Christianity & Environmentalism: Living Faithfully in the Age of Efficiency
The 21st Century: A Culture of Efficiency
Many have described the 21st century as “busy”. There are emails to check, bills to pay, kids to feed, grass to cut, work to finish, ad nauseam. As a result, people view the standard of efficiency as a good thing. And indeed it is! It is no wonder that we appreciate people who arrive to a meeting on time or who are not unnecessarily wasteful. Whether in the context of time constraint, environmental abuse and waste, or some other circumstance, efficiency is encouraged.
The term efficiency has been defined in numerous ways. Some define it as an effort to achieve the greatest degree of productivity with the least degree of expense—economic efficiency. Others render it an effort to be punctilious, time-conscious, and organized—time efficiency. Still others consider it someone’s effort to conservatively utilize resources—environmental efficiency.
However, at its most basic level, efficiency is a value judgment. Paul Heyne describes it as the “relationship between the value of the ends and the value of the means” . For example, Steve may believe it to be more economically efficient to rent a film from a movie kiosk. After all, it is cheaper than other avenues. On the other hand, Tom may believe it more efficient to rent a film from an on-site store location. He reasons that the more expensive rental price is worth the value of human interaction with an on-site employee, an option otherwise unavailable had he rented it from a movie kiosk .
As a result, efficiency is desirable only to the degree at which its application does not conflict with a person’s value system. In other words, it is not an incontrovertible standard. It has limitations. Rather it is a medium by which to achieve an end result. Hence the Christian should weigh the standard of efficiency in any given situation against his/her Christian worldview before exercising its utility.
Environmentalism and the Christian Worldview: Can the Two Co-exist?
While efficiency may apply to many scenarios, one such scenario is the environment. Exhortations to recycle or to “Go Green” illustrate a noble effort toward environmental efficiency. However, because modern environmental movements are often politically motivated, many Christians automatically dismiss such exhortations (or are otherwise suspicious, at best). Yet this reaction is unwarranted since it makes the ad hominem fallacy . It is a logical fallacy to attack environmental exhortations just because someone of a variant political ideology promotes it. Ought not the merits of the argument be considered, rather than the fact that persons of a different political or philosophical opinion often advance the view?
The foremost Scriptural base for a Christian, environmental position reads:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over ever creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” Gen. 1:26-28, ESV.
Encompassed within this proclamation is humankind’s responsibility to exercise good stewardship over the created order. Francis Schaeffer writes that nature “is not our own. It belongs to God, and we are to exercise our dominion over these things not as though entitled to exploit them, but as things borrowed or held in trust. We are to use them realizing they are not ours intrinsically. Man’s dominion is under God’s dominion” . It is from this foundation that Christians may develop a healthy environmentalism that is consistent with a Christian worldview.
Christian author J.R.R. Tolkien also illustrates an environmental concern through fiction . In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, an evil wizard named Saruman constructs the industrial fortification Isengard by breeding axe-wielding orcs to cut down the trees in Fangorn Forest. Tolkien effectuates justice upon Saruman when the tree herders (known as Ents) take back the forest by destroying Isengard . Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Frodo Baggins and company return from saving Middle Earth to find that an evil overlord has taken residence in the Shire. The hobbits discover that the overlord is Saruman, who had fled to the Shire after the Ents destroyed Isengard. Trees, gardens, and wood huts have been exchanged for machinery, industry, and brick buildings. Thus the hobbits, like the Ents, take back their homeland and restore it to its former agrarian setting .
More recently, pastor, teacher, and theologian Russell D. Moore has stated:
God cares about the Creation . . . He displays himself in nature, and so the more that people are distanced from the Creation itself and the more people become accustomed to treating the Creation as something that is disposable, the more distanced they are from understanding who God is . . . People are designed to be dependent on Creation and upon the natural resources around us . . . In order to love future generations, in order to love cultures, we have to love the ecosystems that support those things . . . I think it’s good for evangelical Christians to be pulled in multiple directions, if being pulled in directions means that we’re thinking through issues from a biblical point of view, rather than from a purely political point of view .
Critics are reminded that love of the created order does not equate with worship of the created order. They are not the same and should not be confused. Another recent example of conservative, Baptist efforts to achieve a Christian environmentalism includes “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change” .
The point of this essay is not to point to a particular action and state whether it is a good example of Christian, environmental stewardship. Rather it is to bring a healthy awareness to the problem. Nonetheless, efforts to conserve resources in our culture of efficiency are abundant. For example, the increased quantity of electronic publications such as online journals, magazines, and newspapers illustrate a noble effort to use less paper. Other examples of environmental efficiency include recycling, carpooling, and using compact fluorescent light bulbs (instead of the traditional incandescent bulbs) .
Christians should care for the environment, first and foremost, because God has placed us as stewards over it. Beyond that, Christians should conserve it for the sake of their witness to the fallen world and for future generations. For Christians, environmental efficiency is desirable only to the degree at which its application does not conflict with the Christian worldview. Application of it thus has limitations. However, shy of such an overemphasis, environmental efficiency ought to be practiced by Christians. It is consistent with Scripture and it is consistent with the biblical call to stewardship.
 Paul Heyne, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, available at http://econlib.org/library/Enc/Efficiency.html, accessed on 3 August 2010.
 It is not my intention to advocate one position over another by this illustration. Rather it is to illustrate the point that efficiency is, fundamentally, a value judgment.
 The ad hominem (literally “to the person”) fallacy states the following: It is a logical fallacy to attack a position/viewpoint by focusing a) upon the proponent of that position/viewpoint or b) upon his/her motives, rather than focusing on the actual merits that position/viewpoint.
 Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, 1970, p. 69.
 For those who may ask whether Tolkien intended the interpretations advanced in this paragraph, readers may consult the following publications: Tolkien, J.R.R. Carpenter, Humphrey and Christopher Tolkien, eds. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981; Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1977; and Dickerson, Matthew and Jonathan Evans. Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006. The Introduction to Ents, Elves, and Eriadori, for example, reads, “In The Lord of the Rings especially, but more broadly in his Middle-earth legendarium . . . [Tolkien] provides a deep and complex ecological vision incorporating many elements and spanning a broad spectrum of approaches, including positions compatible with both conservation and preservation in modern environmentalism” (xvi). Tolkien himself comments in a letter he composed in 1951 that his Middle-earth writings, which include The Lord of the Rings, were (at least in part) a response to the modern world that exchanges agrarianism with industry and technology, the countryside with factories and pollution. 1
 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), pp. 571-604 (Bk. III, Ch. IV, “Treebeard”) and 695-714 (Bk. III, Ch. IX, “Flotsam and Jetsam”).
 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), pp. 1244-1272 (Bk. VI, Ch. VIII, “The Scouring of the Shire”).
 Russell D. Moore, Seminary Prof says Gulf Oil Spill Could Be Wakeup Call for Evangelicals, available athttp://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5287/53/, accessed on 3 August 2010.
 I am not stating that Arminian, Baptist Christians ought to adhere to each and every view herein put forth by our Southern Baptist brethren. I’m simply making note of recent concerns and efforts to develop a Christian ethic on the environment. Nonetheless this declaration includes four statements: 1) Humans Must Care for Creation and Take Responsibility for Our Contributions to Environmental Degradation; 2) It Is Prudent to Address Global Climate Change; 3) Christian Moral Convictions and Our Southern Baptist Doctrines Demand Our Environmental Stewardship; and 4) It Is Time for Individuals, Churches, Communities and Governments to Act. Some of the signatories to this document include, but are not limited to, Drs. Danny Akin, Timothy George, and J.D. Greear.
 Other examples of environmentally conscious acts may be researched online.
For Further Reading on Christian Ecology and Environmentalism:
Berry, Wendell. Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.
Dreher, Rod. Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots.
New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.
Land, Richard. The Earth is the Lord’s: Christians and the Environment. Nashville, Tennessee:
The Broadman Press, 1992.
Schaeffer, Francis. Pollution and the Death of Man. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1970.
Sorrell, Roger D. St. Francis of Assisi and Nature: Tradition and Innovation in Western
Christian Attitudes Toward the Environment. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.