In just a few short weeks, the Rykens will head halfway across the country on their annual summer road trip. No doubt our pilgrimage to the Midwest will feature the usual attractions: arguments about the location of the invisible line that divides the back seat into two equal sections; broken crayons and half-eaten crackers in the car seats; sing-along tapes from Sesame Street and Trout Fishing in America; the super-advanced version of “20 Questions” that we like to play; desperate attempts to set the family record for the shortest rest stop; repeated warnings from our McDonald’s alert system; and, of course, the never-ending question: “Are we there yet?”
We will be driving in our Honda Odyssey, which raises a question that some Christians have been asking during the past year: “What would Jesus drive?” First it was “What would Jesus do?” Then it was “What would Jesus eat?” But more recently groups like the National Council of Churches and the Evangelical Environmental Network have been encouraging Christians to think about what it means to be a godly motorist. In particular, they have been trying to persuade people that it is immoral to drive big cars that get bad gas mileage. So they’re asking what Jesus would drive, and their answer is that he would probably drive something a Honda Civic or a Cooper Mini.
Carmakers have been quick to jump on for the ride. General Motors has sponsored a contemporary Christian concert series aimed at getting evangelicals to make a connection between Christianity and Chevrolet—anything to sell more cars. Toyota’s ad campaign is even more sacrilegious. The copy reads: “Some cars claim to stir our soul, but can one actually redeem it? The 2003 Toyota Prius can… . Move forward with one of the most socially conscious vehicles on the planet. The environment will thank you. And so will your soul.”
But would Jesus thank you? What does he want you to drive? It’s easy to laugh this question off. Some people say that Jesus wouldn’t drive at all: he would go around in sandals the way he always did. Others think he would rely on public transportation as a more environmentally sound alternative. And in a letter to Christianity Today, archaeologist James Hoffmeier joked that Jesus would probably drive a Hummer. How else could he get all 12 of his disciples across the desert?
There are a number of problems with always asking what Jesus would do. One is that we don’t always know what Jesus would do, and playing this kind of theological “Simon Says” can easily lead to pointless speculation. Another danger is that it will distract us from being like Christ in the ways he really does want us to imitate him. Rather than making specific decisions for us like what kind of car to drive (or not to drive), the Bible tells us what kind of people God wants us to become. When the New Testament talks about imitating Christ—as it often does—it is generally in the context of principles for living, like patience in suffering or making sacrifices for the sake of others. It is our whole way of life that is supposed to remind people of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 4:16-17), not how many miles we get to the gallon.
Nevertheless, people who ask what Jesus would drive are trying to make a serious point. The choices we make really do matter. This includes the choices we make about how to get from one place to another. Buying a car—or not buying a car—has spiritual implications. We are making a commitment about how much to spend, how much space we will have, how safe our passengers will be, and yes, how much fuel we will consume.
In America we rarely stop to think about the resources we are using, and in many cases squandering. We are so used to guzzling gallons of gas, scraping piles food into the garbage disposal, and running cascades of water that we hardly realize what we are doing any more. Of course God has given us food, oil, and water to use for his glory. I say “use” because these resources are to be used. However, they are not to be wasted. Our calling is not simply to use the creation, but also to care for it. When God called us to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28), this was not simply for our benefit, but ultimately for the good of the whole creation.
Caring for the earth includes making wise choices about things like how we get where we’re going. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a sin to drive an SUV. Some of the claims that environmentalists have been making—like the claim that people who drive big cars are sponsoring terrorism, or that sport utility vehicles are the world’s most dangerous automobiles—are a little absurd. But it is true that some cars consume more fuel than others and that this has an impact on the environment, which is one of things we need to consider in the decisions we make about our mode of transportation. As Christians, we know that this is our Father’s world, and that it is our responsibility to help care for his creation. All other things being equal, if we need to drive at all, we should drive as fuel-efficient a car as possible.
However, fuel efficiency is not the only factor. We also need to think about safety, durability, size, price, and all the other practical considerations that go into making a good decision about what to drive. There is more to Christian stewardship than EPA ratings, and by itself making fuel mileage a major issue does not help us think wisely and Christianly about our transportation.
So what would Jesus drive? I don’t know, because the Bible doesn’t say. But I like to think that if he were a father of four planning a summer vacation, he might drive a good minivan.
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