Sunday, May 19, 2013

Careless and Crazy?

The Heidelberg Catechism is a central confession of faith for Christians in the Reformed tradition.  As a "catechism", it is presented in question-and-answer format, and at #60 it pops a critical question: How are thou righteous before God? The answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ, and the following questions and answers emphasize that righteousness or 'justification' is a grace-gift, unearned, unmerited, undeserved - simply received.

Then comes #64:
  •  Question: Does not this doctrine produce careless and crazy people?
If grace can only be received and not earned, won't this remove any incentive to ethical behavior?  Why not do evil that good may come? - as Saint Paul was apparently accused of saying. Or, to revert to the ecological theme of this blog, why bother with trying to preserve and restore "nature", since "grace" will come soon enough and overwhelm it anyway? Of course remarks like those recently attributed to Mark Driscoll ("I know who made the environment and he's coming back and going to burn it all up - so, yes, I drive an SUV") feed into this picture of "careless and crazy" believers.  Having written about this incident myself, I'm glad to acknowledge that Mr Driscoll has, to some extent, walked these comments back.

The same "careless and crazy" question underlies another recent news item: an article in the Political Research Quarterly (Barker, David C., and David H. Bearce. “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change.” Political Research Quarterly 66, no. 2 (June 1, 2013): 267–279) which argues that "religious belief could slow global warming action" because believers in the Second Coming of Jesus see the planet as "ultimately doomed" and therefore work with a shorter time horizon than nonbelievers who have "little reason to doubt humankind's infinite persistence" (sic).

The authors' theological understanding is pretty unsophisticated -  they tell us that "for Christian traditionalists... the planet has no future", and, as a proxy for this "disposable planet theology" they survey people about whether they believe "that Jesus will return to earth someday".  Apparently they are unaware that a belief "that Jesus will return" is no novelty, but one affirmed by all of the ancient creeds of the Church.    As a result, I'd guess that they significantly overestimate the prevalence of "disposable planet theology", but potentially underestimate its influence on those who actually do hold it. 

But those gaffes don't let believers off the hook.  Do we act careless and crazy? Or do we act blessed and thankful? Does not this doctrine produce careless and crazy people?  "Truly a full-blooded doubt" comments Barth (Evangelical Theology, chapter 11).  So, in our stewardship of creation, let's live out the answer:
  • Answer: No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.
  Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

1 comment:

Russ Pierson said...

This is a great follow-up to your Huffington Post piece, John.