Readers write: October 22, 2018 issue

October 17, 2018 | Viewpoints | Volume 22 Issue 20
Various Contributors |

Differing responses to Steve Heinrichs’s ‘green gospel’ column

Re:Peter’s Letter to Canadian Christians,” Sept. 24, page 7.

I don’t object to anyone taking a passionate stance regarding environmental issues, but please don’t misapply Scripture to support those views.

Let’s look at the questions columnist Steve Heinrichs poses: “Is there hope? Can God move us out of climate darkness and into a measure of light? (I Peter 2:9) Will a remnant of the church join the bruised and battered who are standing up for Sister Earth?”

First of all, the darkness spoken of in I Peter 2:9 refers to spiritual darkness, not “climate darkness.” It’s a spiritual darkness for which the only solution is the light of Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save those who are lost.

I’d like to ask, “Where in Scripture do we find a mandate for a remnant of the church to join ‘the bruised and battered’ who are standing up for ‘Sister Earth,’ an earth that, according to God’s plan, will be burned up one day and replaced with a new earth
(II Peter 3:10-13 and Revelation 21:1)?”

God’s mandate for the church is to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). I find that this message gets lost when churchgoers become involved in environmental affairs.

I am also bothered by the suggestion that enduring suffering as a result of challenging the “forces of the fossil economy” will bring us “the approval of the One who raised Christ from the dead.” According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, only a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ that endures to the end will meet with God’s approval on Judgment Day.
—Elaine Fehr (online comment)


I want to thank Steve Heinrichs for his creative re-imagination of what Peter might have to say to us today in our context of climate change and other compounding ecological crises. It is an important message to the church in a time when our desire for unlimited consumption fuelled by cheap oil threatens to spin God’s beloved creation out of the balance that enables us to live in our common home.

There is much to say here, but I would just refer to the reformed theologian Steven Bouma-Prediger, who says, “Creation care is not the whole gospel, but without it the gospel is not whole.” That, in essence, is what it boils down to, to say that we believe in God the Creator who created this world very good.

The other issue at stake is a question of genre. Clearly, this is a creative and contextual reimagination to help us read an old and maybe too seemingly familiar text in a new light given a new context. Heinrichs correctly highlights the many political themes in Peter’s letter and translates them into the current context. It is not a claim to definitely determine the meaning of First Peter once and for all, but rather a specific interpretation in time, just like any good sermon is.

I wonder if those who paint Heinrichs as a “heterodox” preacher of a “green gospel” might benefit from an actual conversation with him, whom I know to be a dedicated follower of Jesus who understands the cost of discipleship.
—Benjamin Isaak-Krauss (online comment)

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You missed quoting Genesis, where right in the beginning humans were given responsibility for working in the garden and caring for all living things--plants, animals, the entire planet. Steve Heinrich is on to some wisdom in this age of Anthropocene. Try reading Eugene Peterson's "The Message" for hearing God speak today.

Mr. Wideman, I appreciate what Genesis says regarding God giving us dominion over animals and that we have God-given responsibilities to keep and tend to our earthly surroundings. I also believe that we should be good stewards in all of that. But that wasn’t the focus of my response to ‘Peter’s Letter to Canadian Christians,’ so references from Genesis were not included. (By the way, many thanks to Mr. Bergen for briefly and clearly expanding on the concerns that I had laid out regarding the misuse of Apostle Peter’s letters for an environmental message.)

Now for a few words regarding ‘The Message’ by Eugene Peterson, which is recommended to me for reading. My first unfortunate encounter with ‘The Message’ took place twenty-plus years ago when our pastor’s wife with book in hand, took centre stage in church and announced to our congregation, “Now hear the word of God.” She then proceeded to read a passage that bore very little resemblance to the Bible. A few of us perplexed folks then made some inquiries as to what book it was that had been read from. That was our introduction to ‘The Message.’

Easy access to Bibles through the internet was not yet available, so my husband and I soon made a point of purchasing a copy of ‘The Message’ so that we that could explore this confounding book that had made an entrance into our church. (Yes, sadly Mennonite.) It didn’t take long to confirm that ‘The Message’ is not a translation or even a good paraphrase of the Bible. Anyone who wants the truth regarding this can search “exposing The Message by Eugene Peterson” and/or “comparisons between The Message and the Bible”—you may find the results to be shocking! In scouring the differences ourselves, it quickly became clear that the act of calling ‘The Message’ “the word of God” in church is a very dangerous thing. That quickly proved itself to be correct because there were some who were immediately duped into believing it to be, as said—“the word of God.”

To sum this all up, I consider this book by Eugene Peterson to be the product of a ruthlessly butchered Holy Bible and don’t recommend ‘The Message’ to anyone who is seeking biblical truth.

When Christians refute that humans have a responsibility to mitigate the harm we are causing to our planet, very raw and passionate emotions quickly surface within me. I think this is because, as Elizabeth May described in her October 15th, 2018, speech to parliament during an emergency session to debate climate change (it's a prophetic speech and I suggest you listen to it), we are not discussing some hypothetical future generation. We are discussing the very children we tuck into bed at night--my three young boys that I tucked into bed just an hour ago. And what mother doesn't get impassioned when eminent danger is threatening her children?

There is so much I would like to talk about, but there are two sentences of yours that I feel especially burdened to respond to.

First: ‘I find that this message [of preaching the gospel] gets lost when churchgoers become involved in environmental affairs.’ Climate change, especially if humankind continues its current projection, is going to cause (and is already causing) severe, devastating and widespread drought, famine, and war; millions of people will become refugees in order to survive. As Christians, we feel compelled by Christ’s love (and are explicitly directed) to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked. Climate change is quickly becoming the root cause of the physical suffering of millions of people around the world. As Christians, we cannot be indifferent about this. Spreading the good news of Jesus’ love and redemption is inextricably linked to living a life that does not cause physical suffering to others, and, in this global society, we must work hard to be cognizant of when our actions cause harm.

Second, “... an earth that, according to God’s plan, will be burned up one day and replaced with a new earth.” The scripture passages you mentioned are meant to be messages of hope and urgency--hope that a new earth is coming, and sin and pain will pass away; urgency that we spread Jesus’ message of redemption. I do not think these messages were meant as a free ticket to abuse our earth or have complete apathy for God’s creation and those who live in it. I don’t imagine this was your intent in your post, but this is the message I hear.

Hello Rebecca,
I'm assuming that you are responding to my letter as it appears in 'Readers write: October 22nd, 2018 issue.' That letter is a heavily edited, shortened version of the original which I submitted in response to 'Peter's Letter to Canadian Christians.' The original much more clearly expresses the heart of the matter as I see it. In essence, it deals with a dangerous movement by some towards the "Green Gospel" in which scripture is misapplied, misinterpreted and even changed. I agree with you that we need to be good stewards of everything that God has given to us.

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