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Christians, the Church, and Culture

This entry is part 1 of 13 in the series

"Citizens and Exiles"

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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.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 139. []
  2. See Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashiville: B&H Publishing, 2015), 84. []
  3. Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Originally published in 1947; reprinted (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 52. []
  4. 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. []
  5. Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford, 1997), 195. []

2 Responses to Christians, the Church, and Culture

  1. Scott,

    What do you mean with your statement, “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?” Are you stating that evangelicals have abandoned the great commission for the cultural mandate? Or are you saying that evangelicals believe that for God’s people, the great commission was an additional commission that was added to the cultural mandate, which was already in effect for God’s people?

  2. Hi, Joel. Good question. No, they haven’t abandoned the Great Commission, they have just expanded it. For a lot of evangelicals, the Great Commission includes evangelization and discipleship to be sure, but it also includes the “cultural mandate,” social change, cultural redemption, etc. They believe that God’s mission is not just the redemption of individuals, but also of all creation, and the church participates in that mission holistically during this age. They believe this specifically because of the “already” aspect of their inaugurated eschatology which sees the church as a present manifestation of the kingdom of God; therefore, the church’s mission is more than spiritual, it involves mandatory cultural engagement.

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