Is God Green?

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I suppose it had to happen eventually so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Yet, the sight of it raised my eyebrows to new heights.

It is made of environmentally friendly materials: a cotton/linen cover, recycled paper, soy-based ink, and a water-based coating. It was manufactured in a green friendly environment where all air is purified and all water is purified and recycled. It is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. It is endorsed by an ecumenical group of Christians and individuals in prominent environmental organizations.

In case you haven’t seen it, let me tell you about The Green Bible so you won’t have to bother. As a member of the International Society of Bible Collectors, and the author of several books on the Bible, I think I know a little bit about Bibles.

Although The Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008) is based on the New Revised Standard Version, it adds some features to make this Bible an environmentalist one.

First, there is the foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in which he chastises us for being “wantonly wasteful through our reckless consumerism” and devouring of “irreplaceable natural resources” instead of being “responsible stewards preserving our vulnerable, fragile planet home.”

The question “Is God green?” is asked at the beginning of the preface, as is “Are we killing our planet?” The author of the preface is not stated, but he (or she) claims that The Green Bible will encourage us “to see God’s vision for creation” and help us to “engage in the work of healing and sustaining it.”

In the introduction (subtitled “The Power of a Green God”) by J. Matthew Sleeth, author of Serve God, Save the Planet, he tells us how, after measuring his family’s ecologic footprint, he resigned from his job to “serve God and save the planet,” moved into a smaller home, jettisoned his clothes dryer and incandescent bulbs, and began “to preach and teach about creation care all across America.” According to Sleeth, the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:31) “represents those of us who refuse to take any responsibility for environmental problems.” He believes that “creation care is at the very core of our Christian walk.” He further says we can take shorter showers, car pool, and plant trees “as an act to serve the Lord.”

The foreword, preface, and introduction are followed by “Reading the Bible through a Green Lens,” by Calvin B. DeWitt, a professor of environmental studies and author of Caring for Creation. DeWitt is an advocate of the science of climatology and its findings on global climate change. He maintains that we honor God as creator when “Christian environmental stewardship is part and parcel of everything we do.” DeWitt believes that “as God keeps people, so God’s people should keep his creation.”

This is followed by a message from Pope John Paul II. Obviously, since this pope died in 2005, he couldn’t have written something especially for The Green Bible. The editors have printed his message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace from 1990. Clearly, the inclusion of something from a pope is to sucker Catholics into purchasing this Bible.

Brian McLaren, who serves on the board of Sojourners, then explains “Why I Am Green.” He seeks a middle ground between socialism and capitalism while condemning a theology that “focuses on eternity in heaven but abandons history on earth.” McLaren believes that “the more we remember that we are part of the planet, the more we acknowledge where God has situated us.”

The inclusion of Ellen Bernstein, the founder of the first Jewish environmental organization, gives The Green Bible the widest possible ecumenical appeal. She contributes “Creation Theology: A Jewish Perspective.” She maintains that “creation theology isn’t creationism, the belief that the world was created by God in seven days.” Yet, creation theology “can be profoundly helpful to us today, particularly in light of the environmental crisis.”

Ellen F. Davis, the author of Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible, is one of the more radical contributors. Her essay is titled: “Knowing Our Place on Earth: Learning Environmental Responsibility from the Old Testament.” She insists that to be fully human we must first recognize that “the earth is neither a platform for human activity nor a repository of resources to be mined for our convenience.” In her opinion: “Land care itself is a primary religious obligation.” We should care for the soil and water “as one would care for a beloved family member.” And then there is her belief that “we belong to the fertile earth more than it can ever belong to us.”

Other contributions include “Jesus: Savior of the Earth,” by James Jones, a bishop and the author of Jesus and the Earth, “Jesus Is Coming — Plant a Tree!” by N. T. Wright, the bishop of Durham, and “Loving the Earth Is Loving the Poor,” by Gordon Aeschliman, a founding member of the Evangelical Environmental Network. With titles like these, no further comment is even necessary.

In order to highlight the words of Jesus, some Bibles print the words of Christ red. This practice dates from around 1900. In order to “highlight the rich and varied ways the books of the Bible speak directly to how we should think and act as we confront the environmental crisis facing our planet,” The Green Bible prints certain passages in green based on how well they demonstrate:

  • how God and Jesus interact with, care for, and are intimately involved with all of creation,
  • how all the elements of creation — land, water, air, plants, animals, humans — are interdependent,
  • how nature responds to God,
  • how we are called to care for creation.

All of these Bible passages are listed by subject in The Green Subject Index. Also in green are verses that relate to the sun, the moon, and the stars. These are certainly part of God’s creation, but as they are uninhabited and cannot readily have their environment polluted by men from the earth, it is a bit of a stretch to include them with the other “green” verses. The putting in green of verses that relate to caring for one’s neighbor, justice, prayer, and the poor is also dishonest.

In addition to this index and a concordance as found in most Bibles, The Green Bible contains The Green Bible Trail Guide. This is a “series of Bible studies on the main themes of creation care and God’s role in creation.” It touches on “six green themes appearing throughout the biblical narrative.” Each theme is followed by a section called “Walking the Trail” in which are given “suggested activities to help you explore the theme in more practical ways.” The suggested activity for theme three, “Connected to Creation,” is to keep track of your environmental footprint by writing down how long your shower lasts, noticing when you turn lights on and off, and when you use your car instead of some other form of transportation.

Last, but certainly not least, is the resource guide called “Where Do You Go from Here?” Here we are admonished to consider vegetarian alternatives to meat, buy local organic food, recycle, reconsider taking a cruise, plant trees, use public transportation, pray for endangered creatures and threatened plants and animals, live in redeveloped space instead of a new subdivision, and buy products with minimal packaging. Churches should consider holding a “Creation Sunday” worship service or “Creation Celebration,” setting up a booth at an Earth Day event, adopting a local stream, park, or roadway, starting a “Creation Club” for the kids in the church, and holding a public prayer event with emphasis on creation care.

To get started on the road to a green lifestyle, the resource guide also includes fifty practical tips. These include washing dishes by hand, washing clothes in cold water, hand washing clothes instead of dry cleaning them, recycling everything possible, not buying overpackaged items, replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones, disconnecting the ice machine in the freezer, avoiding fast-food restaurants, staying closer to home on the next family trip, and visiting the grocery store only once a week.

There are some themes found throughout the supplemental material in The Green Bible:

  • The earth is fragile and delicate.
  • Man is ruining the earth.
  • There is an environmental crisis.
  • Global warming is a fact.
  • Everything should be recycled.
  • Governments need to do more to protect the environment.
  • To be environmentally conscious is to be closer to God.

These themes all have one thing in common: they are all bunk. See the work of Floy Lilley.

More bunk and dishonesty can be seen in the preface and the selection of “green” passages in The Green Bible.

The writer of the preface claims that there are “over a thousand references to the earth and caring for creation in the Bible.” This statistic is meaningless. Actually, the words earth and land appear in the Bible almost three thousand times. There are very few times, however, when any of these instances actually refer to caring for creation.

Some of the biblical passages highlighted in green mention pollution. For example:

If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? says the Lord (Jeremiah 3:1).

The land here is polluted because of moral activity, not because someone put toxic waste in a dump. Examples could be multiplied to show that many of the “green” verses in The Green Bible are not green at all.

What we are never told by any of the contributors to The Green Bible is that the two biggest environmental catastrophes in the history of the world — catastrophes that dwarf anything man has ever done — are both deliberate acts of God: Noah’s flood in the past (Genesis 7:4-10) and the burning up of the earth in the future (2 Peter 3:10).

It is fitting that the New Revised Standard Version is the version of choice for The Green Bible. It is one of the few Bible versions that says the earth and everything in it will be “disclosed” instead of “burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).

The list of religious environmental organizations and websites at the end of The Green Bible resource guide shows just how far the environmental movement has infiltrated American churches. I knew that environmentalism had made inroads in religious circles, but I had no idea just how pervasive this movement really was until a look at this Bible prompted me to investigate the subject further. I don’t like what I see. For example, in Christian economist Donald Hay’s contribution to Economic Justice: Christian Perspectives on Globalization (Paternoster, 2009) titled “Global Climate Change and the Churches,” he preaches the false gospel of anthropocentric global warming and recommends emission quotas, carbon taxes, tradable permits, reducing one’s carbon footprint, using public transportation, flying less, using less air conditioning, and “generally consuming less of everything” to save the planet.

God’s charge to man concerning the environment is found in the first chapter of the Bible:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (Genesis 1:26).

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about air and water pollution, soil erosion, garbage disposal, overfishing, and depletion of natural resources, but neither does it mean that we should be environmentalist wackos who think we should recycle everything, reduce our carbon footprint, stop driving our cars, join the global climate change cult, and make a god out of the earth.

No, God is not green. But he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). And he has magnified his word above his name (Psalm 138:2). The Green Bible is a corruption of the word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17). A landfill would be the most appropriate place for it.

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