Theology is Green: Should Christians Try to Save the Planet? Part 1 (Gupta)

I am launching a new blog series called: “Theology is Green.” This series will be about why Christians should care about cultivating, caring for, and saving the planet.

Truth be told, I used to care little—really not at all—about the earth. But, especially over the last fifteen years, I have turned around on this subject. Yes, some of my habits have changed (I have an electric bicycle now!), but also my attitude towards God, God’s world, and God’s creatures, and the role of humans in this world. We are at a critical juncture in world history where Christians need to think carefully about our place in the wider context of God’s creation. To start off, I want to counter three bad arguments for why Christians shouldn’t care.

Myth #1: God’s going to destroy the world anyway, why bother with the earth?

There are some biblical texts that deal with what we might call cosmic dissolution (e.g., Isaiah 34:4), and it appears that a time will come when earth, sky, and stars are destroyed. But you will probably notice these statements often happen in poetic kinds of settings in the Bible. My interpretation of this is that it is not narrating destruction of physical things and replacement with spiritual things (why bother with the physical to begin with?). Rather, the dissolution language points to the renewal of all things. It is not so much that the earth will vanish, as it will be redeemed. We might say the same things about our bodies. We will have resurrection bodies, and they will be “different” in some ways, but they are still bodies. I hope we don’t think to ourselves now, “Let’s ruin our bodies because they will decay anyway.” No, we know that the gifts God has given to us matter, and we are expected to respect and preserve them.

Myth #2: The Bible is all about salvation, not hugging trees

There is a latent (sometimes overt) Gnosticism in our modern Western theology that tries to divide “spiritual” things (like salvation) and “earthly” things (like work). The biblical view of “salvation” is so much bigger than saving souls for an ethereal heaven. Paul talks about all creation groaning in pain and despair, anticipating freedom and redemption (Rom 8:22). And who do they (God’s creatures) place their hope in? The children of God (Rom 8:19).

Myth #3: The Bible doesn’t talk directly about earth care, so it must not be important

There are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t talk about, because it comes out of a certain time and place. The Bible doesn’t talk about how we use technology (like iPhones), but it would be ridiculous to say Christians ought not to have thoughtful reflections on the use of screens.

There are (2) quick reasons the Bible doesn’t address this head-on. (#1) Because of the importance of agriculture to the economy in the ancient world, it was in everyone’s best interest to treat the earth and animals well. Today, we are so removed from the food/materials production process that we don’t see the damaging steps that have often been taken. (#2) Because of industrialization and advancement in technology, we can do destructive things to the earth on a scale that wouldn’t have been fathomable back then. Think about littering and trash. In Jesus’ time there were no plastic cups, no napkins floating around the streets. There were no cars and airplanes to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, people were cutting down trees, but with machines now we can wipe out forests rapidly.

Questions?

I will have maybe 5-6 posts on this subject, but I am interested in the questions that you have. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist, I am a biblical theologian, so I am trying to engage with Scripture and theology. You can leave a question in the blog comments or on social media. Mean-spirited/jerky questions will not get answered.

 

Reading Revelation in Context: Quick Look (Gupta)

My friends Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Maston have been editing a great series in the last few years: Reading Romans in Context, Reading Mark in Context, and now—Reading Revelation in Context. I was honored to contribute to the first two volumes (Romans, Mark), and so I have first hand knowledge of how helpful these books are.

But I will say—now that I have been able to peruse the Revelation volume—that this seems to me to be the most important of the three. Why? Because Mark and Romans make a lot of sense on their own, by just reading the text and following the story or argument. Yes, of course “reading in context” is helpful, highly insightful, and makes for an overall more accurate and satisfying reading. When it comes to Revelation—to be honest, most of us (including myself) just flip through the pages looking for something that makes sense.

As I have been reading through Reading Revelation in Context, I am struck by how vital it is to have some reading help from “contextualizing” resources from the OT and early Judaism in order to decode some of the unusual language and imagery. Here are some features of this book that make it even better as a resource:

  • Many Revelation experts as contributors: Jonathan Moo, Ian Boxall, David deSilva, etc.
  • Diverse voices and perspectives included
  • Short and accessible chapters w/study helps
  • Clear, consistent, and attractive formatting and design
  • affordable pricing

For more information, click here.

Baylor Annotated Study Bible – Quick Review (Gupta)

Confession: I really don’t like study Bibles all that much. They are bulky and awkward. The notes can feel random and incomplete sometimes. So, I don’t tend to follow which new ones are coming out.

But when Baylor announced their Baylor Annotated Study Bible with Bill Bellinger and Todd Still in the editorial roles, I took interest. Yesterday, I got the BASB in the mail, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts.

First, it is nicely designed, big (2000 pages) but not awkwardly bulky. It is NRSV with Apocrypha which is great for students. Perhaps the question on everyone’s mind is: who wrote the study notes? There are two main features of the BASB: the book introductions and the study notes. The book introductions are written by a number of senior scholars in the field including John Barclay, Alan Culpepper, Joel Green, Richard Hays, Scot McKnight, Todd Still, and NT Wright (the contributors list is long, but remarkably few women, which surprised me). As for the study notes, they are written mostly by early and mid-career scholars, with a few exceptions (e.g., McKnight did notes for Romans as well as the introduction).

Another handy features of the BASB is the end-of-book glossary of ~100 pp, which is a kind of Bible dictionary.

The Apocryphal books are at the very end of the book, but unfortunately they did not supply study notes for these texts.

How handy are the notes for the (traditional) Biblical books? From poking around here and there, I found the notes to be more literary-theological, rather than historical-critical. Although, historical insights are included sometimes as well. I like notes to express consensus views in scholarship rather than the author’s personal take, and the BASB does well on this also.

Verdict? if you are looking to invest in a more theologically-interested academic study Bible, this one is pretty good. Don’t expect it to offer commentary-level information, but for personal use it would provide some “value added” to Bible study.