This is a book that I desperately wanted to like, but Rogers got off to a ragged start when he trashed the Three Stooges. It was hard to recover from that blow, but I persevered.
In Christian Liberty a number of threads are woven together to form a thesis. The first thread is the need to understand our changing times. We no longer live in a culture defined by modernity, where increasingly postmodernism is the mindset of our age. The second thread, that of the need to develop and live out a biblical worldview, naturally follows. The surprising thread (that which often hinders Christians from living out a biblical worldview in a postmodern culture) is that believers are too busy with intramural battles over minor issues. What the church needs is to practice Christian liberty, stop fighting unimportant wars and focus on two great mandates given to us by God: the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate.
On the positive side, Rogers is absolutely right about our changing culture. Unbelievers and, increasingly, Christians are being carried along by the stream of postmodernism, even though most could not define the term. Unless we understand our times we will continue to fight yesterday’s battles. Rogers does a good job explaining our changing society and the postmodern worldview.
Rogers is equally correct concerning Christian liberty. Developing this doctrine on solid biblical principles, especially Romans 14, he is able to clearly demonstrate that the Fundamental Christian community is often factious over the wrong issues. We are so busy fussing over hair, music and dress that we fail to look up and see the fields that are “white unto harvest.” Our Great Commission is to take Christ to the world and disciple people for His glory, not attack one another over relatively minor matters. Rogers is right on target.
Unfortunately, there are some glaring flaws in Christian Liberty. Let’s start with the subject of liberty. Rogers is absolutely correct in the general principles on liberty which he draws from Scripture. But I see two deficiencies. First, he does not deal with specific issues. Take music for example. Rogers is right that music is often a matter of preference, and the battles being fought over music within our Christian communities are tragic. But are there no boundaries? Is “Christian” grunge and rap acceptable for worship? If so, does Rogers have such groups perform at Cornerstone University, of which he is the president? If not, why not? And do only the lyrics matter as he claims? Does not the music itself have a voice? Additionally, and surprisingly, Rogers never goes to Scripture to develop a theology of music. What does Scripture say about the purpose of music for the church today? A good exposition of Colossians 3:16-17 and Ephesians 5:18-20 would have been most helpful.
But there is something even more bothersome concerning Christian liberty—who is Roger’s audience? The “church wars”, of the types he describes, are almost exclusively a concern for Fundamentalist, conservative Baptist and Bible churches. If this is his targeted readership, he never specifically says so. It is unfortunately all too true among Fundamentalists that we are engaged in the wrong battles and Rogers is correct to say so. However, the evangelical and liberal Christian communities have long ago applied these liberty principles. They do not fight over the issues raised in Christian Liberty. So we have firsthand evidence of where liberty taken too far leads us—licensed. It this what we want? Just read any issue of Christianity Today and you will discover where the “anything-is-okay-just-as-long-as-we-get-along” mentality takes God’s people. The question arises at this point—is this where Rogers is leading? Is this book a polemic to lead Fundamentalists (his obvious target) into evangelicalism? Before we answer let’s press on.
The second area of concern deals with worldview. Again, Rogers is exactly on target—Christians need to have and live out a biblical worldview. Having such a worldview would, among other things, free us from the legalism often found in Fundamentalism, yet spare us the license often found in evangelism. But, curiously, Rogers never details for us what a biblical worldview is. In chapter two he does give us some excellent general parameters, but specifics are missing. George Barna (who Rogers often quotes) tells us that the majority of Christians, and even a large percentage of evangelical clergy, do not possess a biblical worldview. Perhaps they don’t know what it is. A good chapter describing a biblical worldview is desperately needed in a book constantly calling for the same.
All of this leads us to the strongest criticism of the book. A biblical worldview should clearly lead us to our Christian purpose or mandate. Rogers believes that we have two such mandates. First, the Great Commission, against which you will get no argument here, and, secondly, the Cultural Mandate. Now, just what is this Cultural Mandate and where in Scripture is it given?
The Cultural Mandate is “engaging, influencing, and possibly transforming culture” (p. 35). Throughout the book Rogers supports this concept from a single passage of Scripture—Genesis 1:28 where our first parents are told to subdue the earth. He also lamely attempts to connect Colossians 1:20, in which Christ is the reconciler of all things, with 2 Corinthians 5:18 in which we are ministers of reconciliation. In order to support his thesis he twists these verses out of their context (p. 69). Rogers draws from these passages that we have been given a “Cultural Mandate [which] implies creative development of culture for the glory of God” (p. 53). We are to reform culture (p. 73); we are to redeem God-dishonoring aspects of culture (p. 109); develop, define and direct culture (p. 150); be God’s change agents, working to alter any cultural development or expression that is counter to His will (p. 153); transform culture (p. 164, 171, 173); redeem culture for the Lord’s purposes (p. 167); put Christ at the center of culture (p. 168); reform culture (p. 172); and create culture (p. 173).
What Rogers fails to note is the so-called Cultural Mandate was given before the Fall of man—and not repeated after the Fall. There is absolutely no Scripture to support a Cultural Mandate for Christians today. Just a brief reading of the New Testament verifies this. Throughout Acts and the epistles there is no action taken, or instruction given, on reforming culture. Rather, we are commissioned to draw men out of the domain of the devil and into the Kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13). Throughout church history the true church has always been effective when it focuses on the Great Commission and highly ineffective attempting to transform culture. Contrary to Chuck Colson’s view (see p. 172), the true Christian church has never dominated any culture, at least not for long. And where it has exhibited great light and salt influence on culture, it has done so through concentrating on the Great Commission, not through some overt attempt to transform culture.
Interestingly, Rogers outlines the various schools of eschatological thought (historic and dispensational premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism) and rightly concludes that where one stands on these issues will determine his understanding of the Cultural Mandate (p. 67-68). Premillennialism is optimistic about transformation of individuals through conversion but less sanguine about real and lasting change in society. It is postmillennialism and amillennialism which embrace the Cultural Mandate. Curiously, having opened this can of worms, Rogers walks away without declaring his position. But clearly, whatever his official theological views, he is firmly in the post- and amillennial camp. Knowing Chuck Colson’s propagation of the Cultural Mandate, and finding many quotes from Colson in Christian Liberty, I believe Rogers’ thinking has been highly influenced by Colson and his tribe. Rogers is now attempting to infiltrate Fundamentalist circles with Colson’s philosophy.
Colson’s view of the Cultural Mandate has lead to a broad tolerance, within Christian circles, of even Fundamental doctrines such as Sola Fide. If the church is mandated to transform and redeem culture, we will need a united front of cobelligerents drawn from every doctrinal stripe of believer. In order to do this we must lay down our theological differences and join arms in the cultural wars. The ECT document is the perfect example of where all of this leads, as Evangelicals and Catholics unite in an effort to transform culture. Colson’s philosophy demands ecumenical political activism to be successful. Is not Rogers headed down the same road? Commenting on Colson, Phil Johnson, Director of “Grace To You,” writes, “Biblically, the gospel is the only message of redemption (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:17-25), and pagan societies are transformed for the better only as individuals respond to the gospel and experience the new birth. It is no part of our calling to cultivate a higher standard of external morality among pagans.”
Paul’s remedy for false worldviews that dominate cultures was to preach the foolishness of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
Rogers surely is not yet in Colson’s political, ecumenical camp, but by adopting the same two-fold commission theology (the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate) he is headed in that direction and leading others with him. He needs to rethink this Cultural Mandate in the light of the New Testament. To boldly proclaim that we have been mandated by God to transform culture, when there is absolutely no New Testament warrant, commission, example or allusion to such a commission, is a grave error.