The "Plus Four" Solution

Michael Metzger

Economics has become a narrow field completely out of touch with reality, says Noreena Hertz, a Cambridge University economist. She argues that it needs to reconnect with reality and has developed a paradigm for capitalism that draws on a range of disciplines as diverse as anthropology, physics, and neurology. But Hertz might consider an additional one for her paradigm to ultimately succeed.

“We are witnessing the death of a paradigm,” Hertz wrote last year in the British political magazine The New Statesman. Since the publication of her 2001 European best seller, The Silent Takeover, Hertz has been telling economists that you can’t reduce the world to a mathematical formula. “I assume it’s complicated and ask where can I get help from a whole range of disciplines.”1 She’s developed “co-op capitalism” which calls for businesses, governments, NGOs, and the public to experiment together to design financial structures that take both profit and larger social goals into account.

Hertz’s work has drawn the attention of Fortune 500 companies—as well as the likes of U2’s Bono and Joshua Cooper Ramo, managing director of Kissinger Associates. Ramo praises Hertz: “For the past five or six years, everyone had pie-in-the-sky optimism that capitalism and democracy would be triumphant. Now we’re seeing all these incredible problems in the system, and she’s been pointing out that these problems exist.”

A problem well defined is a problem half-solved. But since the fall of humanity, our problems have been on the order of magnitude of 10. The disciplines Hertz draws from only contribute 1+2+3. That equals 6, not 10. She needs an additional discipline, a “+4.” That was once the contribution of the Christian tradition.

For “most of Western history, the basic claims of the Christian tradition have in fact been regarded by its proponents as knowledge of reality,” University of Southern California professor Dallas Willard notes.2 The church taught what was considered real and right as a “public resource for living.” Defining reality was the result of the church connecting the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. The Cultural Mandate accounts for the patterns individuals see as well as the problems they experience. The Great Commission points to the power and presence of God that’s necessary to rectify problems.

Patterns + problems + power + presence = the church’s four contributions to culture.

The Cultural Mandate describes the creational pattern intrinsic to the way reality works. The substance of the mandate is to be creative. The scope is all creation. The stewardship is promoting flourishing or maximizing latent potential. The Cultural Mandate explains what everyone is hard-wired to do everyday. It is the “human job description.” It accounts for Hertz seeing patterns and problems.

This mandate “stands as the first and fundamental law of history,” Al Wolters writes.3 It has never been rescinded. After the fall, God reiterated the same mandate to Adam and Eve—“cultivate the ground” (Gen. 3:23). After the flood, God reiterates: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (9:1). The entire book of Genesis traces the ever-widening pattern and problems as successive generations strive to “cultivate the earth” and establish cities.

The Great Commission is a re-mission of the Cultural Mandate that incorporates the original pattern with a new power and presence. After the fall, human performance became wildly uneven. People now need personal renewal in order to renew the world. The task is the same, but the power and presence of Father-Son-Spirit reality—incarnated and embodied Trinitarian reality—makes the doing of the task infused with the resources of heaven. The two commandments speak to the same reality, but the second—the Great Commission—by necessity takes into consideration the reality of the fall. Without the power and presence of God, economic cycles endlessly repeat a boom-bust, prosperity-panic cycle due to human frailty. The dismal science will not be renewed by good intentions alone however well conceived.

When faith communities disconnect the Great Commission from the Cultural Mandate, they truncate the task to individual renewal—evangelism and discipleship. These are essential but explain why evangelicals are mostly drawn to missions of mercy to the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. Yet, as Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith warns, none of these efforts “attempt to transform social or cultural systems, but merely alleviate some of the harm caused by the existing system.”4 This amounts to faith communities offering only power and presence—a “+2” solution that falls short of making a lasting difference.

When faith communities disconnect the Cultural Mandate from the Great Commission, they truncate the task to institutions and simply “making culture.” This amounts to faith communities offering only patterns and citing problems—a “+2” solution that also falls short. By elevating the Cultural Mandate above the Great Commission, they make too much of institutional change while making too little of the limits of human nature alone. The first make too little of creation, the second too little of the cross.

In a world with problems on the magnitude of 10, the solution is 1+2+3…+4. The Christian tradition will only be considered “+4” when it offers a definition of reality that includes pattern + problems + power + presence—four realities realized from seeing the Great Commission as a re-mission of the Cultural Mandate. There is no partition between the two commissions, as political scientist Paul Marshall points out: “The cultural mandate and the gospel mandate are not meant to substitute for each other; we don’t have to choose between them. Nor should we even say that these mandates should be added to one another. Rather, we must see these two mandates as essentially two aspects of one overarching thing—that we are called to be servants and followers of God through Jesus Christ in whatever we think or feel or do in any and every area of God’s creation…. Humankind is not a set of apprentice angels who are only suited to existence on another spiritual plane. We are the ones whom God has made for the earth and charged with the task of shepherding the world, of serving God in our day-to-day tasks, of loving God and one another in whatever we do.”5

Noreena Hertz is on to something. But if “co-op capitalism” is going to ultimately succeed, she needs an additional discipline—a “+4”—so that her solution is a 10. This is where the Christian tradition can contribute. But Christians won’t be invited to the table until they see the connection between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission.

1 Danielle Sacks, “How an Economist’s Cry for Ethical Capitalism was Heard,” Fast Company, November 2009, Issue 140, pp. 112-125.
2 Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2009) p. 8.
3 Dr. A. M. Wolters, “The Foundational Command: Subdue the Earth,” (Toronto: Paper given at the Institute for Christian Studies, 1973), p. 8.
4 Christian Smith et al, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 201, 198.
5 Paul Marshall, Thine Is the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 20, 26.


Morning Mike Check


The Morning Mike Check

Don't miss out on the latest podcast episode! Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast platform to stay up to date on the latest from Clapham Institute.


  1. The rumblings of “Capitalism: A Love Affair” resonate. Takes a bit of objectivity for a hearing ear and seeing eye, however.

  2. Thanks for clearing up the other side of the issue: making too much of the Cultural Mandate and too little of the cross.

    A while back, you asked the question, “When was the last time you heard a sermon about cultural renewal” and I was unable to muster up a response. I finally found one from Matt Chandler of the Village Church, TX. He does a great job of laying a Biblical view of the Cultural Mandate. I would love to hear your thoughts.
    It’s titled “A Change in Perspective”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *