Analysis of the Cornwall Alliance's
'A Renewed Call'

In A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor (2009) the Cornwall Alliance For the Stewardship of Creation argues against concern and responsibility for climate change.

My own position, as an evangelical Christian (see my 'spiritual journey'), is that we should take action to prevent climate change and that God's people should take the lead in doing so. It saddens me that this alliance of about 60 theologians, scientists, economists and other scholars, who claim to be evangelical Christians, are so set against climate responsibility. Cornwall are responsible for turning some American evangelicals away from climate concern and responsibility, or reinforcing that turning-away. That is why I want to understand their views and comment.

The Renewed Call argues on three grounds: theological, scientific and economic. Here I concentrate on the theology. Initially I hoped that their argument would contribute to the debate, to inform and fruitfully challenge my views, but I soon found it is a polemic that misleads rather than a good piece of argument.

In brief:

All these are problematic. But what most worries me more is an attitude of heart behind all that Cornwall write and do. Is it too much to compare them with the Pharisees of Jesus' time? They were correct in their doctrines, but Jesus criticised their attitude. Wrong attitude leads to flawed exegesis of Scripture, to misunderstanding what God has planned and is doing, to one-sided emphasis, leaving out inconvenient things, to restricted views of application, and to giving mere lip-service to what is important. It seems to me that this is what has happened to Cornwall.

Example: in the Renewed Call, they speak of "environmentally friendly prosperity" [p.3,10I, but only twice and in passing; whilst their arguments about 'prosperity' are lengthy, there is almost no argument why it should be 'environmentally friendly'. Their attitude may be seen in their main header banner, which shows a packed city of skyscrapers in the middle of a landscape with a solitary tree in the foreground. I find that depressing. Not what God intended. There is no glory there, no love, no joy, no peace. (You can read my own developing views of what God intended and intends in A New View: Theology and Practice.)

The rest of this page presents my detailed analysis of Cornwall's Renewed Call. I will try to give credit where it is due, but not withhold criticism where that is due. This page is written primarily for Christians of an evangelical persuasion, but contains much that might be meaningful to others. Read on ...

(A copy of the Renewed Call is available in pdf format.)


DETAILED ANALYSIS

Contents:

ON CORNWALL'S ATTITUDE TO ENVIRONMENTALISTS

'Christian' and 'Environmentalist' World Views

Cornwall try to set "the environmentalist" world view in opposition to what they see as "the Christian" world view. Their view of both world views is flawed - not least because they fail to see the variety of world views of each type (they use the definite article).

They start with a characterization of 'environmentalists' as believing the earth is "extremely fragile" [p.6], are in panic about climate change [p.6-7], hold a romantic ideal of a world shaped by nature without human intervention [p.10,11], and care little about the poor [p.19].

These do not describe me, nor most environmentalists that I know. We recognise the earth is robust, but what is 'fragile' is justice and responsibility. The actions we advocate are driven not by fear but more by a sense of responsibility - to the poor, to other species, to future generations and to the rightful Owner of the earth (whom many see as God, though some use other terms). Though some environmentalists take a romantic view, most whom I know do not and they recognise the importance of human constructions like technology and economics. The environmentalists I know all care about the poor, believing that the problems caused by climate change will fall much more heavily on the poor of the world than on the relatively wealthy Europeans and Americans.

Cornwall seem to be setting up a straw man to fell. The attitude that is displayed in this setting up of a straw man, seems to be that they are motivated more by antipathy towards environmentalism, than a seeking after truth and justice.

Their treatment of what they call "the Christian" world view is also askew. Cornwall rightly reject the dualistic view that matter and the Earth is evil (and spirit is good) held my many. They acknowledge the Earth as good, though they see this in a very limited way: as merely the arena in which human beings "live out their mandate as God's image-bearers" [p.8]; I will expand that below, especially pointing out the importance to God of nature in its own right.

The major Christian world view that occurs today is that of creation, fall and redemption (and consummation). Cornwall discuss creation at length, but they hardly mention the fall or redemption. Their brief mentions of fallenness are at a rather abstract level. They mention the fall and the 'curse' (p.13), and also that the root problem is that people turn away from God to idols (p.16). But they do not see that current economic, technological and political practice is also fallen, with roots in idolatry. Indeed they write as though current Western economics, technology and politics are unfallen and should continue unabated to eradicate poverty. More about this later.

Comment on "The Robustness of Creation" and "Divine Promises and Global Warming"

Some environmentalists see the ecosystem as fragile; so Cornwall try to show it is robust. Climate scientists and others warn that with climate change will come increasing floods of increasing severity. In response, on p.15, Cornwall cite "floods waters will never again cover the Earth", which is a promise found in Genesis 9, Psa 104:9 and perhaps in Jer 5:22. They repeat this issue later in "Divine Promises and Global Warming". It seems that Cornwall are trying to assure us that all will be well if we continue on the way we have been going.

Though I agree that Creation is robust, their argument rests on a speculative deduction from a limited portion of Scripture. Cornwall's foundation is flawed in two ways: semantically and Scripturally.

Semantically, they are not talking about the same thing. God's promise in Genesis 9 was that floods (higher than the mountains in Noah's case) will never again cover the earth to destroy all life. Floods from storms that climate change will generate are not of this type; it is expected they will be like the New Orleans flood, but more frequent more severe, causing untold damage in low-lying countries like Bangladesh.

Cornwall then add the word "catastrophic" to this promise, and suggest that [p.15] "despite their comparative poverty, human beings have adjusted successfully to sea level rise for centuries", with the implication that those affected by climate change floods, such as those in Bangladesh, can just as easily adapt. Does it not remind us of the tale told of Marie Antoinette who, when approached by the poor of Paris with "Madame, there is no bread", she remarked "Well, let them eat cake!" Cornwall claim to care for the poor but it seems that where climate change will affect the poor their hatred of what they elsewhere call the 'green dragon' of environmentalism limits that.

Scripturally, they misunderstand the nature of God's promises, by treating them as absolute, unconditional. In fact, God's promises are usually conditional - as the prophet Jonah discovered to his chagrin. Consider, for example, Isa 52:1, which says categorically that Jerusalem will never again be entered by the unclean or uncircumcised. The Hebrew has the emphatic word "ever". Jews who were in Jerusalem before the exile might have claimed that Isaiah's prophecy meant that they were safe, so they could ignore the warnings given by Jeremiah and others about repenting lest Jerusalem be destroyed. Since that promise was made, the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans have all entered Jerusalem.

What would have seemed an incontrovertible promise turned out not to be. Even if God's intention was that it was for far into the future; those who read it before the exile would not have known that. So it is foolish to argue arrogantly from what seem incontrovertible promises found in Scripture, but rather to adopt an attitude of humility, that we do not fully understand, and that those who warn us might be right. Especially when other Scriptures point to the saliency of such warnings. God's promises are conditional, meant for those who are contrite of heart, rather than those who are "overfed, arrogant and unconcerned" [Ezekiel 16:49].

The attitude displayed by Cornwall's attempt to assure us that all will be well is not that of the contrite in heart, but rather of those described by Ezekiel.

On Our Sense of Urgency as "Fear of Man-Made Global Warming"

We environmentalists might be guilty of over-emphasizing certain dire consequences. Cornwall is right to point that out.

However, the sense of urgency which we environmentalists have sought to engender is like that of a passenger on a tanker that is heading for rocks while the crew are having a party. The Cornwall Alliance claims there are no rocks, so the party can go on. Just as it takes a long time to turn a tanker round, after taking action to do so, so it takes a long time to stop the build-up of climate change emissions after we take action to curb emissions.

As a Christian environmentalist I share that sense of urgency, but I have an extra component in my urgency: I believe humanity is responsible before God for the Creation (as I understand Cornwall also believes), and that His people should represent God to the peoples, exhibiting His character, and should take a lead in living the way God intended and warning the people to repent. Are we not culpable if we fail to do so? It is the principle of the watchman-prophet.

Twice God told Ezekiel the watchman-prophet has a responsibility [Ezekiel 3 and 33]. If God threatens disaster on a sinful people and the prophet fails to warn people, the disaster will occur but God will demand it at the hands of the watchman. But if the watchman-prophet sounds the warning clearly, if people repent then God might relent and withdraw the disaster. However, as Jonah discovered, the prophet must sound the warning even if God then withdraws the disaster. I believe that God is 'sending' disaster, giving warnings, in which climate change is only one part of the picture - but a very important part. (Other areas I believe God might be warning about include things like the economy and the political orders of the world. The root of the problems in those is the same root as of climate change and other environmental problems: the powerful of the world lead people away from God's ways rather than towards them.)

My added dimension does not negate the concern of non-Christian environmentalists; rather it undergirds it and empowers it and shows the proper answer.

Attitude? Cornwall condemns people's fears. The Living God, however, has compassion when the people are fearful or confused, as in the 120,000 confused people in Nineveh (and also all the cattle too), and as in the harassed crowds [Jonah 4:11; Mark 6:34, Matthew 9:36].

ON GOD'S PLAN FOR HUMANITY AND THE EARTH

Here I discuss together several sections in the Renewed Call that discuss , "The Image of God in Man and the Dominion Mandate", "Man as Maker and Master", "Biblical Stewardship", and some others.

"The Image of God in Man and the Dominion Mandate" and "Man as Maker and Master"

Cornwall argue that humanity should rule in and subdue the earth. I agree, because this is what Scripture tells us in one important place in Genesis. However, I find their exegesis is flawed, probably because of the attitude that motivated it.

Cornwall argue that humanity being made in the image of God means that human beings are makers, just as God is maker. God is "extravagant Maker" so "people made in God's image are to make new things ... making more and more out of less and less." [p.8]. Cornwall emphasise our ability and responsibility to make new resources out of natural ones, and these new resources should be for blessing, especially of the poor.

Certainly I agree that God is an 'extravagant' Creator, and that humankind is also a maker. We are able to function with free formative power, which perhaps shows itself most visibly today in technology. This enables us to manage resources, with which we can bring blessing.

The problem I find with Cornwall's exposition is an attitude that leads to blinkered focus. Cornwall fixes on just one characteristic of God -- Maker. Yet does not God exhibit many characteristics beyond that of Maker? Is not God also Communicator, Relater (especially as Father), Shepherd, and so on? Are we not expected to image all God's characteristics - justice, mercy, compassion, humility and, perhaps above all, agape love? It seems that the role of Maker is the one that suits their purpose of arguing that the answer to our problems is more and more resources, and they largely ignore the rest.

On "Biblical Stewardship", Garden and Wilderness

Cornwall make a very interesting argument on "Biblical Stewardship", which I find helpful. Their second sentence in this section [p.12] is "Man is not an alien or a disease on Earth but a proper part of the worldwide ecology." I agree.

Traditionally, human beings are seen as 'stewards' of the creation, an idea that comes from Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:15, where humanity is given 'dominion' in the Earth and the role of caring for the Garden of God. Cornwall point out that the Hebrew words used in Genesis 1 and 2, differ in meaning. In Genesis 1:28 we find kabash and radah, which Cornwall claim "denote strong and forceful action" [p.12] - as though humanity has to force something upon the Earth rather than living in harmony with it. In Genesis 2 the Hebrew words are abad and shamar, which, Cornwall say, mean to work, till or serve and to keep watch over. They suggest that abad might even mean 'worship'.

In recent Evangelical tradition, the words in Genesis 1 and 2 are taken together to help us understand God's plan for the relationship between humanity and the creation, and the manner intended for this 'stewardship'. It is usually assumed that God's Plan is for a kind of amalgam of these two ideas - just as many verses in the Psalms express the same idea in two ways to give a richer picture, and just as we look at something from several angles if we want to gain a full picture of it. So we find rulership and subduing in Genesis 1, and caring and tending in Genesis 2, all intended as a rich but single picture. I have long assumed this view.

Cornwall, however, suggest that these should be separated them into two pictures, one being the Garden, where care is to be carried out, the other being wilderness ("the Earth"), where forceful subduing is carried out. They suggest that God's plan is for humanity "to spread out from the Garden to fill the Earth and so make it more and more like the Garden" [p.12].

I find this interesting, but I wonder about its implications. I love wilderness, and find gardens oppressive by comparison; is my love of wilderness wrong? I discuss this below.

There is indeed a way in which humankind is meant to shepherd the rest of living things. The biotic mandate to thrive, when unaffected by the mandates of other aspects of reality, can result in a raw, unruly vitality in which everything competes with each other, often to the detriment of seemingly weaker or gentler species. I believe that humankind is intended to craft that raw vitality into something beautiful, just and merciful, so that all creation 'sings' in harmony. This harmony is the ultimate Praise to the Creator and the Creator's Glory. In this harmony, all creatures sing their own song to the Creator, and none is silenced. The wild vitality is not tamed or regimented but released and beautified within love and justice to all.

Indeed, this could even be extended beyond the biotic realm of living things, if we see humanity as having a responsibility to bring out the potential of the rest of creation in its scientific, technical, lingual, social, economic, juridical, ethical and faith aspects (that list comes from Dooyeweerd's aspects)

If this is what Cornwall intended, then I agree with them, and find their way of expressing it succinct and poetic. Of all the Renewed Call, that is probably the part I found most helpful.

However, if that is not what Cornwall meant, and all they want is a suppression, regimentation and even destruction of the wild, which is typical of much of Europe and North America, then I find their view deeply troubling. No longer can the song of many species be heard. Those species are deemed 'inconvenient' to our commercialised ways of life. What is beautiful is seen as a weed, or a hindrance to maximized production. However, my concern is not only because of its results but because of the attitude that underlies it (see below for more on this). Sadly, from their wider exegesis of 'stewardship', I think it likely that they want to destroy wildness.

On Caring

The amount of detail with which someone argues, often indicates what they find of most importance. Cornwall mention [p.7] "the divine call for human beings to exercise caring dominion over the Earth", with the word 'care' being repeated on pages 13, 14 and in the Conclusion. On pages 3, 10 they write of "environmentally friendly prosperity".

However, whereas they employ much detail in exegetically arguing the forceful nature of our dominion in the Earth, the amount they employ on Biblical exegesis of caring is zero. No verses. No argument. All they do is append adjectives like "caring" and "environmentally friendly".

This suggests to me that while they might add the word "care" to pacify those who might be uncomfortable with the idea of forceful dominion, it is the forceful dominion rather than care that they want to propone. This is what might be expected in those who merely want to find support for their denial of climate concern.

In contrast, I give a sounder basis for 'care' below.

Producers and Consumers

Whereas I agreed with the second sentence in the section on Biblical Stewardship, I find their first sentence problematic: "The Biblical sense of stewardship implies both the responsibility to produce and the right to consume what we produce." The first sentence of a section often indicates the main emphasis of the entire section. To give first place to our responsibility to produce and our right to consume shows two facets of their attitude which I find problematic: (a) a narrowness, focusing on our role as producers rather than anything else, (b) a self-centredness in emphasising our 'right'.

I agree that resource generation is one implication of stewardship, but it is by far from being the only one. And certainly it should never be made the main one, because it is only one aspect among many. Far more important in Scripture as a whole are justice, mercy and love. These do not emphasise our "right to consume", but rather the ensuring of the rights of the other, and of our even giving up our own rights.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature's Living Planet Report for 2014 claims that wildlife populations have declined by 52% in the past 40 years due to humanity's demand for 'resources'. If true, this is a disaster.

Some might argue whether the true figure is 52, or 45, or 40 or 30 or 20 or even 10%. Do not argue about numbers! Those who know their Scripture will recognise that sequence of numbers. God told Abraham [Genesis 18] that whether the number of righteous people in Sodom was 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 or even only 10, He would spare that city. God does not quibble about numbers. Whether 50% or 10% of wildlife is exterminated, it is heinous in God's eyes.

MORE DETAILED ARGUMENT

Since their exegesis of the role of humanity is of major importance to me, and the point at which I most disagree with Cornwall, I will give more detailed arguments as to why I find Cornwall's view problematic. I have several arguments.

Argument from implications

I have always loved wilderness, finding great beauty and rest of soul. Gardens can be beautiful, but I find them oppressive in comparison. I much prefer the wild Scottish Highlands to the managed Bavarian Alps. If Cornwall is right, that the entire earth should be a garden, this suggests that my love of wilderness is sinful - or at least missing the mark of God's full intention. Should I suppress my love of wilderness? Should I seek Christian counselling to rid me of my perverted love of wilderness? Those are the questions that come to me if Cornwall is right.

However, I find that the Scripture does not fully support them. While there are several verses in Scripture that suggest human-managed natural creation is the best, notably in Isaiah, there are also several that celebrate wildness. God's answer to Job was to show him the panoply of wild creatures that have no relation to humankind. And did Jesus not retire to wild areas for rest? At the very least, the jury is still out on whether wilderness is acceptable in God's Plan.

So I see the theme of extending the Garden of God to the rest of the Earth, not as decrying wilderness, but as requiring humanity to open up the potential that God has written into the laws that guide every aspect of creation. We are to 'bless' the rest of creation by doing this. See 'What Our Blessing of Creation Entails'.

Of course, arguments from implications can never be absolute. Other arguments are needed.

Argument from Cornwall's Emphasis

Throughout the Renewed Call, Cornwall's emphasis is one-sided. Cornwall argue at length for certain things, but then gloss over others and simply state them without argument. This shows that they think certain things really important and that they give only lip service to other things. We have seen already that though they mention that our dominion should be caring and our prosperity should be "environmentally friendly" they do not deign to argue for these from Scripture, whereas they argue at length for our dominion being forceful, and that growing prosperity is absolutely necessary.

Another example is in the section 'Biblical Law: Criteria for Stewardship Ethics' [p.14], they make the valid point that true shalom comes from obeying God's Law rather than our "personal or social prejudices".

Then they do what they condemn. In listing eight things they aspire to for the world, at least four are their own "personal or social prejudices": their dislike of government-initiated management, their love of private property and ownership and dislike of collective ownership, their love for "widespread economic freedom" and their love for "advancements in agriculture, industry, and commerce". None of these come directly from "God's Law", so one might expect Cornwall to argue how they have derived them - but they do not. These things are not argued for, but merely stated. (Their list is also badly written, with one almost complete repetition!)

It seems as though Cornwall arrogantly assume that all evangelical Christians must of necessity agree with them about these things. I am one who does not - and would not even if I was not discussing climate concern.

The reason I do not is theological, and is borne out in the remainder of this article.

Argument from their entire message

Cornwall's insight and their argument from Hebrew words should not be taken on its own, but should be seen in the light of their overall argument: What do they envisage humanity 'forcing' upon the Earth? Their overall message is that we don't need to, and should not, change our lifestyles to reduce climate change emissions, but should continue to produce resources from the raw materials found on the Earth, whether doing so is harmful or not.

So, they see our kabash and radah, our subduing and rulership, primarily as that which supports resource production. The logic of this is that rainforests must be cleared in order to make way for growing crops to produce fuel for cars, because the rainforest is not productive, but agricultural land is productive. Is this kind of thing really what the Scripture had in mind?

Argument from Hebrew words

Exegesis from the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated into our Bibles is important to investigate the shades of meaning found in the original but which are often hidden in translation. At this time when mindsets in society are changing, it is appropriate to return to the original languages to recover these meanings, which might be particularly important for the new situation we are entering today.

Cornwall delves into the meaning of the Hebrew words, and thereby gain an aura of authority among evangelicals. However, I find their exegesis weak. It is only partial and is limited to a specific interpretation of four Hebrew words.

Cornwall refer to a number of Hebrew and Greek lexicons, and upon this foundation they build their entire theological reasoning for rejecting climate concern and responsibility. But translating Hebrew words entails more than just looking them up in lexicons, because those who wrote lexicons did so from within a particular culture and mindset, so emphasising certain things as meaningful and overlooking others. They are good as a start but should not be taken as the end. Young recognised this and so wrote his famous Analytical Concordance of the Bible, in which he separated out all the root words (Hebrew and Greek), so that the reader could gain a whole picture of where words are used.

There are at least four steps to understanding words translated from ancient texts, especially when the words are not used very often (which is true of both kabash and radah). (1) Look up a lexicon and take note of certain nuances and variations. (2) Look at all passages where the word is used, and see the sense of those passages (Example: see tsedeq). (3) Ask what other Hebrew words might have been used instead, and what nuances of difference there are among the alternatives. (4) Compare the interpretation with the character and Plan of God as revealed throughout the whole of Scripture. (These are in addition to considering context of the authors, the linguistic 'pragmatics' of the word use, changes in meaning over time, etc.)

Cornwall does the first but not the others, and even with the first they are selective. The first step may be a good starting point, but it cannot be relied on alone because the way translators have interpreted a word is influenced by the mindset within which they have been working.

The Box below gives a fuller exegesis of the four Hebrew words that Cornwall refers to.

On Hebrew Words Used in Genesis
Cornwall argue in some detail about the Hebrew words used in Genesis 1 and 2, that they differ in meaning. They say that the words kabash (subdue) and radah (rule) in Genesis 1:28 "denote strong and forceful action" [p.12], directed at "the Earth" - as though humanity has to force something upon the Earth rather than living in harmony with the earth. But what kind of force did God intend: that of a powerful military ruler who gets his way by force, or the formative power of a potter who shapes ('forces') clay to become a pot? Cornwall do not discuss the difference, but it is crucial in understanding our relationship with the rest of Creation.

In Genesis 2 the words are abad (till) and shamar (keep), which mean to work, till or serve and to keep watch over, directed at "the Garden of God". If used to qualify radah, then this suggests the potter's kind of gentle force. But Cornwall seek to distance the Genesis 1 mandate from any notion of gentleness or care. They further try to argue that abad actually means 'worship' and shamar, 'obey', and that the object of this is not the Garden but God as such, thus trying to increase this distance even further.

But, on looking up my Hebrew Bible with the help of Young's Analytical Concordance, I find their interpretations doubtful. Cornwall rely on a 1907 lexicon, a Bible commentary and a book about a new kind of church. Since even translators and commentators are writing from within a culture different from those of the original author around millennia ago, their interpretations might be influenced by their own culture. When a Hebrew word is used only a few times, its meaning is even less certain.

So, instead, I tend to look at where each Hebrew word has been used, and also what alternative Hebrew words might have been used for a similar concept instead but weren't. I also try to read the word in its sentences and textual context, taking note not just of the semantic meaning but also the pragmatic (what the writer or speaker seems to have been trying to achieve with the utterance). In this way, I get a feel for the concept behind the word and how it is nuanced away from similar concepts. My attempt to understand the four Hebrew words in this way is as follows.

Radah Kabash
Radah, used in Genesis 1:26,28, is not a common word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. According to Young, in the KJV, it is translated:

  • 'rule', 'rule over', 'reign' etc. 15 times
  • 'have dominion', etc. 8 times
  • 'prevail against' 1 time (in Lam 1:23 in KJV, but the Hebrew is now r'degah)
  • 'take' 2 times (in Judges 14:9, when Samson took the honey)

But what kind of ruling or dominion is this talking about? We can determine this by looking at what other Hebrew words are translated as 'rule' or 'dominion'.

The Hebrew words most frequently translated as 'rule' is mashal (57 times). Mashal seems to refer to the operation and result of ruling and of force as in God ruling over the raging sea [Psa 89:9]. Radah (15 times) seems to refer to authority rather than force, as in Psa 110:2, where the Messiah will rule over his enemies, Psa 68:27, where little Benjamin rules them, and as in I Kings 5:16 which refers to supervision of workers. With 'have dominion' we find a similar pattern, with mashal referring to the kind of cruel oppression that the Philistines exercised over Israel in Judges 14:4, while radah refers to authority. Further, in most places radah authority is linked to, or within the context of, God's superior authority, which seems not to be so true of the others.

Most uses of radah are descriptive, but the few places where it has normative force include Ezekiel 34, where shepherds were condemned for ruling harshly, and Leviticus, where harsh rule is forbidden. This implies that radah is authority that is firm and effective but never harsh or oppressive.

If this is so, then humanity's radah over the rest of creation should be firm but never oppressive or harsh, and should be under God's authority. If it is linked with the idea of 'imaging God', representing God, showing God's characteristics, etc., then radah is not what we might think of as forceful, but the kind of authority that enables the ruled things to develop and open up as they should rather than that which uses them as resources for our own sakes. (See below.) If God is love, then so should we be towards the rest of creation. This is also the sense radah has in Ezekiel 34, where shepherds' authority is to be used for the sake of the sheep instead of for their own sake.

See also in-depth analysis of radah.

Kabash is even less common, so we must be very careful about making dogmatic statements about its meaning. It is translated:

  • 'subdue' etc. 8 times
  • related to 'bondage' 2 times
  • related to 'subjection' 2 times
  • 'force', 'keep under' 2 times.

To determine its meaning we must look at other Hebrew words translated as 'subdue' or 'bring into subjection', of which there are many: chashal (to make feeble), kana (to humble), kara (to cause to bow), shephal (to make low), lachats (to press or crush). All these have the idea of subduing something against its own nature or will, of conquest (specifically, of or by Midian, Ammon, Philistines, Moab, etc.), and many speak of human action.

By contrast, kabash is used mainly of Yahweh subduing the land. This has the idea, not of humiliation or force against will, but of making things as they should be, of peace and shalom. That is, subduing something in line with its nature and for its own good. It makes me think, not of a tyrant crushing a revolt, but of a parent with a crowd of noisy children, calming them down - subduing them - and they become happier as a result.

If this is so, then humanity's subduing of the Earth implies effective action to bring the Earth into the state it should be, a state of dynamic shalom. Human brings are a necessary part of this process, in God's Plan. Example: C.S. Lewis suggests that the plant kingdom is designed to vibrantly thrive, unruly, each plant or species competing with each other. Humanity has the mandate to curb that, to calm it down in line with its nature. Humanity is not given a mandate to oppress it or destroy it or deny its nature - and treating it as mere resources is to deny its nature, and the way humanity has always treated the Earth as resources has led to oppression and destruction.

Like radah, kabash seems to imply to subdue for the good of the things being subdued rather than for our own convenience, pleasure or resource.

Abad Shamar
Abad is the English transliteration from two completely different Hebrew words, one starting with Aleph, the other with Ayin. The former means 'destroy'. The latter is the one in Genesis 2. According to Young, in the KJV it has been translated:

  • 'serve', 'do service', etc. 34 times
  • 'do', 'bring to pass', 'execute', etc. 17 times
  • 'till', 'dress' (as seeds) etc. 12 times
  • 'work', 'labour' etc. 8 times
  • 'worship' 5 times (all in II Kings 10:19-23, referring to worshippers (servants) of Baal)
  • other things: 3 times

The overall meaning of this is clear: to undertake some formative action for the sake of the object, to develop or help the object. It cannot be 'worship God' as Cornwall suggest.

Shamar is translated in the KJV:

  • 'keep', 'keeper', etc. 312 times
  • 'observe', 'mark''regard', 'heed' etc. 120 times
  • 'preserve', 'save', etc. 23 times
  • others 3 times

When translated 'keep' it includes to keep God's commandments. Thus shamar seems to refer to careful keeping that watches over the object with careful observation and attention. Cornwall suggest it means 'obey', but Young does not record a single instance of it being translated with anything like 'obey'.

Even without taking abad or shamar into account, it seems that the full meaning of radah and kabash is to exert effective formative power or rulership for the good of the object, rather than for our own sake; this meaning seems to be built into them, and does not need to be bolted on. The words abad or shamar serve to strengthen this, to 'double' it in the time-honoured Hebrew manner.

From this, especially noting how radah is used in Ezekiel 34, I infer that our radah is intended to mean something with love and self-giving rather than mere force; my full argument can be found on my Page on Radah. As a result, it is by no means inappropriate to link it with abad and shamar. Though indeed humanity might spread out from the Garden of God, they are to treat the Earth and all that is in it with love rather than treating it as a resource, as a good shepherd does for their sheep. See how this links with being made in the Image of God.

In the Box, steps 1-3 may be seen, interwoven; space prevents a full systematic analysis here. Step 4, comparing with the whole of Scripture, begins with linking the idea of rulership with that of being in the Image of God, Imago Dei, which is discussed next.

Argument from Imago Dei

Of course, such arguments from Hebrew words can never be conclusive, because all translations are open to question, especially when applied to seldom-used words. However, the above interpretations resonate when we take wider issues of Scripture into account. The first of these is that both kabash and radah are used alongside humanity being made in the image of God, and in God's likeness. Is it important that both rulership and image occur together, or are they just two separate aspects of humanity that happen to be in one sentence (like the fact that I live in the UK and that I am a follower of Christ and that I did a degree in electronics)?

I believe it is likely that they are meant to link together. If so, what does it mean to be image of God?

Cornwall argue that since God is a maker so humanity must be makers. True, but they take that far too far. To Cornwall, the maker role is the only important one; to me it is one among many, and is far from being the most important one.

Do we think of an image as being a mere copy or picture or icon that is 'like' the copied thing? That is only a tiny part of a much more important and glorious idea of imaging God. Being image of God means to not just to be 'like' God to some third party that happens to look at us, but is much more; being image of God means to represent God. Humanity is to represent God to the rest of creation, so that it experiences something of God when it experiences humanity.

The rest of creation does not only experience its creator directly (as in Psa 96:11-13), but also via humanity (as in Romans 8:19-23 and possibly Isa 55:12). Those who represent God exhibit his character and work with God in the achievement of God's plan. To image God in this active way is an immense privilege and responsibility, not just a static ontic status.

What is the character of God? Yes, He is mighty, sovereign, etc. but so are many other so-called gods though to be. There is one characteristic above all that is not found in other religions: the True God uniquely shown in Christ is characterized by agape love, self-giving. Surely, therefore, we are called to exhibit this self-giving towards the rest of creation - which is supported by the sense of Ezekiel 34, where the LORD is shepherd, linked with John 10, where the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. See also Psalm 23.

(Of course that is only one characteristic of God; God is also judge, king, etc. I emphasise shepherd because if combines God's love with God's authority in a way that is relevant to our discussion here.) (The theme of representing God is found throughout Scripture in various forms, as discussed in Representing God, which discusses this entire issue in more detail.)

This supports what we found above from the Hebrew word analysis, that radah and kabash are characterized by agape love, self-giving, is very different from those characterized primarily by resource production. They are intended for the good of those ruled or subdued, rather than to indicate mere resources for our use.

It is at this point, perhaps, that I most deeply disagree with Cornwall. This is what I chiefly refer to when I find their attitude deeply problematic.

Argument from the Whole of Scripture

Cornwall build their approach and argue their perspective mainly from Genesis 1 and 2, with some reference to other Scriptures in support. But should not a Biblical perspective emanate from the whole of Scripture (Step 4 above)? The reason I suggested that justice, mercy, faithfulness and love are more important than resource generation, above, was because justice, mercy, faithfulness and love are what emerge as primary if we take Scripture as a whole. The theme of resource generation, as a mandate rather than as a mere description, is much rarer in Scripture than the mandate of justice, love and faithfulness.

In A Brief History of God, I have tried to present the overall messages that come through Scripture. I found 99 of them, some emerging in the early days, some during the time of the Patriarchs, some during the early days of Israel, some when Israel became settled, some during the time of the prophets, some while the Messiah was on Earth, and some since the Messiah returned, each usually building on those already revealed. The messages are about the nature of God, about the nature of created reality, how we should live in created reality, the nature of salvation, and so on. In the 99, only a small handful were about anything like humanity's responsibility to generate resources.

If I am correct, then I suggest that Cornwall is giving far too much emphasis to resource generation and subduing by force.

Argument from attitude of heart

I am troubled by the attitude behind Cornwall's emphasizing the difference between humanity and the rest of creation, and the 'princely' status humanity holds. While this might be a fact, maintaining distinction does not seem to be the attitude that God has, nor wants us to have. In Philippians 2, Paul clearly tell us to have the attitude of Christ. God-in-human-form was not concerned to differentiate Godself from humanity, but to be Immanuel (God with us), and a servant at that.

As those who bear the image of God, and especially those in whom this image has been renewed, should we not have the same attitude to the rest of creation? Is it right to focus on our princely status above the rest of creation, or should we see ourselves as among and alongside it (with a role and responsibility to shepherd it)?

If my view is one that the Lord Jesus is pleased with, then I believe our attitude to climate change should be that of being willing to give of ourselves for the sake of the rest of creation rather than protecting our 'right' to consume from it or focusing narrowly on the 'responsibility' to produce. What is our attitude of heart: self-giving, or self-righteous self-protection? If there is a chance that the Earth and the poor will be harmed by climate change emissions, then those who represent the Lord Jesus and His self-giving should be in the lead in cutting emissions, rather than resisting and trying to find reasons to resist.

ON PROSPERITY AND THE POOR

In their theological section, Cornwall also argue about the need to care for the poor. They assume that North-American-style prosperity and economic growth is the only way to care for the poor. I disagree.

'Nature Knows Best' or 'America Knows Best'?

In my view, the United States of America, and to some extent Canada, was blessed by God because many of its people turned to God and/or to God's ways. When a people operates in ways God intended for the Creation - in the technical, economic, social, biological, communicative, juridical, ethical and religious aspects of life - then things will tend to go well over the long term; see Some Examples of God's Way Working. This, I believe, can explain the prosperity and status of North America.

The prosperity God bestows in this way is not just for the sake of the prosperous, but for the sake of both the less prosperous and also the wider creation on which God has compassion [Psalm 145:9, Psalm 104]. North America has much to offer the world and, under God, has a responsibility to do so rather than seeking its own prosperity or glory. To exercise that responsibility, by giving up cherished things for the sake of 'the other' is a privilege under God, and should not be seen as a burden. That is the principle I believe God wants us to work to.

However, as is clearly seen in the Scriptural account, current prosperity does mean that people are currently going God's way. When a people prospers they often become arrogant, self-dependent and self-serving. For example, Jeroboam II, Ahab and Manasseh all enjoyed prosperity and turned away from God. Prosperity might follow from people going God's way but that prosperity does not mean that a people continue to go God's way.

Cornwall argues against what they call 'nature knows best', by which they mean the view that the ideal is a natural world untouched by humanity. This view might be held by some environmentalists, but by no means all. Cornwall argue that humanity is intended to be an active part of creation; I agree with Cornwall on that point.

However, the alternative they promote is the idea that ever-increasing "population, affluence and technology" is the ideal [p.9], with humanity increasingly transforming mineral, plant and animal resources into manufactured ones, and with monetary pricing as the measure of value. They argue (see below) that this is the only way to help the poor. This way of life happens to be very close to what North America sees itself as today. So I call their alternative 'America knows best'.

I do not agree with Cornwall that 'America knows best'. In my view, this is even worse than the 'Nature knows best' view, for several reasons that matter to my evangelical faith:

In short, God has created Nature as a system that is meaningful to Himself, not just a set of resources for human use. Nature has meaning to God beyond humankind. As I have argued earlier and elsewhere, God has given humankind the mandate to represent Him to the rest of creation, in order to bless creation in a way that He Himself brings blessing to that which is not God.

Hypocrisy?

In their section on criteria for stewardship ethics [p.14], Cornwall point out that God's Law and not our personal or social prejudices should guide us, and then suggest 8 principles (in which one is curiously repeated!). Three seem valid, but the remaining ones are precisely prejudices that Cornwall have: against government-initiated action, against collective ownership, for economic freedom, and for technological 'advancements' in agriculture, industry and commerce. No argument is offered for these; they are mere prejudices (pre-judgements). It is as though Cornwall has been blinded by these to assume that they are equivalent to God's Law. It seems very hypocritical to me! That is what Jesus accused the Pharisees or Teachers of the Law of being.

On Cornwall's Concern for the Poor

Cornwall rightly remind us that "Care for the poor is a high priority throughout Scripture". They try to argue that taking action on climate change, and other environmental problems, damages the poor, and that the best way to eradicate poverty is to increase the prosperity of the nations that are already prosperous. This is a version of the trickle-down theory of economic development, which has been discredited. If their theory were true, surely the immense affluence in the USA would have already eradicated most poverty in the world!

Cornwall advocate ever-increasing economic growth as measured by GDP and generated by free-market, competitive capitalism and technological innovation. The curious thing is that while they argue at length about theological issues, they do not argue theologically for their economic theory, but merely assume it. (Elsewhere they might argue for their economic theory on financial grounds, but here we are concerned with theology.) As mentioned above, they treat their prejudices as God's Law. They do not even understand their own theory, because they ignore the very things that are necessary for today's economic growth: externalization of costs, money as sole measure of value (inherent in cost-benefit analysis as Cornwall strongly advocates), marketing, trade and competition, and the negative impacts that these have on the rest of creation.

Cornwall seem to presuppose that environmental responsibility and escape from poverty are mutually exclusive. They are wrong. It is not necessary to choose one over the other; both environmental action and lifting out of poverty can be accomplished together, as in the case of the Jerdon's Courser, a very rare bird in India. The needs of both the bird and the rural poor were met, but it took willingness to communicate and collaborate rather than dominate. It was the those wedded to economic growth that caused the poverty, not environmental protection.

I understand that Cal Beisner, the national spokesperson for Cornwall, and who is the major author of the Renewed Call, has tasted poverty, and has been saved from it by and within American prosperity. It is understandable when someone treats as a major evil the troubles they themselves experienced, and hails as a saviour for all that which saved them. But nobody should treat their own experience, however true, as the whole truth.

Examples: Trade

For example, externalized costs. The current economic system means that businesses do not pay the full costs for e.g. eventual environmentally- and humanly-sound disposal of the products they create, but foist those costs onto the government or to other peoples. To me, that is immoral and nobody who names the Name of Christ should advocate such a system. Cornwall recognise the problem of externalities, but selectively; they mention the externalities of hydro and wind energy, but not those of other forms or energy, nor those of transport, nor those of business as a whole. Are they being hypocritical here?

For example, trade - and several other things. Maintaining a growing economy needs trade. Trade needs shipping. Shipping needs to be as fast and cheap as possible. Technological innovation finds ways of making it faster and cheaper. Shipping grows, more goods move around the world, and global GDP grows nicely. In 2005, estimated 50,000 ships over a certain size on the ocean. It rose to 87,000, though reduced during the recession for a bit.

Problem: ships of a certain size kill and maim whales in collisions. Even though whaling has been stopped by most nations, the number of Blue Whales is still only about 10,000 est. down from three times that number, which makes it difficult for a male to find a female in the vast oceans. With Northern Right Whales the problem is much worse, with only 300 or so in the North Atlantic and perhaps even less in the North Pacific. With Fin Whales the numbers are not known because if a collision occurs their bodies just sink. These are costs that are externalised and not sufficiently taken into account. Adoption of cost-benefit analysis is a major culprit in this.

Do Evangelical readers really believe it is Good in the Creator's eyes to decimate species and even drive them to extinction? This and other harm on the environment is inescapable if we prioritise economic growth and technological innovation. Other harm includes: decimation of fish populations, pollution of seas, pollution of rivers, decimation of land species populations, pollution of soil, decimation of plant species, deforestation, ... climate change.

It is important that 'developing' nations should not make the mistakes that the 'developed' nations made ("two wrongs do not make a right"). That includes the measures to prevent becoming addicted to things that generate climate change emissions.

Despite Cornwall's claims, it is not primarily these environmental measures that are harming the poor, but the industrial and commercial practices exported from the industrialized and rich North that are and have been hurting the poor.

Example: The Bhopal Disaster. It was not climate change emission reduction measures that caused the Bhopal disaster, which is still having devastating effects on the poor, with many serious birth defects. It was the hubris of Union Carbide and their intransigence in refusing to make proper restitution and a proper cleanup of the contaminated soil before it was handed over the Indian Government.

Climate change will devastate the poor much more than it will hurt the rich and comfortable in Cornwall's America.

Cornwall's full name is 'The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation', and claims to seek "environmentally friendly prosperity" [p.10]. Yet their definition of prosperity as growing economy and technological innovation is one that inevitably results in decimation and destruction of other species.

However, my focus is on theology here, not economics (which I hope to argue elsewhere later). Cornwall's attitude to economics is at variance with the clear teaching of the Bible, such as:

"The most terrible poverty," said Mother Theresa of Calcutta is "loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted." Poverty is not just a financial matter. Poverty is a spiritual matter, which cannot be solved by increasing GDP and technological innovation.

It seems to me that, behind Cornwall's apparent concern for the poor, lurks an attitude of wanting to protect the rich and their privileges. Is this hypocrisy revealed in their adding "and sustain prosperity for all" on at the end of their statement, "environmental and energy policy should remove, not build, obstacles to the abundant affordable energy necessary to lift the world's poor out of poverty and sustain prosperity for all" [p.2]?

What Cornwall are really wanting is to maintain, it seems, is over-cheap energy for the United States, made cheap by externalizing its real costs.

CONCLUSION

If we look at Cornwall's other website, Resisting the Green Dragon, it is clear that Cornwall want to fight all environmentalist thinking.

The 'dragon' they are battling is a straw one (i.e. a fictitious adversary that does not represent the facts), because what they characterize as environmentalism either does not exist or is at most a minority in the environmentalist movement.

Their Renewed Call should be seen therefore as influenced by this obdurate hatred of all that is environmental, coupled with their love of the North American lifestyle. While it raises some useful points that should be considered, it is a biased piece of polemic disguised as an argument, rather than a real call to Truth.

I started this document with a view to mere analysis of Cornwall's Renewed Call, but found myself becoming increasingly angry as I understood the depths of the stubbornness of their hearts and their self-interest.

Wrong attitude leads to flawed exegesis of Scripture, to misunderstanding what God has planned and is doing, to one-sided emphasis, leaving out inconvenient things, to restricted views of application, and to giving mere lip-service to what is important. This is why I believe Cornwall has gone disastrously wrong.

Attitude is important. Two main disasters of the twentieth century were the two world wars, which led to yet other disasters. They were caused by a combination of stubbornness of rulers, self-interest of the arms industry and stupidity of the people who thought war a glorious enterprise [Storkey 2014]. These are all attitude problems. Will the disaster of the twenty-first century be caused by stubbornness of rulers, self-interest of the oil industry, and the stupidity of people who think that consumption and arrogant affluence are a glorious enterprise?

Is it too much to compare Cornwall with the religious leaders of Jesus' time? The Pharisees might have been correct in their doctrines and their love for God's law, but Jesus criticised their attitude, and it is remarked that they "loved money". Cornwall might be strictly correct in some of the words they use, but they too love the financial system and their attitude is a problem.

In Jesus' parable of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man in torment in hell wanted Abraham to send Lazarus, the poor man, back to his brothers to warn them. "They have Moses and the prophets," replied Abraham. "But, Father Abraham," the rich man said, "if someone returns from the dead, they will believe." "No," answered Abraham,

"if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will then believe even if someone were to return from the dead."

Cornwall have the ear of many powerful people in the United States of America, and have influence among American evangelicals. I believe they are leading evangelicals and others away from where God wants people to go in these days. Revelation 11:18 calls for God to "destroy those who destroy the earth". Cornwall's actions have contributed to increased rates of destruction of the earth. Will God hold Cornwall and its followers responsible?


REFERENCES AND NOTES

Goudzwaard B (1984) Idols of Our Time Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, USA.

Lawrence, D. 1995. Heaven ... It's Not the End of the World. The Biblical promise of a new earth. London: Scripture Union.

Alan Storkey, 2014. Why World War 1?.


Created: Over several weeks to 14 December 2014. Last updated: 31 December 2014 link to Cornwall banner, rewrote Intro, added contents. 28 February 2015 smaller pic, new intro with summary of my arguments up front. 1 March 2015 some minor rewording. 5 March 2015 removed hotlink, at suggestion. 13 March 2015 minor corrections from MAS. 10 May 2015 finished removing some unnecessary offputs. 26 May 2015 changed ending, added Storkey. 18 July 2015 Jerdon's Courser. 25 October 2015 minor changes. 5 November 2015 rewrote 'Nature Knows Best'. 26 December 2015 better imago dei. 24 April 2016 better on care; link to deep analysis.