At a meeting affiliated with the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans, I sat listening as a man at a podium spoke most earnestly about the importance of the Genesis creation narratives in establishing the importance of creation-care as a Christian mandate. And he was right.
And, twenty years earlier this would have been prophetic; fifty years earlier it would have been revolutionary.
But in 2009, listening to someone proclaim that Christians should care about the environment, I thought, “Here we go again: Christians finally realizing 20 years after the rest of the world that something is important.” The recent posts here about women have a similar feel: a century behind, but the church will eventually come up with as good reasons as the rest of the world for ceasing its diminutive treatment of women.
This lagging behind has me wondering at times whether Christianity is really any good for the world? Is the world a better place because of our allegiance to Christ? Or are all the moves toward making the world a better place done by others and baptized by us?
There are, it seems to me, three areas where Christians have been, and are acting as, leading voices in changing the world for the better right now–areas where other non-Christian organizations are starting to invest more energy as well, but where we are doing something other than following everybody else’s wisdom.
One is adoption. There is a fantastic article about adoption in this month’s Christianity Today. Most important in the article is the realization that what we say about our relationship with God is supposed to transform how we act in the world. This does not mean, “God forgives me, so in thankfulness I live a moral life by keeping the Ten Commandments.”
It means that the very dynamics of the story are to become the dynamics of the stories that we live our in our Christian communities and individual lives. We realize that God’s love for us is a self-giving love, so we love one another with self-giving. We realize that we are justified by being united with the crucified Christ, and so we accept everyone into our communities who has been so united by faith, Spirit, and baptism. We realize that God’s intention for family is realized when God turns to adopt us into His, and we, in turn, look to the world to adopt its orphans into ours.
A second area is that championed by International Justice Mission as it has sought to free people enslaved in the sex industry. They were well ahead of the bell curve on this, drawing attention of churches to the issues of modern-day slavery and teaching us how to do something about it. Go give them a buck or two.
The third area is peace. This is still not popular, though a vocal minority of New Testament scholars and ethicists are drawing our attention to the fact that God’s gift of peace should be realized in the world in which we live and we should be agents of it. The gospel of Jesus came as a direct rebuttal of Israel’s hopes for a military deliverance. We all know this. And yet, while we are all-too-willing to deride the first-century Jews for not realizing that their salvation would come by military-denying means, too few of us have been willing to believe that God would continue to bring his reign about on the earth by the means of peace.
Those who, like Glen Stassen, are arguing for a Christian vision of just peacemaking are poised to lead into a future in which our heroes will no longer be those whose names are on the victory plaques of the battle field.
Theologically, Protestants have been hindered from changing the world for the better because we have been so focused on an inward piety that we don’t see any connection between that world out there and the new life God is given us. We need to cultivate our theological imaginations with the realization that salvation is not merely about new creatures, but about new creation.
It’s only when we realize that God’s saving hand extends to the whole earth, and is not simply a set of metaphors for our “spiritual” state, that we will begin to realize the gospel-imperative to extend the saving, redeeming hand of God to every sphere of human life.