The “command to subdue the earth (often called the creation mandate) is a cultural mandate”. Walsh and Middleton 1984, 55.
So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the earth.
Genesis 1:27 – 28
In their book The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton explain that the creation mandate is a cultural mandate (p. 54 – 56). Genesis 2:15 reveals that Adam was placed in the garden “to till it and to keep it” (RSV), or to “tend and keep it” (NKJV). “The twofold original human task is to develop and preserve our creational environment” (1984, p. 54).
Walsh and Middleton explain that the notion of cultivating, which is encompassed in the idea of tilling and keeping the earth, is connected to culture. “Culture is the result of cultivation . . . Both culture and cultivate refer essentially to our human interactions with the world” (1984, p. 54).
This cultivation of the world, and simultaneous creation of culture, is a communal or social action (p. 55). Adam needed Eve to complete his mandate. As a couple they needed to have children in order to rule the whole earth effectively. This was not something they could complete alone.
As human beings made in God’s image and living in communities, we cultivate relationships, forms of worship, ideas and traditions, technological objects, institutions, music, economics, and entertainment (p. 55).
“In all our cultural activities and affairs – that is, in all human actions, artefacts, relationships and institutions by which we interact with and develop creation – human beings provide evidence of their God-given rule of the earth” (p. 56).
The formation of cultural norms is a God-mandated activity. It is part of being human, and Christians have an additional motivation. Culture is not neutral. We can cultivate the earth for God’s glory, bringing his love into all our interactions. Or we can abdicate our responsibility, and allow idolatrous cultures to dominate.