The Cultural Mandate is the idea, from Genesis 1:28, that God divinely ascribed to humankind the responsibility of filling, subduing, and ruling over the earth. This Cultural Mandate includes the blessing to prosper and procreate, to care and steward the earth, and also to create and build and express. This includes all things cultural—from agriculture to government, from city building to economics, from education to recreation, from science to the arts, from philosophy to faith.
But that really begs the question, What is culture? I mean, we all seem to know what the word is, but most people would have a hard time offering a definition. Culture relates to people and social institutions, beliefs and customs, arts and inventions, content and context. Andy Crouch, in his fascinating book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, provides a working definition of culture: “What we make of the world.”
This definition has two separate but related implications. First, it means that culture is “What we actually make.” Films, cities, fire hydrants, novels, gardens, social networks, country music, economic systems, governments, and fidget spinners are just some of the things that make up the culture we create. But there is a deeper sense of the phrase that is also a valid part of this definition. When we say, “What we make of the world,” we are also asking the more profound question, “What do you make of that?” In other words, culture is also how we make sense of the world. Culture also includes how we interpret, how we assign meaning, how we create paradigms, and how we relate to one another and all of creation. Both of these aspects—what we make in the world, and also how we make sense of the world—is what define culture.
Think about that two-part definition for a moment. If this is a valid definition, then you can begin to understand how important the act of creativity is to us. We create culture by making things, and also create culture by assigning meaning to the things we create. Creativity is the vehicle upon which the cultural mandate is fulfilled.
Let me give you an example. Think about your favorite music. Chances are, much of the music you love you discovered when you were in your teens and twenties. This is typically when you are trying to define yourself, when the deep questions of identity and purpose and meaning and acceptance become prominent. And music is one of the ways in which we define ourselves. The same is true of the books we read, the paintings we view, the worship we sing, the movies we watch—every creative expression has the capacity to help people interpret and relate to the world.
But culture making is not reserved for artists. Politicians who create new policy are culture makers. Elementary school teachers who mentor and instruct children are culture makers. Construction workers who build homes or pave streets are culture makers. Engineers who design the latest technologies or write the latest code are culture makers. A mom or a dad telling their child a bedtime story is a culture maker. All of these people have a hand in crafting a part of what becomes our surrounding culture. Each of these people—politicians, teachers, engineers, parents, and on and on—have the capacity for creatively affecting our culture, furthering the cultural mandate.
And here’s the thing. I believe that there’s a tie-in between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. I would even argue that the two are more related than we realize.
Once again, I refer to Andy Crouch, who contends that there are various ways to engage our culture. Some people prefer to Critique Culture, i.e., point out what is wrong with everything in the world. And we see way too much of this on social media these days, don’t we? Now, critiquing culture has it’s place, but honestly, I don’t know if the criticism does much good, other than to inculcate ourselves into our own firmly held trenches.
Another response is to Cocoon ourselves from Culture, i.e., try your best to separate yourself and your family from the bad effects of an increasingly secular society. And certainly, we need to be wise and discerning. But culture cannot be avoided, any more than breathing. In our western society, we have obligations to vote, pay taxes, purchase products, work, interact with our fellow human beings. All of these actions create cultural linkages that can’t be avoided.
But there is another way. And that is to change culture. According to Crouch, “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”
In other words, it is not enough to Critique or Cocoon. To change culture, we must Create. We must creatively express our faith to the world, creating a culture that breathes beauty, shines brightly, loves boldly, and expresses differently. And that sounds good and all, but what does that mean?
Thankfully, Jesus provides us with a good and perfect example of a creative and influential Culture-Maker. He understood the nuances of living in the multiplicity of ethnic groups, languages, and customs of His day. And He was able to use that understanding of His culture to relate to it, expose it, and speak Truth to it. T.M. Moore and Richard Neuhouse says this in their book, Culture Matters:
“Jesus…drew upon aspects of the culture of his day to help further his mission, employing various artifacts (coins, clothing, implements, tools), conventions (language, holy days, instructional methods), and institutions (kingdoms, marriage, civil and religious authority structures) as illustrations or vehicles through which to assess his unique calling and pursue the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.”
Have you ever thought about how creative, how artistic Jesus was? I do. A lot. First of all, Jesus was the first-born son of a carpenter, a tradesman, and because of the customs of the day, we can safely assume that his childhood was probably framed around an apprenticeship toward this craft. Second, he had a poetic, artistic view of life and a way of speaking. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven was like treasure hidden in a field, and like a merchant looking for fine pearls, and like a very tiny mustard seed. He warned us of the plank in our own eyes, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the house built on sand. He called us salt and He called us light. Madeleine L’Engle states in her book, Walking on Water: “Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.” And finally, the Bible reveals Jesus’ artistry by boldly proclaiming that all things were created through Him. Colossians says:
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16 NIV (see also John 1:1-3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, etc.)
This is so deep as to be astounding. In the nothingness of the beginning of time, the creative muse of the Triune Godhead flowed through the pre-incarnate person of Jesus. We use many words to describe Jesus: Holy, gracious, perfect, humble, merciful, loving. But one word we should definitely use more often is creative.
Jesus was the most creative person who ever lived. Through his words, his actions, and his love for us, He painted a picture of the Kingdom of God, and then invited us into it. And He invites us to be His disciple, to learn from Him, to live with Him, and I would also say, to live creatively with Him.
So here is my challenge to you . Where are you being creative? And where are you being called? How are you, in your spheres of influence, creating a culture where Christ is present?
[NOTE: This is an excerpt from a sermon on “Creativity” that I preached at Oak Hills Church in Folsom on July 16, 2017. To hear the entire sermon, please search for the Oak Hill iTunes Podcast Here. This sermon is one of several I preached in a message series titled, “Through the Eyes of a Child.”]