Evangelicals today are enamored with culture. Visit any Christian blog or pick up a catalogue of recent Christian books, and you will likely find discussions of the cultural mandate, redeeming culture, forming culture, and creating culture. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that despite differences among various kinds of evangelicals such as denomination, polity, baptism, soteriology, or eschatology, what unites the broader Evangelical movement is what Russell Moore calls “evangelical consensus” on the matter of the church’s responsibility to be actively engaged in transforming the “social and political structures” of the culture around us.1 For most evangelicals, the Great Commission is simply a continuation for the present age of what they call the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:28.2
Indeed, this posture toward culture was at the core of what separated New Evangelicals from their Fundamentalist brothers in the 1940s and 50s. Carl F. H. Henry complained in his 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism that fundamentalists lacked a necessary concern for social action.3 Harold Ockenga similarly explained that New Evangelicalism differed from Fundamentalism “in its willingness to handle the social problems which the Fundamentalists evaded. . . . There need be no disagreement between the personal gospel and the social gospel.”4
Conservative Christians, or what we might call historic fundamentalists, have long been charged with being too critical of culture, too separated, and too uninvolved in cultural engagement. Yet, what I will suggest in this presentation is that evangelical criticism of conservative Christians as hostile toward a biblical mandate of cultural engagement is a classic example of begging the question. In other words, evangelicals began with an assumed philosophy of cultural engagement and then developed a biblical theology in support of that philosophy. Joel Carpenter, an advocate for the evangelical philosophy of cultural engagement, admits as much when he observes that George Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom, one of the key books that helped launch the New Evangelical Movement, was a deliberate attempt to develop an understanding of the biblical kingdom of God that was “more able to sustain evangelical social engagement.”5 The cart of social engagement came before the horse of evangelicalism’s kingdom theology.
As a response to this, over the next several weeks I would like to present a biblical understanding of Christian cultural engagement that was at the core of early fundamentalism and that reflects important conservative Christian values to this day.
- Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 139. [↩]
- See Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashiville: B&H Publishing, 2015), 84. [↩]
- Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Originally published in 1947; reprinted (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 52. [↩]
- Harold J. Ockenga, “Press Reslease on ‘The New Evangelicalism,’” in Be Ye Holy: The Call to Christian Separation, by Fred Moritz (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 117–18. [↩]
- Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford, 1997), 195. [↩]