 11:1 originally had anything to do with a Messiah coming out of Egypt (Hosea is talking about Israel) and that modern fundamentalists never seem to understand or even know about such a thing. Matthew is doing what is known as a ‘pescher’ reading of scripture: finding new meanings that God had divinely smuggled into the original, but had since laid undiscovered, waiting for a particular ’inspired’ exegete to find them. Matthew’s exegesis, then, is fundamentally ahistorical, taking Old Testament passages out of context and applying them to his own gospel. But if we recognise this we must then give up the idea that there is anything miraculous or supernatural about the procedure. It’s just more copying stuff out from an older book. However, many Christians, I would guess, would not want to forfeit the old ‘Proof from Prophecy’ gambit. I think it’s still one of their main rhetorical devices for getting people to believe in Jesus.

            You put a lot of trust in the apostolic fathers and the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox church, and their more metaphorical reading of scripture can seem more reasonable (I for one certainly hope that Revelation is not a literal rendering of the end of the world!) and their interpretation seems innocuous compared to some fundamentalist Protestants view of the thing. My concerns are whether taking certain passages or books in a non-literal matter is actually valid; or whether doing such a thing is simply a convenient procedure to rescue an ancient text from looking hopelessly inaccurate/wrong/ irrelevant – which it might if one were to take the bulk of its contents literally.

            Many thanks.

            Daryl

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