books energy peak oil religion

No Oil in the Lamp, by Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow

As a Christian, one of my enduring frustrations has been the church’s lack of engagement in the world’s biggest problems. We’re on board with poverty, depending on denomination. Climate change is creeping in there, biodiversity loss has a miniscule presence. But resource depletion or economics? Nowhere to be seen.

Being used to the silence, it’s always great to come across individuals with an interest, and this year has seen the publication of two books addressing oil depletion from a Christian perspective. The first was Sam Norton’s Let us be Human, and now , by Andy Mellen and Neil Hollow.

The authors say the purpose of the book is to raise awareness of oil depletion among Christians and to suggest some practical solutions. It does both of those and more besides, as this is a more comprehensive and analytical book than I expected. It is full of well researched comparisons of different technologies, with detailed sections on different renewable energy sources – all described with non-technical clarity. It anticipates questions and common objections and addresses the oil situation in its full environmental and economic context.

It’s also a very balanced book. The authors don’t delve into the gloom the way many oil depletion writers do, neither do they describe some utopian localist future. They do have a recommended solution though, in the form of the Transition Towns movement. It gets a whole chapter to itself, explored through the Transition tools of future scenarios. And like me, they recognise a parallel between Transition Towns and the idea of the Kingdom of God, both of which “invoke a powerful vision of the future.”

The authors dip a toe in the theology, but they admit that they set out to ask if there is “a specific Christian response to peak oil” and concluded that there probably wasn’t. The Bible doesn’t offer any specific guidance on the matter, being written before the fossil fuel era. What it does do is give us the values that we should be operating by – justice, community, simplicity, stewardship. Those values make oil depletion into an ethical issue that Christians should take seriously.

“The Western world’s addiction to oil has led to corrupt governments, economic havoc, environmental destruction and human made climate change. Christians have been complicit in this misuse and exploitation of the earth’s resources. However, at its best, Christianity has been a faith centred on simplicity, sacrifice and a passion for social justice. We have therefore much to contribute to shaping a post-oil society.”

Indeed.

If we want to take responsibility for our own energy use, there is a chapter of practical approaches, and the authors also address some of their solutions specifically to churches. Many churches depend entirely on cars to get their congregations to services, and they ask if anything can  be done about this. They raise the question of short term missions in an age of expensive air travel. There are case studies of churches insulating their buildings or installing solar panels. Both authors are able to speak from experience too, with lots of projects of their own on their respective houses.

No Oil in the Lamp is a great starting point for Christians who have heard about peak oil but never quite looked into it. (If you’re wondering about the title, ) But it’s also one of the best books I’ve read on oil depletion generally.

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23 comments

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Another very helpful article from Jeremy Williams at ‘Make Wealth History’, so I couldn’t resist re-blogging it. I hadn’t come across these books, but have added these to the material we are developing at Redcliffe College on resource depletion and the Christian response to the same. Some of these issues (especially the consumption of fossil fuels and energy usage) were taken up at the JRI conference we hosted last year, and which are set-out in the College’s free encounters journal, the relevant issue of which may be accessed at:- .
    Thanks Jeremy for highlighting these new books!

  2. Jeremy – Regarding your ‘enduring frustrations’ with the church’s apparent lack of engagement in the world’s ‘biggest’ problems. I find it a tricky one. Could it be that the church sees that spreading the Word itself, is their priority in the world’s biggest problems, and they are then free to let others work out how and where to spread the bread, whilst trying to maintain their personal integrity on treading lightly on the earth and loving one’s neighbour and enemy (regardless of how well that may be done)? I can’t help thinking of Jesus telling the disciples to go with him to spread the word and leave the poor, or the dead, and protecting one’s pearls. It is a tricky one to get our heads around. You and others, evidently can’t reconcile it, but have you anything else to say on it? And why doesn’t the church answer for this frustration it causes in those struggling with it, or perhaps it does?Do they give my answer, but you can’t go along with it?

    1. There are a whole bunch of reasons. One is that yes, certain denominations focus on evangelism, but this is a false divide. Jesus is able to feed people and speak to them, to heal and to teach. He never draws a line between the two or says that one is more important than the other. The Bible is pretty harsh with those who say it’s not their job to help people – faith without action is dead, says the book of James.

      I think the bigger issue is that the church is part of our culture. Poverty and environmental issues don’t feature very highly in society at large, and the church reflects that. It’s supposed to be prophetic, living differently and modelling an alternative vision of what’s important, but it’s as easily distracted by consumerism as anyone else.

      I don’t want to be too harsh. I know plenty of engaged Christians and organisations – some of them share my frustration, and some of them are in churches that are much more positive and proactive on these things.

      What’s the church’s answer? It depends. I grew up in a very conservative church that didn’t do any social action work at all, and I was told in no uncertain terms that my interests were a distraction from the real work of sharing the gospel. (They’re wrong about that) Others think that climate change or development are best pursued by those with an interest, and that Christian NGOs are the best place to do that, not the church itself.

      And others, like the church I’m part of, recognise that the good news is for the whole of creation, not just human souls. And the kingdom of God is here and now, we’re not just in a holding pattern waiting for a mystical afterlife.

      1. Thanks for that good reply. I suspect that teaching faith in the word is a ‘deed’ for helping others and that transition towns could be adopted merely with a self-preservation outlook and continue with squabbling amongst the inmates and even animosity for outsiders. Both would be lop-sided on their own. It seems that you are both members of the same body and the frustrations in each could be the old stumble/stumbling block? Whereas, it seems you feel that the church that sticks to preaching, is not pulling its weight. Does that bring us to planks in our own eye and how to remove the enduring frustrations? That is most certainly a question and not an accusation and only offered to possibly assist us both.

        1. It’s not about people pulling their weight, it’s about what you think the Christian faith is all about in the first place.

          For some, it’s entirely about heaven and hell after death. That means you naturally focus on evangelism, getting people saved. Others take a much broader view, that actually God might be interested in how we live and how we treat each other now, not just what happens to us when we die. If you think this life and this planet matters, then working for a just economics or human rights, or an end to poverty or stopping climate change – all of these are matters of faith.

          I’m in the second camp. I don’t think we can ever say “God is interested in this, but not in that”, which is ultimately the problem.

          On your point about self-preservation: I’m sure that could happen in some churches, but if it did they would have missed the point. Churches are supposed to be outward looking, wanting to serve the community around them and not themselves. The essence of the Christian life is love for God, expressed in love for others. An us-and-them survivalism would have left that behind entirely.

          1. Thanks. It was interesting to read your comments and Neil’s, as in my long draft I had entertained both ideas on the divided attitude to the here and now, and on the Lord’s prayer. I left them aside as I felt there is room for interpretation on the Lord’s prayer, not on whether or not action is required on earth, but on the various types of action applied by each, when, and how. In other words, that’s it is not so defined. Similarly, on the here and now question, I would not ever have been in doubt about such a limited view as churches that have only the hereafter in mind, but those who preach as a vocation but are not without deeds in their personal lives, on a level that suits their ability best. (By the way, the potential of self-preservation was pertaining to transition towns, (not churches), without an an ethical motivation. I was trying to state that both can be lop-sided). The main point for me, was that perhaps we are not all suited to the same areas, and your original answer seemed like an eye being frustrated by an arm. And that ultimately, perhaps frustrations with others is not good from either camp. Sorry, if it was missed or not warranted.

    2. Hi Dichasium
      I think part of Jeremy’s problem is actually that as churches we are making “converts”, but not disciples. We baptise them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we do not teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded (Matt.28:18-20). Part of the “everything” implies living lives of love (Matt.22:36-40) and being good stewards of the earth God has entrusted to us (Gen.1:26,28, 2:15). Coming to repentance (and evangelism as the way to bring sinners to repentance) is only the first step. Obviously the most important step in the sense that you cannot follow Jesus if you don’t repent from a self-centred life to a God-centred life first. But it is not the end of Jesus’ last command, merely the beginning. And I think that this is at the root of the Jeremy’s frustration as well as that of many Christians looking at the western church.

      A “social gospel” with no care about people’s eternal destiny, cannot claim to be love any more than a call to repentance with no care for the physical needs of people (James 2). Both are symptoms of a lack of love. For sure, I am not a pastor and don’t have the gifts that a pastor needs to nurture Christians to maturity, but I realize the importance of those gifts in the functioning of a healthy church and therefore pray for and encourage those with these gifts to use them for the Kingdom of God, just as much as those with a heart for the poor (Rom.12:8) or a heart for the lost (Ephes.4:11).

      To live as a Christian and to become a Christian is equally important; not least because few people will respond to a gospel that doesn’t change people’s lives and appears as hypocrisy in the eyes of the world. Ask any evangelist and they will tell you that one of the most common objections to the gospel is the apparent hypocrisy of “Christians”. If we do not teach believers to live as responsible stewards of God’s earth (Ps.24:1, 50:12) we bring dishonour to His Name, especially in the eyes of a world that is starting to realize what the effects of human greed are on “our” planet.

      1. Sorry if I miss anything, I’II try not to, but it’s 3am gone. There was no misunderstanding about what Christians ought to be doing. I believe the issue was whether churches could teach the Word which includes the first two commandments but leave the way that is practised to their own personal decisions. This is to make sure that they do not get too political and start squabbling over which way is right or wrong, or looking at the splinter in their brother’s eye and missing the plank in their own. If there’s more to discuss, please get back and I’ll respond when I’m awake!

        1. Thanks for the clarification… I think I did misunderstand the issue. However, you address exactly a second problem with disciple-making in many churches. Some think that evangelism is the only aim of the church. I disagreed with that viewpoint above. We are to follow Jesus and call others to follow Him, not simply call them to escape hell through making a one-time decision.

          But the second problem is that Jesus did not only command us to teach people everything He commanded us, but to teach them to obey everything He commanded us. Disciple-making is a process and part of the process is to teach people not simply what the Word of God says, teaching them to obey it. And for that the spiritual gift of teaching is not enough… every believer has that responsibility: to built each other up in love (Ephes.4:16). How we do this should not be the issue (and should probably differ from church to church), but that we do it is part of being Christians. Yes, we should not judge each other, but after taking the plank from our own eyes, we should be willing to remove the speck from our brother’s eye (Matt.7:5).

          1. Hi. Well again, the issuse of helping each other in a spirit of love is not in question. The question is whether we can rightfully be frustrated when its not done in the manner we want it done (whether by individuals or churches). I confidently believe that Matt.7:5 is showing us that when we treat our own errors, we do so in a way which is less judgmental and more kindly than we get from those who think they know better. This is how we then see the way to give others the freedom and right that we had. So, we do not personally remove our bother’s splinter, we show him how to do it for himself. So, again the question is not whether we do or not, but how? And of course, we can question and discuss if we are willing and trying to learn (as we are). This should apply at all levels between the church members or others.Too many people are telling others how to do it properly and we begin to fight (starting with the tiniest little spark of frustration, arrogance or indignation – ego), when there is disagreement. This was the question at the heart of my discussion with Jeremy (his ‘enduring frustrations’ with some churches). Matt.7:5 is great, but we can choose how to interpret it in detail as we draw from our experience. Hope this clarifies further.

  3. As one of the authors I would like to contribute to the debate. I’d echo Jeremy’s (as per usual) excellent arguments above. In addition, I would argue that the Lord’s prayer offers a pretty good mandate to take an interest in what’s going on down here. But also the church and Christians are going to be affected by all this. We therefore have to take interest whether we want to or not.

    Thanks for the great review.

    1. Neil – From your position, your response would obviously be along Jeremy’s lines. Both your answers were quite evident in general terms but failed to answer my specific original proposition. Perhaps you failed to see it, or just aimed to justify your own positions. Whatever, in providing these basic responses I see why one would be left with ‘enduring frustrations’, as indeed I was. I now see, there is more to be questioned on this subject, but clearly, you both have not wanted to go there for me, or, are not able to. I must leave Jeremy with his ‘enduring frustrations’ and you with the Lord’s Prayer, as this is not what Jeremy wants his blog for. For my part, I would do well to remember that! Thanks to both for your contributions, it does all help me along the way. And perhaps it helps others too.

      1. Let me try again, as I’m not trying to avoid anything here. I think you’re suggesting that some might see their role as preaching and others might find their role or ‘calling’ more in social action.

        This is entirely possible on an individual level. We all have different talents and interests. But I don’t think it’s possible on a community level, and churches are communities. A church that focuses entirely on evangelism and ignores social action is like a village where everyone is a baker and nobody is a greengrocer. Everyone’s going to eat, but it’s not going to be a balanced diet.

        I’m aware that my particular passion is social justice and the environment, rather than preaching or bible teaching or prayer. That’s fine, and I respect those who are gifted in different ways. What I don’t accept is when churches say ‘we don’t do that here’ about the environment or poverty. That’s unbalanced, it excludes those who believe that these things are matters of faith, and it turns a blind eye to the suffering of others.

        1. It is good of you to try again. Thank-you. I have no trouble understanding what you are saying, and this time I have a clear grasp of the defining issue from your point of view, which is, that churches are communities (the rest follows from that). I’m just not sure if one can ask all of each individual church, even if desirable. I think it may be an acceptable view that the church together is a community, but individual churches may genuinely not be able to guide others in this area, so they leave it for the individual (and do their own bit, in their own way). Of course, our blogs won’t cover every scenario in this issue, but instinct tells me you may well be wrong on this, and your ‘eternal frustrations’ backs this instinct from a Christian perspective, I think. I am glad that you are prepared to answer when confronted by my interruptions, and perhaps irritations! Thanks.

          1. The defining issue is what you think the church is for, which is a matter of theology. I’ve got my own convictions there, and they’ve changed over time. (As I say, I grew up in a church that didn’t do any social action) Obviously I don’t think I am wrong, but it’s a possibility!

          2. So, regardless of right or wrong, I’m still left with my initial puzzlement, why would you not be content (without ‘enduring frustrations’), when churches have their own understanding of their role? (It doesn’t feel like a Christian attitude, no matter how they responded to you). There’s no need to reply if you’ve no wish to Jeremy. Perhaps, I should not question you over this.

  4. Because the poor are still poor, and the climate is still changing, and our throwaway culture is only accelerating, and some of the communities best placed to motivate people to change are preoccupied with other things! Doesn’t that seem sad to you?

    There’s nothing unChristian about being frustrated at apathy, or angry at injustice. Quite the opposite – the Bible has very harsh words for those who think these things don’t concern them. The book of James or prophets like Amos address this exact question, of whether you can have religious observance and not care for others – and they totally dismiss the idea.

    It’s a bit like politics. The government can make a huge positive difference to society, but politicians appear to spend most of their time squabbling over party matters and rubbishing the other guy. Many churches can seem like that, busy with their own internal affairs and forgetting that they’re actually there to serve.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to sit in judgement over my fellow Christians. I’m just not satisfied with the world in its current state, I don’t believe God is satisfied with it either, and there’s work to be done.

  5. Of course Jeremy, there’s work to be done; of course we must serve; of course it would be great if governments and churches did more and stopped the internal squabbling; of course one is saddened by injustice and all things inadequate. But I have been asking if we should be frustrated with others; specifically that some communities do not agree with your expectations of them, because, they are not obliged to agree with you. You give the book of James (which I love) and prophets like Amos. These of course request right action but they do not say that we, as individuals, can expect it from others or judge them, even if only by frustration. In fact, to my mind, they say quite a bit to the contrary.
    Anyway Jeremy, I know where you are coming from and I merely debate the matter as I’m always trying to understand the correct Christian way, and we are two people who ultimately, want the same. So, unless you’re coming to chat it over a cuppa with me in Wales, I think I best leave you alone on this! I’m sure we’ve both tried our best. Thanks for being open.

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