On October 16, 2016, E. Calvin Beisner spoke at Trinity Presbytery Reformed Church in Johnston, IA, on Godly Dominion versus Environmentalism. Beisner founded the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a network of theologians, scientists, economists, and scholars promoting biblical earth stewardship, economic development for the poor, and the proclamation of the gospel.
Beisner began by describing two vivid memories from his childhood in Calcutta. The beauty of a red flowering vine in the courtyard of his apartment complex awakened within him his love for God’s wonderful creation. This second memory imprinted within him the devastating effects of poverty. Because his mother was paralyzed from a virus, a native woman cared for him while his father worked. As he was led several blocks to that house during early morning hours, he stepped over the dead bodies of poor people who had died during the night.
The October 16 lecture focused on threats springing from a denial of doctrines found in Genesis 1:27–28. Beisner defined godly dominion, or biblical earth stewardship, as “people made in the image of God, reflecting God’s own creativity, working together to enhance the fruitfulness, beauty, and safety of the earth for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.” He explored what it means to live out the dominion mandate, how the environmental movement undermines that mandate, and how to recover it.
“Essentially, environment means everything,” he said, describing its etymological derivation from the word surroundings. Therefore, “environmentalism means everythingism,” which he equated with totalitarianism. “Environmentalism…is inherently totalitarian in nature.”
Beisner urged believers to use biblical terms for biblical activities, noting that the adjective “godly” distinguishes dominion from the “careless, rapacious, abusive activity” some wrongly associate with the term.
A biblical view flows from Genesis 1. Verse 27 reveals the essence of man: God’s image, male and female. Verse 28 expands on the mission of man: to multiply and fill the earth, to subdue and rule it.
“But these two ideas, multiplication and dominion, are the nemeses of environmentalism,” he said. “Even many Christian environmentalists,” who advocate what they call “creation care,” undermine the message of Genesis 1:28 by borrowing “without discernment, from a broader worldview,” which they fail to recognize as part of a “spiritual world war.”
Some of this stems from applying a faulty interpretation of Genesis 2:15 to Genesis 1:28. Beisner views this reinterpretation as involving two mistakes: assuming the command was for the entire earth rather than only the Garden, and restricting the meaning of the Hebrew verb to “serve,” which it means only when its object is personal, not impersonal.
“They insist that ‘serve and keep’ in Genesis 2:15 restates and controls the meaning of ‘subdue and have dominion’ in Genesis 1:28—despite the fact that the verbs have very different meanings.”
The threats to liberty and property
Beisner believes the environmental movement, with over a million organizations worldwide and billions of dollars spent on marketing its message, is the greatest threat to the survival of Western civilization with its rule of law, government by consent, and protection of “God-given rights to life, to religious and civil and economic liberty, and to property.”
The threat is particularly dangerous for four reasons: 1) It is not external like war or terrorism, but internal, and perceived as friend rather than foe. 2) It speaks to the inherent spiritual yearnings of human souls. 3) It incorporates strengths from other threats (Marxism’s utopian vision, humanism scientific façade, and jihad’s religious fervor). 4) It encompasses the “vague spiritualities” that have already overwhelmed secular humanism and threaten the Christian faith.
What some have called the Dark Green Religion “divines and resacralizes nature and so subjugates mankind to her, turning upside down the order revealed in Scripture,” Beisner said. “The worldwide environmental movement today unites pagan religion, ecological utopianism, and socialist politics and economics to create a vision for a global government that is the conscious goal of those who lead it…a fundamental transformation of the values, institutions, and practices on which modern civilization has rested.”
Beisner noted that Darwinism attacked Genesis 1:27, man created in the image of God, with tragic results to modern society. “We largely lost that battle, and the sad consequences are obvious all around us,” he said. “Our response to environmentalism’s attack on Genesis 1:28 today must be better.” From 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, he urged Christians to be “wise, courageous, and powerful in spiritual warfare, tearing down ideological strongholds and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
Quoting many statistics, he showed that the last two hundred years have brought huge improvements to the human condition. Environmentalism threatens to “trap the poor in poverty and rob people of property rights” while expanding “oppressive government” and “weakening sovereign states” by pushing toward global government. Although industry provides the benefits of better living, many environmentalists promote abandoning industrial civilization and living ‘in harmony with nature’ as they mistakenly think human ancestors did. “For our ancestors,” Beisner said, “nature was to be feared because it hadn’t been subdued.”
The threat to science
Science is one of the most important tools in fulfilling the biblical mandate of godly dominion, but it is being undermined by irrationalism. Beisner contrasted the rationality of “real science” with the mysticism of “post-normal science.” Science from a biblical perspective views God as a rational being who created the universe and reveals himself increasingly to humans.
According to Beisner, post-normal science is “postmodern deconstructionism” applied to science. This results in researchers who go “through the motions” of scientific inquiry but with “preconceived conclusions to serve a predetermined agenda.”
To describe that agenda, he quoted from an influential professor of climate change, who wrote that “‘self-evidently’ dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth-seeking…scientists—and politicians—must trade truth for influence….. The function of climate change…is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change…to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.”
Beisner said, “The global warming juggernaut is how environmentalists are promoting both socialism and global government…. And because it draws conclusions based on climate models regardless of real-world observations, it is also as irrational as pagan mysticism.”
The threat to faith
The threat to the Christian faith attacks the gospel and Christian ethics, biblical authority, and the pro-life movement.
Many books by environmentalists reduce the gospel from the truth of Christ’s complete atonement and present reign to the mere concept of loving God by caring for the earth.
“It’s true that if you love God you will try to take good care of the earth—and I encourage you to do just that—but that’s not gospel,” Beisner said. “It’s law, and law cannot give life.”
Although some books promoting “creation care” get the gospel right, they present environmental practices as “moral imperatives,” which replace or contradict God’s commands with traditions of man. He said, “So-called ‘Christian environmentalism’ can become a new legalism.”
To demonstrate how the greening of the church undermines the Bible’s authority, Beisner related his experience as a lecturer for “Care of Creation,” the 2012 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Other plenary speakers, two New Testament scholars, were shocked that he challenged widespread environmental beliefs. They accepted without question that nearly 100 percent of climate scientists affirm catastrophic global warming, but that idea is based on an extremely limited and prejudiced survey.
To show how “creation care” organizations threaten the pro-life, Beisner explained how the largest and most influential organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network (heavily funded by the pro-abortion and pro-population-control Rockefeller Brothers Fund) promotes emissions controls as being pro-life. Based on how members of Congress voted regarding emissions, it praised those who voted for controls as pro-life, even if their record was 100 percent pro-abortion. The pro-life commitment of those who voted against controls was questioned, even if their record was 100 percent pro-life.
In response, the Cornwall Alliance prepared a statement “Protecting the Unborn and the Pro-Life Movement from a Misleading Environmental Tactic,” but the EEN campaign continues and increases. Still, a recent news article reported that despite millions of dollars poured into attempts to “green” American evangelism, the effort has failed. That failure was attributed largely to the truths about climate change communicated by the Cornwall Alliance, which does so with very little funding.
Beisner concluded with a call to spiritual arms: 1) Know and teach the Word, 2) Do the Word, 3) Support the Cornwall Alliance, and 4) Pray.
He explained how doing the Word might include helping your neighbors through local stewardship programs such as cleaning up lots, creating community gardens, or assisting with energy-saving improvements. But noting that “America is already pretty clean and safe by historical standards and compared with poor countries around the world,” Beisner encouraged listeners to consider assisting the poor in developing countries. One way is to help them resist pressure to adopt policies that would slow or reverse economic improvement.
“Finally,” he concluded, “we all need to pray for each other and for the church around the world to gain, and to put into practice, sound understanding of the biblical, theological, scientific, economic, and other aspects of godly dominion, to reclaim the blessings of Genesis 1:27-28.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 8, 9 & 39 of the November 9, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.