This just in: Christians have permission to go out in public.
Of course, this is not really news, but sometimes evangelical followers of Christ wonder if it is OK to get involved in their broader culture -- the world, the frightful, dangerous world where Satan can trip us up and snatch us away.
The broader culture is rife with dangerous ideas, influences, and people. We have to be careful out there, but we need to be out there.
Vincent B. Bacote, the author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life, is helping the church see this need to be involved in the broader culture as a commission from God revealed in Scripture. Bacote, a theology professor at Wheaton College, will be a keynote speaker at the Christian Life Commission Advocacy Day in Austin, Feb. 28.
In The Political Disciple, Bacote helps believers understand our responsibilities as Christ’s disciples in the world, that place of which the Apostle Paul warned us.
Bacote goes back to the beginning, the very beginning, to make his case. The New Testament “Great Commission” is not humanity’s first commission, Bacote says. The first came immediately after the creation of Adam and Eve. Genesis 1:28:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)
God commissions his human creation to have dominion over the whole creation, over “every living thing that moves.”
Dangerous “dominion” theology and other ways this verse is misused can ruin this truth for us. But, in a side note, Bacote offers a clarification. He says dominion and rule are to be understood as “steward-like care,” and he offers this metaphor: “We can think of it this way: we would only regard a ruler positively if they lead their kingdom to flourishing, if they are good stewards of the domain under their care.”
Likewise with the dominion God has given humanity over his whole creation. We are called to care for it in a manner that leads to flourishing.
Bacote says this commission to have dominion over creation “never seemed all that important to me; perhaps I thought it was mostly about agriculture. But my encounter with [Abraham] Kuyper helped me understand that there was more than one Great Commission in the Bible.”
Genesis 1:26 says humans are created in God’s image. This truth, when coupled with verse 28, reveals “that humans were commanded to cultivate the creation, to lead it to flourishing as the result of the best kind of stewardship.”
Kuyper and Bacote speak of “common grace.” It is the aspect of God’s grace that “directs our attention to God’s creation and also leads us to a big question: How do we understand what the Bible says when it talks about ‘the world’?”
Bacote says the Greek word translated as “world” in the English Bible has a “range of meanings that includes ‘creation’ but also includes ‘world system,’ or the way one lives in the creation. . . .
The person who loves the world is someone who lives in the created order in a way that disregards the instructions for us given by the Designer.”
In other words, when the New Testament warns of dangers in the world it is warning about those people and systems that have disregarded divine instruction. Sin has been introduced into “the world,” but Christians can still see the broader world as God’s creation, as the place where God’s influence, Christ’s teachings are needed. This pushes Christians out of their buildings and into the culture, including the political culture, that surrounds them.
“Common grace makes it possible for us to continue to obey the first Great Commission. The reality of the fall means that our task will be much harder than it was at the beginning because many people participate in the creation in ways that are distorted. . . .
“Common grace is a doctrine that gives us a vision for seeing one vital part of Christian faithfulness. While it is vitally important to proclaim the gospel, introduce people to Jesus, and help them move toward faithful discipleship as they participate in church life, it is also tremendously important for Christians to see that it has always been our responsibility to care for the world, cultivating the flourishing of life through our activity in culture, politics, education, medicine, business, and every public area. . . .
“If we understand that we are ‘responsible’ stewards, we can never participate in the created order in a careless way. Instead, we will be the standard bearers for the care of creation that is expressed environmentally, politically, educationally, culturally, and so on.”