For the church to be a positive force in creating healthy, prosperous and free societies, it must recover an understanding of the Cultural Mandate found in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15. Darrow describes the Cultural Mandate in his new book LifeWork this way:
What God made in Genesis chapter 1 was perfect, but it was not finished yet. God is the primary Creator; humankind, to use J.R.R. Tolkien’s word’s, is a “sub creator.” God makes primary creation. Humankind is to make a secondary creation–culture–that reveals and glorifies the primary Creator and the primary creation. Human beings were made to be active in creation, as God’s stewards. They are to fill the earth with the image bearers of God who will, in turn, develop the earth. Like an acorn that is nurtured into a mighty oak tree, creation from the hand of God was perfect and complete in itself, but the potential had to be released by men and women” (p. 91).
Today the evangelical church is focused not on the Cultural Commission, but on the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). As a result, we now have more Christians and churches worldwide than ever before, but these same Christians and churches are having less of an impact on shaping and transforming culture than ever before.
The Great Commission is not a replacement for the Cultural Commission. The two Commissions are both parts of God’s comprehensive redemptive plan for creation. The Great Commission is a call for the church to announce the Lordship of the risen Christ over all creation and to disciple nations to obey all Christ commanded. With the power of the resurrected Christ and the Holy Spirit now indwelling God’s children, they are empowered to carry out the Cultural Commission as God had originally intended (see Rom. 8:18-21). In short, we are to make disciples of all nations by proclaiming the Gospel and creating healthy cultures.
Michael Metzger writes on this same theme today in his “DoggieHeadTilt” blog:
For “most of Western history, the basic claims of the Christian tradition have in fact been regarded by its proponents as knowledge of reality,” University of Southern California professor Dallas Willard notes. The church taught what was considered real and right as a “public resource for living.” Defining reality was the result of the church connecting the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. The Cultural Mandate accounts for the patterns individuals see as well as the problems they experience. The Great Commission points to the power and presence of God that’s necessary to rectify problems.
Patterns + problems + power + presence = the church’s four contributions to culture.
The Cultural Mandate describes the creational pattern intrinsic to the way reality works. The substance of the mandate is to be creative. The scope is all creation. The stewardship is promoting flourishing or maximizing latent potential. The Cultural Mandate explains what everyone is hard-wired to do everyday. It is the “human job description.” It accounts for Hertz seeing patterns and problems.
This mandate “stands as the first and fundamental law of history,” Al Wolters writes. It has never been rescinded. After the fall, God reiterated the same mandate to Adam and Eve—“cultivate the ground” (Gen. 3:23). After the flood, God reiterates: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1). The entire book of Genesis traces the ever-widening pattern and problems as successive generations strive to “cultivate the earth” and establish cities.
The Great Commission is a re-mission of the Cultural Mandate that incorporates the original pattern with a new power and presence. After the fall, human performance became wildly uneven. People now need personal renewal in order to renew the world. The task is the same, but the power and presence of Father-Son-Spirit reality—incarnated and embodied Trinitarian reality—makes the doing of the task infused with the resources of heaven. The two commandments speak to the same reality, but the second—the Great Commission—by necessity takes into consideration the reality of the fall. Without the power and presence of God, economic cycles endlessly repeat a boom-bust, prosperity-panic cycle due to human frailty. The dismal science will not be renewed by good intentions alone however well conceived.
When faith communities disconnect the Great Commission from the Cultural Mandate, they truncate the task to individual renewal—evangelism and discipleship. These are essential but explain why evangelicals are mostly drawn to missions of mercy to the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. Yet, as Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith warns, none of these efforts “attempt to transform social or cultural systems, but merely alleviate some of the harm caused by the existing system.”—a solution that falls short of making a lasting difference.
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