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Cultural Action or Great Commission?: Roots of the Divide

September 13, 2007

The ubiquity of the Great Commission is rivaled by its interpretive poverty. Matthew 28:18-20—containing the command to make disciples of all nations—is frequently summoned to validate countless and sundry discipleship and evangelism programs, ideas and practices, very often ignoring the interpretive wealth beneath its surface. It’s as if we expect that planting the end of our sentence with a Great Commission flag will immediately summit our discipleship agendas.

This interpretive poverty can be remedied by paying attention to the other great commissions. Yes, commission(s). How many “great commissions” are there? Well, depending on who answers the question, we might have anywhere from one to five, one in the Old Testament and four in the New.

The four commissions in the NT are actually variations of the same mandate (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:48-49/Acts 1:8; John 20:21), each emphasizing a slightly different dimension of what it means to be a disciple. The operative verbs in these NT commissions are: make disciples, preach, witness, and send. The OT commission, frequently referred to as the creation or cultural mandate, was issued by God before the Fall, emphasizing creative activity with the following verbs: be fruitful, multiply, rule, and subdue (Gen 1.27-28).

Do the new evangelistic mandates make the old mandate obsolete? Is older better? I believe each commission charges us with a unique aspect of being a disciple of Jesus. An enriched reinterpretation of the Great Commission will require whole Bible interpretation, one that allows the old and the new to speak. Sampling the evangelistic beats of the NT commissions, we quickly discern a rhythm different from that of the earthy dominion and reproductive impulse of the OT commission. On the one hand, we have soul winning and disciple-making and, on the other, people producing and culture making activity.

If we are to move beyond poverty ridden proof-texts and into the wealth of these biblical commissions, we must reflect on their differences and dig deeply into their interpretive pockets. This will require confrontation with the Bible’s demands to make culture and disciples, to care for creation and be agents of new creation. This work will pay off. Through it we will amass truth and grace to be spent on whole Christian living and Christ-honoring discipleship.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2007 8:34 am

    I really like how you brought together the creation mandate and the great commission. Your line, “to care for creation and be agents of new creation” is especially provocative. What are some ways that you have tried to put this into action practically?

  2. September 14, 2007 8:40 am

    thanks,its the intro to a new article for boundless and next wave which should be done by the weekend.

    we recycle like its going out of style, support local earth friendly stores, eat organically to encourage soil friendly agriculture, talk with homeless people under the brige, and hope to develop an environmentally sensitive church building and process. In all of this, we aim to honor christ as teh agent of creation and new creation, pointing to him, not liberal earth-worshipping motivations for what we do

  3. September 14, 2007 12:54 pm


    these are the kind of posts that light me up. i’m provoked by the sentence pointed out above, but from the point of view that it doesn’t seem to contain all the answers.

    I am, in a word, challenged. Challenged to spend time with God, reflecting on this idea, challenged to question convention (or maybe better said, my own complacency with scripture).

    one question sprang to mind though… can you elaborate on this idea that Gen. 1:27 & 28 is a mandate toward creative activity? i’d love to know how you’re reading it, because I don’t see a call to be creative.

  4. September 14, 2007 3:39 pm

    trey, these posts light me up too. I reread them to get more excited about the great task of being an agent of culture and new creation.

    I wrote some pretty dense stuff on this topic in my ThM thesis, examining the creation mandate as a whole bible phenomenon, particuarly as Paul echoes the mandate in COlossians 1. I have yet to distill it into something more digestible. Though it is a goal.

    That said, i could email a paper I have written that will explain my interpretation of Gen 127-28 as a basis for cultural activity, particularly as it relates to the new heavens and earth.

    adam and eve were called to manipulate creation, to subdue and rule it in an effort to domestic the wild outisde of eden. Culture, very simply, is the manuipluation of creation. All cultural products and their affects are teh result of teh creator’s imprint in us and our compliance with his command to subdue and rule, however good or bad it may be…

  5. September 14, 2007 3:48 pm

    bring it.

  6. September 22, 2007 12:45 pm

    hi jonathan,
    thanks for posting this – it’s very interesting. i’m hoping to read the full article – is it ready?

  7. September 27, 2007 12:59 pm

    it is finished! i will post a publication date when i get one from the editor of Boundless.

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