It is pretty rare for a documentary to make a million dollars at the box office, so the fact that Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" has already brought in more than $10 million is impressive. Not only that, but Gore's movie will probably be one of the five best-selling documentaries of all time by the end of its run. The former Vice President clearly sees himself as a prophet, and he is warning Americans that the end is near.
Is it true? Are we living in the end times—not so much because of an impending Rapture, but because of melting ice caps? At CJS, we certainly don't have the scientific expertise to assess rival global warming claims. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: the debate should be settled on the basis of merit, not personality. Some conservatives will dismiss Al Gore's arguments simply because he is Al Gore. That would be a mistake.
Christians are often concerned about the lazy relativism that has become so popular in America. To compete against the post-modern mentality, we often talk about "truth-claims," and challenge others to take our truth-claims seriously. Al Gore is making a set of truth-claims, and many scientists support his theories. That does not necessarily mean Gore is right, but we should also resist the urge to let politics get in the way of an honest assessment.
Our responsibility as citizens is to look at all the evidence and make the best assessment we can. After collecting and interpreting the data, what if we determine that global warming is not a threat, or that humans are not responsible for increased temperatures? Does that automatically mean that we should proceed with the environmental policies we have now?
Not at all. Whether or not we face impending doom, Christians need to remember that human beings have a responsibility toward the environment. In the last few decades we certainly have not been as conscientious about taking care of our natural resources as we should be. Like it or not, Al Gore is helping to remind Christians of an important duty.
The great evangelical apologist, Francis Schaeffer, wrote a book in the 1970s called Pollution and the Death of Man. In it, Schaeffer carefully analyzes the claims of the environmental movement. Basing his arguments on some profound theological truths, Schaeffer argues that Christians have an important obligation to the environment.
For example, Schaeffer reminds Christians that God created the material world—including trees and chipmunks and flowers and whales—and that upon creating these things he called them good. In other words, God saw something worthwhile in these things, in and of themselves. The material world is valued in God's eyes, it ultimately belongs to Him, and therefore we should treat it with a measure of reverence.
Schaeffer recognizes that the environment, along with everything else, has suffered as a result of the Fall. Pollution, disease, and even global warming, are evidence of a fallen world. However, we should keep the three-part Christian worldview in mind: Creation, Fall, Redemption. Christians are always and everywhere called to be agents of Christ's redemption. Though the earth groans, we have an opportunity to work with a resurrection mentality, for Christ has made all things new.
Along the same lines, Schaeffer reminds us that mankind has a certain union with the creation, since we are actually a part of the creation. Along with sparrows and lilies, we are all the handiwork of the same God. For this reason, we ought to have some sense of solidarity with the created world. Beware, however: this point can be abused, as we've seen with the Spanish effort to confer fundamental human rights upon apes.
While we enjoy exalted status as creatures made in God's image (Gen. 1:27), we also have a sobering responsibility that accompanies this status. Under the so called "dominion mandate" (Gen 1:28), God has placed His global garden in our hands, and he has given us the charge: "Take good care of the world until I return." That is a major responsibility, and Christians should be especially concerned about disappointing the Gardener who created this garden in the first place.
We live in a consumer driven age, and selfishness abounds. It is easy to fall into the consumer mentality ("me, me, me, take, take, take"). Even Christians have been tempted to consume resources without considering future generations or our responsibility to God. Al Gore's prophesies may or may not be true, but they do provide us with an opportunity to stop and think about whether or not we—individually and collectively—have been faithful stewards of the environment. This is a discussion worth having, and at the very least we can thank Al Gore for inspiring it.