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Climate Change and Christian discipleship 

Is climate change a key issue about which Christians should be concerned or simply a distraction from more pressing Gospel issues? Former Baptist Union President John Weaver reflects

In September 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its fifth report. Sir John Houghton, who is a well-known Christian activist and former member of Kidlington Baptist Church, Oxford, had chaired the Science Working Group of the IPCC for the previous two reports and noted the following points:

Global warming/scottchan/freedigitalphotos.net
  • It is extremely likely (i.e. more than 95 per cent probability) that human influence on climate caused most of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951-2010.
  • There is high confidence that this has led to warming of the ocean, melting of snow and ice, a rise in global mean sea level and to more climate extremes with increased intensity.
  • Further warming will result from continued emissions of greenhouse gases, causing changes in all parts of the climate system. Considerable reduction will be required if climate change is to be limited.

As Climate change continues, it is the poorest in our world who will suffer the most, and so for Christians this is an issue of justice. The media picked up some of the key concerns for people around the world:

  • For farming there will be more droughts, more floods, less reliable rain, and more water shortages which will mean worse harvests and higher food prices for most regions.
  • There will be more frequent storm surges, coastal flooding, and increasing rise in sea-level. It will be harder for many fisheries to make a living, especially tropical ones, as the seas get warmer and more acidic, and coastal ecosystems change.
  • Heatwaves will pose increasing risks to health and lead to premature deaths. There will also be the dangers of violence as unstable food prices and more competition for resources will make conflict more likely. More people will be forced to move to make a living, and more people will be at risk from water-borne diseases.

Genesis 1-11 presents us with the picture of God the creator and covenant maker. The Psalms develop this further and express creation’s praise (cf. Psalm 19; 104). The Prophets describe human rebellion in breaking the covenant and the resulting destruction of creation (see Isaiah 24).

But God’s covenant with creation remains our true and enduring hope. Genesis 8:21-22 assures us that lasting change will depend on God’s activity in the face of human wickedness. This provides the backdrop for the crucial Old Testament laws of Sabbath and Jubilee – principles which Jesus re-affirms in the Gospel Sermon in the Mount. They offer us three principles for farming and food production:

  • sharing – with the poor;
  • caring – for the earth;
  • restraint – of power and wealth. 

As we expose our contemporary situation to their scrutiny; we recognise that there are imbalances in the world food system, there is unfair trading, and a growing industrialization of agriculture, which is destroying the environment. Instead of keeping the Sabbath we have a ‘Sabbath-less society.’

To be a Christian is to be involved in Christ’s mission of redemption of the whole world. Every person is made in God’s image; every person is offered his grace and, in turn, the opportunity to labour together with God in the creation and recreation of the world.

Christians have a contribution to make. God created and entrusted the earth to humanity, and will redeem the whole of creation (Rom.8:19-21) In Christ there is a new creation, but as ever in the New Testament, there is a now but not yet aspect. We see the first fruits of the Spirit, but still creation groans as it waits for God’s human creatures to reach their perfect humanity (Romans 8:18-23).

Paul places the redemption of human beings in the context of the redemption of the whole creation. Creation is brought back into relationship with God through the cross (Colossians 1:15-20). This takes place as human beings find their restored relationship with the Creator, through the cross; living as hopeful disciples.

It is this ultimate hope in God’s promises and purposes that is the foundation of Christian Discipleship. We live as those who are made in the image of God and cooperate with God’s transformative action in and for the world. God is no absentee landlord but deeply and passionately involved in his world; accompanying, incarnate and present as Holy Spirit.

The Gospel narrative that emerges from the New Testament is one that encompasses the whole of creation – if we are to call ourselves a Gospel people, the condition and wellbeing of creation is not something to be ignored.

The Revd Dr John Weaver is the Chair of the John Ray Initiative: connecting environment, science and Christianity
He was President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain 2008-9

Baptist Times, 01/12/2014
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