Darrow Miller and Friends

PLANET EARTH: Late Great or Future Great .. Which Vision Shapes Your Life?

The Christians in my generation were profoundly impacted by Hal Lindsay’s influential book The Late Great Planet Earth. I have often said that this book has done more than any other to disengage the church from the task that Christ has given her. Lindsay presented a future of things are going to get worse and worse and when they get bad enough, Christ will return. This view put the church on the sideline of shaping culture. It also removed the church from another pursuit which was subsequently hijacked by those who “worship the creature rather than the creator.” I speak of the Creation Mandate to steward the creation. It was the life and work of Francis Schaeffer that called my generation back to these critical tasks.

Wim Rietkerk, a Dutch pastor and the head of L’Abri in Holland, followed Francis Schaeffer’s book Pollution and the Death of Man with his own book The Future Great Planet Earth. The title immediately evokes a vision radically different from Hal Lindsay’s. While Lindsay helped lay the foundation for the church’s disengagement from the world, Rietkerk called the church to militant engagement, including the stewardship of the earth. God put Adam and Eve in the garden to conserve and develop it. He set humans as His co-regents to bring bounty from the earth. Since the fall, that mandate includes concern for the pollution of our air and water, the raping of the land, the destruction of our forests.

Christians are to have proper regard for the earth as God’s gift for our habitation, and nurture it responsibly, in a way that prospers creation, meets human need, and glorifies God. They can do this only from the framework of a biblical worldview. The issue is confused because, today, many who talk about creation care do so from an animistic worldview that sees humans as a cancer on the planet to be reduced if not eliminated altogether.

Another opposing worldview is that of secularism that regards the universe as a cosmic machine and man as primarily (or exclusively) a consumer of the earth’s resources. Instead of seeing the world in all her living and created glory, in this view, creation is reduced to nature and nature exists for man to exploit. Industrial efficiency models of agriculture and forestry (as examples) have deformed both creation and humankind.

Christians identify with neither of these meta-narratives, but take their perspective from the scripture.

As Rietkerk points out, the labor to fight against natural evil and restore creation began, not in our modern era, at the time of the narrative of the Fall (see Genesis 3:16-19). The great Biblical themes: Creation – Fall – Redemption – Consummation frame our life and work today. The Creation narrative establishes what God intended. The Fall describes the brokenness that is to be challenged. The Redemption narrative establishes that Christ died to restore all things to himself (Col. 1:20), that he is Sovereign over all things (Col 1:18), and that the Creation mandate is re-established in the great commission (Matt 28:18-20). The Consummation narrative establishes the glorious future of planet earth and the aim for which Christians are to labor in their LifeWork today.

Paul affirms this responsibility four times in Romans 8:18-22 were the apostle pleads that the creation is waiting redemption:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Creation is waiting with eager expectation the revealing of the children of God. The full restoration of creation will occur with the return of Christ and our emergence, in perfection, as the children of God who will reign with Christ. But now we are to see the first fruits of the final restoration. We are to live a proleptic life – to live in the reality of the future fulfillment in some small way today. Or to put it differently, the creation is waiting for the children of God to begin to act like the children of God. Too often we say we are children of God and then act like pagans with little care of creation.

The great Bible expositor Matthew Henry makes the connection between the future fulfillment and contemporary action: “All the curse and filth that now adhere to the creature shall be done away then when those that have suffered with Christ upon earth shall reign with him upon the earth. This the whole creation looks and longs for; and it may serve as a reason why now a good man should be merciful to his beast.”

The Apostle John gives prophetic warning for those who destroy this earth – Rev. 11:18:

The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small —
       and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

The warning is clear, those who destroy the earth will be recompensed with their own destruction.  As Warren Wiersbe, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes in his commentary on the Book of Revelation,

The saints will have their works [read: labour] judged, and the wicked will be judged and condemned for their sins. It will be a time of reward for the saints and of wrath for the sinners. Note that the lost are described as “them which destroy the earth.” Satan is the Destroyer (9:11), and all who follow him share in his program of destruction. God commanded man to care for the earth and use its resources for his good and God’s glory; but Satan has led men into destroying the earth and using its resources selfishly for evil.

Rietkerk’s book is a call for God’s people to contribute to the restoration of all things. He writes: “[God] wants us to be concerned and to be working in the world right now as his children, working towards its renewal. That is our calling – to give a foretaste of the coming renewal.” Christians should, in their personal lives, and in their influence on public policy, work to conserve and progress that which God, at the end of creation, declares “good.” Do we stand by and accept the continued destruction of the earth or do we engage in the restoration of the good?

Rietkerk made at least three important contributions to a Christian view of the environment. The first was his alternative vision to Hal Lindsey’s disengagement motif. A second part of his legacy is his point that human pollution of the earth began, not in recent decades or centuries, but in Genesis 3. Finally, he showed us that Christians are to care for creation, not because we worship creation, but because we worship God, the author of creation.

Rietkerk’s book was published in 1989. In the 23 years since, the discussion about environmental issues has heated and two sides have polarized. The debate has generated ideological arguments about global warming, the greenhouse effect, the shrinking ozone layer, et al. While some, for ideological reasons, argue that the issue is settled, a body of dissenting evidence remains, and reputable scientists deny the majority opinion.

All of that is to say that the DNA, while embracing a biblical view of conservation and human responsibility to care for the creation, does not accept the bulk of the Anthropogenic Global Warming argument, some of which Rietkerk appears to have agreed with.  (See Chapter 7 of my first book, Discipling Nations, for more details.)

With that caveat in mind, we encourage you to read Rietkerk’s chapter In Labour

– Darrow Miller

print this page Print this page

Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).