Highly suspicious. That’s what I was.
I was invited to a meeting whose participants were considering proposing something along the line of “Green Gospels.” After all, I am an evangelical, and being involved in anything that has to do with treating the scriptures with a particular perspective carries with it the danger of perverting the original intent.
Pleasantly surprised. That’s what I was when I attended the meeting with Christians of impeccable spiritual and intellectual character. Under the able leadership – and delightful English wit and accent – of Martin Palmer (secretary general – that title always sounds like an oxymoron to me – of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation), the panel outlined the task. We were to provide a commentary that would feature the centuries-old writings of Christian teachers, leaders, and poets as they thought through the relationship of God and creation. We also could uncover the context within which Jesus taught and the gospel writers wrote.
The emphasis on environmental appreciation is a recent one, you say? Au contraire! We who care about learning what scriptures have to do with nature are part of a long line of theological and intellectual contemplatives.
Just last week someone stopped me in church and said, “Pastor, our small group wanted to do a study on what the Bible says about protecting the environment. But I looked under my topical index and could only find one passage!” Ah, there’s the rub. There is so much historic context (much of it Jewish writings) that underlie the scriptures we have that most of us are unaware of how often the created world is referenced in the Bible.
And the problem is not just a denotative, analytic ignorance. It is a lack of passionate engagement. The gospels are not just concerned with creation as a background fact; creation is a source of inspiration. Therefore, who better to add to the commentaries than poets and mystics rather than just technical biblical scholars?
So we will see this project through. Maybe Christians won’t be the only ones inspired by learning more about the scriptures we have. Maybe those more interested in reading about the environment will be inspired to know its Creator.
Rev. Joel C. Hunter is the senior pastor of Northland church in Longwood, Florida. The “Green Gospels” gathering was hosted by Conservation International.