Environmentalism, Capitalism, Wealth, and Taxation: A Guest Post From David Crater

I am thankful for friends who think biblically and who challenge me to think more faithfully about matters of life that I have limited expertise.  David Crater is one of those friends who has helped me to think through many matters pertaining to church, theology, and now public policy.  I met Dave in seminary, and look forward to continuing to glean from his wisdom as he has recently moved into Southern Indiana.  I have benefitted much from his legal expertise (he finished his J.D. from the University of Colorado a year ago) and his pastoral wisdom (he finished his M.Div in the same year).

Thinking through the issues of environmentalism, capitalism, and other politic matters, David Crater has given much food for thought for Christians wrestling with “politics according to the Bible.”  Consider these four miscellanies.

1.Environmentalism. Both Darwinism and environmentalism are examples of what Paul calls “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator” in Rom 1. Environmentalism is not just subjecting mankind to the creation (though it is that), but abandoning the worship of God for the exaltation of what is created.

2. Capitalism. Capitalism is not utopia, and symptoms of sin permeate capitalism as they do every phase of life. But capitalism is the only moral economic system because the ownership of property is an essential characteristic of human beings as God’s image bearers. God owns everything, but He has delegated ownership to those who bear His image so that they can more fully image Him on earth, and commanded them to use what they own to produce wealth and build things and thereby subdue the earth. This system is what came to be known in modern language as capitalism. Capitalism is not destructive at root but productive at root because it is man imaging God’s ownership and creative activity.

The word “capital” means “wealth available for investment and productive activity.” It contrasts with wealth that is intended for consumption and that therefore cannot be used to produce further wealth. God owns all capital, but if He is going to command something like “fill the earth and subdue it,” His creatures need capital to fulfill the command. Nothing can be created without capital. The earth is the source of this capital God has provided, and the system that arises from the command and the obedience is properly called “capitalism.”

3. The Bible and Personal Wealth. We should balance discussions of capitalism with a reminder that the Bible is very hard on the wealthy. This comes out most prominently in Luke’s gospel, and Christianity has historically been a religion of the lower classes by and large, not the wealthy (cf. Luke 6:20-26; 8:14; 12:13-21; 16:1-13; 16:19-31; 18:18-30; cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19).  Capitalism is dangerous precisely because it is so powerfully productive. It makes people rich, and wealth then leads sinful men to become proud and corrupt themselves and turn away from God instead of thanking and glorifying God for the ability to create wealth (cf. Prov 30:8). Thus Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is not opposing property ownership or wealth creation, but He also is not a shill for laissez faire capitalism. He condemns in the strongest possible terms the pride and folly to which the rich are peculiarly liable. Recognizing this teaching is the answer to the sinful abuses of capitalism and wealth, not a socialistic or communistic utopia that denies mankind possesses the right to own and destroys his ability to create value.

4. Personal Wealth and Taxes. Jesus’ (and the apostles’) warnings against the dangers of wealth are ‘individual and family and church warnings.’  That is to say, they are private in nature, not public justification for public legal interference with property and free enterprise. Indeed, government must defend property and enterprise to make the widespread private charity and generosity the Bible commands even a possibility.

When God warned the Jews in 1 Samuel that a king would pillage their goods (8:10-18), the tax rate He warned them the king would impose was 20% (10% of their grain, 10% of their flocks). In biblical terms, then, a tax rate of 20% is oppressive. God Himself only commands a tenth as the size of the part He wants given back for His own service and worship (Mal 3:8, 10).  The implications of this for modern systems of taxation and government revenue are staggering, and it is no coincidence that as God has been increasingly rejected by US public culture in the 20th century, tax rates have skyrocketed.

May we continue to “provide for ourselves moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33), for only then will our joy be secure.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Will Revelation 11:18 be Green?

On October 7, Harper-Collins will release the newest “designer” Bible.  Written on recycled paper, using soy ink, and focusing on the eco-friendly aspects of the God’s Word, the Green Bible will draw attention to more than 1000 verses of Scripture that speak about the earth.  Drawing visual attention to these divine statements regarding creation, they will color these verses in a verdant green.  Like the traditional, red-letter Bible, this book will make its environmental mark by “going green.”  Concerning the project, Time Magazine reports:

 

 

 

Green runs through the Bible like a vine. There are the Garden and Noah’s olive branch. The oaks under which Abraham met with angels. The “tree standing by the waterside” in Psalms. And there is Jesus, the self-proclaimed “true vine,” who describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a mustard seed that grows into a tree “where birds can nest.” He dies on a cross of wood, and when he rises Mary Magdalene mistakes him for a gardener.

I would agree, sort of.  From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures are very creation-conscious, but always for a larger purpose.  God created the earth for humanity; God sustains and prospers the earth for his image bearers; and one day God will one day regenerate the cosmos so that Jesus Christ and his disciples will superintend that New Earth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28; 2 Tim. 2:11-13). 

Trent Hunter, a good friend and the one who clued me in to the Green Bible’s release, makes several cogent points in his blog on the Green Bible.  He remarks:

Jesus did not enter the earth for the earth. Neither does he redeem humans for the sake of the earth. God’s creative and redemptive purposes are about God’s glory in the praise he receives from those who uniquely bear his image.

I agree.  The pinnacle of creation is the Image Dei, that is humanity, you and me.  However, I would add that while God did not redeem humans for the earth in an ultimate sense.  In another sense, he did.  Jesus died on the cross so that redeemed humanity would again reign over his creation with Him (cf. Revelation 2:28-29).  Thus God is greatly concerned about the earth and its restoration, but his aim in recovering the planet is for His Son and the humanity that his son saved for destruction.  Likewise, God’s wrath is poured out on those who destroy the earth.  This isolated point might be cheered by those who campaign “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”  But in truth, it may be those who are most outspoken about the earth that are in fact destroying it by their idolatrous hatred towards its Creator and Restorer.  Consider Revelation 11:15-18:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
The nations raged, but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth
(Revelation 11:15-18)

In all this green-talk, I wonder what color Revelation 11:18 will be in the new Green Bible?

In John’s apocalyptic vision, the beloved disciple records the words of the saints who hear the announcement of the kingdom come!  They give praise to the Lord almighty, the one who created all things (see Revelation 4:11), and they exalt him for taking his place as the king of the world he created and established.  They praise because the terror of this age, namely the raging of nations, has come to an end, and they sing for joy because God has come to reward his faithful remnant.  And then they announce these prophetic and perhaps ironic words, “destroying the destroyers of the earth.”  In context, the passage reads: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was…for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”  In other words, with the coming of the kingdom (Rev. 11:15), the time has come for the creator of the earth to judge the earth (Rev. 11:17-18), and this judgment is not upon the flora and the fauna.  It is on the quick and the dead! 

Clearly in this passage, the Green Bible would have linguistic reasons to mark the text green: Those who destroy the earth shall be destroyed!  Don’t miss that, Al Gore may say!  However, the question becomes: Who destroys the earth?  Is it those who litter?  Those who refuse to recycle?  Those corporate industries who emit toxins and dump chemicals into EPA-protected wetlands?  Or is it something else?  The Scripture does not blush.  The destroyers of the earth are those who rage against God (cf. Psalm 2).  The reason that the earth is groaning is not because of carbon dioxide, but because of the curse (cf. Gen. 3:14-19).  The curse that has been declared upon you and me, because of our creation-destroying  sin.  Romans 8 tells the story,

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

From the beginning, the earth has been subjected to futility because of Adam’s sin and ours (cf.  Rom. 5:12ff).  And as the rest of Scripture indicates, the only atonement for sin is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Consewquently, the earth will groan until all sin is dealt with and the sons of God are revealed.  Therefore, the environment will not be restored by legislative efforts to reduce the burning of fossil fuels; the earth will not be saved by green-thumbed gardeners, and it will not be saved by a Green Bible.  It will only be saved by the one man who can re-create and resurrect. 

The testimony of Scripture is clear, we are all destroyers of the earth, and we all deserve to be cast into the burning lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), but the good news is that God sent his son to redeem humanity and the earth.  Again, not through environmental policies, but through his son Jesus Christ–the vine, the gardener, and the second Adam–can humanity and all creation have new life (cf. Col. 1:20).  He alone is the hope of all creation. 

So, what about the Green Bible?  I hope that the Green Bible does well in its sales!  I hope that lovers of God’s creation will pour over the Scriptures that speak of creation and the only One who can bring about the new creation.  I pray that as they read the green and the black ink that they will see that the regeneration of the earth comes not by human effort and green verses, but by one man, Jesus Christ, who alone as the True Vine can save us from our earth-corroding sin.  He alones saves.  He alone restores.  This requires more than just green ink though, it requires red blood.  As Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood, their is no remission of sin,” and as Revelation 11:18 makes clear, without red blood there is no green earth!

May we who enjoy God’s creation and His redemption, praise him for saving the earth by saving a people who are saved by his death, burial, and resurrection.  May those who read the Green Bible come to know the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ purchased with Red Blood.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(For further reflection check out: Trent Hunter’s Blog “A Scripture for the Prius Age”, Robbie Sagers and Dr. Russell Moore message Environmental Protection and Animal Stewardship, taught at Ninth & O Baptist Church last year, and John Piper’s sermon on the subject, “God’s Pleasure in Creation.”)