Burn Baby Burn…

Sunday 5th June saw some 45,000 Australian’s join GetUp in rallying for a carbon tax. What should the church do with this level of interest in the environment? Get funky I reckon…
Its a bit of a characterisation, I know, but it never ceases to amaze me how many Christians assume that the world will one day be burnt up-destroyed-done away with. What worries me is that many, well meaning Christians use this as a justification to say things like climate change don’t really matter, after all, ‘why polish the brass on a sinking ship?’ Lets just get out there and save souls.
So, here’s why I don’t think the world will end…
The biblical view of creation is that it is good, very good. It is not opposed to God and his eternal purposes, he loves material things and he sustains material things. Humanity being made in the image of God is given the role of reflecting God’s rule and glory to the world. This includes consuming but also maintaining and sustaining. God, in his freedom entrusts humanity with responsibility and authority to do this. This doesn’t make God any less sovereign – all throughout the Scriptures he works through humanity, chiefly he does this by taking on the fullness of our humanity in Jesus – the true man. God’s sovereignty is not a reason to do nothing about the environment, if that were so we should stop doing evangelism. 

New Creation
We hope for the renewal of this earth, not to escape it and flee to some immaterial ‘heavenly existence.’ The hope of new creation is of an earthy place much like the place we now live- in fact the same place we now live, albeit radically redefined. The picture we have in Revelation 21-22 is of the ‘new Jerusalem’ coming down from heaven to this earth. The new creation is the fulfillment of the creation we currently live in.
Any theological reflection on the environment must be centred on the person and work of Jesus because he is the culmination of God’s self-revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a reaffirmation of the goodness of the created order and a renewal of it. He is ‘the first fruits’ of the great final Resurrection when everything will be made new. The resurrection of Jesus therefore, is the key to the debate over whether the world will be destroyed or not – his body is transformed, renewed, glorified, but never destroyed. Oliver O’Donovan speaks of the resurrection of Christ as ‘the vindication of the created order.’ It is his body that is the bridge between creation and new creation. 
2 Peter 3
But doesn’t 2 Peter 3 say the opposite, that the world will be destroyed? Good question, but no! 
1) The passage is apocalyptic in style and should be read that way. Peter employs familiar apocalyptic formulas; referring to judgement as a day of fire and destruction, and making parallels with OT e.g’s of judgement.  The final judgement will be like  the judgement in Noah’s day (2 Peter 3.5-7). What happened to Noah’s world? It was profoundly judged but never destroyed.

2) The word for ‘destroy’ (katakaio) in v.10 is unreliable and most probably a latter addition to the text. The earlier, and far more reliable manuscripts use the word ‘to discover/find’ (heurethesetai). This fits the apocalyptic tone of 2 Peter 3, and also a great deal of apocalyptic language in Scripture that uses fire language to refer to God’s judgement. Here, as in 1 Cor 3, I think, the fire of judgement is a revealing or a discovering of the true nature of the earth. 

3) If we take the later manuscripts and go with the destruction language and interpret it literally, then there are further problems. 2 Peter 3.7 uses the same word again to refer to the ‘destruction of ungodly men’ – that sounds a lot like annihilationism  to me. Something most advocates of the ‘destruction of the earth’ view wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! 
(for a much more sustained and thoughtful reflection on these vv check out Byron Smith’s series from 2006).
So what?
If Scripture speaks more about a renewal of the earth rather than a destruction of it then we have a real responsibility to care for it. We too often diochotomise evangelism and acting on a concern for the world, be that social justice or environmental action. This is dangerous territory, not taking into account the holistic nature of Jesus’ physical resurrection. If Christians don’t fulfill the role of humanity to reflect God’s rule over the earth, as it is reaffirmed in his risen body, who will? 

4 Responses to “Burn Baby Burn…”

  1. Good post mate! It’s interesting how this 2 Peter 3 passage is often used to ‘prove’ the annihilation of all things, but how actually it’s a text which supports the continuity!

  2. Good post Steve! 🙂
    So say the choice is between supporting say Red Cross and Save The Rainforest organisations, thinking of what Mat said, and what Jesus said, we would support the Red Cross one first? as we are on about people first of all.
    But that’s why i reckon TEAR is a heaps good organisation cos they incorporate social justice stuff, spiritual stuff and environment/climate change stuff into their programs!
    That’s heaps interesting about the Greek, I didn’t know that, but it makes more sense now. And me being a theology n00b had to Google “annihilationism”, which sounds rather dodgy to me, but what does ”destruction of ungodly men’’ mean?
    And one final question, so will “Heaven on Earth” be as Good as Creation first was, or will it be better? Cos like how can Creation be perfect if that snake was there being evil?
    p.s lol how you tagged this post with ‘disco music’ 😉

    • stephengardner Says:

      Thanks Sam. I’m reluctant to answer your first question because I want to say, ‘can’t we support both?’ I also wanted to mention in the post that climate change IS a ‘people issue’ after all. Experts on climate change all seem to agree that those most affected will be the poorest of the poor. If we advocate to make change re our use of natural resources (like the carbon tax) we aren’t just hugging trees, we are making a difference for people around the world.
      I take ‘destruction of ungodly people’ to refer to judgement but not annihilation for the reasons I mention in the post. Judgement in scripture is always a revealing work of God. I take it to be an initial revealing of the ‘ungodly people’ with ongoing consequences.
      I sure hope the new creation is better than the first one…again the key is Jesus. He is still alive in his same body today, he can never die again. His body acts as a kind of first fruits, not just of our resurrection but of the whole new creation, the world will be perfected. No snakes!

  3. Yeah, defs agree climate change/environmental destruction is a people issue. esp in places where everyone farms their own food & agriculture is the main industry. And as you said, the people most affected by climate change will be the ones who are powerless to do anything about it!

    Ah, ok so like a ‘revealing of their unGodliness’ in a judgement way. That makes Biblical sense. And given the amount of times ‘eternity’ is mentioned re judgment, annihilation doesn’t fit.

    Awesome, yay for Jesus.
    Thanks heaps for answering Steve, very helpful! Keep thinking! 😀

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