Charles Colson and the Cultural Commission

Yes we should be engaging with our culture:

All Christians know about the Great Commission and most know who Charles Colson was. As to the former, it of course involves the command given by Jesus for his followers to go into all the world to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).

As to the late, great Chuck Colson (1931-2012), he was a leading American evangelical who left the world of power politics to champion Christian worldview thinking and the need to engage in the culture wars that rage all around us. See more on this influential leader here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/22/notable-christians-charles-colson/

Colson fully affirmed the Great Commission but also fervently promoted another important biblical commission: the Cultural Commission. He spoke to this often, including in his vital 1999 work, How Now Shall We Live? As he and Nancy Pearcey said in the introduction to that book:

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. xii

Or as they wrote a bit later:

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. 33

He ran with these themes throughout his Christian life. The last book he penned just before he died also speaks to these matters. I refer to The Sky Is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times (Worthy Publishing, 2011). Here I want to focus on just one chapter from the book, “Turning the Church Around” (Ch. 11).

Image of The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times
The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times by Colson, Charles (Author) Amazon logo

His opening paragraph says this: “Have evangelicals come full circle in just fifty years – from fundamentalist isolation to mainstream acceptance? Have we embraced a national creed that values personal growth over doctrinal orthodoxy?” 161

He believes they have. Most are now indistinguishable from those in the mainstream culture, and few offer any sort of countercultural resistance. He offers signs of this, including contemporary Christian music, church and worship styles, and Christian broadcasting.

In these and other areas we see how much believers have simply blended in with the surrounding culture. And the main problem here has been the unwillingness to emphasise biblical truth. By seeking to be inclusive and trendy, so many churches today have simply abandoned core biblical truth claims.

He mentions what J. I. Packer said on his 80th birthday: the greatest need of evangelicalism today is to re-catechize our churches. Says Colson: “More than ever, Christians need to be able to speak intelligently and courageously about the hope that lies within. The problem is, so many Christians no longer possess the basic knowledge of the faith or a coherent understanding of what it means to live as a Christian.” 167

We especially need to train the next generation in the basics of the faith and infuse them with the Christian worldview: “It’s impossible to disconnect kids from the culture. The idea that we can separate ourselves from our social surroundings, as Christians did a century ago, is foolish – unless we move to a desert island. We simply cannot escape the long, grubby arm of television, the Internet, music, and magazines. Our only hope is to teach discernment.” 169

He continues with perhaps the two most important paragraphs in this chapter:

The revitalization of the church will not be complete until it recovers its God-given mission to engage the culture. Christians are called to be countercultural, a force for moral change in a sinful world. But if we surrender that role, we should be forewarned: if we stop attempting to change the culture, the culture will have already changed us… When it comes to the culture, there’s no such thing as peaceful coexistence. If we’re not defending truth, fighting for Christian values in all of life, the truth will be sacrificed on the altar of mainstream secularism.” 170

This is where we must again affirm the vital importance of both the Great Commission and the Cultural Commission. The original marching orders given to Adam and Eve still apply to us, even though the Fall has twisted things greatly:

The same command binds Christians today. We bear children, plant crops, build cities, form governments, and create works of art. While sin introduced a destructive power into God’s created order, it did not obliterate that order. And when we are redeemed, we are both freed from sin and restored to do what God designed us to do: Create culture.

 

The Lord’s cultural commission is, I believe, inseparable from the Great Commission. Every part of creation came from God’s hand, every part was drawn into the mutiny of humanity against God, and every part will someday be redeemed. This means caring about all of life—redeeming people and redeeming culture. We are instructed, after all, to think biblically, taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

 

If we’re tempted to ignore the great moral issues of our day, or dismiss them as “just politics,” we are betraying our biblical mandate and our own heritage. Nothing could be deadlier for the church, nor for the culture, since real Christianity invariably provides a healthy influence on society.

 

Evangelicals must never be content with a tepid Christianity that embraces only evangelization and the “feel good” church while alien philosophies hostile to the created order hijack our culture….

 

If Christians do not seize this moment and act on the cultural commission, there soon will be no culture left to save. But when we do our duty, we can change the world. Look at Christians like William Wilberforce, who spent most of his life fighting—and winning—the war against the British slave trade. Christians at their post, doing their duty, have brought about the greatest social reforms of modern times.

 

What reforms will you and I be remembered for?

 

Each of us must work out our role in the common grace in our own lives, glorifying God by helping restore his creation—by bringing the majesty of God and his righteousness to bear against the crumbling structures of a fallen society. 172-173

There are very few things I disagree with when it comes to Chuck Colson. That is certainly the case here. The church has been losing big time not only because it has failed to take the Great Commission seriously, but also the Cultural Commission. Until we get back to both wholeheartedly and persistently, we will keep losing ground while the other side keeps going from strength to strength.

Afterword

Just yesterday I wrote a piece urging Christians never to forget their calling to both preach the gospel and be salt and light. That article nicely ties in with this one, so I invite you to have a read of it as well: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/06/07/and-once-again-yes-we-must-get-involved/

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7 Replies to “Charles Colson and the Cultural Commission”

  1. Challenging the culture of the age is indeed part of the Great Commission. We live in a society which, I would argue, is the fulfilment of the great commission instigated, initially, by the original Fabians ,Webb and Shaw GB who is considered as the greatest socialist that England has ever produced and continued stealthily through our institutions, including the church. Fabians considered that politics should not be founded on tradition, authority or religion, but on reason (forgetting of course that the human power of reason is, of course, God-given). Theirs was the gradual metamorphosis of society through the emancipation of man, collectively and not individually since we are social beings and for the reason that each human is constituted by his existence in society. They claim human identity is a social construct whereas the Christian has their identity in Jesus. “Who am I ?-behold the man Jesus and see”. We are moral beings whose morals are grounded in sacred scripture and sustained by the Holy Spirit. I was reading the seminal work of that other great socialist of the early 20th century and one time Fabian, HG Wells “The Open Conspiracy” which essentially offered a blueprint for the socialist long march through the institutions which is reaching its culmination in our schools, universities, bureaucracy and commerce with ESG standards pervading society as matter of law- laws that were never passed in any parliament. Wells’ explanation of what constitutes morality is in his answer to his question, “What does moral mean? Mores means manners and customs. Morality is the conduct of life.It is what we do with our social lives…how we deal with ourselves in relation to our fellow creatures…and that certain traditions ..are not merely no longer as convenient as they were, but are positively injurious and dangerous”.( Wells, HG The Open Conspiracy”1933) His prediction is being fulfilled today, some 90 years hence in the arrest and trials of Christians who don’t bow to the cults of death which are now permeating main stream society. We can’t practice outside abortion mills, we can’t preach or hold up banners at “Pride” marches. These activities are claimed to be dangerous and injurious by the woke mob. POTUS even likens them to urban terror whose intention it is to kill rather than include.
    It is a cultural war, but not against flesh and blood, but the spirit of the age born out of the Godless socialist manifesto of the English intellectuals which is now fully mature. Our weapons are the words of our testimony and the blood of Jesus.

  2. Thanks Bill.
    While I can largely agree with what you have written above, once we start talking about a “cultural mandate” I for one get rather nervous. I have seen this sort of thing in Dutch Reformed circles, and in some elements of Presbyterianism, and it turns me off. Does this mean adopting Kuyperian-Dooyeweerdian “sphere sovereignty” ideas and programme? Does it mean going in for “Theonomy” a la Douglas Wilson, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, et al? If so, then it’s a train I cannot board—for a number of reasons.

    While it is important to have a Christian world-view (Weltanschauung), I see this as part of Paul’s instruction in Rom 12:1-2, to repudiate the world’s thinking and to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, but this by no means implies some sort of comprehensive, wide-ranging “cultural mandate”, which should form part of the Christian programme for the world. This in turn implies a post-millennial eschatology, which I find nowhere in Scripture, and to me is a bypath meadow from the Christian task, to say the least. In short, Great Commission? Yes, definitely. Cultural mandate? Not so sure.

  3. Thanks Murray. As you know, there are of course many shades of grey here, so nuance is always needed. There are all sorts of theological/eschatological varieties when it comes to having a biblical concern for the culture around us, and holding to some views does not necessarily mean holding to others. For example, one might be a Kuperian more or less without being a theonomist. See a further dozen pieces on this, and things like the cultural mandate and common grace where I seek to fine tune such discussions: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/common-grace-and-the-cultural-mandate/

    And as I have often said, one can rightly be concerned about being salt and light yet hold to a range of eschatological views. This article is not primarily about eschatology so I do not want to belabour that aspect here. But my brief take on it is this: simply consider two of the greatest evangelicals of a few centuries ago who were both up to their ears in social reform. One could even say they were both keen advocates of the cultural commission (whether or not they used the term or liked the term). I refer to William Wilberforce who was postmillennial in his eschatology, and Lord Shaftesbury who was premillennial. Very different eschatology, but very similar social involvement. I will condemn neither one for their end-times views, but praise both for seeking to take the Lordship of Christ seriously, applying it to all of life.

    The truth is, I do not really care what a person’s eschatology is, as long as they do not use it as an excuse to remain inactive and passive when it comes to the world that they live in. While some people do let their visions of the end times dictate their social involvement, I suspect that for many believers, it is not primarily theology or eschatology that keeps them from being salt and light world-changers. It may at times just be a half-hearted devotion to their Lord.

    So I will keep urging believers to make a difference in their world – by prayer, evangelism, and social action. But thanks again for your thoughts.

  4. Thanks for your reply, Bill.
    I did not wish to respond, and even now I make it as brief as I can.
    The remark about post-millennialism I meant as an aside, not the main thrust. However, your response makes it, it would appear, the centre-piece. This is unfortunate, as I wanted to focus on the programmes of the Kuyperian and Theonomy systems respectively. In the modern context post-millennialism is in fact one of the corollaries or consequences of these systems, albeit the “cultural mandate” is interpreted somewhat differently in each. However, both see it as their programme to “Christianise” the world: then and only then will Christ come again.

    When I first encountered the Kuyperian programme, and it Dooyeweerdian update, the more I looked at it the more it seemed to me as another version of the liberal social gospel, albeit with a Reformed flavour to it. And I am far from being the only one who said this.

    As for Theonomy, it has all the earmarks of an attempt to resurrect the Israelite theocracy, notwithstanding the denials by its advocates. Certainly that ‘s the way certain left-wing commentators in the American media, who have got hold of literature by Rushdoony et al, have seen it, and in their freak-out they try to pin it on the entire Christian community. In vain do Christian leaders try to point out that their views do not represent mainstream Christianity, but only a very small minority. I have seen interviews where leftist journos have used this very tactic.

    My own view as to the Christian task? Very much that of Jer 29:4-7, and while we are strangers and exiles of the Dispersion (James 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1) that goes for us too, until God”s kingdom comes with our Lord’s glorious appearing (Matt 24:33; Luke 21:31). It is a limited programme, but at the same time practical. It avoids the notion that our task is to Christianise the world (however that is conceived), but rather that we do what we can in our “small corners” while we wait for His coming.

    One other thing: you say that you do not really care what a person’s eschatology is. There we differ. I do, and that is why I oppose rapture doctrine for one thing, and all forms of millennialism for another, but especially post-millennialism.
    There, I have said my piece, hopefully as politely as I can. I trust it will be taken in good faith as one brother to another.

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