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Doug Moo and the Environment

February 17, 2007

If you go to the Wheaton College website and view the faculty of the Biblical and Theological Department you will see Douglas Moo, Blanchard Professor of New Testament. Moo is widely known for his Introduction to the New Testament publication with Don Carson and Leon Morris, and his commentary on Romans in the New International Commentary series, among others. If you read his profile on the faculty website of Wheaton, you will see “Personal and Professional Interests,” which, among many forthcoming commentaries, it reads “working on developing a theology of creation with special reference to environmental issues.” And sure enough, in the September edition of last years Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Moo wrote an article called Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment. Here are some thoughts on Moo’s article.

While it is not plainly stated by Moo, one question he attempts to answer is ‘How should we, as Christians, care for the environment?’ or ‘How important is the environment?’ He attempts to answer these questions in light of the New Testament. For years Christians have been accused by secularists of destroying our environment because they care only for themselves and the salvation of their souls (Ludwig Feuerbach). Because Christians feel they have biblical warrant for having dominion over the earth and it exists only to meet our physical needs, they have been the culprits who are slowly laying the natural world to waste.

The New Testament does seem to be more focused on the concern for man and suggests a “fiery doom” for the natural world, Moo admits. Even in the epistles of John, the world is something we should hate, and if we have a love of the world, then there is no room for the love of the Father. Therefore, Moo observes, Evangelicals seem to be “seriously convinced that concern for the environment is either a waste of time – God will insure that the world will be preserved until its destined destruction – or a luxury we cannot afford – we should deflect none of our time or resources from our core mission of evangelism.” Moo continues to note that while the church should not reduce its emphasis of evangelism or play-down God’s focus of the redemption of mankind, yet we should not have an “either/or” attitude when it comes to evangelism and environmental concerns. Moo explains that this false alternative is “profoundly out of keeping with the witness of Scripture.”

Moo then starts his argument from Scripture. He observes several New Testament texts that touch on the condition and fate of our natural world, and comments on how we should think on our environment in light of these texts.

His first text is Romans 8:19-22. Moo observes, that the natural world has, in fact, been condemned to “decay”, “futility”, or in some sense has been subject to the fall, as man has. But, it is not man who has subjected it in his careless concern and care for his environment, but it was God (Romans 8:20). All of creation has been judged for sin, including the earth itself. Yet, we also see that the earth is in expectation of redemption, along with the saints.

Secondly, Moo interprets what is meant in the new Heaven and new Earth passages of 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21. Moo suggests that the destruction that is destined for heaven and earth to give way to the new heavens and earth needs to be looked at more closely. A closer look at the passages, Moo argues, reveals that the will not be annihilated but radical transformed. The sinful form of the earth is destroyed and replaced with a redeemed form. Moo parallels this with the resurrection of Jesus. The body of Jesus was not destroyed and given a new, but transformed into his glorious body, indestructible and everlasting.

Finally, Moo presents the New Testament passages where we are called a “new creation.” Since we are in Christ and the old has passed away, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). In light of our new state, what should be our environmental ethic? Moo offers some suggestions:

  • First, we should notice the order in which God clearly created the world to function and then behave in accordance with it. The Kingdom of God should not be set against its created environment.
  • As a new creation, we should work towards God’s goal of creation’s final transformation. God certainly has a plan to redeem and transform our world around us. As being lights of our Redeemer, there should be motivation to work toward this ultimate divine goal for our environment. We should not care for the environment for love of ourselves or each other, but because it is God’s.
  • And finally, Moo warns us that Christians must avoid the humanistic “Green untopianism” movement. The perfect state of our environment is not the endeavor of man but will be ultimately secured “through [God’s] own sovereign intervention.”

My Thoughts

I appreciate Douglas Moo’s thoughts on environmentalism. We should think hard on this issue, as Christians, rather than just rolling our eyes at the extremists and being entirely turned from the subject because of them. I do think the one thing that should contrast us from secular environmentalism is that our concern is not ultimately for ourselves (anthropocentric) or even an ultimate concern for the environment itself (ecocentric), but our ultimate concern should be centered on the glory of God (theocentric).

Admitting by Moo, this is just a preliminary study for the application of this ethic. How we apply this ethic, which I believe is a good one, should be carefully thought through. Not for the sake of the environment itself or to silence the pressure on the church from the secular environmentalists, but because we have been historically docile on this subject. We push so hard for the doctrine of “Divine Creation” in science and public schools, yet we, historically, do not have a clear, thought through philosophy on how to care for the creation divinely given to us. Whether we believe that most environmental issues are politically driven or have atheistic agendas, Christians should be quick to share that, for the glory of God, its is imperative to care for the environment.

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