Caring for Creation

My friend Matthew Bartlett recently started his own publishing company, and his first book is The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by retired New Zealand minister Dick Tripp. The 158-page book, which can be yours for a mere $24.99, is definitely worth a read. Actually, “worth a read” is not a great compliment — what this book and this topic deserve is thought and action.

This post is partly a book review, and partly a discussion of the subject more generally. In terms of the book, there are several things I didn’t love about it, but there are many things I did, so I’m going to start with those.

Things I loved

His biblical take on the subject. Chapter 6 through to the end of the book is a thorough look at what Genesis through to Revelation has to say about creation, how God sees it, and how we should treat it. In the introduction, Tripp notes that

It is the revelation of Scripture, what God himself thinks about his creation, that should provide the most compelling reason of all for Christians to be concerned about it.

As well as quoting a lot of Scripture, Tripp shows how some of the big themes of the Bible tie in directly to caring for creation. Some examples: God’s love of fruitfulness, the goodness of creation, humans being made in God’s image, the Fall, an emphasis on “land” with Israel, and the new heavens and the new earth.

It’s pretty simple, really. As Christians, we believe God made the world and everything in it, and he made it very good. The universe is the greatest work of art by the greatest Artist. So we should do what we do with other good art: enjoy, respect, and preserve. And by preserve, I don’t mean keeping it under a glass case, like old art in a museum. The world is living art. It’s the most amazing display of interactive art there is — and it’s not merely interactive, it’s to be cared for and ruled. (In chapter 7 Tripp goes into detail about what “ruling it” means, and what it doesn’t.)

On a related note, although I don’t usually go for bold text in books, the author and publisher have done something I really liked in this one: all Scripture quotations are in a semi-bold font. It makes them stand out, and shows how much Tripp digs into the Word in chapters 6 through 14.

I also appreciate the timeliness of the book, in the sense that this topic — caring for creation, the environment, etc — isn’t something evangelical Christians have been saying much about. We say we’re conservative, but we’re more worried about conserving thees and thous than trees and boughs!

There’s Francis Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man, a really thought-provoking little book, but published in 1970. Then there are a few concerned individuals who’ve said something since then, but other than that, we’ve left the topic to the liberals and greenies! Okay, I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. In fact, Tripp’s book shows just how much has been written and done about it since then — and a lot of that by orthodox Christians.

Tripp doesn’t compromise core Christian truth (in fact, he also authors a Christian apologetics website). He’s big on the message of the gospel: our brokenness, and our need to submit our lives to the Creator and Saviour. He’s clear that if we don’t care for our souls, our care for creation is going to mean little. In his conclusion, he notes that “perhaps the greatest reason for caring for the earth is, simply, gratitude.”

Oh, and I enjoyed his five references to C. S. Lewis. How can you go wrong with that? Seriously, though, Lewis thought a lot about this topic: not so much environmentalism, but God’s care for creation and creatures. In fact, you could see the entire Chronicles of Narnia as a story against cruelty to animals. In the chapter on humans being made in God’s image, Tripp says:

C S Lewis, who wrestled in many essays with the senselessness of animal suffering, argued that is was precisely because humans are higher than animals in creation’s hierarchy that they should oppose animal cruelty. Our superiority to animals ought to motivate us ‘to prove ourselves better than the beasts precisely by the fact of acknowledging duties to them which they do not acknowledge to us.’

Near the end of the book, he also notes Lewis’s rejoicing in the final renewal of creation:

C S Lewis painted a great picture of this in the conclusion of The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan takes the children into a new world. Following a great conflagration of fire and wind they see a world strangely familiar and yet one in which every blade of grass and every leaf on every tree seems to mean more. Everything is deeper.

Thinking of Narnia and animals reminds me of a discussion I had a few years back with some folks in our youth group. Someone said how sad it was that there are only about 5000 tigers left in the world today, when just 100 years ago there were probably more than 100,000. A dissenting voice said something like, “Saving animals is for greenies … who cares if a few big cats die out. They’re just another animal!” That’s not only callous, it’s theologically screwed up, forgetting God made all things good. The tiger is my favourite big cat, and one of the most wild and beautiful animals designed by God — but for every 20, we’ve killed 19.

Things I didn’t love

There were a few things about Tripp’s book that I didn’t go for. First, I’m not a fan of how the book begins. I’ll admit my bias up-front: I’m skeptical of much in the modern environmental movement — if you want, put me in the “fairly typical right-leaning Christian” basket. In the first few chapters, he quotes a huge number of statistics from all sorts of people, some of them very sad, some of them hard to believe, and a few of them almost laughable. Apart from the fact that you can prove anything with statistics, I thought this was an unconvincing start for a book with Biblical Mandate in the title.

Tripp is no doubt trying to use these facts to build an emotive case for the need to care for creation. But for many, beginning with a truckload of scary facts may work against his argument. And a few of the statistics simply need removal. For example, he quotes the WWF saying that “the only nation living sustainably is Cuba.” Huh? Cuba has one of the worst human rights records around. The WWF might as well have said, “Adolf Hitler was a non-smoking vegetarian who loved animals,” which is factually correct, but completely misses the more important issue.

However, plenty of the facts sound reasonable enough, and many are incredibly sad. Just one example: “4 billion cases of diarrhoea each year are associated with lack of access to safe water. 1.7 million people, mainly children under five, will die as a result.” There is a lot to think about in these first few chapters, and the statistics-laden beginning doesn’t spoil the book. As I mentioned above, the rest of the book is filled with Biblical and philosophical arguments for why all this matters.

Second, I didn’t love his general acceptance of leftist evaluations of the problem. This is related to the above: particularly near the beginning of the book, he quotes a whole spectrum of different environmentalists. While I appreciate his non-partisan spirit, the problem with this is that they have very different ideas on how to solve said problem. So much of the time, proposed “solutions” to environmental problems involve stricter and stricter laws. But if the main problem is greed, the solution is not bigger government; it’s getting rid of greed. That’s a much harder problem to solve, of course, but it’s one that the Bible has some pretty good answers to.

Finally, Tripp’s stance on evolution didn’t sit right. He’s dismissive of Christians who “are more concerned with how God created the earth, and in particular in arguing against evolutionary scientists, than they are with our responsibility to revel in, nurture and sustain God’s creation today”. He also says it’s “significant that Genesis does not state the process by which God made the earth”. Hmmm … my version of Genesis 1 states the process quite clearly: God spoke, and it was so.

Sure, I disagree with him on how God created the earth, and that’s fine as far as it goes. However, there are two problems here. First, I think his dismissals are rather simplistic, and he may end up turning away more conservative Christian readers than he intends. Second, it strikes me that the creationist position is actually stronger when it comes to caring for creation. If all of of life (including humans) evolved by random mutations, what is there to make each species so worth preserving, like a unique piece of art? But if God designed and created each type of plant and animal as a work of living art, then we have every reason to care for them all.

That said, I appreciate the fact he doesn’t dwell on this, or make a big deal about it throughout the book. Instead, he simply points people to his earlier booklet on the subject, The Complementary Nature of Science and Christianity (which I haven’t yet read).

Where to from here

Tripp ends with (and I say this respectfully) a good, old-fashioned call to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and Saviour of the world. One of the results of acknowledging Christ, he says, will be a new appreciation of the world in which we live. He notes that while there are many “generic reasons” to care for the earth, Christians have even more reasons — God-centred ones at that:

The earth is of value because it is God’s creation; he has declared it good and he delights in it; he has appointed us his vice-regents to care for it as well as for one another … and, in view of the resurrection, we have assurance that any good we do will not be in vain.

So practically, where can conserve-ative Christians start? Tripp’s book is about the biblical mandate to care for creation, not so much how to care for it, but he does provide some helpful pointers and further reading.

For one thing, reading his book makes me want to re-read Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man. Tripp mentions this book positively in his chapter on Christians and the environment, and it was Schaeffer’s book that started me thinking about the topic several years ago.

But there’s more than just things to read. Tripp mentions A Rocha a few times — they’re a Christian organization already doing creation-care in various places throughout the world. John Stott, theologian and bird-watcher, had a fair bit to do with A Rocha. Incidentally, the publisher’s sister and her husband, Anna and Lynton Baird, recently returned from a trip helping A Rocha in Canada and Kenya. In short, A Rocha seems like a really good place to start for those keen to help “in the field”.

One concern of mine is that while people are willing to talk about “saving the planet”, they are often unwilling to think about things like frugality. I really think part of the reason we use and abuse so many natural resources is because we want as many nice things as the next guy. Call it greed, covetousness, or whatever you want, but Christians especially need to be content with what they have, if not less. Many of our mothers and grandmothers exemplified this, as well as the now-forgotten attitude of “waste not, want not.”

As an American-born New Zealander, this seems to be even more of a problem here in the United States. Everything comes wrapped in a few layers of petroleum-derived product and then double-bagged. “Organic” vegetables that cost three times as much as normal produce are carefully sealed in fancy plastic containers. Every other person on the subway is carrying their coffee in a throw-away cup. Convenient, efficient, and ugly — right down to the litter scattered on the footpaths. P. J. O’Rourke’s quip is very true: “Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”

So go help mum with the dishes. Then check out A Rocha, order Dick Tripp’s book, start thinking about how you can care for creation, and post your thoughts in a comment!

Why I stopped reading a classic

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a classic, or so I’ve heard. It’s one of those books so great and so worth reading that no one you talk to has actually read it.

A 700-page novel is something of a commitment, but I approached this one with an open mind and a daily subway commute. I’ve heard writers are supposed to paint with words, but if so, Dostoyevsky sure uses a lot of paint: five-page dialogues, chapter-length digressions, extensive and unhelpful discussions about religion, the narrator going back and forth in “by the way, I need to tell you about this” blurbs … and the list could go on.

All this in the midst of what could otherwise be a good story: a drunken, absentee father has three sons who aren’t exactly evil, but one of them ends up hating him so much that when the father is murdered, the son is accused of patricide. Sorry for the spoiler — I didn’t actually read that far — at page 200 out of 700 I was annoyed by the digressions, sick of being dragged again and again through the mud of human nature, and just plain tired of the verbosity.

Dare I say this about a classic? Yes. It was boring. Long and boring. Maybe if Dostoyevsky’s editor had studied fractions, he would have cut the length to 1/3 of the original. I really think a 200-page Brothers Karamazov would have been worth reading. After all, Lord of the Flies makes much the same point about human nature — but in a way that’s actually engaging — in a mere 180 pages. (Sorry, English majors, for the fits about my naivety that you’re having right now.)

It’s not that I mind long books. At over 1000 pages, The Lord of the Rings is a good read (mild understatement). And for something I’ve read more recently, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok clocks in at 400 pages, but is a very engaging tale.

So yes, I stopped reading a classic a third of the way through. Actually, the final nail in the coffin for me was when I found out (thanks Wikipedia) that The Brothers Karamazov was a great influence for Sigmund Freud. This was Freud’s favourite book? Ugh. No wonder I wasn’t enjoying it.

So, Dostoyevsky, I don’t know how you’d say this in Russian, but in English we say that “brevity is the soul of wit”. Witty, Brothers Karamazov is not. But then again … maybe it’s shorter in the original Russian?

Loving the Little Years

I have recently been reading through Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. It is GOOD. Every single chapter encourages me and exhorts me and redirects my focus off myself and onto Christ. Off what other people think and onto Christ. Off my children’s faults and onto Christ.

Loving the Little Years

It is funny. It’s real. She doesn’t beat around the bush when she talks about the nitty gritty of raising small children. She doesn’t mince words when she talks about dealing with sin. Not only our children’s sin, but our sin.

If you have small children, please read this book. If you have older children, please read this book — you’ll still benefit from it. If you have grandchildren, please read this book. If you know someone with small children, read this so you can encourage them too.

This book is not a how-to manual, but I have found it to be almost more helpful. It’s thin (and that’s good considering the mental capacity of mothers who are sleep deprived and tending to little people all day!), but rich. It will be the best $12 you’ve spent in a long time!

Rachel, along with her sister and very wise mother, also blogs at Femina. She didn’t pay me to write this. :-)

What we’re doing and reading

Last night I had an audition for the Brooklyn Conservatory Chorale. I’ve been thinking for a while that I’d like to do some music again, but because we don’t have a piano and I decided not to bring my violin, it has to be singing which I thankfully enjoy doing very much! I got about halfway through my song when she stopped me. (Russian? accent): “Stop, stop, stop!” I thought, oh boy, was it that bad?! “Bootyfull voice – yoor een!” (phew) So from next week on, I join them for rehearsals in the evening once a week. It’s going to be fun to do some group music again, as well as getting a bit of time for myself! The only little hurdle is catching public transport and walking at night, but I did it last night and felt very safe because there are people everywhere! I might still invest in some pepper spray just in case. :-)

What else is new here? Not an awful lot, actually. We’re starting to settle in for real now and getting into the groove of living here. The things that provided most of the culture shock when we first arrived are now the things I’m starting to enjoy — the buzz of all the people everywhere, public transport, lots of dinky little shops everywhere, yummy food (did you know that we would have to walk no more than 3 blocks to enjoy Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Senegalese (and other African), MacDonald’s, Nigerian, or Southern cuisine? Not to mention a heap of other eateries!). I think it helps that we’re getting to know the area a bit, forming some good friendships, and that we’re getting settled and involved at church. And we’re certainly enjoying the fact that New York has a lot on offer. There’s always something else to see or do. I’ll share some photos from Little Italy and Chinatown soon. I’m not saying that I feel at home here — I miss family and friends from home dreadfully — but it’s slowly getting a bit easier.

While we haven’t been so very busy, we’ve had a bit of time for reading. Ben’s currently reading Steven Hawking’s latest book The Grand Design that a workmate lent him. He says he’s enjoying it and hasn’t disagreed with a book so much in a long time! Together we’re reading (very sporadically) Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America by Jeff Pollard. We haven’t quite read enough of that one to form any opinion other than that Mr Pollard has a bit of a dry and verbose writing style. I’ve recently finished a fun detective novel by Dorothy Sayers The Busman’s Honeymoon. I quite enjoyed how she splattered all sorts of quotes from great writers throughout the book.

On Sunday night I finished Killer Angel by George Grant, a short biography of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood (or as it would more aptly be named, Planned Barrenhood). While I thought the book had a lot of valuable things to say, I did not appreciate the tone Grant used — his hatred for her was very clear. When I read a biography I like to be given the facts and make up my own mind and I think if you’re a good writer you won’t need to call someone “permafrost” or “demonic” (even if that’s fair) to still bring across the fact that she was indeed an evil woman. She was a eugenicist (hence the development of birth control) who believed that women should be in control of their own lives. Her own life gives us an example of what that might mean: multiple sexual partners, broken and unhappy marriages, children left to be cared for by others for up to a year at a time while she furthered her own interests. In a word, incredibly selfish. No, nobody is their own master. Life becomes peaceful, contented and purposeful not when we’re our own masters, but when God is.

Margaret Sanger wanted nothing to do with God. She could speak well, and her lies sounded so good because they contained kernels of truth. Some of her ideologies are now so widespread they are accepted as the norm.

Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives. So, in compliance with nature’s working plan, we must permit womanhood its full development before we can expect of it efficient motherhood.

She assumed that a woman with more than 2 children lived a drudged and unfulfilled existence, and perhaps many do because they do not view motherhood with a Biblical perspective. If she hadn’t caused so much cultural havoc, I’d almost feel sorry for her.

The relentless efforts of reactionary authority to suppress the message of birth control and of voluntary motherhood are futile. The powers of reaction cannot now prevent the feminine spirit from breaking its bonds. When the last fetter falls the evils that have resulted from the suppression of woman’s will to freedom will pass. Child slavery, prostitution, feeblemindedness, physical deterioration, hunger, oppression and war will disappear from the earth.

In their subjection women have not been brave enough, strong enough, pure enough to bring forth great sons and daughters. Abused soil brings forth stunted growths. An abused motherhood has brought forth a low order of humanity. Great beings come forth at the call of high desire. Fearless motherhood goes out in love and passion for justice to all mankind. It brings forth fruits after its own kind. When the womb becomes fruitful through the desire of an aspiring love, another Newton will come forth to unlock further the secrets of the earth and the stars. There will come a Plato who will be understood, a Socrates who will drink no hemlock, and a Jesus who will not die upon the cross. These and the race that is to be in America await upon a motherhood that is to be sacred because it is free.

(You can read her whole book from which these quotes come, Woman and the New Race, here. I haven’t read it all, but I’ve read enough to know that it’s full of a lot of good-sounding hogwash.)

I hope that times never comes. As Christians we view marriage and motherhood as gifts from God, not as rights. They are gifts that give our lives a certain direction and blessing. We recognise that we are not the masters of our own lives — we are only free when we are slaves of Christ. A difficult paradox, but a blessed one.

On a similar topic, I’m also reading Jay Adam’s Christian Living in the Home which is full of Biblical truth and common sense (as opposed to Sanger’s writing!). I’m about halfway through and enjoying it.

Also on my book pile are books like Honey for a Child’s Heart, Books Children Love, The Book tree, and Leading Little Ones to God. Our pastor’s wife lent them to me to look at some age-appropriate books to acquire for our kids, and just for interest in general. We want to raise kids who love to read! On that note, we read an article recently in the The Wall Street Journal about raising boys who love to read which had a refreshing amount of common sense to it!

Wow, this turned out a lot longer than I had anticipated. I got a bit side-tracked by old Sanger.