After filling up on a recent trip from Ohio, I had my wife
calculate the gasoline consumption of our spiffy new Honda Civic.
"You're going to like this," she said, "It comes out to 45 miles
per gallon." Though aided by a strong tailwind, I was still
enthused. But not enthused as I was when I found out that driving
such a car was exactly what Jesus would do. Wow, I was not only
frugal and fascinated by the efficiency of small engines, I was
righteous. My righteousness was inflated further by the facts that
we only own that one car and I ride to work on a bicycle. My
goodness knows no bounds.
 This is in stark contrast to the sinful ways of my children,
who trundle their families around in SUVs or vans, who own more
than one car, and who definitely do not ride bicycles to work.
Unperceptive as usual, I thought their transportation choices had
to do with a desire for room and safety for their families. But in
actuality, those practical choices concealed wickedness. They were
disobedient to what Jesus would drive.
 The Evangelical Environmental Network is waging a campaign
organized around the question "What Would Jesus Drive?" It is
trying to get Christians to buy fuel-efficient cars and to put
pressure on manufacturers to make more of them and fewer SUVs.
Their pledge contains this statement: "Obeying Jesus in our
transportation choices is one of the great Christian obligations
and opportunities for the twenty-first century." It goes on to
suggest practical steps that leave little doubt that I am doing
what Jesus wants and my children definitely are not.
 Why is this campaign so silly? Not in the goal it is
commending-diminishing air pollution. Almost everyone can affirm
that. And many of the people who have signed the pledge-some of
whom I know and admire-are fine Christians. But it is silly, if not
outrageous, to enlist Jesus in both that goal and the particular
means to that goal. The silliness is borne out by the many
tongue-in-cheek quips that have been offered to contest the
campaign's confident claim that Jesus would drive a Civic. For
instance, it is clear from the biblical record that Jesus preferred
donkeys for ground transportation and boats for other occasions. He
also was not averse to air travel (the Ascension) on his own power.
Further, it seems that Jesus would drive a Honda but several steps
up from my Civic, for he said "For I did not speak of my own
Accord." (John 12:49) These jokes indicate that we don't have much
of an idea about what Jesus would commend when it comes to
transportation. He never really had to face that question.
 But there are more serious theological and ethical issues
here. The Evangelical Environmental Network is too easily co-opting
Jesus for one of its admirable social projects. In this facile
co-optation evangelicals are now following their liberal
compatriots in the faith, who have claimed Jesus' authority for
almost every social or political cause imaginable. Liberal
Protestants have claimed that Jesus would support an ever-expanding
welfare state, a higher minimum wage, abortion rights, re-cycling,
the nuclear freeze of the 1980s, and a nonviolent approach to
Saddam Hussein. In fact, when I first heard of this campaign I was
sure it was the effort of the National Council of Churches or the
Methodist Board of Church and Society. As Richard Neuhaus once
quipped: Liberal Protestants refuse to utter any religious
statement that is not socially redemptive.
 Jesus taught a radical religious and moral vision. He taught
an unwavering love for God and a sacrificial love for the neighbor.
He sharpened and deepened the commandments so that they became what
Reinhold Niebuhr called "the impossible possible." They are
impossible for us to fulfill and therefore condemn us before God,
yet Jesus fulfilled them. (Before this radical ethic, claiming
righteousness for driving a Honda Civic not only seems far too easy
but even blasphemous.)
 It is a dubious practice to reduce and domesticate Jesus'
teaching to one's favorite social cause. Jesus' teaching is related
to complex social and political matters, but only indirectly. It
has to pass through a number of phases of deliberation before one
comes to a judgment, and then that judgment is often ambiguous. For
example, Jesus taught an ethic of non-violence but most Christian
traditions have developed through the centuries a theory of
justified use of violence. That theory is applied to modern
international relations, as it is now with regard to going to war
against Iraq. Christians come down on different sides of that
particular issue, but all sides wisely refrain from saying that
Jesus commands their course of action.
 Such it is with questions of consumption-like what kind of
vehicle to purchase. So many competing values and trade-offs enter
into a decision that it is ridiculous to claim that we know the
mind of Jesus on this matter. My children weigh the convenience and
safety of owning a van against the fuel-efficiency of my Civic and
come down for a larger vehicle. The claim that Jesus would frown on
this is quite a stretch.
 Another problem with the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign
as well as with the earlier "What Would Jesus Do?" approach is that
they wrongly assume that Jesus had the same vocation as we do.
Jesus' vocation was to be the Savior of the world, who "died for us
while we were yet sinners." Because of that unique calling, he did
not marry and have a family, did not work for pay, and did not
exercise a political role. However, the great Reformation
traditions teach that each Christian has worldly callings that
entail distinct worldly responsibilities. One of those callings for
many Christians is marriage and family life. They have to make
practical decisions about where to live, what schools their
children attend, what to buy, and what to drive. Jesus gives no
simple directives about those matters.
 Rather than claim to know the mind of Jesus on these
matters, it would be far better for the Evangelical Ecological
Network to call Christians to express the virtues of humility,
modesty, and compassion in their practical decisions. That might
lead to abstemious patterns of consumption, but it may not. The
overall pattern of generosity with one's time and money is far more
important in the Christian life than the choice of a vehicle.