There’s a concept I want to share with you: it’s called “the cultural mandate” – and here’s the big idea behind it: It says that part of God’s design for mankind is that we would be responsible for shaping culture.
The cultural mandate is found in Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15 and is repeated in Genesis 9:1-3.
Here’s the gist of it: In speaking to Adam and Noah respectively as representatives of the human race, he commissions them with a task. It was a matter of stewardship, which involved overseeing the natural and social aspects of this world – for the purpose of human flourishing.
One author puts it this way:
“This mandate involves the whole realm of human culture, from habitat to agriculture, industrialization and commerce, politics and social and moral order, academic and scientific achievement, health, education and physical care – a culture which benefits man and glorifies God.”
(G.W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions)
Interestingly, this mandate from God to shape the culture was given two times: once before sin entered the world, and again after sin had entered the world. That means that this mandate is incumbent on us regardless of our spiritual state. It also means that, although the world is broken and fallen, we are still responsible for stewardship over this world – and that doesn’t apply only to natural resources, but to the shaping of the culture of our society.
Just as the Jews in exile in Babylon were told to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7), and just as Mordecai was commended for being a person who “sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of his whole nation” (Esther 10:3), we are called to do the same in our day and age and in the societies we live in as people who love and honor God – even as we wait for the ultimate eschatological fulfillment, when all is made as it was once intended to be by Jesus at his return.
Christians: shaping culture is YOUR job!
Yes, sin, brokenness, selfishness and evil in the world make this task much more difficult, but this mandate has still been given to us by God.
One author put it this way:
“Even fallen man has the potentiality and responsibility for faithfulness to his wife, for diligence in training of his children, for skill in the performance of his daily work, for justice in dealings with others. He has the capacity for running schools and hospitals, for tilling the ground and causing even unfertile ground to produce. He still has the capacity for governing society.”
(D. Pentecost, Issues in Missiology)
To that, I would only add this: If fallen man has these capacities, how much more so do those who have been redeemed and regenerated by God through Christ and has his enabling Spirit dwelling inside of them?!
This cultural mandate also doesn’t diminish in the least our “spiritual mandate” to bring the life-changing message of the Gospel to the world, which alone is able to bring eternal salvation to people. Jesus himself warned against those who “gain the whole world and yet lose their own soul” (Mark 8:36). Both mandates are important. The results of spiritual redemption will touch every part of man’s life and being and will influence culture and social aspects of life.
So for Christians, rather than retreating from culture or creating an insular counter-culture – it would seem that we have a God-given responsibility and call to shape the culture and society we live in through direct engagement. What that looks like in each of our lives is a matter which we must work out in our own situation before God.