Culture Wars and the Culture Mandate
In Pastor John MacArthur’s anti-Culture Wars video, he said the following: “I don’t think it matters if you go to hell as a policeman or a prostitute. What matters is that you are going to hell!” Preaching the gospel so people won’t go to hell is the priority. The question is, what should the redeemed do in this life and does the world have meaning for Christians this side of heaven? Does working to make the world a better place for people to live something Christians should be engaged in?
Warring against pagan culture is defensive and necessary, but they are not enough. God’s Word is offensive in two ways. It’s offensive to those who hate the things of God (1 Pet. 2:7-8) and it’s offensive in that it is future-oriented and derivatively creative as image bearers of God think His thoughts after Him and act on them. (Yes, I know that I’m using offensive in different ways.)
Dr. D. James Kennedy (1930-2007), who served as the Senior Minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, was one of the biggest advocates of the Gospel first through the Evangelism Explosion program, changed lives second, and culture third. Culture included family, education, politics, and everything else. Dr. Kennedy was at the forefront of getting Christians involved in the political process to keep the political beast at bay. He spoke often on the topic of the Cultural Mandate.
God has given us the Cultural Mandate. “This is my Father’s world… I rest me in the thought,” says a familiar hymn. Yet, I am afraid that we have abandoned this world to the unbelievers, to the ungodly, to the Christ-haters. And when we see how unbelief has affected every phase of this life, we see that they have taken the world and made it into something ghastly,
Some people think that God is Lord only over our spiritual lives—but He is Lord of all. We as His people should spread His grace, His gifts, and His influence into every area of life as best as we can.
We need to fulfill the Cultural Mandate to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. We need to see Christians going into every sphere of life to have an influence upon this world for Christ, to bring His teachings and principles to bear in every phase of life. We should live so that our culture might have the face of Jesus Christ indelibly imprinted upon it. That is what needs to be done. That is our task.
Commenting on Genesis 1:28 in her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey explains:
The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply,” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less.1
Refusing to work to dispel evil has consequences for everyone. Nine weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power, the director of the Nazi-affiliated Combat League for German Culture described what Nazism was all about:
It is a mistake to think that the national revolution is only political and economic. It is above all cultural. We stand in the first stormy phase of revolution… [T]here must be no remorse and no sentimentality in uprooting and crushing what was destroying our vitals2
Adolf Hitler and Nazism resulted in the near extermination of the Jews, brought untold destruction to Europe, and contributed to the deaths of millions. “World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total of 70–85 million people perished, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion).” At its most base level, war is about different philosophies of life. These wars disrupted the preaching of the gospel and the advancement of the cultural mandate. How is it possible that anyone could be indifferent to wars at all levels?
Civilization was once identified with Christianity. Winston Churchill, for example, saw the Battle of Britain as a struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. “Upon this battle,” Churchill said on the 18th of June 1940, “depends the survival of Christian civilization.”3
In his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Vishal Mangalwadi shows how worldviews matter, and how it was the Christian worldview that created the idea of cultural exceptionalism. He begins his chapter on morality by describing a conversation he had with a Sikh gentleman in 1982 who was returning to England after visiting his parents in a Punjab village in northwest India.
He explained to Mangalwadi that doing business in England was easy and profitable. The man could not speak English very well, and yet he was a successful businessman. Mangalwadi wondered, “How could someone who spoke such poor English succeed as a businessman in England?” So I asked, “Tell me, sir, why is business so easy in England?” Without pausing, he answered, “Because everyone trusts you there.”
Later in the same chapter, Mangalwadi tells the story of the time that he and his Dutch host went to a dairy farm to get some milk. There was no one to greet them or take their money. He and his host opened the tap, filled the jug, put the money in a jar, and took their change. Here was Mangalwadi’s reaction:
I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Man,” I said, “if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money!” [His host] laughed. But in that instant, I understood what the Sikh businessman had been trying to tell me.”
Mangalwadi goes on by telling how he shared “this story in a conference in Indonesia. An Egyptian participant laughed the most. As all eyes turned to him, he explained, ‘We Egyptians are cleverer than these Indians. If no one was watching, we would take the milk, the money, and the cows.’ The gentleman was too charitable toward us Indians.”4
MacArthur and others forget that the Bible does not begin with Jesus. It begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. Jesus’ redemptive work as the second Adam is to restore everything of what was lost.
The Christian message does not begin with “accept Christ as your Savior”; it begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible teaches that God is the sole source of the entire created order. No other gods compete with Him; no natural forces exist on their own; nothing receives its nature or existence from another source. Thus His Word, or laws, or creation ordinances give the world its order and structure. God’s creative word is the source of the laws of physical nature, which we study in the natural sciences. It is also the source of the laws of human nature — the principles of morality (ethics), of justice (politics), of creative enterprise (economics) of aesthetics (the arts), and even clear thinking (logic). That’s why Psalm 119:91 says, “all things are your servants.” There is no philosophically or spiritually neutral subject matter.”5
This is what separates Christianity from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, ancestor worship, Eastern Mysticism, and animism.
The Apostle Paul didn’t stand idly by when he and Silas were mistreated by the Romans:
And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore, come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed (Acts 16:36-40).
Can we say that the Apostle Paul “couldn’t care less about the culture war”? Why didn’t he just walk away? Did it matter to him how the Romans acted towards him and his fellow-Christians? It seems that it did.
Paul was in a unique position as a Christian and a Roman citizen. He used that privilege as best he could to protect Christians against the civil overreach of the Roman civil government. He didn’t say, “I’m not interested in your war against God’s people, what matters is that you are going to hell!”
My wife and I watched The Highwaymen while we were on vacation. It’s a retelling of how two retired Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault (played by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) were called on to track down and apprehend notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in the 1930s. The Barrow Gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and several civilians.
Did God care about the immorality of Bonnie and Clyde? He most certainly did. They repeatedly violated the Sixth Commandment. Should Christians have dismissed the immoral exploits of Bonnie and Clyde, not giving ten seconds worrying about what they did and how their actions affected others? Do you think the families of the police offers and civilians who were murdered by Bonnie and Clyde thought the culture war of violence needed to be stopped?
From the first scenes [of the film], [director John Lee] Hancock turns both barrels on the so-called legend of Bonnie and Clyde. “Some folks are saying Parker and Barrow are heroes, calling them Robin Hoods,” a reporter calls out to Texas Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (a characteristically plucky Kathy Bates). Ma fires back, “Did Robin Hood ever shoot a gas station attendant point-blank in the head for four dollars and a tank of gas?”6
The murder of these people resulted in them not being able to hear the gospel. This means that a Culture War impacts the spread of the Gospel.
Who would you rather live next to, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault or Bonnie and Clyde? There is a difference and it matters even if all four of them are going to hell.
- Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 47. [↩]
- Quoted in Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 6. [↩]
- Quoted in John Baillie, What is Christian Civilization? (London: Oxford University Press, 1945), 5. [↩]
- Mangalwadi, The Book that Made Your World, 249-251. [↩]
- Pearcey, Total Truth, 45. [↩]
- Megan Basham, “Killing a Legend,” World (April 25, 2019): https://world.wng.org/2019/04/killing_a_legend [↩]