The last half of Chapter Six in John Stackhouse's Making the Best of It is titled “Mission: The Four Commandments.” Stackhouse identifies two sets of commandments.
- Creation Commandments: The cultural mandate and the great commandments.
- Redemption Commandments: The new commandment and the Great Commission.
Today we start with the first of the Creation Commandments, the Cultural Mandate.
The Cultural Mandate
The early chapters of Genesis are clear: we were created to bring all the earth under cultivation and to exercise dominion over it. We are “… to make a garden of the whole planet as “little lords,” as deputies of God, doing his kind of work and in obedience to his commandments." (206) Stackhouse sees three implications here.
1. First, caring for the earth and making the best of it is our primary duty under God. (206)
As I’ve noted, Stackhouse is going to explore other commandments, but he emphasizes that, "...whatever we are to be and to do, in the Bible’s account we literally are gardeners first." (206)
2. … all of our fellow human beings share the dignity and responsibility of this commandment. (207)
Those who obey the creation mandate end up blessing humanity whether it is their intention to do so or not. However, work that is not contributing to the welfare of the earth and bringing a measure of shalom is not in accord with the mandate. Positive good is mandated, not merely harmlessness. Stackhouse goes on to make a very important qualification:
3. Third, we must not let ourselves be driven to bad consciences, let alone self-loathing, by ecological extremists who are so unhappy about how we have harmed the earth they condemn human dominion, if not humanity itself, as a curse. (209)
I think this emphasis on the creation mandate is absolutely crucial. The Great Commission (which we will come to shortly) is critical, but compared to the creation mandate it is penultimate and temporary. When the new creation is consummated, the Great Commission expires. If the Great Commission is our ultimate purpose, then when the new creation is consummated we cease to have reason for existence.
The "good news" is the redemption of call creation and humanity. We were made material beings for the exercise of dominion in a material world. If humanity is to be redeemed, then redemption our creation mandate is central. Ontologically we are dominion exercising beings and, unlike the Great Commission, the creation mandate extends into the new creation.
Some of our churches are now talk about the creation mandate and a "sustainable" world, but far too often the rhetoric belies an anti-technology, anti-market, even anti-human, natural romanticism. On the other extreme is a tendency to see our daily work lives purely as contexts for personal evangelism and the practice of personal piety. We sorely need to get a better grip on the centrality of the creation mandate.