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What is Christian dominionism?

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Question: "What is Christian dominionism?"

Dominionism, or Christian Dominionism is a term coined by social scientists and popularized by journalists to refer to a subset of American Christianity that is conservative, politically active, and believes that Christians should, and eventually will, take control of the government. The term is sometimes used as a “catch-all” by bloggers to describe any politically active Christian, but not every conservative, politically minded Christian is a Dominionist.

Christian Dominionists believe that God desires Christians to rise to power through civil systems so that His Word might then govern the nation. The belief that “America is a Christian nation” is sometimes called “soft dominionism”; the idea that God wants only Christians to hold government office and run the country according to biblical law is called “hard dominionism.”

Dominion theology’s beliefs are based on Genesis 1:28, which says, "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" (emphasis added).

This verse is taken by Christian Dominionists as a divine mandate to claim dominion over the earth, physically, spiritually, and politically. However, this is taking a large step away from the text, which only says to have dominion over the creatures of earth, and to “subdue” the earth. It is likely that this verse simply means for humanity to a) multiply and expand over the face of the earth instead of staying in one place and b) keep and take care of all other living things. There were no political entities in Genesis 1.

However, dominion theology goes even further with this verse, leading to two other philosophies: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology. Christian Reconstructionism is an intellectually high-minded worldview, most popular among the more conservative branches of Christian faith. Reconstructionism says that dominion will be achieved by each Christian excelling in his or her individual field (Christian artists taking dominion of the art world, Christian musicians taking dominion of the music world, Christian businessmen taking dominion of the business world, etc., until all systems and fields are “subdued”).

Kingdom Now theology, most popular among Charismatic and Pentecostal groups, focuses on taking dominion of the earth by way of spiritual battle. Kingdom Now adherents believe that long ago Satan stole the “keys of spiritual dominion” when he deceived Adam and Eve. Then, when Christ gave the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter in Matthew 16:19, it was a sign that dominion had been returned to man. Now it is our job to “take back” what is rightfully ours – that is, to claim dominion over the earth and spiritually subdue it for Christ. Proponents of Kingdom Now theology believe that the capturing of this dominion includes having Christians in political office, plus a return of spiritual power, manifested by signs, miracles, and healing. Kingdom Now theology is taught in the book When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church.

While many well-meaning Christians are attracted to these philosophies, Christian Dominionism and its offshoots are unbiblical. Although these systems of thought are nominally based on biblical principles, both Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology veer away from the heart and message of the gospel. It is understandable that Christians, troubled by abortion and the general moral chaos of a relativistic society, want to take control of the culture and steer it back towards sanity. But holding to Dominionism is not a biblically viable option.

In a way, the disciples were of a “kingdom now” mindset. They thought that Jesus was going to immediately usher in the kingdom and wipe out Roman rule (see Luke 19:11). But that wasn’t what Jesus was about then, and it isn’t what He is about now. We belong to a heavenly kingdom that is not of this world (John 8:23). We are seeking another home, a city “with foundations” (Hebrews 11:10, 14; 13:14). The world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17; Colossians 3:2-5).

It is right and good to want to see justice done and biblical principles upheld (Psalm 33:5; Amos 5:15; Micah 6:8). And we are to do everything as unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and it is perfectly reasonable for Christians to hold jobs in government and all other areas of society. But “bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth” is not our commission. Our commission is to tell people about the wonderful news that, despite the sick, sinful condition of our souls, God has provided salvation by sacrificing His own Son on our behalf (Romans 5:6-8). By grace, through faith, we become citizens of a perfect world that will last eternally (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our job is to “rescue those who are perishing; to hold back those stumbling towards slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11). Christian Dominionism seeks to perfect this world by political clout, but it is the Spirit who must bring change (Zechariah 4:6). One day, Jesus will bring His kingdom to earth, in justice and true righteousness, and it will signify the end of this world’s system.

Recommended Resource: Five Views on Law and Gospel edited by Stanley Gundry

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