Acton Institute Powerblog

God, Man, and the Environment

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

On the occasion of the Earth Day celebrations this year, Dr. Samuel Gregg reflects on the role of people of faith in environmental discussions. The exercise of legitimate human dominion over creation “must be actualized in accordance with the requirements of God’s divine law,” he writes.

Read the full text here.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Peter T. Epes

    I thought this was a very timely and appropriate message as Earth Day approaches, especially considering our roles as believers to be good stewards of what God has put before and around us. Add to that the responsibility to God\’s Word concerning our stewardship, versus that of unfounded and biased environmental discussion from the world\’s eco-radical antagonist view. Not that we should be ignorant or avoidant of such activism. In fact, I would think we should move accordingly with what moves our hearts based on God\’s urging and His principles yet be keenly aware of the approaches, both successful and irrelevant, offered on behalf of environmental activists and therefore, if the two (or more) can accomodate one another and we can find ourselves able in supporting such activism, then we should do so wholeheartedly. But it is God\’s principles, as believers, we should hold fast to in our efforts to promote a healthy and safe environment for our families, neighbors, and creatures around us, not acompromise to the world view of unscientific and extremist environmental bias.

    Peter T Epes
    Cincinnati OH – Ann Arbor MI

  • Tom Jablonski

    Dr. Gregg’s commentary concludes by saying that distancing oneself from the non-Christian and unscientific elements within environmental movements is one way to respect the glory of God’s creative Act, while honoring the human person at the summit of God’s creation. It seems to me that Dr. Gregg has failed to heed his own advice and appears to be basing his theological advice for relating to the environment on a junk science all its own.

    The state of our environment may not have reached a level of ecological apocalypse, but the reality is it is also far from being in a condition demonstrating respect for the glory of God’s creative Act. Dr. Gregg is suggesting that until we reach this ecological apocalypse, the best solution is to continue to allow humanity to plod along believing that God created this world for human beings to continue practicing our restricted dominion over the earth. Promoting the junk theology based idea that human beings are the summit of God’s creation, rather then the real science fact that human beings are simply part of creation, is not what I consider to be a true Christian based environmental ethic.

    Tom Jablonski, P.E.
    Blaine, MN

  • Eric B

    Why can’t we be christians and envirmentalist s without somebody calling me us neo-pagans? We care for our environment because it is a part of life. A healthy earth is more important than the private property rights of some corporation. Bush and the neo-cons support big business because they are rich. Would Jesus support big business or environmental justice? Also the random and senseless destruction of the natural world is a sin. So is killing the innocent muslims to justify freedom and it too cannot be reconciled with any orthodox Christian moral theology.

  • Eric – has it ever occurred to you that protecting private property rights might, in the long run, be better for the environment than allowing those rights to be trampled?

  • Ed Vitzthum

    Dr. Gregg appears to have confused environmental activism with environmental extremism. There is a vast difference in my view. Under the "activist" umbrella we must include the dedicated scientists, researchers and teachers who work diligently not only to broaden the base of our scientific knowledge of the environment, but also to communicate that knowledge in the classroom and to the public at large. The doomsday prophets perhaps can be labelled extremists, but history tells us they often came closer to the truth than any of us care to admist – witness Chernobyl, Three Mile Island…etc. etc.
    Another problem is Dr. Gregg’s attempt to dismiss environmental problems saying they pale in the light of culture of death and its "…war against innocent human life…" I would suggest that Dr. Gregg may wish at some point to peruse World Health Organization statistics on deaths in underdeveloped countries stemming solely from the lack of clean water. Those numbers run into the hundreds of thousands every year. He suggests that "…environmental problems are best-addressed at the level closest to the difficulty." Given that personal incomes in many – if not most – of these areas are miniscule, how will solutions be found to the environmental problem facing these people? If indeed we believe they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, then perhaps we should be asking ourselves, as we observe Earth Day, how virtuous of a society do we really live in?

  • R. Balmes

    Dr Gregg calls on science to tell if or not there are significant environmental issues in the world, with the background idea that it is not true. I have to say that I had that position for a long time being from a scientific background, however reading serious litterature on the topic and not press releases and magazine changed my position.
    So I would challenge Dr Gregg to exhibit serious litterature to prove there are no environmental issues to be discussed upon.
    This is a to serious matter to be given to headlines and superficial judgement.

    Besides Dr Gregg puts a priority call on defending pro-life attitude over environmental protection. I personnaly see roots which are common. A certain ‘individualism’ , leads to a consumerist view of using goods, which leads to unnecessary spoil of environmental ressources. A certain ‘individualism’ which also leads to ‘selfish’ attitude towards personnal way-of-life and giving life. So its not one or the other, its both which should be taken care at the same time, by promoting a ‘culture of giving’. My take is that one can not be solved without the other.

    R. Balmès

  • Peter hughes

    Wake Up Mr Gregg,

    To begin with, let us attempt to have a reasoned argument, and not bandy around supposedly derogatory titles such as ‘feminist eco-theologians’ and ‘neo-pagan tendencies’ in a pathetic attempt to undermine people, without any attempt to confront the issues that they present.

    He makes three initial claims, first that some people uncritically accept the doomsday predictions of ‘environmental activists and some scientists’ may I ask him who these ‘some scientists’ are, it is of my understanding that the vast majority of the contemporary biochemical scientific community are now in agreement over the very negative impacts we as human beings are having and have had over the earth. I ask him. how does he think the 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and 13 million tons of toxic chemicals, we release each year, are being safely absorbed by the earth with no negative future affects. These are not doomsday predictions, these are current facts, he claims critical assessment is required, well yes, maybe he should critically asses the speed at which the polar ice caps are melting away. FACTS not some eco inspired conspiracy. What is his credible contrary evidence to these glaring facts?

    Second that we should treat environmental issues above issues of human life-can he really be missing the point here so completely? It is because we care for human life that we want to protect the only sustainer that we have, the planet earth. I risk lowering myself to his derogatory stance, but he may feel that faith in his God is enough to sustain him, but in my experience humanity has far more use of clean water, proteins and carbohydrates for continued survival. Bringing the contemporary Evangelical Christian bugbears of abortion and euthanasia into this discussion is just unnecessary. Has he stopped to consider the fact that maybe the planet is not intended to support in excess of 6 billion people, it certainly had not done so before the discovery of coal and oil as a bank account of millions of years of energy reserve. Of course i should also allow the possibility that this energy has been created over a far shorter time, say since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, our dates of past earth history will differ somewhat i assume.

    Thirdly, to equate government intervention with the attempt at stalling climate change as a negative thing is quite frankly absurd. I am all for his idea of private property based solutions (whatever these may actually be, it does seem unclear) but to shut off avenues where solutions could be found seems a very strange way to go about solving the problem. I totally agree with him that it is people’s responsibility to protect the earth, but has he forgotten that governments represent the people of the western world (his current government certainly seems to represent many of his interests). These governments could also help. The Statist regimes, by which i assume he refers to communist Russia, did contribute to increasing climate change, but so has virtually every human being in any country in any part of the world over the past 100 years, including himself. This is not a time to defend oneself by pointing the finger of blame, a concept that, being a Christian Dr Gregg is almost certainly mindful of avoiding. This is a time where cooperation of the highest order is required.

    I put it to Dr Gregg that his suggestion to people to ‘distance themselves from the decidedly non-Christian and unscientific elements within the various environmental movements’ is unhelpful, unnecessary and dangerous at a time where humanity as a whole needs to unite more than ever, under a common threat.