Our vocation is the cultivation, culture, and civilization of the earth
Patrick Coelho is the former executive pastor at Westwinds. He introduced me to the first academically-credible Pentecostal holy-roller I ever heard. Thanks Pat—this one’s for you.
Do you remember listening to that old preacher, Ern Baxter, teach on the four rivers in Eden? In one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, that old codger reinforced, again and again and again, that those rivers were the delivery system for God’s glory going out of Eden. He told us four was the number of the earth and that those rivers, which sprang up from the ground, carried the goodness out of Eden as an ecological counterpart to the goodness Adam and Eve were meant to export as they subdued the earth and won dominion over everything that lived.
I’ve been thinking for some time that the key promise of Eden entails God giving God’s people God’s gameplan in God’s place, resulting in God’s blessing. Our calling is to draw together the resources of Creation, to bring wise order to the garden, and to release human potential. That work takes many forms—trades, markets, agriculture, government—but all forms entail one specific requirement.
It’s a strange word, isn’t it? If you’re like me, you probably associate it with a medieval fantasy like King Arthur or Lord of the Rings. It’s a word that sounds suspiciously like domination. Sadly, too many of our peers have operated as though they were synonyms.
But dominion isn’t domination. Dominion means the application of wise rule resulting in the optimal conditions for human flourishing.
I realize that sounds like a mouthful, and it is, so let me simplify. Dominion means being smart enough to get the job done, willing enough to do the job well, and purposed enough to make sure the job doesn’t do any unnecessary damage in the process. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, tells us “a gardener neither leaves the ground as is, nor does he destroy it. Instead, he rearranges it to produce food and plants for human life.”
I suppose there’s an important distinction, closely related to dominion and domination, between willingness and willfulness. Willfulness refers to our stubborn demand that the world comply to our desires, ambitions, and preferences. Willingness, on the other hand, refers to the humility inherent in receiving a task from God to do what God wants in the ways God wants to achieve the results God requires.
We have been given a mandate for dominion and willingly accept our responsibility before God to see the earth cultivated, cultured, and civilized for his glory.
We have a good model for this kind of willing dominion in Jesus Christ. When the scriptures speak of Jesus having dominion, they speak of his peace-inducing, world-healing governance.
Jesus is portrayed as a King in the Bible, but he’s a funny kind of King. He’s a King who refuses to send his armies to war, and he’s a King who ensures the only casualty in any conflict is himself, and he’s a King who gives up all his power.
But, in the end of the Bible, we read about God looking for someone who is worthy to open the scroll containing God’s ultimate plan to heal the world. No one is found worthy—not politicians or warriors or statesmen or teachers—except King Jesus, the Lamb That Was Slain. And why is Jesus worthy? Why can he be entrusted to heal the world and restore the blueprint of Eden on a global scale? Because we know what Jesus does with power. Because we know what Jesus does with authority. Because we know what Jesus does with privilege.
When you and I do our noble work in the world, we’ve got to work like Christ. We’ve got to accept our divine responsibility with the necessary humility to ensure that we bring forth the best—not only for humanity, but from humanity.
 There are four cardinal points of the compass, four winds, four corners of the world, etc.
Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 150.
 Ephesians 1.22.
 Revelation 1.16.
 John 3.16.
 Philippians 2.7.
 Revelation 4-5.
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