The environmental movement divides and confuses Christians, keeping us at arm’s length from a crucial arena of societal engagement. Many withdraw from environmentalism as an infectious carrier of New Age ideas. At last year’s Earth Summit in Rio, this was the response of the rapidly growing Brazilian evangelical church. In North America, similar tendencies are apparent in books and articles that dismiss population pressure, global warming, and ozone depletion as pseudoproblems, and belittle specific actions such as recycling or wilderness preservation.

Sometimes these Christian “anti-environmentalists” usefully remind us of the jungle of agendas and ideologies in which environmental concern moves. But to deny the reality of an environmental crisis is an enormous mistake for those who worship the Creator. Such a denial neglects a major human responsibility and withholds the gospel from one of the places where it most needs to be heard.

At the same time, Christian participation in some aspects of environmentalism embraces uncritically an emerging religious philosophy founded on the oneness of all things. In Rio, religious leaders attending a preconference “Sacred Earth” meeting issued a declaration of faith that “the universe is sacred because all is one.” It announced the need “to evolve earth ethics with a deeply spiritual orientation” and suggested that the ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis resulting not from sin, but from ignorance.

Many Christians find it difficult, in the religious pluralism of the environmental movement, to stand against such syncretism. The problem is made worse by the appearance, as Christian works, of books like Matthew Fox’s The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. That work dismisses as an Augustinian ...

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