October 20, 2017

The Deadly Menace of the Cultural Mandate

G. Archer Weniger

Editor’s note: The following article contains some dated references due to its original publication in 1974. The subject of the article, the ‘Cultural Mandate,’ is no longer current terminology, but many Christians and churches are preoccupied with social causes that resemble the terminology. Consequently, we republish this article for sober reflection by a current generation with respect to modern issues and concerns.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:28)

What is the cultural mandate? It is a devised social-political-religious concept that redeemed mankind has two commissions to discharge: first — the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to evangelize individuals in every nation; and second — the responsibility to Christianize the culture and structures of society and, by human effort, to bring the world under the sovereignty of God.

This two-fold philosophy has become popular in the past decade, although its roots reach back 50 years to the Netherlands. It is often called “The Amsterdam Philosophy” and is held by many “New Evangelicals.” The movement basically exists in schools such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Calvin College, Trinity College, Gordon Theological Seminary, Geneva College, and Wheaton College, and especially in Reformed centers like Western Col1ege, Hope College, and Dordt College, but it may soon move into the churches. It is a movement which does not bother “Liberal” schools and clergy.

The thought system behind the cultural mandate can be traced to Dr. Herman Dooyeweerd, professor emeritus of legal philosophy, systematic jurisprudence, and early Dutch law at the Free University of Amsterdam, Holland. His books, The Christian Idea of the State and In The Twilight of Western Thought, demand effective Christian action in labor, business, politics, and education.

Dr. Dooyeweerd’s theory received a modern boost when, in 1957, Dr. Harold Ockenga, the father of “New Evangelicalism,” differentiated between his philosophy and Fundamentalism: “Fundamentalism abdicated leadership and responsibility in the societal realm and thus became impotent to change society or solve social problems … New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration.”

Two basic weaknesses of the “New Evangelical” approach are the un-scriptural idea that man can change unregenerate society and the false concept that evangelicals can reverse the apostate trend of ecumenical denominations by “infiltrating” them.

A Dangerously Weak Interpretation

Those trumpeting the cultural mandate think they have found a Biblical justification for their system in Genesis 1:28. They boldly erect a towering doctrinal structure and world view that cannot be sustained by Scripture, reading into the text an elaborate set of presuppositions which the immediate or remote context does not permit.

God commanded the first man to replenish the earth, to subdue it for human use, to have dominion over the animals, to eat of the herbs and fruits, and to till the garden, but to abstain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Any Bible gives that information. And it doesn’t take a scholar to realize that this command was given in another dispensation. Man disobeyed God, and his fall altered the course of human history. It is precisely the fall of man and the fact of sin which the cultural mandate crowd does not seem to understand. They are applying to the present generation a command specifically suited for the Garden of Eden before man’s fall.

The Bible Presbyterians passed a resolution October 9, 1970, which states in part: “The cultural mandate (erroneously) states that it is the Christian’s duty to pursue these pre-Fall realities, just as it is their duty to preach the Gospel. Furthermore, the verse has nothing to do with culture, in the present sense of the word … the context is that of filling the empty earth with people. It says that the earth should be brought under cultivation, to enable these people to survive and multiply. That, and that alone, is what it means.”

A Pious Respectability

The cultural mandate, according to its proponents; supports both the New Testament Gospel and the social gospel. But ‘the Apostle Paul emphatically condemns this dualism in Galatians 1:6-9. Fuller’s Dr. Arthur Glasser, writing. in Freedom Now (January/February, 1969), contends that “God holds men accountable for the course of civilization. They should insist on political integrity, ease racial tensions, improve housing standards, remove the causes of war, and ameliorate all forms of human suffering” (page 21). He chides conservative evangelical groups for being “preoccupied with non-cultural activities,” such as prayer meetings, Bible studies, and personal witnessing.

The cultural mandate, then, attempts to make the social gospel (which, by Biblical definition, is another gospel) the second half of a balanced message. Dr. Walter Rauschenbush founded the social gospel on the basis that “The Christian Church in the past has taught us to do our work with our eyes fixed on another world and a life to come, but the business before us is concerned with refashioning this present world, making this earth clean and sweet and habitable.” (Christianizing the Social Order, New York: MacMillan, 1919.)

Dr. Billy Graham has endorsed the policy of combining personal and social evangelism. Before the World Council of Churches meeting in Crete he stated: “There is no doubt that the social gospel has directed its energies toward the release of many of the problems of suffering humanity. I am for it. I believe it is Biblical.” He told the National Council of Churches in 1966 that “there’s a great section of the church that feels that the two should go hand in hand, and I’m one of them.”

It is imperative that in this hour we have an accurate Biblical understanding of the nature, character, and destiny of this present world. In reality, the world system is now under judgment, exposed to the wrath of God. This world is not headed toward a utopia, but is hurtling toward a fearful end. Our hearts tell us that we cannot be far from that day when the skies will part and. the Son of God shall come to rapture all believers unto Himself.

Advocates of the cultural mandate do not believe in that direction. They have fashioned for themselves some kind of dream world that is totally removed from the one portrayed in divine revelation.

This Hostile World

This world is a hostile environment for Christians. Jesus said: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We are warned in I Corinthians 11:32 that we should not be condemned with the world.

The cultural mandate movement prostitutes the energies of evangelism to an unworthy purpose, diverting them into useless avenues of service far removed from the cause of Christ. It siphons off funds and strength which could better be directed into channels of fruitful, Scriptural endeavor.

The proponents of world change by social means are rooted in amillennialism, which has eliminated any idea of a future kingdom and is content to do the best it can with a kingdom here and now. But if this is the only kingdom we have, then it is a horrifying fraud. This view would maintain that the parable of the leaven (Matthew 13:33) was something good in reverse. If the foundation of society happened to be pagan, they say, eventually the Gospel would destroy it and produce new foundations harmonious to the will of God. This sounds like rosy “Liberalism” which espouses the inherent goodness of man and the inevitability of human progress.

God gave Adam one guideline before the Fall. His directions to Bible-believers in this day are altogether different. Jesus commissioned evangelization, organization, and education for the glory of God. He promised, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). We can have the deeply satisfying sense of His nearness and power if we involve ourselves in His program of visitation, invitation, and separation. Let us acknowledge His sovereignty, obey His Word, and accomplish His purpose for the glory of His name.


Bio of the late Dr. Wenigar as it appeared in the original publication: Dr. G. Archer Weniger, chairman of the Board of Trustees and a professor at San Francisco Baptist Theological Seminary, is also editor of The Blu-Print, a weekly digest of news of interest to Fundamental Christians. Dr. Weniger also serves as pastor of the Foothills Baptist Church in Castro Valley, California.

This article was first published in Faith for the Family, May/June 1974. It is republished here by permission.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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