Jonathan Merritt got converted in one of his seminary classes.
But not in the way you might think.
The professor, John Hammett, told the class one day that God revealed God’s self in two ways: through scripture and through creation.
“So when we destroy creation,” Merritt quotes him as saying, “it’s similar to tearing a page out of the Bible.”
It hit Merritt over the head like a tree branch.
“He was a great influence,” Merritt said in a recent phone interview from Atlanta, where he’s a faith and culture writer. His first book, “Green Like God,” has just debuted. The release was timed around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day — April 22.
If his name is familiar, his father, the Rev. James Merritt, served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2000-2002. James Merritt leads Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga. Jonathan Merritt has followed in his footsteps, to a point. They both have masters of divinity. (James is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and Jonathan graduated in 2008 from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.) Jonathan Merritt’s path of communication has diverged somewhat from his father’s.
Jonathan has been interviewed by numerous media outlets including ABC World News, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He’s told reporters that his calling to write, rather than minister solely in a church, was divinely inspired.
“I knew that God called me to ministry in some form. Writing and speaking is a dream come true. I’ve always said I’m doing my dream job.”
It took 24 months to research “Green Like God” and about seven months to complete. It’s opened to favorable reviews, from people in medicine such as Matthew Sleeth, M.D., author of “Serve God, Save the Planet”; and Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. Christianity Today has called Merritt “the Green Baptist.”
Yet, there’s been pushback, Merritt said.
Critics come at him from two main fronts. One is political.
“They see this as more political or a liberal issue,” he said. “It’s an issue that doesn’t resonate with their worldview. They’ll say, ‘Are you turning into an Al Gore?’ I couldn’t be more disinterested in that. But, Christians should form uniquely Christian expressions of the environment and create a space for the conversation.”
There are also theological criticisms.
“There are individuals who hold to a certain End Times worldview, so the question becomes, ‘Why care about the future of the Earth?’ That dominion of the Earth theology comes out.
“There is a misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches,” said Merritt, who majored in biology at Liberty University. “Some say the Earth was created as a commodity to be used. In Genesis 1, man is given dominion over the Earth, but what’s more important is the use of the dominion. The Israelite monarchy was different than the others. It was understood that man wasn’t given carte blanche rule but that the Earth was under God. Man was given dominion over children, too, but not abusively. It was understood as a benevolent kingship — caring and compassionate.”
Merritt cited statistics that additionally form his thinking: “We are paying for choices America is making,” he said. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population but we use between 17 and 30 percent of the world’s resources, and 35 percent of the world’s paper products.
“There are foreign countries that may know nothing about Jesus, but everybody knows about creation,” he continued. “There’s a greater connection to the land. Most of the world is more agrarian. Caring for the Earth is tantamount to survival.”
Even before the book, Merritt has spent time speaking at colleges and seminaries and churches. Though in his mind younger people get his message better than older people, “it does seem to resonate with the average Christian. Christians are committed to obeying the word of God; they don’t have a problem with that. But many people don’t know about what God teaches about this. When you say you’re beginning with the study of the Bible, it’s disarming.”
Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237