On the Cultural Mandate

We must be aware of the cultural mandate and how it impacts our faith:

Very early on in the book of Genesis we read about how God commanded Adam and Eve to take dominion over the earth and work at developing it. This command was not limited to our first parents, but applies to all of us. It is, in other words, the first note about culture and how we are to be involved in it. Consider Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

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.”

See also Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Any gardener will tell you that it takes a lot of time and effort to make and maintain a fruitful and well-ordered garden. This harnessing and taming of nature to make it fit and useful for mankind is what we refer to as the cultural mandate – or creation mandate.

It is not just about tending a garden, but creating a civilisation – creating a culture. And recall that these orders were given before the fall – they were part of God’s very good created order. Yes, the fall greatly damaged and hindered this work – along with everything else – but the command continues. The cultural mandate is about exercising dominion over the earth, subduing it, and developing its latent potential.

It is important to stress this for several reasons. One, evangelicals have tended to ignore culture, or even think that any efforts spent on making our societies better places are just a waste of time. Some think that only getting souls to heaven matters, and to hell with the world.

Part of the problem here is too many Christians confuse the world as God made it – all of which he pronounced to be “good” – with the current evil world system which of course is at war with God and his purposes. All that God made is good, but it is now all impacted by the fall. So Christians need a balanced view on how to proceed in this world.

Also, having an awareness of the importance of the cultural mandate helps believers today to see how their faith can be played out. We ARE to have an impact in culture, in society, in the political realm – indeed, in every realm. Yes all realms are contaminated by sin, but every realm that God has made can be reformed – at least to some degree.

Institutions and social goods such as the family, communities, the arts, the workplace, and civil government are all things that God has established and blessed, and we should seek to have a biblical impact in all these spheres. Being salt and light for example does not just mean getting a few individuals saved, while having nothing to do with the world we live in. People are more than just souls to be saved, but also have physical, cultural, social and even political needs that must be addressed.

And lastly, this even helps us to better develop our views on eschatology. We will not be disembodied spirits heading to heaven where we float around on clouds strumming on harps. We will be living forever in a new heavens and a new earth. And that has implications for how we live on earth right now.

But perhaps the best way to get you to appreciate what this cultural mandate thinking is all about is to simply offer a number of useful quotations. They come from a variety of sources, not just works directly related to the cultural mandate. But they all help give a flavour for why this is important, and why Christians may need to rethink this whole area. Here they are:

Let me start with an appeal to something Paul said in Colossians 1:20, where Christ seeks to “reconcile to himself all things”. All of creation is affected by the Fall, and all of creation is meant to be reclaimed in Christ. Says one commentator:

Through the cross God does not simply deal with the situation of the individual, but undertakes to bring wholeness to the whole world. The predicament of humanity and that of the cosmos are intertwined: both are in need of being rightly reordered by God, and neither will be so in isolation from each other.” Marianne Meye Thompson, Colossians and Philemon

The combined picture that emerges from Genesis 1-2 shows that Adam was a priest-king commissioned to protect the purity of God’s garden sanctuary and expand its borders until it extended over the entire earth. God’s commission for Adam had an inherently eschatological nature…. Ruling over and subduing the entire earth required defeating the serpent in the garden as the starting point of Adam’s eventual worldwide dominion. Filling the earth with image-bearing offspring, especially understood in light of its interpretation in Psalm 8, was the means by which God’s glory would fill the earth.” Benjamin Gladd and Matthew Harmon, Making All Things New

In Genesis 2, God has already gotten his hands dirty—forming not just the man but also his initial cultural environment. God has seeded the world, as it were, with cultural goods. Adam is not set to work carving a non-existent garden out of the wilderness. From the very beginning he benefits from the Creator’s own cultural initiative. Here we get a crucial correction to a potential misunderstanding of our definition of culture as what we make of the world… it is not just nature that is God’s gift to humanity. Culture is a gift as well. In the biblical view culture is not simply something we have made up on our own—God was the first gardener, the first culture maker.” Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Prior to the Fall, the processes and products of culture were directed toward glorifying God; the human pair were managing their cultural activity in obedience to God. After the Fall, the cultural mandate of ‘filling the earth’ underwent a serious change. Sin certainly does not put an end to cultural activity, but it does pervert it. . . . These distortions of cultural activity brought about by sin, however, have not irreparably damaged the good creation. The situation is not one of a total obliteration of God’s original designs.” Richard Mouw, Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction

Image of Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction
Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Mouw, Richard J. (Author) Amazon logo

Kuyper warned against allowing our cultural thinking and activities to be limited to the sphere of the church. Culture is as broad as life, encompassing all the artifacts, institutions, and conventions that make up our experience of the world, and by which we both define ourselves and sustain and enrich our lives. . . . We cannot avoid culture, and we must strive to make certain that, whatever cultural activity we are involved in at any given moment, we are doing it unto the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).T. M. Moore, Culture Matters

“Redemption is not a radical departure from the created order but builds on it and extends it…the basic biblical distinctions are not between the earthly and the heavenly, nor the secular and sacred, but rather between the created order, the fallen world, and the world being redeemed by Jesus Christ.” William Edgar, Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture

“Salvation is not just about restoring individual sinners to a right relationship with God—although it certainly includes that. Redemption is cosmic in scope. . . . God has multiple purposes in the divine plan for both creation and redemption. This has not always been emphasized in the Reformed tradition….Neo-Calvinism has worked consistently to lay out a larger scenario, in which God intended from the very beginning that human obedience to his creating purposes would consist not merely in having individuals glorify him by their personal worship. They were to bring him glory by filling the earth with the processes and products of human cultural formation. These are things in which God takes delight—and when God’s human creatures also take delight in them they are genuinely honoring the Creator’s purposes. Even when the curse of human fallenness pervaded the creation, God did not give up on these original designs.” Richard Mouw, All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight

“The work of ‘salvation’ in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely ‘souls’; (2) about the present, not merely the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope

“Christianity does not claim to convey merely religious truth, but truth about all reality. . . . [The biblical] vision of reality is radically different from a secularist vision that wants Christianity to scuttle into the corner of the hearth by the coal shovel, conveniently out of the way of anything but private religious concerns.” D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited

Evangelism and cultural renewal are both divinely ordained duties. God exercises his sovereignty in two ways: through saving grace and common grace. We are all familiar with saving grace; it is the means by which God’s power calls people who are dead in their trespasses and sins to new life in Christ. But few of us understand common grace, which is the means by which God’s power sustains creation, holding back the sin and evil that result from the fall and that otherwise would overwhelm His creation like a great flood. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?

Understanding Christianity as a worldview is important not only for fulfilling the great commission but also for fulfilling the cultural commission – the call to create a culture under the lordship of Christ. God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.” Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?

Christianity is not just involved with ‘salvation’, but with the total man in the total world. The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever, and then with creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has a value because he is made in the image of God.” Francis Schaeffer, Art & the Bible

The church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man.” J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” in Education, Christianity, and the State

“There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty”

“There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections

“Both God and Satan lay claim to the whole of creation, leaving nothing neutral or undisputed.” Albert Wolters, Creation Regained

What sometimes escapes Christians is the fact that the responsibility to love other persons extends to the whole person. That is, man is more than a soul destined for another world; he is also a body living in this world. And as a resident of this time-space continuum man has physical and social needs which cannot be isolated from spiritual needs. Hence, in order to love man as he is – the whole man – one must exercise a concern about his social needs as well as his spiritual needs.” Norman Geisler, Ethics

The prophets, God’s preachers of old, were commanded by the Lord to proclaim God’s law-word concerning all things and to correct and rebuke kings and governors. When our Lord promises His disciples that they shall be brought before governors and kings for His sake, and “for a testimony against them” (Matt. 10:18), He did not mean that they were then to forswear the faith, wink at abortion and homosexuality, and be silent about the sins of the state! There are no limits to the area of God’s government, law, and sovereign sway. There can then be no limits to the areas of the church’s witness, its preaching, and its commanded concern.” Rousas Rushdoony, Christianity and the State

The doctrine of the new earth is important for a proper grasp of the full dimensions of God’s redemptive program. In the beginning, so we read in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. Because of man’s fall into sin, a curse was pronounced over this creation. God now sent his Son into this world to redeem that creation from the results of sin. The work of Christ, therefore, is not just to save certain individuals, not even to save an innumerable throng of blood-bought people. The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin. That purpose will not be accomplished until God has ushered in the new earth, until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. We need a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth, therefore, in order to see God’s redemptive program in cosmic dimensions. We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.” Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future

I could offer many more such quotes, but it is hoped that the few that I have shared will get you interested in this matter of the cultural mandate, and perhaps spur you on to read some of these works that I quote from.

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5 Replies to “On the Cultural Mandate”

  1. Yes we come to God as little children, that is understanding that we know very little and need to be taught, but we are not supposed to remain that way. I believe this is why conservatism has failed (so far.)

    We know that Christian culture has worked and achieved more than any other culture and we know that Marxism has repeatedly failed but we have not learned why the things God has taught are right and so conservatism has ended up being nothing more than a moderating force against wickedness instead of a proactive force for good.

    That’s not saying that there are not good conservatives with excellent skills, just that, mainly through absurd (and I believe demonic) divisiveness, lack of training and methodology, we have been out-flanked. The forces of evil have largely taken over the media and the educational institutions while conservatives have been largely left flat-footed and essentially acting like children waiting for Daddy to fix everything. The biblical evidence, however, such as with Noah, Lot, Jeremiah etc. is that, as the nation is defiled, we too will suffer major loss. I believe this is a lesson we are meant to learn because we were created and designed to take dominion over the Earth and, as I often say, you either learn the lesson the easy way or the hard way.

  2. These truths are both comforting and invigorating. We aren’t on a sinking ship waiting for the Rapture, but part of God’s plan and decree to redeem Creation. Our work in whatever honest vocation we are in is meaningful, and not wasted.

  3. Thanks for this awesome article. Many Christians and their leaders are confused when it comes to cultural redemption being included within the Gospel. Many teach that our sole responsibility is just “saving souls” via evangelism. Can you list any major historical works that specifically describe the historical theology behind cosmic redemption being a part of the Great Commission? I would imagine the past church fathers dealt with this issue since it would lead to a Gnostic dualism in which the Christian faith is solely relegated to the spiritual realm.

  4. True Michael for the longest time conservatives have only fought a DEFENSIVE war so we still the tide but never make progress. We seem now to be going on OFFENSE but to quote the movie Clue “it’s a bit late for that!!!” (Cluedo outside the USA)

    More books to buy. OY. Well I’ll try to be selective and at least a few titles I know I have.

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