Monday, October 17, 2011

The dangerous world of dominionism

I mentioned a while ago that I have been thinking more about dominion theology or Christian reconstruction or theonomy or whatever you call it. It is a tough thing to pin down because there are so many variations on it. It is doubly hard because almost no one accepts being called a dominionist and a huge percentage of American Christians are infected to one extent or another by a certain amount of dominionist thinking. It is just such a common attitude in the church that it is hard to avoid. Some dominionist thinking is overt but a lot of it is more subtle and manifests itself in talk of restoring America as a Christian nation or other similar attitudes.

What is especially troubling, to me at least, is that there are some places where dominionists often hold positions that are at least superficially the same as positions I and many other Christians hold as well. Homeschooling is an area of common ground although the underlying philosophy is quite different. Calvinism is common among Christian Reconstructionists. By and large they are sober, serious about the Bible and generally people that I would be comfortable hanging around with in most settings. The same is true of many other fellow believers. Because of that there is a real danger of getting some decent information lumped in with some really, really bad information.

A primary example comes from an essay on the webpage of American Vision, an organization devoted to a mission to "Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation.". That phrase resonates with a lot of American Christians who see America as a specially blessed and chosen land founded as a "Judeo-Christian nation" that has gone astray from its alleged Biblical roots. American Vision has lots of meaty articles right in the wheelhouse of conservative American Christians. Lots of stuff railing against government, taxes, immorality and liberalism in general. Unfortunately it also frequently features essays like Amish Presbyterians: PINO, a not so clever shot suggesting that any Presbyterian that doesn't embrace militarism and American exceptionalism is little different from the Amish. That apparently is supposed to be an insult since the author describes the Amish as "parasites", which doesn't seem to jive with what I know of them.

Anyhoo, the author, Bojidar Marinov, a self-described missionary to his home country of Bulgaria, is responding to an anonymous Presbyterian (called simply "K") who has the temerity to question militarism.
K.’s life, liberty, and property today are well protected, and he doesn’t have to fight every day for the right to keep what’s his own. He can afford that because even today America still maintains a certain form of that original consensus, that the sword must be used ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL in order to preserve the social order in our land. Even today there are still Christian men who are not reluctant to pull a trigger in obedience to Christ. Even today there are still sheriffs and judges who believe in the original mandate handed down to us from those early Presbyterian ministers who enjoined public servants to serve as unto the Lord. K. enjoys the fruit of their beliefs, their courage, and their labor; and then he has pious “concerns” about the theology that gives moral justification to those beliefs, courage, and labor.

The sword is just a tool. And like every tool in human hands, the sword — or the musket, or the surgical scalpel, or the M-16 — preaches some “gospel.” What “gospel” it preaches depends on what use it is put to. It can preach the Gospel of Christ by fighting the British, or executing criminals, or shooting robbers. Or it can preach the “gospel” of death by torturing political enemies, or dismembering unborn children, or cutting the life support from a hospital patient, or burning a persecuted Christian family. The sword will always be there in any culture before the Final Judgment, and the sword will always preach some “gospel.” There is nothing magically or intrinsically bad about the sword. If a Christian doesn’t use it according to the Gospel, a pagan will use it against the Gospel.
Where to even begin. Preaching the Gospel of Christ by fighting the British? How exactly does one preach the Gospel when people are shooting one another, especially when presumably many involved on both sides are professing Christians? I get that Mr. Marinov is not a fully representative example of everyone who holds some sort of dominionist view but views like his have an outsized impact on the church.

There are several faulty assumptions here that are common among dominionist thinking such as...
  1. God has intended the Old Covenant civil laws of national Israel to carry forward to secular nation-states that of necessity contain a mixture of New Covenant believers and unbelievers.
  2. The Gospel calling and mandate includes not just preaching Christ to the lost but bringing nations under the rule of Christ here and now by force and killing if necessary.
  3. Changing behavior is a mandate of Christians and enforcing those laws by the use of violence is permitted and perhaps even encouraged achieve that end.
  4. Some nations, particularly America, are specially chosen under the New Covenant as "God's people" or at least as nations founded on "Judeo-Christian morality".
This is all dangerous stuff and it hampers the witness of the church around the world. God has people in every nation, among every tribe and speaking every tongue. There are no special nations no matter how much pious talk and vague religious language the founders of a nation incorporate into their founding documents. Nor is there anyway to read the New Testament and come away with a calling to conquer and have dominion by force. How far astray we have gone from a church that flourished in persecution and thrived in spite of that persecution under a reign of terror unlike anything any of us can imagine.

I like something John Piper wrote back in 1994, Dominion Theology or Reconstructionism:
The closer we get to Dominion Theology the closer we get to living by the sword. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight." This seems to mean that we are not moving toward a true understanding of the kingdom of God in this world as we move toward a greater and greater use of the sword to authorize kingdom values.

It is not the priests who are given the sword but the magistrates. And the magistrates rule not by virtue of their claim to revelation but by virtue of their claim to providential authorization. In some cultures this providential authorization has been through a line of kings, in other cultures through various contests, and in our own culture through a democratic representative process.

It seems that the theocratic ideal of Israel in the Old Testament was specifically abandoned in the New Testament as the Gospel ceased to be focused on an ethnic and political reality called Israel (Matt. 21:43) and became a multicultural, multiethnic worldwide movement without ethnic or political definition. It will be fitting, when Christ returns, that he be given the right to establish a kingdom of more specific political boundaries. But in the meantime we do well to exert our influence in ways that do not put the sword into the hands of the priests.
Piper is right on the mark here. We are all priests and none of us has been called to carry the sword or to conquer lands in the name of Christ or to establish theocratic nations that enforce the civil laws of Old Covenant national Israel. The church needs to recognize dominionism when it appears and stand against any hint of dominionism.


Aussie John said...


Reading through the article you mention gives the lasting impression that these people are certainly not Bereans (Acts 17:11).

One respondent says, "We read John Calvin and Greg Bahnsen. We season our lives with the great Puritan works and still use the Westminster Confession and Catechisms."

No mention of the Scriptures, which would be more edifying, and serve them much better!

The Bereans ARE much wiser!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Arthur.

Britain is now moving along the lines of dominionist theology (or rather a resurgence of it, as we have already been through the so-called "Christian" mission to subjugate and oppress half the world that was Britiish Imperialism).

There is a new call that laws and public policy must be Christian. I myself am involved in political discussion, yet I cannot expect my belief to be superimposed upon people by an authoritarian government.

And Christ's kingdom is not won by the sword. If Christ commanded His disaciple to lay down his sword, then we cannot preach the "gospel of killing" and claim we are doing Christ a service.