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Columnists Remarkable Providences
When our dog died recently, I had to explain to my youngest son, Benjamin, 5, that all dogs don't go to heaven. People have souls that never die but dogs do not, I pointed out.
Ben, cogitating, responded, "Then people are special?" That's right, Ben, that's right-and that understanding separates true Christian environmentalists from the conventional liberal environmentalism that rules the pages of Time and even some Christian publications.
True Christian environmentalism begins with the understanding that the world is material, but in the world are people who have souls that never die. People, made in the image of God, are the only truly valuable cargo carried on Spaceship Earth.
We need to take care of our environment because it declares God's glory, because he told us to take stewardly dominion over the world, because we need its resources for our material survival, and because we love our land. I still remember bicycling across the United States from Massachusetts to Oregon 25 years ago, and feeling the beauty of this great big country, slow mile after slow mile.
Nevertheless, we need to remember that the environment by itself is a thing, and people are far more important than things, or creatures not made in God's image. Conventional liberal environmentalists often characterize themselves as anti-materialistic, but those who worship the world rather than the God who created it are actually the most materialistic of all, because what they see and prize is material.
Some Christian environmental organizations avoid outright material worship but foster the syncretizing of Christianity and materialism. Recently Richard Austin, a former Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor, gave the opening address at EarthCare '96, a Christian environmental stewardship conference in Chattanooga. Mr. Austin said, "We are used to proclaiming Christ as fully God and fully man. Christ is also fully God and fully earth, a creature of this earth. 'For God so loved the world' that he sent Jesus [is] everyone's favorite passage, but it is not just us, it is the world that is the object of love in that passage."
There's a tinny ring of truth in that statement-Christ is the second Adam and Adam was made from the dust of the earth- but some Christian-materialist syncretism as well. After all, God is the creator and we are his creatures, not the earth's. "Fully earth" is not an equivalent to "fully man," unless we see man as material alone.
Crucially, the verse that follows John 3:16 goes like this: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The apostle John here is clearly writing about people, for the same writer records in Revelation that this material world will not be saved.
This world dies, but human beings have eternal life. We must disagree with Mr. Austin when he speaks of "the Bible calling us to redeem from destruction the community of life...." There is no community of life. There are human beings with souls, and there are animals and plants without souls.
The environmental debate is a crucial one and it is important that we report on it accurately. At WORLD, in our coverage (May 11/18 issue) of EarthCare '96, we failed Mr. Austin, the conference sponsors and attendees, and our readers-not that we got the overall story wrong, but in that several times we placed within quotation marks words that paraphrased Mr. Austin's remarks but were not his exact words.
We quoted Mr. Austin, the first of several conference speakers, as saying, "People constitute a modern flood," but those words and the ones immediately following them should not have been within quotation marks; anything within quotation marks in the pages of WORLD is supposed to be the words of the speaker, not a paraphrase. We had Mr. Austin complaining about the world's "exploding population," but his exact words were "expanding population."
We also had Mr. Austin saying, "One American child does more to destroy the world than 160 Bangladeshis," but the word "child" did not appear in Mr. Austin's statement, and the figure he used was 15 to 20; a higher number was given later in the conference, but by another participant. The sentence we quoted, "God is taking me and using me for spiritual warfare over air quality," should have read, "God is taking me and using me and he is working a spiritual warfare through air pollution problems."
We heartily regret these errors and request Mr. Austin's forgiveness for misquoting him. We also stand by the thrust of the story, and will continue to criticize Christian-materialist environmental syncretism.