Theology 101

Carrying out the Cultural Mandate Is Essential for Biblical Flourishing

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On the sixth day of creation God comes to Adam and Eve and gives them their job description. Genesis 1:28 says,

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.

Writing about this passage 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.

The cultural mandate was meant not only for Adam and Eve, but for Christians today, too. It still stands as God’s directive for the stewardship of his creation.

Tragically, because of the Fall, men and women have abused their stewardship of God’s creation. But Christians, because of Christ’s redemptive work in their lives, now stand in the same place as Adam and Eve before the Fall.

They not only know what God wants them to do – they are also equipped by the Holy Spirit to fulfill this calling.

They can now approach their work in their families, their church, their communities and their vocations with a clear understanding of God’s mandate.

We are now called and empowered to exercise proper stewardship over God’s creation.

The prophet Jeremiah understood this. When writing to the Israelites, who were in exiled in Babylon, he reminds them of the cultural mandate. Jeremiah 29:6-7 says,

Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah is telling the exiles to remember that although they are in a strange land under adverse circumstances, they are still to fill the earth with God’s images and to subdue it.

Interestingly, Jeremiah describes “subduing the earth” as a type of biblical flourishing which is both missional and outward focused, motivated on spreading God’s glory throughout the earth.

Jeremiah also says that we flourish only when we help others flourish.

This mandate is still in force today. As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring God’s truth and God’s will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society.

We are to exercise godly dominion and influence  over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors – in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.

As we have seen, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it for God’s glory.

Jesus, the second Adam, has taken up that task. Just as the first Adam had a bride to serve as his helper (Genesis 2:18-25), so the second Adam has chosen a bride to serve as his helper.

Jesus’s bride is the church (Ephesians 5:29-32). Together with his bride, Jesus is fulfilling the original mandate by filling earth with regenerated images of God, who in turn submit to God’s rule and subdue the earth for his glory.

The cultural mandate was meant to govern everything Adam and Eve would do after it was given and likewise everything we do as Christians today. As the social critic Herbert Schlossberg says in his book, Idols for Destruction, “The ‘salt’ of people changed by the gospel must change the world.”

The gospel of Christ bids calls Christians to be faithful to God’s mission stated in the cultural mandate.

Richard Pratt addresses this in his book Designed for Dignity, summing it up this way:

By filling and ruling over the world, we fulfill our true purpose in life. We reach the heights of dignity because we represent and extend the authority of the King of the universe.

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