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Where does climate science fit in the biblical story?

Last month at the annual Synod of the CRCNA, an overture was advanced concerning a decision made at Synod 2012 about climate change. In 2012, Synod adopted the CRCNA’s Creation Stewardship Task Force’s recommendations on the issue which in-part concluded a “near-consensus … that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity and that human-made climate change poses a threat to the world” (Acts of Synod 2012, p. 803). Ultimately Synod 2019 maintained its 2012 conclusion, and reaffirmed the good work on climate justice being done by members of the denomination, such as through the climate witness project.

I thought that the overture raised an interesting question

Putting aside politics, I thought that the overture raised an interesting question about how the work of climate scientists fit in the biblical story. To the best of my knowledge, the current climate crisis is not really part of the biblical story. This is further complicated by the fact that the predictions of climate catastrophe are largely being made by scientists at secular universities, which are sometimes viewed as opposed to Christian culture. How do Christians reconcile the call to climate action when the call seems so far removed from our faith?

We have good, rational reasons for believing the near consensus of climate scientists. Many of the conclusions they have reached are transparent; the data and methods used by climate scientists are freely available. However, this in itself does not give a blueprint for what we should do.

We have good, rational reasons for believing the near consensus of climate scientists.

Reformed-minded Christians often refer to  the biblical story as a series of acts, drawing on the work of theologian N. T. Wright.  Essentially:

  • Act 1:  God creates the earth and it was good. 
  • Act 2: The problem, humanity rebels against God, ushering in sin 
  • Act 3: God sets the stage for a resolution by setting apart a nation to glorify him against falsehood.
  • Act 4: The climax with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  
  • Act 5: This is where we live, in the world slowly being reconciled with God’s creation.  

The acts narrative helps us to understand that in a perfect creation humanity stewards creation. In 1994, the CRCNA’s Committee for Contact with the Government (CCG) conducted a study into the scriptural basis of climate action called The Scriptures and Land. In this document, the committee noted the emphasis of Genesis 1 emphasises both God’s sovereignty  over all creation, and humanity’s relationship with the land. God separated the earth from darkness and created plants, and animals. He then created humans in his image to live in his creation. Humanity was given its benediction: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birst in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28). God then saw what he had made and that it was very good. He rested on the sabbath.

The authors of the study emphasise that before the fall, humanity had a blessed role, as dwellers in and stewards of God’s good creation. The benediction to fill the earth and subdue it is to play the role of stewards in a blessed place, to promote all that is good about creation and to play a part in cultivating it. 

Humanity was given its benediction

Thinking in terms of the acts narrative also gives insight into a Christian response to climate change through our fallen nature. Human history after the Fall after the second act is different. Scripture tells us that humans rebell and “sets in motion a dispute over who may rightfully claim the status of ‘Creator’ and ‘God’ of the visible and invisible creation” (Scriptures and Land, p. 5). Our history became a story of our failed (or successful) attempt to live in and possess the land, either as masters over it or as masters over others. Land and people became ‘good’ through their utility and subjectedness to humanity rather than as gifts from the creator. 

When Jesus died and was resurrected, he brought healing to all nations and all creation. Today, living in the fifth act, we are called to reconcile our identity as stewards with our fallen state. If we are New Testament people, we are called not to subdue the land for our glory, but for God’s. The impact of greenhouse gasses in retaining solar heat is a well-studied phenomenon. Models of global temperature data back the hypothesis that this phenomenon is happening around the world. We can even observe some of the impacts of climate change in our communities today. 

We are called to reconcile our identity as stewards with our fallen state.

It is clear to me that we are therefore called to change how we live not because it helps the environment, but to repent and live out our calling as restored and renewed people. We need to live in a way that reflects God had originally intended: as stewards of the land, not as masters of it. 


Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash


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