Climate Change Deniers?

Earlier this year I looked at the first several chapters in Elaine Ecklund’s new book with Christopher Scheitle: Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think. After looking at the issue of creationism and evolution it moved to the back burner. It appears timely to return, however, and look at the next chapter “Religious People are Climate Change Deniers.” Certainly evangelical Christians have this reputation in at least some circles.

The statement is not true, although it is necessary to dig a little deeper to unpack the truth. First, even among evangelical Christians some 70% believe that climate change is real and that human are at least partly responsible although only 29% agreed that humans are a significant cause. For other groups (Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Jews, Non-Western Religions, and Atheist, Agnostic and Unaffiliated) the percentage falls between 80% and 90% with a significantly higher percentage agreeing that humans are a significant cause. It is also true that evangelical Christians are significantly more likely to be climate change deniers (10.4% while for the other groups the percentage ranges from 3.9% to 6.3%). Clearly most evangelical Christians are not climate change deniers – although some are. As a group they (we) are more skeptical than the other five groups studied by Ecklund and Scheitle.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, accepting the reality of climate change doesn’t lead to consensus on the appropriate response. One reason is a conviction that God is in control and will intervene if necessary to protect his creation. A belief that we as humans could destroy God’s creation amounts to a denial of his sovereignty. I struggle with this reasoning because it seems clear from my reading of the Bible that God will allow us to go far astray and to reap the consequences of our actions. He may well act to preserve a remnant, but that doesn’t negate the great harm that occurs beforehand or eliminate the responsibility of those who went their own way. Selfishness has consequences.

Others expressed the opinion that God is going to bring about a new heavens and earth anyway – so we shouldn’t worry too much about climate change. This is also theologically troubling – our vocation is to be God’s image on earth and let God act in his time, not to speed things up as we pursue our convenience and pleasure. Continue reading

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The Best is Yet to Come

I believe in …
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

The Apostles’ Creed ends on a note of hope, bringing the brief synopsis of the biblical story to a close. Christian hope culminates in the age to come, when the heavens and earth are restored and we live in resurrection bodies – immortal, not subject to decay. The reality of resurrection and life everlasting is more than personal salvation. It is victory over death. It is assurance that everything will be set right. To be true to God and resist the tyranny of evil may bring suffering in this world. The early church was well aware of this reality. One only need to look to the fate of many of the apostles and the Roman persecution of the church for confirmation. But resistance isn’t futile and fatalism has no place in the Christian outlook. There will be justice including judgment, mercy, and reward. The ultimate victory is won.

The resurrection of the body. As Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) puts it “Christians do not believe in the immortality of the soul, but in the resurrection of the body. … We need to bring our congregations back to the language of resurrection and new creation to underscore the embodied and physical nature of our future hope.” (p. 216) Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians digs into the resurrection. and nature of resurrection bodies. A few highlights:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Cor. 15:12, 19

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” … When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 15: 35, 53-58.

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Mercy, Justice, and Mars

Mark Watney was stranded – on Mars in a rather barren environment. The image above (Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS) from the Mars Rover Curiosity can be found along with many others at the NASA Website. Mark Watney, for those who don’t know, is the major character in a book and movie The Martian. Stranded alone on Mars, he has to figure out how to survive and communicate with Earth leading to his rescue. It is an enthralling story. Andy Walsh in his new book Faith Across the Multiverse uses Mark Watney’s adventure as a framework to explore a number of biblical ideas including the relationship between justice and mercy. Math plays a big role … Andy reflects on equations as the poems of math.

Poems are the most compact, densest forms of language and writing. They use rich symbols to convey layers of meaning in a few words. All of that can make them challenging to read and understand at first glance; one must decipher what each symbol represents.

In other words, poems and equations take a long time to read because they are information dense. Every word or symbol is meant to convey a large number of bits. As a result, ideas are expressed compactly and elegantly. But the reader senses that they are making little progress because decoding and processing all those bits takes time while only a small physical space has been traversed. (pp. 46-47)

In order to survive on Mars, Watney has to optimize the variables to have enough food and enough fuel to rendezvous with ship coming to retrieve him. Multivariable optimization problems are mathematical problems. Linear regression – fitting data to a line – is a simple example. In his book, Andy Walsh goes through a number of illustrations of the pitfalls in optimization problems. Continue reading

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The Forgiveness of Sins

I believe in …
the forgiveness of sins,

On this statement, toward the end of the Apostles’ Creed, J.I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed), Ben Myers (The Apostles’ Creed), Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) and Derek Vreeland (primal credo) offer distinct insights and emphasize different aspects of forgiveness.

Ben Myers looks at the historical context in which the Creed developed. This phrase takes on added depth. Persecution of Christians precipitated a crisis in the church. In 250 AD the Emperor Decius ordered everyone in the Roman Empire to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods and the well-being of the Emperor. Christians (but not Jews) were included in the order and forced to choose. Fifty years later Diocletian (303 – 313) also ordered Christians to sacrifice to the Roman gods or face death. Some were executed. A significant number renounced the faith and performed the required sacrifices. When each period of persecution ended and Christianity continued to grow, the question of the fate of those who returned to the faith led to long and painful debate and division. Should they be readmitted to communion? Do they need to be rebaptized? Have they committed an unforgivable sin (blaspheming the Holy Spirit)? The crisis led to divisions deep enough to result in two competing popes for a time on opposite sides of the issue (Novatian and Cornelius in 251).

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One Church for the World

I believe in …
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,

Earlier this year my husband and I took a trip to Germany and visited a number of churches as well as Veste Coburg and Schloss Wartburg where Luther spent time when the Protestant confession was being debated. He worked on his translation of the Bible into German during this time. Travels around the world and immersion in the history of the Christian church drive home the importance of these two lines in the creed. The church is a unified whole however splintered it may seem. Shortly after our trip I posted on these two lines in the Creed while reading J.I. Packer’s Affirming the Apostles’ Creed, and Ben Myers’ The Apostles’ Creed. (See Holy Catholic Church, Communion of Saints.) Today I will focus on thoughts from Michael Bird’s What Christians ought to Believe and Derek Vreeland’s primal credo.

Michael Bird defines church as “the visible gathering of the faithful for the representation of Christ’s presence to the world.” (p. 194) He goes on: “To sum up the biblical images for the church, we could say that the church is one people under God, part of the story of God’s plan to repossess the world for himself, living in union with Christ and nourished by the Spirit and projecting God’s salvation into the world.” (p. 196) We can go further and dig deeper.

The church is one.

The oneness of the church derives from the electing purpose of God, who calls one people to be his treasured possession. … The church has one head in Christ (1 Cor 11:3; Eph 4:15; 5:23; Col 2:10) and so it has only one body (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18, 24). This oneness entails the importance of unity among those who profess faith in God. Just as unity was vital for Israel (2 Chr 30:12; Ps 133), so it is also important for the church (John 17:23; Eph 4:13). (p. 197)

There has always been diversity in the church. Sometimes this diversity is good, bring a variety and depth to our faith. There is a place for Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Pentecostal expressions of faith. At other times it is divisive, damaging the witness of the body of Christ in the world, particularly when we hold our differences as more important than our unity of belief – a belief expressed concisely in the Apostles’ creed. Continue reading

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And in the Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit

Working through the Apostles’ Creed, the next topic is a one-liner, or perhaps a two-liner if we consider the reference to the Holy Spirit in the incarnation (Jesus was “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”). Yet the Holy Spirit is an important part of Christian belief – traditionally represented as a dove as in the image of the baptism of Jesus shown to the right (image credit). Although the understanding of the original audience was somewhat different that Christian understanding, there is a long history of the Holy Spirit or Spirit of God in Scripture. We can start with Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Derek Vreeland (primal credo), J.I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed), Ben Myers (The Apostles’ Creed) and Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) all include this passage in the discussion of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament references don’t stop here, however.

Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Ps 104:30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

Ps 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Num 11:25-29 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. However, two men, … were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. … Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

Joel 2:28-29 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

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The Linchpin of Our Faith

On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

There are four key concepts in this section of the Apostles’ Creed: bodily resurrection, bodily ascension, present rule, and coming judgment.

The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of our faith – an illustration used by Derek Vreeland (primal credo). “A linchpin is a small locking metal pin that is inserted crosswise through a metal shaft to hold things together. …Without the resurrection in our creed, our faith dwindles into nothing more than a failed human experiment with morality and religion.” (p. 68) (Image credit) J.I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed), Ben Myers (The Apostles’ Creed) and Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) agree with Vreeland, although expressing it somewhat differently. Without the resurrection Christian faith is an empty religion.

1 Corinthians 15:12-35 is a key passage here. J.I. Packer starts by quoting Paul “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (v. 17) In a similar vein Michael Bird points out that “the resurrection is the vehicle of our salvation.” (p. 156) While the cross is important, it is the resurrection that gives victory over death and sin. In addition to 1 Cor. 15:17 Bird points to Romans 4:25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” And 1 Peter 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

All of this is to say that God’s justice, forgiveness, new birth, and life are given to us in the crucified and risen Jesus. A dead Jesus can be a teacher or a martyr, but he cannot be our Savior. We apprehend life only as it is given to us in the life of the risen Jesus. … Resurrection, then, is the power of God for salvation, a salvation that forgives and renews his people. (pp. 156-157)

Packer goes on to point out that our hope for resurrection is contingent on the resurrection of Jesus. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:19) This is the breaking in of God’s new creation. The resurrection “brings [the believer] into the reality of resurrection life now.” (p. 92) It shapes our approach to life, in fellowship with Christians, standing firm in the faith, acting in accord with the coming kingdom of God. Romans 6 connects salvation through the resurrection to Christian obedience – we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. Bird concludes: “In the resurrection of Jesus, death works backward, and God’s kingdom moves forward, propelling us with it toward the new heaven and new earth that lie ever before us.” (p. 159) Continue reading

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