As Christians, we have a vision of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. That vision is not only for eternity. It is to guide us into hope-fuelled action now.
In August 2021 the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest assessment report (AR6, WG1), an agreed synthesis from hundreds of scientists and multiple computer models representing every major scientific institution in the world. UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as ‘code red for humanity’—‘the alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.’
As a Lausanne catalyst for creation care and director of theology for A Rocha International, I was perhaps less surprised than many at the report’s conclusions. Hardly a day passes without further extreme climate events—floods, hurricanes, cyclones, wildfires, droughts, crop failures, coral bleaching, melting glaciers and ice-caps.
What I did find shocking, however, is the scale and speed that these cautious academics are predicting.
Words like ‘unprecedented’, ‘widespread’, ‘rapid’, and ‘irreversible’ abound in the report. It is sobering to read we’re likely to reach a 1.5°C temperature rise in ten years and that however fast we act now, some changes, including melting ice caps and rising sea levels, will continue for thousands of years.
Alongside this, it has been encouraging to see three senior Christian leaders, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, release a ‘Joint Message for the Protection of Creation’. No evangelical leaders were asked to participate, but the document quotes scripture frequently, emphasising our calling to ‘Choose Life, so that you and your children might live!’ (Deut. 30:19), linking our care for the poor and the planet, and concluding with the challenge, ‘to whom much is given, much is required’ (Luke 12:48).
The timing of this message was deliberately linked both to the forthcoming COP26 climate negotiations and to the ‘Season of Creation’, held each September and now supported by a wide range of churches. Ed Brown and I, co-catalysts for Lausanne’s Creation Care Network, participate in the Season of Creation planning process, ensuring good biblical resources are available. This year’s theme is ‘A home for all?’. The question mark is deliberate. We need to see this world as a God-given home for all peoples and all creatures, a vision of hospitality and security for all that God declared ‘very good’ at creation and continues to show compassion towards (Psalm 145:8-10).
So what does this mean for we who are part of the Lausanne Movement?
It means our focus on evangelisation must not detract from creation care. As The Cape Town Commitment puts it, ‘to proclaim the gospel that says “Jesus is Lord” is to proclaim the gospel that includes the earth, since Christ’s Lordship is over all creation. Creation care is thus a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ’ (CTC I-7-A). In practice, we should grieve and lament deeply as we digest the latest IPCC report and its implications for vulnerable communities, future generations, and the natural world. We should also pray, speak out, and act, as our political leaders gather in November for COP26 in Glasgow. Climate Intercessors and the Christian Climate Observer’s Program, both supported by the Lausanne / WEA Creation Care Network, are great ways to engage, and there are many other initiatives too. All of this is important work, seeking God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.
This must also shape our thinking as we plan and pray towards Lausanne 4, our next major congress to be held in Seoul in 2024. We must seek the gospel for every person, disciple-making churches for every people and place, Christ-like leaders for every church and sector, and kingdom impact in every sphere of society.
The world in 2050 is likely to be hotter, wetter, more chaotic, more dangerous, and therefore more volatile and divided.
This is not only our context for the gospel, it also affects the content of the gospel. We must preach and demonstrate that the good news of Jesus Christ is also good news for God’s creation.
We must hold to the concept of mission in The Cape Town Commitment: ‘the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people’ (I-7-A).
Whilst the scientific forecasts for 2050 are truly terrifying, our hope rests not on technological innovation or political solutions, although both are vital, but on God’s commitment to his world.
As Christians, we have a vision of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, of a river of life with fruit-bearing trees, a new community of people from every race and nation. That vision is not only for eternity. It is to guide us into hope-fuelled action now.
Dave Bookless is a Lausanne catalyst for creation care and the director of theology for A Rocha International.