There is no longer much doubt about the seriousness of the global environmental crisis. Where there is still plenty of confusion, is over the Christian response. Should we agree with the American Christian writer, Cal Thomas, that "Jesus' teaching has nothing to do with global warming or the environment" and that the task of Christians is simply to "prepare themselves and others for the world to come"* Or does the Bible teach something rather different about the God who is both creator and sustainer of the earth, and about the place of humanity as those entrusted with the careful stewardship of God's earth?
In looking at a fully biblical understanding of mission I believe we need a fairly profound mind-shift. However much we talk of our mission being part of God's mission, in practice mission, even 'integral' or 'holistic' mission, seems to be focussed exclusively towards human beings. Yet God's purposes in mission are far bigger. Take the story of Noah. It is a story of mission - of God's mission in judging sin and in providing a means of salvation, and God chooses human beings as key agents in that mission. Yet human beings are not the only, nor the majority beneficiaries, of God's saving work through Noah.
"we need a fairly profound mind-shift"
It is a mission that encompasses representatives of every species on earth - because God wants their kind to 'continue upon the earth' (Genesis 7.3) - in other words they have intrinsic value to God irrespective of their value to humanity. Moreover, the Covenant God makes with the sign of the rainbow includes not only humans (Noah and his descendants), but also every living creature (repeated seven times in Genesis 9) and the earth itself (Genesis 9.13). Reading Noah today, in the context of climate change and biodiversity loss, we should not lose our focus on good news for all people, particularly the poor who are so directly and drastically affected. However, we need to see this within the wider context of God's sustaining and saving work within the whole created order.
We could perhaps dismiss the huge shift in thinking that Noah suggests, if this were a unique, obscure and unrepresentative piece of scripture. However, it is anything but. The very first great commission humanity is given in Genesis 1.26-28 and 2.15 is about the responsible rule, development and care of creation. Our being made 'in God's image' is tied to this mandate - suggesting that our current disastrous relationship with creation is accompanied by a fading of God's image in us. Throughout the Old Testament, the mission of God's people - ultimately to be a light to the Gentiles - is about a Godly relationship with both people and land, demonstrating God's 'shalom' purposes. Jesus identifies himself as the 'Son of Man' - Ben-Adam - literally 'the son of the one made from the dust of the earth', and he teaches us to pray for God's Kingdom 'on earth' (in or on the ground) as in heaven.
"creation is waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed"
The New Testament is clear that Christ's saving work in the cross and resurrection, whilst centrally restoring the broken relationship with God caused by human sin, also encompasses other relationships that sin has affected - with our fellow human beings, and with the whole creation. The cross makes it possible for 'all things in heaven and on earth' to be reconciled to God (Colossians 1.19-20). In a wonderful picture in Romans 8, Paul paints creation as groaning in anticipation for its release from decay. And how is that release to be realised? Amazingly it is through us - creation is waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed.
So, where are we? Where are the Christians in the vanguard of the environmental movement? Where are the examples of major mission agencies caring for non-human as well as human victims of our selfishness? Why are we still ignoring the great commission - to "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16.15)?