Monday, May 17, 2010

Critique on Kong Hee's Genesis 1-2 'Cultural Mandate'

Kong Hee has an article in the latest issue of Church & Society in Asia Today journal published by the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College. The article was originally published in City Harvest Church's magazine Harvest Times. Here is my critique of the article:
When God created man and put him in the Garden of Eden, He gave him the responsibility “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). To tend the land means to plow or to cultivate the ground. But in the Latin, it is the word cultura, where you get the English word “culture.” Herein lies a very important truth: culture is God’s original purpose for man! It is not a concept from the devil. It is an idea from God.

God wanted Adam to “do culture,” taking the seed He has put into Adam’s hands and releasing its potential into a mighty harvest. Therefore, in its earliest and simplest definition, culture means taking the raw material God has given to man, and creatively nurturing it to its fullest potential. Because doing it requires creativity, each time we do culture we are actually reflecting the image of Elohim—the God who is creative. Then God blessed them, and God 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 thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

In Genesis 1:28, God gave mankind its primary job description. The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply” has to do with people. It means develop the social world! Build families, churches, schools and cities. Establish governments and laws.

The second phrase “subdue the earth” has to do with nature. It means harness the natural world! Plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music.

Consciously or subconsciously, the human race has been doing that in past millennia from cutting wood to build houses, to cultivating cotton to make clothes, to extracting silicon to make computer chips.

As we develop the social world and harness the natural world, we are creating culture and building civilization upon the world that God has ordered. In theology, this is called the “cultural mandate.” As we do that, we are given the awesome privilege to be God’s co-creators! No wonder King David stood in amazement as he pondered on the whole purpose of man: “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels [more accurately, ‘Elohim God’], and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:4-6).

Man is to harness all the raw materials on the earth, in the ocean, and in space, and creatively release them into their fullest potential (8:6-8).
As we do that, we are creating culture to the glory of God, and taking dominion over the world that He loves.” (Kong Hee, ‘Our Cultural Mandate’, Church & Society in Asia Today, vol. 13, no. 1 (April 2010), p. 54-55. An online version of the article is here.)
Two major problems with Kong Hee’s theological interpretation of Genesis.

First, Kong Hee is reading into the text. Genesis 1 – 2 has nothing to do with the broad mandate to cultivate ‘culture’ in the world. These passages concern the specific agricultural work of the primitive family for their sustenance and not about “taking the raw material God has given to man, and creatively nurturing it to its fullest potential,” as Kong Hee stated.

Simply said, these passages are about God legitimating Adam to hunt and plant for food. Genesis 1.29-30 spells this out unmistakably, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”

Kong Hee only highlighted Genesis 1.27-28 and simply does not refer to the subsequent passages before coming to his conclusion. This is understandable because if Kong Hee had paid close attention to the entire text, instead of picking up just two verses from the narrative, he will not have anything to say about ‘Cultural Mandate’ from Genesis 1. This is the first major problem: flimsy theological interpretation that is insubstantial, lacking critical engagement with what the text says and misreading of the text entirely.


The second major problem is the repulsive corollary following from the first problem: justifying human’s unquenchable self-serving exploitation of the natural world in the name of God. By calling it as ‘cultural mandate’, suddenly Christians are led to think that they have all the rights to “harness all the raw materials on the earth, in the ocean, and in space, and creatively release them into their fullest potential.

Peter Harrison in his brief survey of different interpretations of Genesis 1 has show that Kong Hee’s type of understanding of “have dominion” and “subdue” (1.26, 1.28) came to prominence during the rise of modern science. This interpretation was initially “incorporated into the rhetoric of scientific progress” which later being used as justification for “property ownership and colonization.”
1 Yet there is a difference between these seventeenth century people from Kong Hee. They did all they did in the name to restore the creation or to reverse the effect of the Fall in the creation. Kong Hee is doing it and teaching others to do it because when we do it, “we are given the awesome privilege to be God’s co-creators.2 With such justification, human race has not been only cutting wood to build houses, cultivating cotton to make clothes, extracting silicon to make computer chips in the past millennia. Human race has also been busy with developing guns, nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, advanced vehicles and machinery to kill humans more efficiently and effectively, abortion technology, artificial unhealthy food and all sort of useless fanciful consumerism-driven products by exploiting the natural world.

If God is the creator of everything then, as Rowan Williams stated, "Things in the universe exist in relation to the Creator before they exist in relation to us, so that a degree of reverence and humility is appropriate when we approach anything in the created order." (Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust, p.50) This is a sharp contrast against Kong Hee's domineering attitude.

Kong Hee's entire thesis on 'Cultural Mandate' is grounded on his mis-interpretation of Genesis 1-2. It serves as his rhetorical justification for his agenda to push for a certain careless response to culture and society. A similar agenda-driven rhetoric used by Adolf Hitler. Perhaps the Church & Society in Asia Today journal is giving us an example of how a careless theology and biblical interpretation like that of Kong Hee can affect our response to the society and culture at large.


Endnotes:
1
Harrison, Peter, ‘Subduing the Earth: Genesis 1, Early Modern Science, and the Exploitation of Nature’, The Journal of Religion 79 (1), (1999), p. 86-109. The article can be read here or here.

2 Kong Hee, ‘Our Cultural Mandate’, Church & Society in Asia Today, vol. 13, no. 1 (April 2010), p. 55.

14 comments:

yourshoeah said...

Hey mr. Theologian,

I would have to agree with you on this also, as I do not subscribe to a one sided perspective on 'dominion' per se. The physical realm of the earth IS to be subjected to the purposes of God, but there is not much of that in Christ's own message. His focus of much of His teaching is on the ethical and moral requirements for entry into another Kingdom.

Having said that, I am not opposed to science nor its development, but even with great development and progress, one has to be mindful that not all that we see and hear abt the good results of science is all there is (i like your ref to Hitler's pseudo-scientific discourse for rationalizing mass murder). The same is leading us together into a collective 'One World' future...

What would be an alternative to the reading of Genesis 1-2? We would need some comment on that from you as well. :)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Yoshua,

Thank you for the comment.

There is a need to revisit the so-called 'Cultural Mandate'. To build one up from flimsy handling of the Biblical text is not serving the cause. If I've the luxury of time, I would really like read more on this.

Thank you for your inquiry, but I don't have any groundbreaking unprecedented reading of Genesis 1-2. (Actually I read it quite literally--6 days!--though I'm not a young earth creationist).

:)

reasonable said...

"What would be an alternative to the reading of Genesis 1-2? We would need some comment on that from you as well. :)"

It should be the meaning(s) understood by ancient Jews living 500 to 1000 years before Jesus of Nazareth.

So the challenge is for us to try to step into the shoes (or the minds) of those Jews to perceive the meaing(s).

So forget about computers, for example.

For example, think of "culture" not as Chinese culture or Western culture, but more of cultivation of crops, more of agriCULTURE.

:-)

reasonable said...

By the way, vegetarians would be happy to notice that in Genesis' first two chapters, God explicitly gave only plants (and not animals) to human beings for food.

And God explicitly gave only plants to animals for food.

In the book of Isaiah there was a vision of the future where animals no longer eat other animals. The wolves and the lamps shall lie peacefully side by side. The babies can play with snakes.

So in the Beginning (Genesis) and perhaps in the End, sentient beings no longer eat other sentient beings.

SHWong said...

I think the reference to Hitler is unnecessary. On my part, it clouds what you have to say.

Trebuchet said...

I think you are perfectly right. KH has a problem there when he distorts language to prove dubious points. In fact, city-building and technologies were the result of the Fall, not the reason for the Creation.

It's as if when KH preaches, he ignores all texts outside the ambit of his narrative.

ang said...

I enjoyed reading your critique of Kong Hee's biblical source of justifying his 'Cultural Mandate' doctrine - something that CHC is very proud of.

To spin a whole 'Cultural Mandate' out of the word 'to cultivate?'

Very much the same kind of selective reasoning that led him to:
(1) ridiculously suggest from the ancient chinese relics & text can be seen their worship of a jewish God
(2) explain why Sun Ho's pop career is a natural extension of CHC's holy outreach into the Pop Culture World to fulfil their 'Cultural Mandate'...

Sze Zeng, when one day you become a pastor, don't end up like Hong Hee, ok ?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable, yes it seems that the first pair of humans were meant to be vegetarian.

Hi SHWong, oh I see. The reference was intentional though.

Hi Trebuchet, yes he ignore the other texts. I think a Christian 'cultural mandate' can be constructed. In fact there are many versions of it. But one doesn't need to resort to text-twisting to do that.

Hi ang, Kong Hee is remarkable in spinning ideology from the wrong texts. I don't end up like Kong Hee? Why not? I'll get to stay at one of the luxurious condo near Orchard Road and travel around the world.. hehehe..

SHWong said...

Well, linking stuff to Hitler is Glenn Beckish these days.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMOh9L60FKw

reasonable said...

"Blessed are you poor, for you will be rich... Woe to you who are rich, for you will be poor."
- Jesus (according to Luke's Gospel)

"The first will be last & the last will be first"
- Jesus

"Enjoy now, suffer later? suffer now, enjoy later?"
- reasonable

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

Not sure if Beckish or not, but prior to him, there has been many linking this or that to Hitler. The Nazi icon is too established as an extreme example for people to remember.

Stanley Wong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,
You said "Kong Hee only highlighted Genesis 1.27-28 and simply does not refer to the subsequent passages before coming to his conclusion."

I must say that, after listening to his sermon series on antinomianism, I find that KH has the habit of quoting scripture out of context to justify his case.

I also find it odd that he chose to take off on his Cultural Mandate journey from the LATIN word "cultura" when he should be examining the word in the original HEBREW.

In the HEBREW, to "tend" is to "‛âbad" and Strong's defines it as:

A primitive root; to work (in any sense); by implication to serve, till, (causatively) enslave, etc.: - X be, keep in bondage, be bondmen, bond-service, compel, do, dress, ear, execute, + husbandman, keep, labour (-ing man), bring to pass, (cause to, make to) serve (-ing, self), (be, become) servant (-s), do (use) service, till (-er), transgress [from margin], (set a) work, be wrought, worshipper.

There is absolutely no reference to "culture" at all in the ORIGINAL Hebrew. KH is really stretching his "very important truth."

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Stanley,

Yes, you are right on that. Kong Hee took the passage out of context in that article.

I haven't got the chance to listen to his antinominianism so not sure about what he said there. But thank you for highlighting this to me.

I actually emailed to my lecturer to see if I can write an essay for the subject on cultural mandate with specific dialog with Kong Hee's version of cultural mandate. Still waiting for lecturer's approval.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Stanley,

Yes, you are right on that. Kong Hee took the passage out of context in that article.

I haven't got the chance to listen to his antinominianism so not sure about what he said there. But thank you for highlighting this to me.

I actually emailed to my lecturer to see if I can write an essay for the subject on cultural mandate with specific dialog with Kong Hee's version of cultural mandate. Still waiting for lecturer's approval.