Sadly Christians have been blamed for the environmental crisis since Lyn White Jr. wrote a troubling paper entitled, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” in 1967. “Christian environmental theologies have been especially shaped by White’s thesis because they have needed to fashion some response to the elegant power of his complaint." White argued that in order to address the environmental crisis humans must examine their attitudes toward nature in ways that are rooted in their religious beliefs. He wrote that “what people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny – that is, by religion.” White argued that Christian theology was fundamentally exploitative of the natural world. He claimed that the human capacity to wreak damage on the environment has grown out of western technological and scientific advances in the 16th century. “He also claimed that these advances occurred in a mediaeval social context that was informed by the Judeo-Christian tradition in its western form, both Catholic and Protestant." White claimed that western Christianity is “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.” He believed that since Christianity makes a distinction between man (formed in God’s image) and the rest of creation then Christianity has created an indifference towards nature. “Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt,” proposed White.
White’s criticism has posed some questions of religious ethics. Francis Schaeffer was one of the first Christian apologists to respond to White’s paper. “The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly; treating the thing as having value in itself, exercising dominion without being destructive." White simply misinterpreted what God meant when he told man to have dominion over the earth. White looked at Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15 and interpreted them as a clear license from God to exploit the earth for man’s own purposes. However, Genesis 2:15 could be translated a bit more literally as saying: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it (NASB).” God seems to say that man is to serve creation not exercise some kind of oppressive domination that White seems to interpret God as saying. God commanded men to exercise stewardship over the earth (Psalm 8:6-8). Stewardship implies that the Christian be a caretaker of the earth.
White’s paper created a firestorm of papers and articles both critiquing and affirming White’s thesis. For the first 25 years after the publication of White’s articles there were many defenses of outside critiques. Lately there has been a resurgence challenges to the view that Christians are custodians of God’s creation. Calvin B. Dewitt in his article “Caring for Creation on Biblical Grounds” argued that these challenges included five views that I would like to use and expound on.
- First there is the “Utilitarian Earth View.”This view basically claims that the earth and everything in the earth is mans and so he can do with it as he wishes so long as it makes him happy. Those who hold to this view will claim that man was endowed by God with the right to have sole dominion over the earth and therefore can use the earth as his “playground.” The problem with this view is that it does not jive with clear Scripture text that tells “"The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains” (Psalm 24:1). This view when held by professing Christians also validates White’s thesis against Christians.
- The second view is the “Gnostic World View.” This view also seems to affirm White’s accusations against Christians because it claims that the material world is fallen and sinful and therefore unimportant. However, the Bible tells us that Christ’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection (physical, material resurrection). The New Testament also says in John 3:16 that God loved the kosmos (physical, material world and those that inhabited it). Christ healed the sick (their physical, material bodies). It seems that God’s own actions in Scripture as they relate to the physical world do not affirm the “Gnostic World View.”
- The third view is the “Conflation of Earth-keeping and Environmentalism” view. This view basically says that any Christian who goes out of his way to care for the earth is an environmentalist. There truly is a profound difference between a Christian’s view of the environment and the modern movement called “environmentalism.” However, those who hold to this view often wrongly accuse the Christian who cares for the world as a pantheist. This view is flawed because it fails to recognize Genesis 2:15 as a command by God that man take care of the earth.
- Dewitt calls the fourth view the “Fear of Samaritans Syndrome.” This view basically says “stay away from new agers.” While the new age belief is indeed problematic, those who hold to a new age philosophy are still in need of hearing the Gospel. This fourth view is clearly unbiblical when lined up with great-commission passages so I won’t spend much time on it.
- The Fifth view Dewitt calls the “No crisis/no stewardship philosophy.” Many Christians have debated whether or not there is an environmental crisis but in the midst of their debate they have failed to be stewards of the earth. God did not say “be stewards of the earth during a bad time” he said “be stewards of the earth.” The Biblical imperative to be stewards is not conditional.
The question then remains: Is there a Christian Environmental Ethic? Rather than responding emotionally to environmental issues a Christian must build his framework around a Biblical ethic. The most logical place to start when building this environmental ethic is the first book of the Bible, after all Genesis is the book of beginnings. The first thing we read is that God created the earth (Genesis 1:1). The fact that God made the earth means God owns the earth. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORDS, and the fullness thereof.” Everything on the earth is created by God and therefore we can conclude that man cannot really claim ownership of anything. If God created the earth he owns it and if he owns the earth then man cannot exploit what is rightfully God’s. Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 then tell us that God created man to be different than everything else. God gave man a command to take care of the earth and be the custodian of it.
This truth that man is created by God to take care of the earth raises another question: Is God concerned with His creation? Matthew 6:28-29 says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 26:26 also says that God even takes care of the smallest of birds. If God is concerned with his creatures and man is to become more like Christ, who is God, then surely man must be similarly concerned with God’s creatures.
The fact that man is to take care of God’s creatures’ and God cares for those creatures’ raises yet another question: Can man kill God’s creatures or harvest creation? Man is permitted to use the resources of the earth for food but Proverbs 12:27 cautions saying, “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.” From the beginning of creation it was clear that man was to eat of the substance of the earth because Adam and the animals were all vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30). In the garden the earth and all its resources were meant to supply the needs of man and beast. However, Adam and Eve sinned and with that sin there was the fall of man (Genesis 3). At the fall meat became a source of food for both animals and man. Animals do not have an eternal soul like man and do not experience an afterlife. This does not mean man has permission to be cruel to animals but it does mean that man can eat meat. So is it okay for Christians to hunt for sport? There is nothing in Scripture that says it is a sin so each individual must wrestle in their conscience and decide for themselves. Let it suffice to say that conservationists all agree that hunting is valuable for keeping animal population in check.
In conclusion the Christian Environmental Ethic is that man is a steward of the creation that God created. Because of the New Age Movement, many Christians have begun to neglect their duties as stewards – this is a shame. Christians should be the model citizens when it comes to taking care of the earth, after all they are claiming that God created the earth. You could say it this way: God the creator created man the custodian to care for the creation. You may scoff at the liberal left-winger who waves his environmental flag in your face but ultimately you do have a responsibility to the earth. If you want to be a testimony one place to begin would be by taking care of the earth your Heavenly Father created.
 White, Lynn. 1974. "The historical roots of our ecologic crisis [with discussion of St Francis; reprint, 1967]," Ecology and religion in history, (New York:Harper and Row, 1974).
 Jenkins, Willis. "After Lynn White: Religious Ethics and Enviromental Problems." Journal of Religious Ethics (2009): 283-309.
 Roper, Duncan. "The earth as a "garden" for all creatures: Lynn White forty years on." Stimulus: The New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought & Practice November 2007: 12-20.
 Schaeffer, Francis A. Pollution and Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970. (72)
 DeWitt, Calvin B. and Robert Nash. "Point-Counterpoint: The Christian Enviroment Issues." 2009. Christian Researh Institute. 9 April 2012 <http://www.equip.org/PDF/DE403.pdf>.
Posted by Caleb