Created & Creating, William Edgar. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017.
Summary: Explores the idea of “culture” from secular and Christians perspectives, explores the biblical basis for the culture mandate and continued cultural engagement, and the arguments raised against this idea.
Ever since the publication of Andy Crouch’s Culture-Making, there has been a renewed interest among many in engaging one’s culture, “seeking the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). What William Edgar adds to this discussion is a biblical exploration of the basis Christians have for cultural engagement.
Edgar offers this definition of culture engagement, which also gives you a sense of the thesis of the book:
“Cultural engagement is the human response to the divine call to enjoy and develop the world that God has generously given to his image bearers. Culture includes the symbols, the tools, the conventions, the social ties, and all else contributing to this call. Cultural activity occurs in a historical setting, and is meant to improve the human condition. Because of the fall, culture can, and has become sinister. Christ’s redeeming grace moves culture in the right direction, ennobles it, and allows it to extend the realm of God’s shalom, his goodness, his justice, his love” (pp. 233-234).
After an introductory chapter looking at definitions of culture, and the ideas of cultivation in scripture, Part One looks at the leading secular and Christian thinkers who have contributed to the discuss. There are Matthew Arnold, Marx, the anthropologists and sociologists like E. B. Tylor and Max Weber, and functionalists like A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski. He then considers Christian voices including Eliot, H. Richard Niebuhr, Lewis, Kuyper, and Klaas Schilder, who first coined the term “culture mandate.”
Part Two engages the objections raised to the culture mandate. First he explores the contra mundum passages that seemingly set the gospel against the world and imply that cultural pursuits are distractions or simply idolatrous. Second is the idea that life in the world is spiritual resistance and conflict. The world is not our friend. And finally, it’s all going to burn. In these chapters, he acknowledges the force of these criticisms and yet distinguishes between the real consequences of the fall, and the defaced but not destroyed image of God in humans. In the final chapter in Part Two, he looks at the cosmic character of Christ’s redemptive work, portrayed both in Colossians 1:15-20, and in the Magnificat of Mary. The redemption covers all things in creation and human society.
Part Three then works these ideas out more fully. First Edgar considers the “cultural mandate” given the first couple before the fall–fruitfulness and dominion. He then traces how this was both worked out and marred in a post-fall world, how Israel anticipates the redemptive work of Christ. The chapter on culture in the new covenant makes an important argument for Christ’s great commission being a fulfillment and deeper implementation of the culture mandate, sending disciples to the dispersed nations, announcing God’s kingdom, discipling them to do all Christ has commanded in all of life–essentially a culture mandate for a redeemed world, anticipating the new heaven and earth. The last chapter in this part considers the afterlife, a culturally rich life enjoyed in the presence of God, at the great banquet of the bride with all the nations, and ruling and reigning and restoring.
Edgar’s brief epilogue points the way for further study, and how the study of the biblical cultural mandate lays the groundwork for human flourishing that is proximate, awaiting the final redemption of all things. Edgar in this book lays the groundwork for Christians joyfully pursuing Christ in “every good endeavor,” to use Tim Keller’s phrase. This is important for many Christians who refrain from these endeavors because they seem “worldly,” or pursue them, but do not see them as an integral part of a faithful Christian life. Edgar helps us see that the culture mandate is not opposed to the great commission, or superseded by it, but rather is fulfilled through it. In sum, Edgar helps us see all of life, and life’s possibilities through the eyes of Christ. How different life might be when everything matters!