In Wednesday night’s first Democratic debate, the first ten candidates made their pitch for why they should be their party’s nominee to take on President Trump in 2020.
While significant moral issues such as transgender rights and abortion were brought up repeatedly throughout the night—notably all of the candidates have promised to expand LGBT rights and advance the Democrat party’s extreme position on abortion—it was another issue with worldview implications that received a significant amount of attention: climate change.
Although climate activists were disappointed their issue did not receive more time in the debate, five candidates were asked specific questions about the climate. Moreover, when asked about what they considered the “greatest geopolitical threat to the United States right now,” four candidates (Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro) named “climate change.”
However, as he has throughout his candidacy, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington ratcheted up the rhetoric by drawing special attention to the “climate crisis” in his closing statement. The Governor explained: “When I was thinking of running for president, I made a decision. I decided that on my last day on earth, I wanted to look [my grandchildren] in the eye and tell them I did everything humanly possible to protect them from the ravages of the climate crisis.”
Although stated melodramatically, Inslee’s comments and the relative unanimity among his primary rivals that climate change is an “existential threat” indicate the issue will feature prominently in the 2020 campaign. Thus, it is important for Christians to think through the issue carefully and approach the issue through the lens of Scripture.
Dominion and Stewardship
From the perspective of the biblical worldview, there are two theological truths that must be held together when “global warming” or “climate change” is discussed: dominion and stewardship.
First, the Bible teaches that when God created the world he created human beings in his image and charged them to exercise dominion by multiplying and filling the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). As the Creator’s vice-regent, man was tasked with the responsibility to rule the earth in a way that honors God.
Significantly, man’s dominion is designed to promote human flourishing. Examples of exercising dominion which necessarily require the use of natural resources include irrigating a garden, constructing a building, designing a power grid, and domesticating animals, just to name a few. The clear teaching of the Bible is that man is permitted, even commanded, to develop the earth and its resources for the benefit of humanity. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric surrounding the environment loses sight of the biblical insight that man has a God-given responsibility to cultivate the earth.
History contains examples of how this authority has been handled well. In fact, in obedience to the creation mandate, gifted men and women have been able to do incredible things such as develop life-saving medicine from nature, increase crop efficiency, and create power sources that improve the quality of life of billions of people.
But the earth and its resources hold more than just instrumental value. This is why the second theological truth that Christians must remember in conversations about environmental ethics is the principle of stewardship.
Stated simply, Christians are called to exercise stewardship over creation. As Albert Mohler explains, “We are given a garden. We do not own it. We are called to tend it and to make it flourish. And we are going to give an answer to the owner of the garden for how we cared for it…”
Environmental Care Should Never Fall Prey to Naturalism
Christians should oppose the unfettered exploitation of natural resources because creation should be received and cherished as a gift; it is not merely a resource to be exhausted and consumed. However, because man is fallen, Christians should not be surprised when people go beyond good use of creation to sinful abuse. But concern for the environment should never prompt the pendulum to swing so far to the other side that man becomes subservient to the created order. The tasks of dominion and stewardship are not opposed. Rather, they are complementary and should be held together.
Christians should care about the environment because it reflects the glory of God. In fact, Psalm 19:1 affirms, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands.” Similarly, Psalm 97:6 says that “the heavens proclaim his righteousness; all the people see his glory.” God himself cares so much about his creation that he provided specific guidance for how the Israelites were to respect the land during war (see Deut. 20:19-20).
However, as witnessed in Wednesday night’s Democrat debate, much of the recent discussion about the environment has ventured beyond reasonable concern. In fact, when candidates for President of the United States list “climate change” as the “greatest geopolitical threat” over pressing issues such as terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or China, they betray a worldview rooted in naturalism rather than biblical Christianity.
The Natural World Is Not All There Is
If the natural world is all there is, it is easy to get distraught about changes in the weather and obsess about how to reverse rising global temperatures. Although creation care should be a priority for believers and the scientific community should be taken seriously when they suggest solutions for addressing obvious misuses of natural resources, Christians must remember that God is sovereign and holds the earth in his hands. As Paul explained in his letter to the Colossians, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).
Although the creation now groans under the curse of sin (Rom. 8:22), the Bible promises that one day it will be set free from its bondage and will obtain “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21).
David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.