The Confused Bishop.

Tuesday night the dog wouldn’t go to sleep, preferring instead to bark and bite. My wife and I found ourselves downstairs, flipping channels while the dear pup gnawed on a bone made of multi-colored yarn. I settled on Nightline, a show I almost never watch. The segment was on religion and politics, and Bishop N.T. Wright was being interviewed. The topic at hand was, presumably, the causes for Christian inaction as it concerns the environment and poverty in the third world. The Bishop had an interesting take.

Let me first note that I’ve never gotten in the debate about Wright’s take on Pauline theology, but I did enjoy The Challenge of Jesus and always appreciate his thorough defenses of the Christian faith. So I’m not an anti-Wright partisan, at least not in the theological sense. Yet Wright’s politics are of a leftist bent, and so it goes with his views on the environment and charity towards the third world. Nevertheless Wright takes his dispensationalist brothers to task in a rather peculiar and, indeed, offensive, way.

Bishop Wright suggests that since dispensationalists have a fervent, if not at times rabid, devotion to the theology of the rapture, they are unconcerned with this present world. They are, as an agnostic friend of mine once said, “looking to the heavens, while the world around them is burning like a hell.” It is a rather offensive suggestion to think that because a vocal segment of Protestantism believes in a particular eschatalogical doctrine they are prone to pollution and indifference. We may find that many dispensationalists are indeed reluctant to join the environmental movement, but my sense is that such a tendency has little to do with theology.

A few thoughts.

First, many dispensationalist evangelicals have been turned off by religious nature of the environmental movement, full as it is with devotees of every eastern spirituality and other natural religions. Second, the radical nature of many environmentalists – the shaggy, smelly fellows in Berkeley trees come to mind – are definitely unappealing. Finally, I will concede that many Americans – Christian or otherwise – have been slow to believe that there is a legitamite need to protect the environment, though for rural folks who have long endured dirt roads and poor utilities, development at the cost of nature may have seemed like a reasonable tradeoff.

Bishop Wright is in so many ways a brilliant man, and we must be grateful for his contributions to the Christian mind. Yet this analysis of fundamentalism is both absurd and offensive. He is wrong to suggest that theology alone is the excuse for those Christians who do not jump on the save the planet bandwagon. And I do think the greater point is that a bishop in the Anglican Church has such a bandwagon, because while there are many environmental concerns in this world, one gets the sense that Bishop Wright – like Americans Ron Sider, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo – has adopted a position fully in line with European leftism. All fine and well, but I prefer the Bishop to lose the Christian rhetoric and acknowledge that he believes the United Nations is best suited to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

Bishop Wright’s comments get to the heart of my unease with present-day Anglicanism.  Even in the voices of clear theological truth, there seems a contentment with progressivism, using the power of the state to fix every problem.  The Anglican bishops opine on a great many social and political matters, but rarely does one hear them bemoan the cradle to grave socialism that has slowly euthanized the spirit of every European nation.   It is a sad truth, says the Bishop, that Western Christians do not forgive the debts of the Ugandans and reduce their own carbon footprint.  But nevermind the encroachment of a new caliphate on European soil and the demographic collapse of the bedrock of Western Civilization.

That Europe and all its institutions are in decline is sad enough.  That many European Christians have made the Gospel of Jesus Christ an accomplice in such a decline is a catastrophe.


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