Unshackling the American Church: Treasuring the Creator’s Handiwork


Forest brookIt took me a minute to figure out the plastic emblem on the car I saw this afternoon. Where one would normally see an “ICHTHUS” or “DARWIN” sat an iconic piece of vehicular propaganda altogether different. Emblazoned with an “FSM” in its center, it looked vaguely crab-like. And then it hit me: Flying Spaghetti Monster .

If you’re not familiar with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, it’s the creation of anti-Intelligent-Design folks who say that the Designer advocated by ID supporters could just as well be a Flying Spaghetti Monster and not the God of the Bible.  While some of us may bristle at the notion that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the world we now live in, that particular form of idolatry isn’t far from what many ardent Christians believe—if their reaction to the created world is any indication.

I worked in Christian Camping ministry for a number of years in various roles. My first job was as a counselor. I’ll never forget that first cabin of sixth-grade boys from the Cleveland area. They embarrassed a girl I was crazy about who also worked there, but I shrugged that one off. But when they removed a bird’s nest (cardinals, if I remember correctly) from my cabin’s porch rafters and smashed the newborn birds underfoot, “livid” could not describe my emotional state. As an avid birder with a long life list and several years of teaching outdoor education to children, I revealed the full wrath of Dan and scared those boys so much that afterwards they pretty much flinched whenever I looked at ’em the wrong way.

Boys who nonchalantly kill birds God gave us to enjoy in plumage and song grow into men who cavalierly bulldoze the prairies to put in another WalMart. (“Because we all have to have more cheap stuff.”) Sadly for us, those boys of summers long past may have grown to become the pillars of our churches today. What else explains the rampant disregard so many Christians have for the world God created ?

It’s beyond my ken, frankly. I don’t understand why I’ve chalked up at least a dozen instances in the last three years of occupants of  Jesus-bumper-stickered cars plastered with every form of Christomemorabilia tossing garbage out their windows on the highway near my home. I don’t get how an Evangelical politician whose plank is “God, Guns, and Good Government” can be touting care of the natural world one day and advocating strip mining the next.

No matter how you slice that kind of throwaway mentality, it comes down to one thing: self-centeredness.

The narcissist who tosses his full load of McDonald’s leftovers out his car window thinks nothing of others. And it’s not just the ignored people whose properties become the final resting place of his trash. It’s the God he supposedly serves, too. The first command of God to man is to steward the Creation. Depositing trash all over that Creation spits in the face of the Creator by questioning God’s calling of that Creation “good.” Choosing to despoil Creation says, “God may have called it ‘good,’ but since when is He the arbiter of what is good? Aren’t I the master of my surroundings?”

The litterbug is an easy target, though.

The person who believes that the natural world exists only to satisfy our cravings, on the other hand, is a more subtle monster. I see him all the time in church settings. He’ll fully acknowledge that God is the Creator but then turns God into a figurative Flying Spaghetti Monster by insisting that the created has no purpose other than its economic value to us. In other words, the value of God’s created world is found not in any intrinsic value God bestowed upon it, but only what it can give us monetarily.

The value of the meadow lies only in the oil underneath it. The value of the walnut tree is only in its expensive wood. A chicken’s value is only in the eating. A dog’s value is only in protecting the household valuables. A great horned owl’s value is…well, does it have any monetary value? What does owl taste like? (For a satirical look at the end result of this kind of thinking, consider this classic.)

When we consider only what something can do for us, ignoring any other value that God might give it, that’s called utilitarianism. The meaning for a Christian is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” The meaning for a utilitarian is “The ends justifies the means.” Look how often Christians, particularly those in positions of authority, function out of utilitarian thinking and not a godly worldview that sees meaning at a deeper level. The inherently self-centered worldview of utilitarianism is at extreme odds with a truly Christian worldview that believes that created things have worth beyond their economic value because God invested them with worth and meaning.

The end result of utilitarianism is euthanasia of the unnecessary elderly, the aborting of useless unborn children, the wholesale pillaging of natural resources just because they’re there, and a coarsening of all societal constructs and culture that do not provide immediate, personal gratification.

Does anyone else find it strange that Christians protest euthanasia, abortion, and the coarsening of our nation, but bring up caring for the natural world and it’s “Hey, is that going take money out of my wallet?”

Think about the following verse in light of our stripping of the natural world of any value except the monetary:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
—1 Timothy 6:10a ESV

By nature utilitarians are consumers, not producers. We Christians decry utilitarianism, but the fact that so many of us are sitting in church asking “What’s in it for us?” exposes the utilitarian underbelly in modern Christianity, especially in churches that identify with man-centered, “Gospel-lite” Church Growth Movement principles.

Oddly enough, though, many of the strong opponents of the Church Growth Movement are ridiculously utilitarian when it comes to Creation. They may quote truckloads of Scriptures that include references to the created, but they too take a utilitarian approach by opposing anyone who questions whether we should conserve the natural or not. To even think about environmental issues is to take too much time away from spreading the Gospel. This kind of foolish one-dimensional thinking leads those folks into maddening inconsistencies, though. They certainly find time to take a shower several times a week, but to give two seconds to choose recycling over tossing something in the garbage can is too much to ask—as if it’s somehow okay to be clean on the outside while the world around us becomes a dump.

You’ll also find that same blasé attitude in Christians who say it’s all going to burn in the end, so let’s roast ivory-billed woodpeckers over campfires made from old-growth forests. Again, we see a utilitarian approach that finds no inherent meaning in anything God made.

Earlier in this series, I noted that Satan opposes God by seeking to destroy meaning. If the typical Christian’s belief on Creation care is any indication, he’s done a superior job.

Yet what do the wise say about Creation?

Solomon, who petitioned God for wisdom and had it granted, says this:

My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine.
—Song of Solomon 1:13-17 ESV

Song of Solomon is replete with images from the bounty of nature. Read it sometime. (And not just for the erotic parts.)

The wise king continues:

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
—Proverbs 6:6-8 ESV

Consider anything from an ant? The only thing good about ants is the fun one gets from frying them with a magnifying glass, right?

If not Solomon, then how about Agur:

Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces. Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king whose army is with him.
—Proverbs 30:24-31 ESV

No, there’s no inherent value in that lizard. Ever eat a lizard? Tastes like chicken way past its expiration date.

Or David:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
—Psalms 8:1-9 ESV

Certainly, Dan, you’re not implying that there’s a revelation in Creation that speaks to the majesty of God, or to Man’s place in the universe! Stars just twinkle; they can’t enhance our 401k. And we went to moon! Nothing but rocks there.

And what of the parables of the Lord Himself, who spoke of the mustard seed, the pearl of great price, the sower who sowed the good seed, the lilies of the field who are clothed in God’s raiment, or the wheat and tares? What of God’s final discourse with Job, wherein He silences the most righteous man on the planet by regaling him with the natural wonders He created?

We do God a disservice by refusing to wonder in light of all He’s put around us. We castigate those out of Romans 1 who ignore God’s revelation of Himself by what He’s made, yet we eagerly join those same fools by carelessly stripping the Creation of wonder and mystery. A supposed Christian who—without wondering— can pass by a downy woodpecker hunting for insects in a dead tree is the same person who can later pass by his fellow man and not care one wit about him. In the soul of that passerby, a deadness dwells, a necrotic region God never intended His people to possess.

As for me, I never desire to see anything dead in the hearts of people who call themselves Christians. It’s time we become people in tune with God’s view of meaning by delighting in and treasuring the good world He gave us. Otherwise, we are no better than those who believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster or a Darwinian universe ultimately bereft of all meaning.


Previous posts on this topic:

Warring Evangelicals Make Iron Eyes Cody Cry

Out in the Country

Creation in the Heart of the Christian

It’s Not Easy Being Green


Other posts in the “Unshackling the American Church” series:

30 thoughts on “Unshackling the American Church: Treasuring the Creator’s Handiwork

  1. phil

    Dan you just get better and better.
    Nature has been to me Gods foremost stand bearer. When I get disgusted with the depravity of my heart and the pettiness of my thoughts, or when I look around and see degeneration in the church it takes but an hour in the woods or on the near by hills, to lift my heart from the deepest spots, among His trees and birds His light shines bright.
    We do majorly suffer from the tendency to dissosiate our faith from the world around us and claiming that this world is not our home we waive ourselves of responsibility.
    God grant us the grace to view your creation with wonder and care for it, for it is you who provide food for the sparrow and rain for the trees, dont let us take away what you have given them
    Blog on dan

  2. Oh yeah. Preach it brother! For so many years I felt like some oddity within the church… I had a greenpeace sticker on my car way back in the day right beside my “fear GOD” sticker… I was the ultimate oxymoron. To some, just a moron. People don’t get it. God GIFTED us this incredible planet. We should respect what was created. I am fascinated buy the sheer beauty. Instead of spending another weekend trying to wrap our minds around existentialism… TAKE A FREAKING HIKE! It will do your soul and your spirit good!

    We need to treat our home just like the jewel it is. Learn from an ant? We could learn tons. Teamwork, necessity, perseverance.

    It’s sad when I fit in more with the people in Yellow Springs and Antioch than I do in a church most times (not mine praise God). God is creation… is creativity… we can learn so much about God meerly by looking at what He has created. If we would only look.

      • hey! See if I buy you ice cream! *G* Okay so I would if you ever came up here…

        Well, there are searchers in Yellow Springs.. I know a few, we hold a small group there… and there is a small underground of us who walk the streets and pray… and a great portabello mushroom sandwich too! 😀

        Oh yeah… and biking paths… and…..

        see what you started Dan? *G*

  3. THat was wonderful! I now appreciate nature much more than I did before I became ill. In fact, a few hours ago I climbed out my window and felt all the plants and everything. It was wonderful! I’m allergic to sunlight, and that has been the first time I have been able to see or feel any nature in about 4 months…that is, without counting the spiders. =D

    Yes, we are so blessed to have nature. Praise God there are still people on this earth who enjoy it!

  4. Philippa

    Wonderful post!!! Preach it, brother! 🙂

    The Psalms positively overflow with a keen awareness of the beauty of this wonderful world God created, and with exhortations to creation itself to praise Him. How wonderful it will be when He purges the universe of our sin and all creation is united in the harmony of His love.

    I love the story about Martin Luther, who allegedly replied, when asked what he would do if he knew that Christ was about to return in all His glory: “I’d plant a tree.”

    I quoted this to a pre-millenial, dispensationalist, fundamentalist friend a few years ago and her response was: “Huh?”

    Says it all, really.

    Our beautiful, fragile blue planet. How God must grieve at the way in which His fallen and rebellious children plunder its resources and wreak such terrible destruction. All indicative of our deep and tragic alienation from Him and the sin that can only be put right by Calvary.

    I love your blog!

    Philippa, a charismatically inclined Anglican fangirl from the UK

    • Thanks, Philippa!

      I once attended a conference where we had nametags, and a woman came up to me and said, “YOU’RE Dan Edelen? THE Dan Edelen?” I thought there must be some famous Dan Edelen out there I didn’t know about, but she was a fan of Cerulean Sanctum. My first fan! I felt really odd inside, but I was definitely happy to meet her.

      Maybe when my book comes out I’ll know a little more of what that means.

      I had some dealings with St. Barnabas, a charismatic Episcopal church about thirty miles from where I used to live, and just loved the people there. They had a beautiful liturgy they did that included a lot of the natural world in it, but without all the weird New Age stuff that can creep in if we’re not discerning. Great balance there. If it had been a little bit closer to home, I would have considered making it my church home.

      I grew up Lutheran, so I can second that story about Luther and the tree.


  5. FABULOUS! I just posted on my website regarding another blogger who linked natural, ecologically-minded lifestyles with PAGANISM!

    (course I linked to another of your articles for comparison, I should have waited for this one!) 🙂

    I agree with Phil — you just get better and better — you have certainly got me thinking about things in a new light AND I find great comfort in knowing that there are more Christians out there who find our utilitarian mindset appalling from a THEOLOGICAL standpoint as well as a societal one.

    • Ray,

      Any good thing can be corrupted. And the most corrupted of all are the very best things God has provided when mangled by sinful men.

      Is there a lot of paganism in the environmental movement? Absolutely! But their sin doesn’t mean we abandon the very first command of God—one that has never been rescinded, BTW—to steward the Earth. If anything, Christians should set the standard for environmentalism, not the pagans.

      What a great opportunity to witness to pagans, too! Join the Sierra Club or another group like them and be salt and light! I read the autobiography of John Muir, the Sierra Club founder, and I can tell you that you’d be positively blown away by all the good things he writes. I’ve got to believe that he was a believer.

      We need to take this issue back. I think more lost people would take the Gospel seriously if we showed the proper concern on this issue.

  6. Haven’t commented here before, but been reading for a few weeks and have enjoyed it….

    This week I’ve been studying Romans 8 for my sunday sermon. I wonder too if tied up in all this is the “left behind” theology that the world will eventually be annihalated and destroyed by God. Romans 8 paints a different picture in which God brings forth the birth of the new redeemed world from the present corrupt and futile world.

    Paul also paints a pretty vivid picture of the futile and corrupt nature of the world as a result of our sin. I don’t know if he could have foreseen the state our world would be in 2000 years later because of our rampant abuse of creation, but he pretty much nailed it on the head right their in Rom. 8.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Jim,

      Thanks for decloaking and adding to the conversation here.

      Abuse is abuse, even if what we abuse is passing away. This doesn’t please God. You read through the Law and you’ll see how God recommends the Hebrews treat the land. God cares about these kinds of issues. When we don’t, we’re not mirroring Christ.

  7. Phil/Schizophrenic

    This post must go into your “best of CS”, if you ever have a reader nominatied section of best posts this one definitely goes on top.
    Blog on

  8. Sue

    I’ve mentioned it in another post, but read “Generation Me” by Jean Twenge. The mentality of our society has become increasingly self-centered and this book does much to explain why. As in so many other areas of life, the disappointment is that we as Christians mirror society, rather than attempt to change it for the better.

  9. Dan,

    I bought a home a little over a year ago. I don’t have a great deal of land or anything special. But I have a front yard and a back yard. When I bought the home, both were somewhat in disarray.

    In all the things I do from day to day — working, teaching, working with kids, paying bills, driving around — nothing makes me feel more like my Father than when I’m turning my once-abandoned yard into a neat, orderly, beautiful “creation”. To plant flowers, to remove weeds, to tidy things up and build what wasn’t into what is… I feel more like what we were always meant to be.

    That very realization has changed my view of Creation hugely. I was always brought up in the “It’s all going to burn!” and “Let’s not leave anything nice for Satan after we’re raptured!” mentalities. But there’s more to it than that, now. Maybe it is all going to burn. Maybe everything I make in my back yard will be destroyed. But God is turning me into something — a creator, just like Him. And when my yard is cleansed with fire, I’ll still be that creator, and I’ll walk into His Kingdom and continue making… creating. And I enjoy it, not because I’m being an activist or because I’m saving the Ozone, but because I’m becoming like God in one more way.

    Great post.

    • Jwise,

      God formed Man from soil. I believe that one of the reasons that Christians are disconnected from understanding Creation is their disconnection from the soil. People who grow plants on their property understand this. Just like you did.

  10. Whoops, I forgot to mention one small thing. There is the “creator” aspect of making something good with Creation. But there’s also the fact that God is a God who sustains and restores. He’s had ample opportunity to just do away with us all start over with new creatures. But His love leads Him instead to put His investments into restoring and redeeming. So, we can be like Him in becoming creators, but also even more like Him in becoming redeemers and sustainers.

  11. AlieraKieron

    “For the beauty of the earth
    For the glory of the skies…
    Lord of all to thee we raise,
    this our hymn of grateful praise.”

    • AlieraKieron,

      Oh Lord, My God, when I in awesome wonder
      Consider all the works Thy hands hath made;
      I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
      Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

      Then sings my soul,
      My Savior God to Thee!
      How great Thou art!
      How great Thou art!
      Then sings my soul,
      My Savior God to Thee!
      How great Thou art!
      How great Thou art!

  12. wham! bam! thank ya dan! i’m eating this stuff up! your blog posts and “crunchy cons” has got me rev’d and i’m on my way to initiating changes in my life and worldview as well as anyone else i can take with me. keep it up!

  13. Protagonist

    Littering is an easy target. A litterbug is throwing trash on someone else’s property–be it private property or public property–and violating the (property) rights of someone else. That is solipsistic behavior and should be condemned as such; doubly so if the litterbug is a Christian.

    This is not the same as strip mining, building Wal-Marts, and the other sterotypical evil capitalist behavior you condemn. I think you’re being a little shortsighted, creating a false dilemma between “economic value” and our interests in enjoying the aesthetic beauty of nature.

    The meadow with oil under it has two values: (1) The value of the commodity underneath, and (2) the aesthetic value of the trees, birds, flowers, deer, hills, dales, ponds, etc. You laid out the system where, when (1) becomes more valuable than (2), then (2) will be destroyed to receive the value of (1). But when does that happen. The owner of such a beautiful plot of land is not going to see it leveled for a $20.00 profit of oil. Or $200. Or probably even $2000. There is economic value in the aesthetic beauty of God’s creation. Why else would our society spend billions on sporting goods, RVs, and camping sites?

    The “plundering of resources” you comdemn is actually maximizes the beauty of nature. We strip-mine to get coal, to give us heat and electricity. Without coal-burning, the alternative is clear-cutting acres of forest to stay warm. We build Wal-Marts, in part, to bring efficiently grown agricultural goods to city dwellers. The alternative is each household tearing up several acres of land to grow our own food, or kill all the wild game possible.

    Only the most malicious people want to see nature destroyed for the sake of seeing destruction. Most people in our capitalist society value the beauty of nature, and seek–directly or indirectly–to have that value maximized.

    BTW, recycling is fools-gold. This link is instructive. (Note especially Myths Nos. 6 & 7. The recycling process causes far more pollution than raw manufacture and permanent disposal.)

  14. Dan, you’re on a roll. Keep it up. Like you, I’m sick of the Church surrendering everything to the Devil. It’s time to start taking stuff back.

    (By the way, the Republidemocanicrat Party is totally in the grip of a basically Utilitarian philosophy…the only argument it’s having is who gets to cash on what.)

  15. Mike Oliver

    With me and I think many Christians the problem is when you say green or environmental I think of people who worship the creation rather than the creator and they have already set the agenda.
    Wildlife management is a nice example. The don’t kill Bambi’s dad mindset overlooks the facts that almost all money spent on wildllife and habitat comes from hunting and fishing licenses, and that the population of Bambies if left unchecked by controled harvesting will increase to the point that more will be lost to disease and starvation and being hit by vehicles than would ever have been killed by hunters. So Dan if you can help me improve my stewardship of God’s creationship, I’m all for you but don’t ask me to get on board with the green revolution, that ship has already sailed with a captain and crew that I can’t accept.

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