Lately I’ve been thinking about how Christians should respond to climate change as I prepare my Issues in Theology presentation. But almost every time someone at College hears about my topic, the conversation turns towards one looming difficulty that threatens to turn the idea of a Christian response to climate change into a non-starter. Time and again people ask me — or proclaim as an immutable article of faith — ‘But it’s all going to burn, isn’t it?’
Yep, 2 Peter 3. It seems to present an insurmountable obstacle to developing any response to climate change — let alone a Christian one!
But I’ve discovered some stimulating stuff in Richard Bauckham’s commentary on 2 Peter (which Don Carson warmly recommends, in case you’re doubting its ‘evangelical cred’):
The author clearly uses cosmological ideas current in his time which must be regarded as mythological: creation as the emergence of the world out of a primeval ocean, the Deluge as a universal cosmic catastrophe, the idea that the world is to be subject to two universal destructions, one by water (the Flood) and the other by fire (in the future). But the religious belief which is conveyed in these mythological forms remains valid, though it is not a belief which can be detached, in a purely existential way, from any reference to the physical world. (p 302)
I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this, but I think I can see his point: What 2 Peter 3 driving at, as it works to pull the rug out from under the feet of the ‘scoffers’ who doubt the future intervention of God, is the inevitability of His arrival as Judge.
Bauckham goes on to argue that the imagery of fire consuming the elements (stoichia) is about the heavens and heavenly powers being stripped back so that the earth and everything done on it is exposed to God’s judicial scrutiny. What’s more, as the passage crescendos it’s actually the renewal of the creation — such that it becomes a place where righteousness is at home — that’s revealed as the goal of God’s dramatic arrival.
The images of fiery discontinuity between the present and the future actually serve an emphasis on continuity, in fulfilment of OT hopes. It’s in the fires of judgement that God will forge a redeemed, perfected and transfigured world that answers to His original intention…