Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet
208 pp., 24.24
Karen Swallow Prior
Green Like God
Just as it was once asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth, so one might ask if anything green could come out of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Having been a Baptist since my second baptism—that being by immersion—I hope I've earned the privilege of constructive criticism.) In a culture in which political positions are often based on the company they keep, it hardly seems likely that an organization known more for championing conservative causes than for tree-hugging would embrace the environmentalist cause.
On the other hand, the words "conservative" and "conservation" do share a root. And apparently I'm not the only Southern Baptist who's wondered for a long time why conservative Christians haven't been leading the campaign for responsible stewardship of God's creation. Green Like God is the work of a bona fide Southern Baptist. Jonathan Merritt is the son of a former SBC president no less, the founder of the Southern Baptist Climate and Environment Initiative, and a graduate of SBC-affiliated Liberty University. (For the record, although I teach at Liberty University, I've never met Merritt.)
Green Like God is not an environmentalist's environmental book. But it is a Southern Baptist's environmental book. In language and approach, it aims to disarm and persuade an audience representative of the typical Southern Baptist's posture toward any environmental agenda, one that most likely ranges from leery to skeptical to downright hostile. Merritt cites many figures revered by conservative Christians: Charles Colson, Francis Schaeffer, Alister McGrath, N. T. Wright, and John Stott, to name a few. Included among the resources listed at the end of the book are the likes of Newt Gingrich and Richard Land. (Of course, some folks that more conservative types might look askance at are listed, too, such as Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, and E. O. Wilson).
Furthermore, Merritt avoids the alarmist language that characterizes many works on the subject, even those by some Christians. He doesn't refer to a "current environmental crisis" or issue a call "to save the planet." Such a polemical approach might be appropriate for other audiences, but not for the people to whom Merritt is appealing.
Although he majored in biology as an undergraduate, Merritt's real authority in addressing a readership of unlikely environmentalists is his own history. He describes himself as "a convert to a way thinking with which [he] previously disagreed." He confesses to having been the sort of punk (my words, not his) who thought that throwing garbage out of his car window "was being bold and cute" (his words, not mine). He's a quintessential Millennial, the kind whose self-described BlackBerry addiction provoked a temper tantrum of sorts as the signal bars on his cell phone disappeared with each mile he traveled into the African savanna on a recent missions trip. But something funny happened on the way to his seminary degree: Merritt realized that one cannot fully love the Creator without loving his creation. When one of his seminary professors compared the destruction of God's creation (a form of general revelation) to the tearing out of a page of the Bible (special revelation), Merritt was convicted. And the strength of his book lies in the passion of the converted. Ultimately, and rightly, Merritt rejects the label "environmentalist," describing himself instead as "someone who is searching for God's heart" about God's creation. The book, he says, "is about the One behind the environment. It is as much about the Creator as the creation."
In one of his strongest chapters, Merritt dispels a number of myths apt to keep some evangelicals from including environmental concerns within otherwise far-reaching and ambitious political and social agendas. In response to the notion that "environmentalism is for tree-hugging secularist liberals," Merritt points out that the "'radical left' has commandeered environmentalism largely because the 'far right' gave up the moral high ground long ago in its exclusive pursuit of other issues." In response to the "eschatological argument" ("the world is going to end anyway") Merritt explains that "the knowledge of a returning Master does not free us from our earthly obligations; it calls us to them." Perhaps most compellingly, he dismantles the argument that concern for the environment "distracts us from more important tasks" such as spreading the gospel. Rather, Merritt asserts, "Creation care is a gospel issue." He explains that for the people of the world who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ, the creation is their starting point. The way the rest of the world sees God's people treating the creation tells them something of their view of the Creator. When Christians display an attitude of disregard toward the earth that is so directly connected to the everyday lives of so many people around the world, Merritt states, "it damages our witness." Thus, "When done properly and proportionately, creation care serves only to strengthen the gospel."