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The Green Bible: Environmentalism Gone Awry


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When groups like the Sierra Club and The Humane Society endorse a particular version of the Bible, or any version of the Bible, something is amiss. The Sierra Club and The Humane Society are both secular organizations. There’s a confusion of God’s spiritual kingdom and God’s earthly kingdom going on in these types of situations where secular societies try to "save" the world. And that’s what’s happening with the newest version of the Bible, The Green Bible.

The Green Bible is a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation with "verses and passages that speak to God's care for creation highlighted in green."1 The NRSV is a middle of the road Bible translation, about midway between a word-for-word Bible and a thought-for-thought Bible. It’s not the best translation around, but usable nonetheless. The addition of the green highlighting, and the presuppositions which go along with it, however, create a different picture entirely. While the text of each Bible is identical, the emphasis in The Green Bible is completely skewed.

Judging from the hype surrounding the initial publication of this Bible, the endorsements, the lead-in poetry, the introduction in the front, the highlighted text itself, and the subject index, one can draw some solid conclusions about this "specialty" Bible.

Aside from the obvious marketing designed to make HarperOne (a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers) a tidy profit, the other thrust of this Bible is not related to orthodox Christianity per se, but rather to environmentalism. There is also a pervasive overtone of what might be called a Social Gospel.

Perhaps an easy way to begin is to compare some of the endorsements of the NRSV with those of The Green Bible. First, NRSV endorsements2:
The NRSV is my principal translation for Bible study, sermon writing, and worship leadership. I use it with the confidence that it reflects the highest scholarship and with the joy of knowing that it is embraced by a broad ecumenical community of churches.

The NRSV is unparalleled as a translation suited for the academic study of scripture. By paying close attention to the latest knowledge about Hebrew and the biblical world, it helps the contemporary reader grasp the meaning of the text as the ancient audience would have understood it.

I continue to believe that it represents the best combination currently available of accuracy, readability, rootedness in the historic English Bible tradition, and usefulness within the life of the church.
Now compare those quotes with these from The Green Bible and note the difference:
The Green Bible will equip and encourage people to see God's vision for creation and help them engage in the work of healing and sustaining it.3

The Green Bible is the definitive movement Bible that shows that God is green and how we can care for and protect God's creation.4

HarperOne is proud to be working with the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club in their efforts to protect the environment and the animals of our world.5

The Sierra Club is proud to partner with communities of faith in spiritually motivated grassroots efforts to protect the planet.5

The Humane Society of the United States mirrors the religious principles of mercy and compassion. Through our Animals & Religion department, the HSUS motivates religious people and communities to take action for animals.5

The Green Bible is the first ever specialty Bible that takes the issues of sustainability, stewardship of the earth, what many in the religious community call creation care, very seriously.6

With The Green Bible highlighting relevant verses and offering solid context, we must heed the call to solve urgent climactic and ecological threats facing creation.7

In it we highlight the rich and varied ways the books of the Bible speak directly to how we should think and act as we confront the environmental crisis facing our planet. As you read the Scriptures, you will see that passages speaking directly to the project’s core mission are printed in green.8
Gone is an emphasis on scholarship, careful translation, ecumenicity, and an ability to address the broad sweep of God’s revelation to man. Instead, this version of the Bible is mainly interested in one thing only, the preservation and renewal of the earth. Forgotten are the words of Christ:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 5:39-40

The Bible is first and foremost a revelation of Jesus Christ. From the pre-incarnate Word present in Genesis 1:3, and the first promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15, to the last word of the book of Revelation, the entire Bible points to Christ. While the saving Gospel is present in this Bible, one has to wonder how many people will search the Scriptures, not for a Savior for their sins, but for a Savior for the planet and the oppressed. Mark Tauber, Senior Vice President and publisher of HarperOne, seems to miss the salvific power of the Bible when he says in the introductory video on their website "...the message that this brings is that we’re all in this together."9

Also presented three times in the Tauber video is the usual straw man argument that Christians believe the earth is going to be destroyed, and we can therefore go ahead and trash the planet.

The Green Bible appears to be turning the Bible into a political football. All kinds of environmentalists are treating this Bible as a giant proof text for environmental causes. When Googling "The Green Bible," the first site on the list is a site called EthicsDaily.com. It appears that this is the "official" website for this Bible, because it’s address is displayed as http://www.thegreenbible.org/. Yet when you get there, it is a quasi-religious site dealing with political environmental issues. There are three videos at the top of the page, followed by 66 links to various articles on environmental issues. One video shows various pastors endorsing the The Green Bible, one is a tape of Al Gore testifying before a House of Representatives Committee, and one is of Robert Parham, the Executive Director of EthicsDaily.com, who states "Jesus’ moral vision of economic transformation and environmental restoration was no more acceptable then than it is now. Prophets are seldom accepted in the moment among their own. We have with us today a Baptist prophet."10 He then goes on to introduce Al Gore and present him with a Green Bible.

A look at the online pre-release portions of The Green Bible reveals an offering of two extra-Biblical poems written by Saint Francis of Assisi and Wendell Berry, both of which border on the panentheistic (the heretical view that the universe is contained within God, but that God is greater than the universe). These are shortly followed by an eight page essay written by J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D.11 In it, he describes his epiphany that his life was filled with hypocrisy, having feigned concern for the environment but doing little about it. He sells his large house in favor of another the size of his previous garage in order to decrease the size of his family’s carbon footprint.

His wife asks him what "is the biggest problem facing the world?" His response, "The world is dying." In his search for answers, he "began reading through the world’s sacred texts." He states, "There are many truths to be found on the pages of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Qur’an, and the Ramayana." His search ended in the pages of the Bible, and they "became followers of Christ."

"I began reading the Bible from cover to cover, underlining verses every time they told of care for creation, God revealed through nature, or God interacting with creation. What my reading of the Bible disclosed is that creation care is at the very core of our Christian walk." In this statement he is dead wrong. It is Christ, His incarnation, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His ultimate return in glory that is at the core of our Christian walk. Those who believe in Him as the one who died on the cross in their place for their sin will live with him eternally; those who do not will receive this sentence: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’" (Mat. 25:41) Dr. Sleeth may hold an orthodox view, but he fails to articulate it, instead contextually framing God’s plan of salvation with an environmental cause.

Digging deeper into The Green Bible, the quickest way to get a sense of the actual verses that are highlighted in green is to examine "The Green Subject Index" at the back of the Bible. This index is a list of the subjects contained in the verses that are highlighted in green. Take a look at the list:
agriculture, air, animals, beasts, beauty, birds, bless / blessing, caring for your neighbor, city, cloud, community, covenant, creation, creator, creatures, curse, defile, desert, desolation, disobedience, dominion, drought, dust, earth, God created the earth, God’s glory in the earth, the earth belongs to God, the earth praises God, famine, farm / farmer, field, fire, fish, flowers, food, forest, fruit / fruitful, garden, glory, God’s presence in creation, grain, grass, ground, hail, harvest, holy, home, humans, insects, judge / judgment, land, life / live, light, minerals, moon, mountain, nation, new earth / new creation, obedience, peace, people, places, plague, plants, pollution, poor, power, prayer, property, rain, renew / restore, Sabbath, seasons, seeds, sky, soil, stewards / stewardship, stones, storm, tithing, trees, vineyard, water, wilderness, wind, wisdom, work / works, world
There are the obvious topics that you might expect in this list, such as animals, creation, and the earth. There are also some topics that you might not expect, such as community, caring for your neighbor, obedience, peace, and the poor. The selection of these particular topics is symptomatic of a Social Gospel interpretation of the Bible. These topics, properly addressed, certainly fall within the realm of an orthodox view - when the list stops there though, the Gospel is muzzled, excluding fundamental Christian doctrines. The definition of Social Gospel as found in The Christian Cyclopedia is this:
Teaching of a social salvation whose objective is rebirth of society through change of the social order by mass or group action. Tries to persuade individuals to practice the social ethics of Jesus. Makes little or no reference to reconciliation with God through Christ and to the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. For many it is essentially a this-worldly gospel of works, not a Gospel of grace for this life and heaven. The term "Social Gospel" is inadequate, since it is hard to separate "social" from "individual" gospel when applied to Christian life. ...Critics of the Social Gospel see in it an idealistic, purely humanitarian, falsely optimistic, utopian and pacifistic, social reformist movement not essentially Christian (since it bypasses essential elements of Christian doctrine and life).12
These themes are also those commonly found in the more liberal branch of the Emerging Church, and explains why there are essays in The Green Bible by Emerging Church favorites Brian McLaren and N. T. Wright, the poems by St. Francis of Assisi and Wendell Berry, and an endorsement on the cover by Walter Brueggemann.

Those in the Emerging Church who promote a Social Gospel offer a false eschatological framework.13 Their view emphasizes earth keeping, renewal, community, and social justice, while excluding an orthodox view of God’s ultimate judgment in the future when Christ returns. A Social Gospel cannot save, because it is a Gospel of works. Here are a few examples of the Emerging Church leader’s views of God’s creation and purposes:
It is the job of the church to lead the world in affirming and, more important, enjoying the goodness of creation. We are not going somewhere else at the end of time, because this world is our home. And our home is good. One of the most tragic things ever to happen to the gospel was the emergence of the message that Jesus takes us somewhere else if we believe in him.14    –Rob Bell

New Light communities extend the sense of connectionalism to creation and see themselves as members of an ecological community encompassing the whole of creation. "This is my body" is not an anthropocentric metaphor. Theologian/feminist critic Sallie McFague has argued persuasively for seeing Earth, in a very real sense, as much as a part of the body of Christ as humans.15    –Leonard Sweet

...when God sees his creation, he sees (along with individuals) the unifying, inclusive realities of the group, family, community, church, ecosystem, planet, or universe - realities that enhance and enrich, not obliterate, the value of the individuals who constitute these larger realities.16    –Brian McLaren

But for Jesus and for most of his contemporaries, the ultimate hope beyond death was not to live forever in a timeless disembodied state away from the earth. Instead, they anticipated resurrection, an embodied state within this creation in a new era or age when present wrongs would be made right.17    –Brian McLaren

What does the gospel have to say about the global economy, about the growing gap between rich and poor, about stewardship of the environment, about the growing threat of violence from both terrorists and anti-terrorists?18    –Brian McLaren

Even if only a few would practice this new way, many would benefit. Oppressed people would be free. Poor people would be liberated from poverty. Minorities would be treated with respect. Sinners would be loved, not resented. Industrialists would realize that God cares for sparrows and wildflowers–so their industries should respect, not rape, the environment....The kingdom of God would come....19    –Brian McLaren
McLaren’s views are a form of liberation theology. As Pastor Bob DeWaay states,
The practice that McLaren found to inform his theology leads him to what appears to be a version of "liberation theology" in which God comes to judge oppressive systems. He does so by bringing "truth and justice" into our deceived world and liberating us from the vicious cycle of injustice we created in this world. ...Salvation is about being taught to live a better way (for the sake of others and planet earth). ...So for McClaren [sic] the mission is to save the world in a social and environmental sense, not to rescue lost sinners from a lost and dying world that God is going to destroy in judgment.20
While caring for the environment is certainly a worthy enterprise, it is not done through the Church, but through our vocations in the earthly kingdom. When the two kingdoms are mixed, the result is a confusion of Law and Gospel that falls short of the truth. People begin to think that environmental and social justice messages are the sum and substance of the Gospel. Note again, God’s Word does speak to the care taking of the earth, but that stewardship occurs through our vocations on a secular level. God’s Church is strictly limited to the proclamation of the Gospel. While the Bible should certainly inform our views on such things as politics and environmental affairs, it is God’s rule of the world (His earthly kingdom) through government and ordinary citizenship via the Law that these things occur. To wave a Bible around and use it as a political tool is a confusion of the two kingdoms.

Those promoting The Green Bible would have you believe that the biggest problem in the world is that the world is dying. Their message is not a Biblical one. The biggest problem in the world is sin. The decay and bondage of the earth will not be brought to an end by our actions. As Christians, we know that our battle with our sinful nature has already been won by the one who took on human flesh and became sin for us. But we, like creation itself, wait with eager longing for the day when Christ will return, and all things will be made new. Until that day, we are daily made new, not by focusing on earth care, but by focusing on our Baptism. Through our Baptism we know that we have been redeemed, and that Christ working in us through His Spirit moves us to care for our fellow man, and thus indirectly for our planet.

The presuppositions you make have a lot to do with the conclusions you reach. Martin Luther and John Calvin viewed the Bible with different presuppositions, and therefore arrived at markedly different theological conclusions. In the same way, if you view the Bible as a guide book for creation care, or as a vehicle for the liberation of oppressed peoples, your conclusions will be different from the truth of the Gospel.

The Green Bible is printed on recyclable paper, and has recyclable bindings. The ink is soy based. If it’s nothing more than another book designed to aid in the promotion of a green gospel, why not recycle it. It’s designed to be thrown away. If, on the other hand, it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, it is something much more.

The best advice to The Green Bible reader is to stick your green-letter edition of the Bible on the shelf, or even recycle it. Instead, pick up a black-letter edition Bible, where there are no presuppositions built into the text.

The good news is that even The Green Bible contains the actual words of God, and those words do have power. They have the power to convict us of our sin, cause us to repent, and believe the Gospel. God will accomplish His purposes. For those who heed His Word, streams of living water will flow from them.
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11


Written by Scott Diekmann

More articles on truth claims within Evangelicalism can be found here.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Endnotes

1.     The Green Bible home page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://greenletterbible.com/index.php>.

2.     NRSV endorsements page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://www.nrsv.net/endorsements.html>.

3.     The Green Bible home page

4.     The Green Bible about page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://greenletterbible.com/about.php>

5   The Green Bible get involved page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://greenletterbible.com/getinvolved.php>.

6.     Video of Mark Tauber, Senior Vice President and publisher of HarperOne. The Green Bible home page.

7.     Larry Schweiger, president and CEO, National Wildlife Federation HarperCollins browse inside page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061627996>.

8.     HarperCollins browse inside page

9.     The Green Bible home page

10.   EthicsDaily.com, Green Bible page, 07 Oct 2008 <http://www.ethicsdaily.com/static.cfm?mode=thegreenbible>.

11.   HarperCollins browse inside page

12.  "Social Gospel," Christian Cyclopedia, Erwin L. Leuker, et. al., eds, Concordia Publishing House, 2000, 08 Oct 2008 <http://www.lcms.org/ca/www/cyclopedia/02/display.asp?t1=S&word=SOCIALGOSPEL>.

13. For a thorough review of the Emerging Church’s Social Gospel, go here: http://www.soundwitness.org/evangel/emerg_6_social.htm

14.   Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) 171.

15.  Leonard Sweet, Quantum Spirituality: A Postmodern Apologetic (Dayton, OH: United Theological Seminary, 1991) 124.
Available for free download at: http://www.leonardsweet.com/Quantum/.

16.  Brian D. McLaren, The Church on the Other Side (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, 2000) 34.

17.  Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2006) 184 .

18.   Brian McLaren, interview with R. Alan Streett, "An Interview with Brian McLaren," Criswell Theological Review, 3.2, Spring 2006, 7, 10 Mar 2007.

19.  Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) 121-122.

20.  Bob DeWaay, "Emergent Delusion: A Critique of A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren," Critical Issues Commentary, Twin City Fellowship, Mar/Apr 2005, No. 87, 07 Oct 2008.