The best way for me to explain to you the Upstream Vision is to tell you a story. A man was walking through the bush with his dog enjoying the outdoors, the fragrances of nature, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the chirping of the birds, the sounds of the flowing river, and — suddenly he heard the panicked cries for help coming from the river. He ran to the riverbank and saw a hapless victim being swept downstream. He threw himself into raging river and eventually managed to rescue the drowning man further downstream. The next day this bushwalker’s heroism was featured on the front-page of the local newspaper. That day, he and his dog attempted to complete their previous day’s interrupted walk — but it was interrupted again by the cries for help from yet another drowning person being swept downstream! In fact, for the next five days the same dog-walking bushwalker vainly tried to complete his walk but was kept busy rescuing drowning people being swept downstream! Recognising the growing crisis, the municipal councillors met and decided to apply for a government grant to be able to station a full-time lifeguard on the riverbank. After the lifeguard was hired, he too was kept busy rescuing people being swept downstream. The council then applied for further federal funding as the lifeguard was barely able to keep up with the numbers of rescued victims now requiring to be driven into town to be hospitalised. The council received their funding to build a permanent ambulance station next to the lifeguard station. Soon there were multiple full-time lifeguards and ambulance drivers working around the clock to rescue and hospitalise victims.The council then needed to employ a CEO to manage the worksite and the CEO, of course, needed an executive assistant who needed a personal assistant who needed an admin’ assistant to help oversee the busy operation. Then the predictable happens! There was a government funding cut-back and the council decide that they could no longer afford the lifeguards, the ambulance drivers, admin’ assistants, or the personal assistant, but decided to keep the CEO and his executive assistant.
Around this time, the dog-walking bushwalker decided one more time to complete his walk through the bush track. As he went deeper into the bush going upstream and alongside the river, he walked over the foot bridge spanning the river and noticed that there were two $2 planks of timber missing in the foot bridge through which everyone had been falling into river!
¶ “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet … In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13, 16
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
The Christian Church has had a long tradition of working ‘downstream’ in and amongst society’s deepest and darkest problems. In fact, Christianity itself was birthed in one of the darkest hours in human history. Dr. F.W. Boreham has noted that at the darkest points in human history when all hope seemed lost, it was often the case that God’s response to such bleak times was to send a baby into the world. The greatest example of this customary divine response was the birth of Mankind’s eternal Saviour, Jesus the Christ.
¶ But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 NLT
Consider the unlikely geo-political-cultural backdrop at the time of Christ’s incarnation.
It was a time of widespread political corruption at every level of government and administration.
It was a time of rampant sexual abuse of women and children.
It was a time of economic suppression of the poor.
It was a time of educational deprivation reducing in ignorance and illiteracy which placed the uneducated in a vulnerable state of manipulation.
It was a time of widespread fictional religious ideas that played on this widespread ignorance.
When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
When the Christ came, and Christianity was birthed –
The place of women was elevated (women were the first witnesses to, and proclaimers of, Christ’s resurrection for example)
The practice of baby exposure (were unwanted babies were left out at night in forests or the market square to be ravaged by wild animals) was countered by Christians actively rescuing these abandoned babies (most of whom were girls)
Churches were planted around the Empire which became centres of learning which countered the pervasive errors and false ideas widely accepted by the masses (1Pet. 1:14).
Lepers were cared for and their wounds tended to.
When plagues came, Christians were at the forefront of caring for and nursing the sick and dying (“During plague periods in the Roman Empire, Christians made a name for themselves. Historians have suggested that the terrible Antonine Plague of the 2nd century, which might have killed off a quarter of the Roman Empire, led to the spread of Christianity, as Christians cared for the sick and offered a spiritual model whereby plagues were not the work of angry and capricious deities but the product of a broken Creation in revolt against a loving God.” [SOURCE]). Christians became known as “those who ran into the plague—not from it!”
Over the centuries, Christians pioneered and established public hospitals, public schools, and universities.
Missionaries were sent to the far-flung parts of the world bringing ‘social lift’ wherever they went.
Grounded in the emerging Christian worldview, modern science was birthed and promoted by: Galileo, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Johannes Kepler, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Anders Celsius, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Edwin Hubble, and Hugh Ross.
Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being….All variety of created objects which represent order and life in the universe could happen only by the willful reasoning of its original Creator, whom I call the ‘Lord God’….He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, His duration reaches from eternity to eternity; His presence from infinity to infinity; He governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” -Sir. Isaac Newton
In AD 312 a new trajectory was also seeded into Christianity. This eventually led to the message of the saving gospel being subjugated by the lure of political power. Over the ensuing centuries, many of those who rose to high leadership positions within the Church, whose Christianity was quite questionable, used their ecclesiastical (“Church”) position to further their own interests not the interests of Christ or others. In many respects, the expression “Dark Ages” refers to this superficial period of Christian leadership who were more interested in political power rather than spiritual purity. History tells us that wherever the light that God had ordained to shine through His people ceased, there has been a void and a darkness that the enemy has been too keen to fill. In the late 600s and into the early 700s, when the Dark Ages were nearing their darkest, a new religion challenged Christianity—but not merely with strange ideas, but with the edge of the sword. Church leaders responded, proving their ignorance of the Scriptures, recruiting mercenary soldiers to fight in the crusades. This merger of Church and State led to what became known as Christendom and became not just a political force, but by the Medieval period it had also become a military force as well.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5
John Wycliffe (ca. 1328 – 1384)
In AD 1328 God introduced a baby into the world by the name John Wycliffe. His arrival marked the early days of what would later become known as the Enlightenment Period and The Reformation. The Dark Ages would be soon be over because John Wycliffe would take the ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament in their original language and translate them into the language spoken by common Englishmen of his day. The Holy Spirit then sent William Tyndale, another Englishman, to build on the work of Wycliffe. He translated the whole Bible into English and paid for it with his life. As more and more people were able to read or hear the Bible in their own language the more they realised that what the Church was teaching did not accord with the Bible. Added to these flames of revival, in Italy the gospel according to the Bible was being preached by Girolamo Savonarola, in Switzerland by Huldrych Zwingli, by the great Czech preacher John Hus in Bohemia, in Germany by Martin Luther, and in Geneva by John Calvin. These flames of revival were fanned by the Holy Spirit into the 1700s with the great preaching ministries of John Wesley and George Whitefield who both saw tens of thousands of people come to Christ and led to William Wilberforce the English Parliamentarian become the patron of around 70 societies which included the abolition of slavery, the establishment of the Bible Society, the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty against Animals (RSPCA), prison reform (including the principle of Habeas Corpus), and the establishment of free public schools.
A young Billy Graham preaching in Los Angeles 1947
In the 1800s when the light of the Enlightenment finally enabled people to see that scientific facts should not be disregarded merely because the Church had claimed the Bible said so, more and more people began to openly challenge the claims of the Bible. This was especially so from November 24th, 1859, when Charles Darwin published, Origin of The Species. This helped to fuel a movement in Tübingen among German theologians known as Liberalism which denied nearly all of the supernatural claims of the Bible including the virgin birth of Christ, His miracles, and His resurrection. Liberalism attempted to reduce the purpose of Christianity merely to achieving the newly coined term, social justice (largely caring for the poor and the downtrodden). But by the late 19th century and early in the 20th century a fresh move of the Holy Spirit began to reignite the Christians around the world to return to accepting the supernatural aspects of the Bible as true. The Holy Spirit raised up many great preachers who built extraordinarily large congregations and experienced phenomenal miracles in the process. A new breed of evangelists around the world helped to strengthen this new move of God with thousands being converted to Christ all around the world. In particular, a young dairy farmer from just outside Charlotte, North Carolina, Billy Graham, would end up preaching to around 2.2 billion people throughout his evangelistic meetings, with 3.3 million people coming to know Christ as their Saviour! Billy Graham is largely credited with creating the term Evangelicalism. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has continued to be focused on evangelism and has grown into one of the world’s most respected rapid response relief agencies.
Billy Graham preaching in London in 1956 where more than 2 million Brits came out to hear him
[NEXT: Part 2 – How the Holy Spirit is inspiring a new generation of “Upstream” Christians to develop strategies for solving the world’s greatest and darkest problems in a neighbourhood near you!]
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
I am a student of theology. Even though I’m often introduced at my speaking engagements as ‘a theologian’ and written theological books, articles, papers and lectured for four theological colleges, I still consider myself a theological student rather than a theologian. I have a similar outlook toward pastoring. I have been trying to do it for three decades and served pastorally in three churches, I still regard myself as a student of my craft. Yet, in a very natural way, theology and pastoring are nearly identical twins. My posthumous mentor, Dr. F.W. Boreham, regarded the work of pastoring as a theological exercise. The main responsibility of the pastor, Dr. Boreham contended, was to show people who God was and what He was like. This is the essence of theology. I recall that Pastor John Piper once said something like this at a pastors’ conference when he spoke of every pastoral problem — marriage difficulties, relationship difficulties, financial difficulties, employment difficulties — each being caused by a theological problem. It might take me longer than you need me to be to explain this more fully, but needless to say, when we have a clearer vision and understanding God and how relates to us, it has a profound salutary effect in how we live, relate to others, handle money, and resolve life’s challenges.
With this in mind, it has become increasingly obvious to me that the greatest challenges that we (all 7 billion of us) face – including African poverty, Middle Eastern wars, Mexican drug cartels, shooting deaths in Philadelphia, domestic abuse in Tasmania, and global-warming, are all theological problems that can be solved by correcting poor theology. To illustrate this I will consider how climate-change is an example of how a good Christology (the foundation for all sound theology) provides hope and solutions.
¶ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6
Dr. Hugh Ross with Dr. Andrew Corbett in Los Angeles
WHY CLIMATE-CHANGE ALARMISTS ARE ALARMED
While theology is my passion and discipline, I’m also extremely interested in various fields of science and serve as a visiting scholar at the Science-Faith think-tank, Reasons To Believe. I do not regard science as an enemy of theology, and therefore take what scientists claim with appropriate acceptance. The scientific case for recent global-warming is barely contestable. If the modelling is correct about the rate of global-warming continuing to increase there can be no wonder that so many people are alarmed at what the future may hold. The Australian government’s ‘Future Climate-Change’ website states a range of temperature increases over the next 30 or so years ranging from rising sea-levels engulfing many Pacific Ocean island nations, and temperature increases in the range of 1°C to 4.8°C.
Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg in 2019
According to the World Wildlife Fund website this level of unabated human-induced climate change will wipe out most of the world’s wildlife and devastate many of the rainforests in which this wildlife depends. The Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, went further suggesting that human-induced climate-change would cause mass extinction of wildlife and echoed the growing fear that governmental inactivity that could even lead to the extinction of the human race. She was given the opportunity to raise her concerns in an address to the United Nations in which she stated (September, 2019) –
“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words!”
“The percentage of those surveyed [by Gallop] indicating that they ‘personally worry about this problem a great deal’ stood at 35 percent in 1989 and seesawed between a low of 24 percent in 1998 and a high of 45 percent in 2017… Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the percentage of Americans who concur that scientific data affirm global warming has risen to more than 70 percent. The percentages of those who see human activity as the cause of global warming and who believe the effects of global warming have already become apparent have risen to nearly that same level” (pg. 18).
Dr. Ross goes on to report that “the younger the adult respondents, the more they ‘worry a great deal/fair amount about global warming.’” Many of these young people are convinced that climate-change will inevitably lead to human extinction and the death of our planet. No wonder they are so alarmed!
EARTH’S KNIFE-EDGE FINE-TUNING ENABLES LIFE ON EARTH
For those who understand just how finely tuned our planet is to enable life, they quickly recognise that the slightest increase in the rate of CO2 in the atmosphere, or the slightest increase in global temperature, could have a devastating impact for the possibility of life on earth. This is why they are so concerned (“alarmed”) about human-induced global warming due to increased CO2 emissions. Many of them understand that our Earth needed around 660 at-the-same-time fine-tuned parameters to an eye-watering precision of ‘millimetre-perfect’ exactitude, that physicist Dr. Freeman Dyson stated, “The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming” (Freeman J. Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, New York: Basic, 1979:250). What Dr. Dyson was probably referring to is our exquisitely fine-tuned atmosphere which is perfectly composed for life on earth to be possible – consisting of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, and several other gases comprising 0.1% (which includes carbon-dioxide). One of our planet’s unique parameters is its precise distance from the Sun which places us perfectly in a zone where we are not too close to be over-radiated, and yet not too far away to be a frozen wasteland. This is why astronomers refer to earth’s location in our solar system as being in the “Goldilocks Zone”. Added to this fine-tuning for life is our precise rate of gravity; our distance from our moon enabling our earth’s stable and consistent rotation and tidal rhythms; and, the composition of our earth’s crust on tectonic plates which facilitates our life-giving waterways and enables access to minerals and nutrients necessary for it.
¶ And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28
Strangely, it is this miraculous fine-tuning that makes life on earth possible that has caused so many people who ignore its implications to regard it all as a luck-of-the-evolutionary-draw that mankind may well destroy within thirty years or so. They therefore speak of human-induced global-warming as humanity’s greatest crisis in language that almost sounds biblical in its use of apocalyptic forecasts and warnings. Several science commentators have noted this religious fervour and its accompanying Old Testament sounding woes.
The difference between that earlier and half-forgotten surge of alarmism and today’s is in the more emphatically religious character of our present [Environmental] movement. There is an ethical dimension…[requiring] political action too. -Tom Stacey, science journalist (p. 16)
Science journalist, Tom Stacey, speaking about this religious fervour of the Green Movement mimicking ‘genuine religion’ which lays the blame for earth’s woes squarely at the feet of humankind, wrote, “A factor of what I venture to call genuine religion had come into play, in that it is present in the Abramic traditions. We recall Adam who in eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil attained to consciousness and chose to disobey; and hence his inherent sense of original sinfulness” (Climate: The Counter Consensus, 2010:17). But, Stacey cautions, the idea that mankind’s greatest problem is global-warming, ignores the point of the Genesis creation of Man account – “For although Man may feel himself to be made in the image of God as the Book of Genesis avers, he at once discovers he cannot be God.” Which is why Stacey found it incredulous that despite the extremely complex nature of climatology (which involves over “100 scientific disciplines” according to Palaeoclimatologist Professor Robert Carter) that any politician “could presume to promise that he would see to it that the rise in global temperatures would be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius” as UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown did at the Earth Summit at Copenhagen in December 2009 (p.18).
There is a deeply religious worldview that undergirds this widespread concern about climate-change which is grounded in the idea that mankind is not just the cause of Mother Earth’s problems—but that mankind actually is the problem! That’s probably why the spirit behind this religious-environmental movement often describes earth as being over-populated and so heavily promotes such things as widespread abortion of babies; euthanising the elderly/infirmed/disabled/‘defective’/depressed; intentionally sterile sexualised relationships; and, suicide for those who have lost hope.
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:25
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Second Corinthians 4:4
THE SCOPE OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE & THEOLOGY
Keble College Chapel, Oxford University, founded in 1096.
Theology used to be commonly referred to as the Queen of the Sciences. It was the unifying field of study that tied all of the various fields of academic diversity together. This is why all of the world’s oldest universities were established originally as schools of theology which then branched out into other academic arenas. It is also why these schools became known asuni(fying)+(di)versities. Over time though, ‘the pursuit of knowledge’ (which is what the word science means) came to mean that which can be known objectively, physically, materially, by testable, repeatable, measurable methods. This is now known as methodological naturalism. It limits the scope of knowledge to the natural realm and ignores the realities of the subjective realm (psychology, human emotions and relationships), and, the supernatural realm (the immaterial, the spiritual, philosophy, religious claims). This is why Theology is regent over the physical sciences (chemistry, physics, biochemistry) because views knowledge as not being limited to just the material realm.
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And He who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. Revelation 4:2-4
And herein lies the problem with how most of those in the so-called Environmentalist Movement see the world: they view the universe comprised entirely of material particles as the result of a series of unguided, undirected, naturalistic uncaused events that has somehow evolved its own impersonal god-like soul (“Gaia”) which is now present in everything. But this is a lie. The universe, let alone our planet, does not have such a soul, and is most definitely not Mother Earth or Mother Nature. The universe, and especially earth, is the deliberate, intentional creation of the One True GOD, Yahweh, the God of the Bible (Gen. 1:1; Jn. 1:1). In the worldview of the leaders of the environmental movement it’s not just that no-one is seated on the throne of the universe and ruling the world, it’s that there is no throne upon which to rule from! Therefore, in this view, there is no God, and therefore there is no one ruling and regulating the universe. But this too is a lie. The truth is, there is One who rules over His creation, and He is seated upon the throne from which He does so!
¶ “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11
WHY GOOD CHRISTOLOGY MAKES CLIMATE-CHANGE LESS ALARMING
Dr. Hugh Ross is not a climate-change denier and makes a compelling case for why mankind should steward (manage) the earth and its resources responsibly. There are many parts of the world that are largely deprived of clean air or clean drinking water. We should be doing all we can to collectively resolve these dangers to human life, including the appropriate reduction of CO2 emissions. When God originally created mankind, He placed them in a garden He had planted (Gen. 2:8). After showing Adam and Eve around Eden, He told them to –
¶ And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. Genesis 1:28-29
God never surrendered the earth to mankind. He entrusted it to mankind. He demonstrated what all the earth could be by showing the original two members of mankind what Eden consisted of. When the environmentalist weeps because forests have been cleared and the edges of the Gobi and Sahara have now spread their barrenness even further, he may be living out his pantheistic worldview. But perhaps we should weep too because the divine vision of an Edenic Earth has been set back even further (again).
¶ The earth is the LORD’S and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, Psalm 24:1
What the naturalist (the environmental materialist) misses, it that the earth is remarkably resilient because its Maker has made it so. All of the fine-tuning involved in the necessary conditions for the biological life on earth, were not the chance result of mere random, unguided, undirected, laws of physics (where do laws come from anyway??). No, all of the incredibly, eye-watering precision involved in the fine-tuning of our universe and especially our planet, was the result of an All-powerful, All-good, All-wise, All-present, All-knowing eternal and unique Being we call, God. He is guiding our universe toward its climatic conclusion because it was always His plan to display to glory through the ultimate triumph over evil so that the original vision of creation could finally be fulfilled — a dwelling place for God and man. This is why Jesus, the eternal Son of God, referred to His Father as the Lord of heaven and earth.
¶ At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; Matthew 11:25
Ultimately it is God’s desire for dimension of the seen (the material world) and the dimension of the unseen – the dimension where He is seen clearly, becomes the dwelling place of God and mankind together (Rev. 21:3).
¶ We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us! First Corinthians 13:12, The Message
In the meantime, we rest in the knowledge that this universe is the creation of Jesus the Christ, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. (Acts 17:24). He is the One who holds and sustains this earth and will never allow any opponent to destroy it until His plan of redemption and triumph over evil is finally culminated — and even then He will redeem it, rather than destroy it. This is good Christology, and understanding it should cause anyone who is fretting over man-made climate-change to cease being alarmed and begin to turn their attention to the One who is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Lord of Heaven and Earth and everything in it!
He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:3-4
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.