The Bible commands Christians not to love the world (1 John 2:15). This is because the world is in systematic rebellion against God and could be a dangerous distraction to the believer’s quest for God (Matt 13:22; Luke 18:22). Accordingly, Christians in Zambia strive to be other-worldly. So consecrated are we that we often offer only a loose or non-attachment to the many aspects of our culture which we tend to view as unsanctified.

The Bible, nonetheless, does not command Christians to remove themselves from cultural activities going on in the world. Regrettably, most of us as African Christians, in our zeal to honour God for his abundant redemptive graces and to proclaim this salvation to our societies, have often lacked a strong sense of our original cultural calling. In far too many cases, a vision for man’s vital role as a culture-maker is altogether absent from our minds. In Zambia for instance, Christians are rarely the leaders in civic and cultural endeavours. More often than not, we are conspicuous for our indifference, docility and absence in culture related activity. This begs the question, why is this the case? The answer partly lies in a failure to appreciate the place of not only the evangelistic but also the cultural mandate in our lives.

Why do so many us as African Christians have difficulty in harnessing these God-given mandates? Our reticence in applying ourselves to the cultural mandate, for instance, may stem from long held negative beliefs. These have been sub-consciously drummed into us by a long exposure to dignity damning and confidence eroding vices like slavery (relating mainly to the African in the Diaspora), colonialism, and racism. This has so affected us as Africans that we cannot fulfil the demands of the cultural mandate to the same extent as our western counterpart, for example. In addition to this, attempts at subduing the earth by our predecessors have not yielded the same level of cultural progress as seen in other civilizations. Consequently, we suffer from an inferiority complex and a lack of self-confidence. So, how can we reclaim our position in the field of culture-making, especially as Christians? This is one of the questions we hope to answer in this issue of Reformation Zambia. 

Definition of Culture

The starting point must surely be to correctly define and understand culture. The word culture is derived from the Latin word “cultura” which is the past participle of the verb “colere” meaning to plough or till[1]. Cultura was normally used in agronomic contexts to denote the active care or tending of plants or animals. Its meaning has, however, expanded and can be viewed from at least three perspectives; namely, the perspectives of the earth, of man, and of God. Let us consider each of these in its turn:

  1. Culture viewed in relation to the earth. David Bruce Hageman[2] defines culture as “….the development of the earth into a global network of gardens and cities in harmony with nature—a glorious garden city”. Henry Van Til proposes that culture is “the secondary environment which has been superimposed upon nature by man’s creative effort”[3].
  2. Culture viewed in relation to man. Culture defined from this anthropological perspective consists in the beliefs, behaviour, language, and the entire way of life of a particular group of people. It is also a reference to the intellectual, behavioural and artistic achievements (improvements or refinements) of a society, that often come via education or training.
  3. Culture viewed in relation to God. Culture may also mean worship. “In the same way the farmer actively fusses over his crops, so the worshiper gives rapt attention to the deity he serves. Thus the term is closely related to the Latin cultus, meaning adoration or veneration”[4]. In this sense, the cultural maker brings in the fruit of his labours to God as an act of worship to him (1Cor 10:31). In other words, wherever humans are found will be seen the durable effects of their habitation, whether good or bad. These durable effects of human habitation are called “culture”.

 

Culture and the Image of God

As Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 and 27 teaches us: God created man in his image. This means that man in all that he is, is created to be God’s image. Consequently, man, regardless of his race will reflect personality, spirituality, morality, authority, creativity, and the capacity for dominion—just like God. If God creates, (out of nothing), man, whom he made in his image, also has capacity to make culture (out of something). As a matter of fact, God created and placed man on earth to make culture, that is, among other things. Human history is also “culturative” history which is a reference to “…the history of the process of mankind transforming the earth (ordering, developing, and embellishing God’s splendid creation, to realise the multifarious potentialities which were embedded within it), from its natural beginning as a garden paradise to a developed and improved state as the glorious city of God, ever more productive and ever more beautiful than the original”[5].

The Effect of Sin on Africa’s Ability to Fulfil her Cultural Mandate

The fall has drastically limited man’s ability to fulfil the cultural mandate. Man cannot, anymore, make anything culturally that is free of imperfections. Furthermore, whatever he makes is open to the effects of entropy. But has sin so limited the African Christian that he cannot engage culturally after the fashion that God originally designed for him? I believe not, and that for two reasons:

  1. Sin does not take away all our ability to engage in productive culture. This is borne out by the fact that non-Christians, in most developed societies, have been the means of championing causes in the scientific and technological spheres that have advanced the welfare of humanity. Sin in this case has clearly limited but not deterred sinful men from subduing the earth.
  2. Christ and the Bible have enhanced man’s ability to subdue the earth. Men, living in lands that have come under the influence of Christianity and the Bible have demonstrated a greater capacity for subduing the earth than those without it. Evidently this has been because the influence of Christ and the Bible has enhanced their abilities to reflect the creative image of God.

Christianity’s Influence

An overview of the positive contributions that Christianity has inspired through the centuries include: the founding of hospitals, universities (most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes), literacy and education for the masses, capitalism and free enterprise, representative government, the separation of powers, civil liberties, the abolition of slavery, modern science, the elevation of women, benevolence and charity, high regard for human life, civilising of primitive culture, codifying and setting to writing many of the world’s languages, and the greater development of art and music among other things[6].

The above-mentioned cultural advancements are particularly evident in western civilisation which has enjoyed the lion’s share of the influence of Christianity. That what they have and continue to achieve, is what man, as a creature made in the image of God, aspires for, is demonstrated by the fact that men from less developed cultures tend to gravitate toward the west. Furthermore, those from non-western societies who have seen cultural progress in the recent past have done so largely by mimicking the west (and thus indirectly drawing from the wells of biblical influence).

 

Africa Remains Culturally Backward

Despite a wealth of human and natural resources, African nations typically fall toward the bottom of any list measuring economic activity, quality of life, and least developed countries. Although GDP per capita incomes in Africa have been steadily growing, measures are still far better in other parts of the world, such as Latin America, which suffers from many of the same disadvantages.

Africa is not the only continent to have experienced poverty. Europe and Asia have both in the past had their fair share of poverty and backwardness. But unlike Africa, they have also had their renaissance, and their scientific, technological and industrial revolutions. The big question is: When Europe was making progress, where was Africa? Why has Africa remained enslaved to backwardness and poverty?

Cultural Stumbling-Blocks

There are many factors that have contributed to keeping Africans from effectively fulfilling the cultural mandate. The following are some of the most important:

  1. Indigenous African paganism. This has led to a debilitating fatalism and cultural lethargy.
  2. The insulating effect of African culture. It has not been penetrated by the gospel to the core of its being, to the point where the people are liberated to become culture makers on the standard and scale that other civilisations have achieved.
  3. Inferiority complex. Many of us as Africans continue to view ourselves as being inferior and, therefore, unable to produce high culture.
  4. A worldview that is not soaked in Biblicism and an ethical standard that is not modelled on the Bible.

Some of these vices are played out in all spheres of Africa’s life. We see this, for example, in her politics. Most African governments do not create suitable environments for their people to develop themselves and to engage in culture-making. In some parts of Africa, a political mindset reigns that stifles free thinking and innovation. Furthermore, in many areas, Africa’s potential cannot be fully unleashed. Immorality, a poor work ethic, the “chief” mentality, the abuse of family solidarity, superstition and syncretism—all are bottlenecks in the path of cultural progress. But how can Africa realise her potential and live true to her cultural mandate? 

The Gospel

The fall of man in the first Adam, no doubt makes this job at once difficult and urgent. Our restoration in the last and greatest Adam—Christ—makes the task hopeful and incredibly more glorious. In Christ, we do not find just narrow escape from poverty. Rather, we find a new way of being human, under a new and better federal head. This new way restores to us all the potentialities we lost in Adam and imparts even more things to enable us to subdue the earth better. 

A Biblical Worldview

The Bible must shape our view of everything we think, say, and do. Whether we are Christians or not, we can have the Bible’s principles shape our outlook on life. The Bible should be allowed to shape our outlook on God, man, rationality, family, work, authority, service, and education. “Education today is often thought of as a long exercise in job training. The imagined end-point is a lucrative or otherwise desirable vocation. Rather, education should be viewed as a means through which man can be cultivated to become again the glorious, well-informed, dignified, skilful, cogent, expressive, and God-honouring creature that he was originally created to be”[7].

The Bible should also shape our values. The only perfect, comprehensive, and complete expression of God-honouring values is to be found in the Bible. God must be the source of all right and just values and not culture, subjective feeling, or community. True values must be determined by God and only discovered by man. It is not right for man to create his own values on either the personal or societal level.

But how can we bring the influence of the Bible to bear on our many sided lives as Africans? I think that the answer lies in soaking all our shaping influences—family, school, church, and state in Christ-centred biblicism. This is what led to cultural progress in developed societies in the West. Interestingly, the West’s rejection of biblical Christianity is increasingly bringing about a decline in their cultural values. 

The Two Mandates Complement Each Other

Herman Bavinck has expressed the relationship between the cultural and evangelistic mandates in a helpful way. He quotes the well-known preacher, J. Christian Blumhardt, who said that a person “must be twice converted, first from the natural to the spiritual life, and then from the spiritual to the natural.” This is a truth, Bavinck believes, that is “confirmed by the religious experience of every Christian and by the history of Christian piety in all ages.” The first conversion is to God and is expressed in the sigh of the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). We must then be converted again, this time back to the breadth of our cultural calling in this present world.

Conclusion

Although in my editorial I have not said much on our evangelistic mandate, this issue of Reformation Zambia goes out in the hope that readers will be inspired to pursue both the evangelistic and the cultural mandates. My emphasis in the editorial on the cultural mandate is a corrective one. Most of us are aware of our evangelistic mandate but very few of us are aware of our cultural mandate. There are many areas in which we need to see the cultural mandate playing itself out: æsthetics, wealth creation, infrastructure development, science, skills development, patriotism, etc. Christians must be encouraged and enabled to bring about cultural reformation. The cultural responsibility of Christians requires of us to extend God’s Kingdom over African culture in every sphere of human enterprise. It is taking these two mandates seriously, that will bring about change in Africa.

Bruce Button will take us through the cultural mandate and Kabwe Kabwe will deal with the evangelistic mandate. Choolwe Mwetwa will awaken us to the reality of the challenges that face the African in particular, in the process of culture-making. May the reader, through this edition of Reformation Zambia, be inspired to pursue both the evangelistic and the cultural mandate! 

Bibliography

Henry R. Van Til 1972, The Calvinistic concept of culture, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

David B. Hageman 1999, Plowing in Hope, toward a biblical theology of culture, Moscow: Canon Press

James Kennedy & Jerry Newcomb, 1994, What if Jesus had never been born?, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Rodney Stark 2005, The Victory of Reason, New York, Random House.

Aaron Tripp 2006, Education and the ideal man (unpublished article)

[1] Henry R. Van Til 1972, The Calvinistic concept of culture, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, p.29.

[2] David B. Hageman 1999, Plowing in Hope, toward a biblical theology of culture, Moscow: Canon Press, p.31ff.

[3] Ibid., p.15.

[4] Ibid., p.14.

[5] David B. Hageman 1999, Plowing in Hope, toward a biblical theology of culture, Moscow: Canon Press, p.31.

[6] James Kennedy & Jerry Newcomb, 1994, What if Jesus had never been born?, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, p.3-4.

[7] Aaron Tripp 2006, Education and the ideal man (unpublished article)