Unburying the Lede: Dominion

I recently posted a review of a book that I couldn’t recommend, and have found the responses to that review on social media and in private correspondence very interesting.

A trusted friend, with vastly more wisdom and learning than I, encouraged me with their email, and introduced me to an American idiom that I hadn’t heard before ‘burying the lede’. According to google, this is what that means: “To begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts

The previous post focused on what it means to be human, made in the Image of God. The second considered the identity of Jesus. This one moves away from that, to a thread that ties the two together.

Dominion Theology

As ever, confusion over something comes down to how we read the Bible. Specifically, what the word ‘dominion’ means when it is seen in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

The KJV is not alone in using this kind of language (With the ESV being one popular English translation) – though it is worth noting that the NIV and NASB use ‘rule over’, whilst the NLT uses the language of ‘reign over’.

More simply put, there are two ways of interpreting this verse that are popular in the charismatic and evangelical theological circles I spend most of my time in (there are other ways I am sure, but they are not particularly in view here). Firstly, that ‘Dominion Theology’ is a mandate, rooted in creation (By way of this verse) for Christian leadership/influence/stewardship in society, in ways that might look quite authoritative. Secondly, in a rather different way, that all of human kind being made in the Image of God means that we are responsible for the way the world is stewarded and shepherded.

There are, quite simply, two opposing ways to lead. One is to decide that your interpretation of something is completely right, and to steamroller objections and questions. The other is to recognize and appreciate the subtlety of Scripture when it comes to talking about ‘authority’, and that ‘dominion’ might not be the most helpful way of talking about it. In Genesis 1:28 the emphasis is not on the power of the human, but rather the fact that the rule and reign of creation are a gift and responsibility that is wrapped up with what it means to be human, but doesn’t define our humanity. Humans are those who are made in the Image of God, and part of what that means for us day to day is to be faithful stewards, shepherds and kings in the world we find ourselves in.

One popular articulation of dominion theology has emerged in the ‘Seven Mountains Mandate’, wherein Christians are invited (usually commanded!) to ‘take back control’ of the ‘seven mountains’ of culture, which are understood as being: Education, Religion, Family, Business, Government/Military, Arts/Entertainment and Media. This vision for Christian cultural engagement is deeply flawed, and is linked to Bill Bright and Lance Wallnau, among others. One way in which the Seven Mountains version of dominion theology can be identified as a twisting of Scripture is the way that it uses Isaiah 2:2.

Linked in to all this is of course the complex spectrum of biblical and pseudo-biblical Christian understandings of how the world will end/Christ will return, which falls under the general term ‘eschatology’. Regardless of where you might land on that, it is hard to ignore the relatively clear and simple words of 2 Timothy 3:1, 13 and 2 Peter 3:3, that the world is likely to get worse before it is ultimately all set right. Christians are not commanded by Jesus to take control of anything, but rather to go into all the earth and preach the Gospel.

It is not the job of the Church, let alone Christians (individually or otherwise) to remake the world in our own image, even if that remaking might resonate with our understanding of some biblical principles and ideas. Jesus said, famously, in 5:14-16;

You are the light of the world, A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven

A ‘christianity’ shaped by the word ‘dominion’ will likely go in a different way. A way of life that follows these words of Jesus carefully will look very different from the nationalism-infused, violence-supporting, partisan religion that can so often be confused with Christianity. The Church is not called to rule over all things – or even to hold them in trust for the coming of King Jesus. The church, on the other hand, is to go all over creation, proclaiming and demonstrating another truth, the truth about Jesus, the King who, in the words of Paul in Colossians 1:17, “is before all things, and in him all things hold together“. When the word ‘dominion’ is heard, in a Christian context, it should really be in the context of worship Jesus, the King of Kings.

Why does this matter?

If you go to a church or gathering where the ‘7 Mountains Mandate’ is taught, or the word ‘dominion’ is thrown around, you might want to dig in to what the speakers and teachers mean. I’d suggest it might be wiser, and more biblical, to find another way of talking about and approaching culture.

To put it very bluntly, it is this kind of thinking that can force an argument along the lines of ‘Bible-believing Christians must vote for Donald Trump because he is restoring the church’, as opposed to the very different argument ‘I am a bible-believing Christian and I am going to vote for Donald Trump’. The former is on very shaky ground, biblically speaking, the latter is something that can be discussed and interrogated.

Does ‘dominion’ infect the language of your faith? How do you square the language of generals and takeover with the message of the Sermon on the Mount and the Prince of Peace?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you want to think a bit more about this, check out the following:

  1. Caleb Woodbridge

    I agree that “dominion” is best thought of in terms of gift and responsibility, but I’d like to see you unpack the question of eschatology in a bit more depth.

    Your assertion that 2 Timothy 3:1, 13 and 2 Peter 3:3 “clearly” and “simply” imply the direction of history prior to Christ’s return is a downward trajectory is a bit too simple. A few questions that might complicate the picture:
    – If it’s a distortion of Isaiah 2 to see the promise of all nations streaming in worship to the Lord’s temple as relating to our earthly, historical future, what do you see it as rightly referring to?
    – How is it that the promise of the new heavens and the new earth described in Isaiah 65 describes long and full life but still includes death (v20) – this might seem to be referring to some earthly condition ahead of what we experience now, but short of the final resurrected state?
    – What does it mean in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” and that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death”, which might be taken to imply that the Resurrection to come is the *final* step in Christ’s reign being established (rather than the world being largely apostate and it being the first step to fully establishing his reign on his return)?

    The question of teleology is an important one – I don’t think that dominionism is wrong to see this world as heading towards seeing the reign of Christ fully realised, including in public spheres. Rather, where dominionism goes wrong is in seeking the Kingdom by a means other than the Cross – it attempts to takes the route of worldly power, when the only way we can be true witnesses and heralds of the coming Kingdom is through loving self-sacrifice after the pattern of Jesus.

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