For those on the outside, the “culture war” is not understood in the same way, or even as being the same thing, by all evangelicals. The creation mandate and cultural mandate certainly separate dispensational ideas from those of the covenant community. For we dispensationalists the purpose of the church is the proclamation of the gospel in this church age while the eternal kingdom of immediate rule by Christ over the whole world is a eschatological question.
But the covenant community makes today the eschatological question. Aaron Orendorf clarifies it this way:
Far to the contrary, the amillennial position on the nature of God’s kingdom is that it is both a present and future reality i.e., that it is both already-and-not-yet, inaugurated but not consummated and that both these present and future elements of the kingdom include spiritual as well as earthly dimensions. This fulfillment, however, will not take place during a future millennial period but rather at the end of the age when Christ returns and heaven and earth are renewed. To say that because amillennialists do not affirm Christ’s earthly reign “from a throne in Jerusalem” then they cannot affirm an earthly future for God’s kingdom is to confuse a particular (premillennial) understanding of what Christ’s reign will look like with the broader category of God’s kingdom. Such an assertion would be similar to an amillennialist saying that because premillennialists do not affirm that Satan is currently bound so they cannot affirm the current, spiritual presence of God’s kingdom.
This creates a different function for the church. How it works out today is clarified by the postmillennial eschatology that predominates the covenant world:
Just in case you are not familiar with Postmillennialism - “it is the conservative counterpart to the optimistic, liberal, evolutionary view which expects the world to get better through Christianization. A transformed world will precede the coming of Christ to the earth. Though this view nearly died with the transpiration of two world wars and subsequent events, there seems to be a contemporary resurgence of it in some Christian circles.” (Ramesh Richards, Elements of a Biblical Philosophy of History, BibSac, Apr-Jun 1981, p. 116) Postmillennialists typically deny the future millennial kingdom and think that the church is in it.
Therefore, postmillennialists see the rapid growth of the mustard plant and the dominance of the leaven as indicating the millennial kingdom will be brought about by the church dominating society and bringing about world peace so that Jesus can return.
And this is where we divide; this is the culture war. The battle is for dominance over society in order to establish the church in advance of Christ’s return. The dispensationalists can never be rightly accused of trying to set up a situation and cause the Second Coming. Neither can the covenant/amill. But unfortunately some of our critics in the culture war go around spreading this obnoxous lie. Rachel Tabachnick makes the accusation very plain in her assessment of premill support for Israel and the Jewish people:
Proselytizing is not just recruitment to a “different club” but involves the blatant demonization of Judaism by those who are the most outspoken about their love for Jews and Israel. Jewish leadership in this partnership often point to the sincerity of Christian Zionists as evidence of their trustworthiness and unlimited support. Christian Zionists are indeed very sincere in their concern for Israel and Jews, and many have committed their entire careers to this project. Robert Stearns has claimed recently that he would die for Israel. They very sincerely wish to save Israel from Islam, and Jews from Judaism. It would be hard to say which they see as the greater threat - both must be eradicated to bring about the Millennium.
Now, I know that the covenant/amill community does not forsake the gospel for the cause of dominance. I have a very high level of respect for the evangelistic efforts of D. James Kennedy and Evangelism Explosion. But still it is impossible to miss the distraction of political involvement that came later in the life and ministry of Dr. Kennedy.
So, for us who do not subscribe to the mandates of the past, the culture war is a foreign war. But like all human beings there is some confusion about the theological implications of decisions and many premills have jumped into the culture war with both feet. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it might have some alternative motivations.
The “salt and light” are not meant, as I understand the passage, to expose and preserve. They are statements of value. This is a statement that expresses how the world will treat the people of God when they see something good and valuable that comes from what we are and do. This approach allows the dispensationalist to participate in the culture war, not as a potential victor, but as a participant who can bring things of value — such as the pro-life ethic, the marriage ethic, and all the same concerns. And dispensationalists we can come to it without the baggage of theocracy.