Book Excerpt: Is the Church Called to Take Over Society?
Enjoy chapter 12 of Dr. Brown’s new book The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions of Americans Have Confused Politics with the Gospel.
“Rulership is in our genes, dominion is in our makeup. We were designed to rule the earth.”1 What comes to mind when you hear these words? For some, this is a powerful spiritual concept, expressing that in Jesus, we are overcomers and victors, that no earthly power or demonic power can stand against us, that the authority God gave Adam at creation — namely, the authority to rule over the animal kingdom — now belongs to us in a spiritual sense. And, when Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom on the earth, we will rule and reign with Him.
For others, it means that, as God’s children, leadership is in our DNA, which, in turn, means that we should get actively involved in every sphere of society, from business to media and from education to politics, believing that the Lord would use us to bring positive change to each of these different cultural spheres. Let us show the world that there is a better way, God’s way, and let us demonstrate practically that the wisdom of the Word really works.
Still others relate to these words in a much more literal way, understanding them to mean that the Church is called to take over the world. As expressed by Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001):
[O]ur responsibility is to exercise dominion which means to declare where sovereignty resides and to declare God’s sovereign world; the word of dominion, to every area of life and thought. And we are promised that when we go forth in terms of that word the commission tells us, the commission to Joshua, which our Lord summarizes then later, that if we go in the power of this word and faithfulness to it wherever the soul of your feet shall tread that shall be your ground. Let’s plant our feet on the face of all the earth and claim it for Jesus Christ.2
Similarly, Pat Robertson said,
God’s plan is for His people, ladies and gentlemen, to take dominion. … What is dominion? Well, dominion is Lordship. He wants His people to reign and rule with Him. … but He’s waiting for us to … extend His dominion. … And the Lord says, “I’m going to let you redeem society. There’ll be a reformation. … We are not going to stand for those coercive utopians in the Supreme Court and in Washington ruling over us any more. We’re not gonna stand for it. We are going to say, ‘we want freedom in this country, and we want power.’”3
Focusing on the concept of taking America back, D. James Kennedy said, “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors—in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”4
To be sure, none of these leaders advocated a forceful, let alone military takeover of America in Jesus’ name, let alone of the whole world. Absolutely not. But they did clearly teach that, as followers of Jesus, and using His spiritual authority, we were to take dominion over every area of society until the world became Christianized, which is why this teaching is known as dominionism.
So, a commission to subdue the animal kingdom and rule over it, given by God to the human race at creation, is reinterpreted to mean that the Church is supposed to rule over all peoples and nations and institutions and governments.
Of course, some on the left will cry “Dominionism!” the moment a Christian leader gets involved in politics or speaks about the Christian heritage of America or seeks to bring about cultural change.5 Others on the left go even further, and the moment that Christian conservatives speak out about their faith and values, they shout, “Separation of Church and State! You sound just like the Islamic extremists!” Thus, we are demonized simply for holding to biblical values.
For example, in May 2012, Rev. Billy Graham, then ninety-three years-old, took out full-page ads in newspapers throughout North Carolina addressing the upcoming vote on the definition of marriage. The ads featured a large picture of Rev. Graham and carried his own words: “At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage. The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote.”
Wayne Besen, a confrontational gay activist, took strong exception to these ads, writing,
I’m a little confused here, because I thought we lived in America. Yet, Graham is now trying to jam his own church’s rules and doctrine down my throat. The last time I checked, I never signed up for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. (BGEA). I don’t even like his church, yet he thinks I should be forced against my will to live by its rules.
Do we now make our civil laws based upon Christian Sharia? Do we all have to follow his version of the Bible or be punished by government? And if this is the case, are we really a free country? Are we really much different than Iran, or is it only by a matter of degrees or a matter of time until these so-called “Christian Supremacists” get their paws on all of our laws?6
Christian Sharia? Christian Supremacists? Are you kidding me? But Besen was not the only one to throw around such accusations. Already in May 2005, John McCandlish Phillips, formerly a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter, pointed out how newspapers like the Washington Post and the Times told their readers that evangelicals and traditional Catholics were engaging in a “jihad” against America. Phillips noted that, days before his article was published,
Frank Rich, an often acute, broadly knowledgeable and witty cultural observer, sweepingly informed us that, under the effects of “the God racket” as now pursued in Washington, “government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma.” He went on to tell Times readers that GOP zealots in Congress and the White House have edged our country over into “a full-scale jihad.”7
By 2010, Markos Moulitsas, founder of the strongly left-leaning Daily Kos website, had written an entire book on the subject. The title said it all: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. This, then, is a reminder that activists on the left, especially on the extreme left, will slander and malign those of us who advocate for biblical morality, even though we work within our American system of government, peacefully and legally seeking to change individual hearts and minds. Simply stated, our method is to live out our faith, to share the gospel with others, to pray, to debate the issues in the public square, to vote, and to lobby. What could be more American than that?
On the other hand, there is a Christian teaching today that does emphasize the Church’s alleged calling to take over the world, based on the account in Genesis where God said at the time of creation, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). This verse is then tied in with the commission that Jesus gave to His disciples after His resurrection, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
So, a commission to subdue the animal kingdom and rule over it, given by God to the human race at creation, is reinterpreted to mean that the Church is supposed to rule over all peoples and nations and institutions and governments. And a commission to spread the gospel throughout the world, given by Jesus to His disciples, is understood to mean that we should Christianize whole nations (as opposed to leading individuals within each nation to Christ).8 Yet past Christian leaders who foresaw the Christianizing of the world did not see this as a matter of dominion. Their vision was very different.
The Old Postmillennialism
Some of the greatest Christian leaders in American history, including Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and Charles Finney (1792-1875), believed in the doctrine of postmillennialism, which teaches that the whole world will become Christian, ushering in God’s kingdom here on earth, after which Jesus will return. And they both believed that the great revival movements they witnessed in America (in the days of Edwards, the First Great Awakening; in the days of Finney, the Second Great Awakening) had the potential of bringing America (and the world) into this millennial kingdom.
As expressed by Edwards in the early 1740s,
It is not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or, at least, a prelude of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture, which, in the progress and issue of it, shall renew the world of mankind. If we consider how long since the things foretold as what should precede this great event, have been accomplished; and how long this event has been expected by the church of God, and thought to be nigh by the most eminent men of God in the church; and withal consider what the state of things now is, and has for a considerable time been, in the church of God, and the world of mankind; we cannot reasonably think otherwise, than that the beginning of this great work of God must be near. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.9
As for Finney, in 1835 he said, “if the church will do her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.”10 And what, exactly, would that look like? In the words of Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), “The wilderness shall bud and blossom as the rose before us [alluding to Isaiah 35]; and we will not cease, till a christian nation throws up its temples of worship on every hill and plain; till knowledge, virtue and religion, blending their dignity and their healthful power, have filled out our great country with a manly and happy race of people, and the lands of a complete christian commonwealth are seen to span the continent.”11
And what was the fruit of this teaching? According to the Christian History Institute, and with specific reference to Finney, “This led in the years before the Civil War to unprecedented evangelical social and religious reform: temperance, antislavery, peace, women’s rights, education, as well as dramatic expansion in home and foreign mission work.”12 That sounds pretty good to me.
As for why we advocate for just and righteous laws, it is not simply because these laws are found in the Bible. Rather, as explained by philosopher J. Budziszewski, “Government enforces those parts of the divine law that are also included in the natural law, such as the prohibition of murder.”
Finney was actually convinced that the belief that the church could usher in the millennium was crucial for positive social change. Otherwise, Finney argued, if Christians believed that the world would only get worse before Jesus returned, at which time He would establish His kingdom on the earth (the belief called premillennialism, held to by many evangelicals today), this would impede social transformation. Still, Finney was very clear in his priorities: the gospel must come first, including evangelism and revival; social change must come second. To reverse the process could be deadly. Literally.
That’s why, in 1835, he wrote a letter to his staunch anti-slavery colleague, Theodore Weld, who came to faith through Finney’s ministry, urging him to reconsider his methods and to put changing of hearts first and the abolition of slavery second. He wrote:
Br.[other] Weld, is it not true, at least do you not fear it is, that we are in our present course going fast into a civil war? Will not our present movements in abolition result in that? … How can we save our country and affect the speedy abolition of slavery? This is my answer…. If abolition can be made an appendage of a general revival of religion, all is well. I fear no other form of carrying this question will save our country or the liberty or soul of the slave….
Abolitionism has drunk up the spirit of some of the most efficient moral men and is fast doing so to the rest, and many of our abolition brethren seem satisfied with nothing less than this. This I have been trying to resist from the beginning as I have all along foreseen that should that take place, the church and world, ecclesiastical and state leaders, will become embroiled in one common infernal squabble that will roll a wave of blood over the land. The causes now operating are, in my view, as certain to lead to this result as a cause is to produce its effect, unless the publick mind can be engrossed with the subject of salvation and make abolition an appendage.13
Looking back through the lens of history, Finney’s warning was chillingly prophetic as, indeed, “ecclesiastical and state leaders” became “embroiled in one common infernal squabble” that rolled “a wave of blood over the land.” There is a lesson for us here today.
There is a Difference Between Taking Ground and Taking Over
Although I do not believe that the Bible teaches postmillennialism, when rightly understood, it is not a dangerous doctrine. It simply proclaims the triumph of the gospel, expecting the whole world to be converted to the Christian faith as the message of Jesus gains more and more ground in every sphere, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God (see Matthew 13:1-33).
Again, I do not believe this is what the Bible teaches, but it is very different than the idea that the Church will somehow take over the society. That is a very dangerous teaching, one that can lead to the twisting of our message and all kinds of toxic mixtures, including the fusion of the gospel with politics and the reliance on coercion to execute God’s will.
Some Christian leaders, like Pastor Bill Johnson, believe that the Church will change the world through service, not through coercion. As he wrote, “Our assignment is to see the dominion of God realized into people’s lives. It is not an overpowering control, it is a life-giving, liberating experience with the almighty God, who is an ultimate, perfect Father who loves to bring liberty and freedom to His people.”14
But not all Christian leaders emphasize the idea of societal transformation through service. Back in August 2011, Michelle Goldberg wrote,
With Tim Pawlenty out of the presidential race, it is now fairly clear that the GOP candidate will either be Mitt Romney or someone who makes George W. Bush look like Tom Paine. Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.
Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid. In a contemptuous 2006 First Things review of several books, including Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and my own Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era.”
Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences.15
How much more would Goldberg say today, “I told you this was coming!”
To be clear, I believe that Goldberg greatly overstated her case, also misunderstanding the viewpoints of some of those she critiqued. At the same time, there are Christians who hold to these views, even in ways that are much more innocent than ominous, simply because these Christians believe that they will “take over” through loving conversion rather than forced coercion. To quote Pastor Bill Johnson again:
We have been given authority over this planet. It was first given to us in the commission God gave to mankind in Genesis (see Gen. 1:28-29) and was then restored to us by Jesus after His resurrection (see Matt. 28:18). But Kingdom authority is different than is typically understood by many believers. It is the authority to set people free from torment and disease, to destroy the works of darkness. It is the authority to move the resources of Heaven through creative expression to meet human need. It is the authority to bring Heaven to earth. It is the authority to serve.
As with most Kingdom principles, the truths of humanity’s dominion and authority are dangerous in the hands of those who desire to rule over others. These concepts seem to validate some people’s selfishness. But when these truths are expressed through the humble servant, the world is rocked to its core. Becoming servants to this world is the key to open the doors of possibility that are generally thought of as closed or forbidden.16
Still, any talk about “taking over” can easily be misunderstood, as Pastor Johnson himself acknowledges, which is why it is understandable that many non-believers see such expressions as a real threat. It’s also easy to understand how professing Christians can shift their emphasis from reaching the lost and making disciples to seeking to occupy positions of power and influence. As explained by Brad Christerson in 2018, “[Dominionism] is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.”17 As the learned Christian author George Grant once explained: “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ — to have dominion in civil structures.”18
Of course, there is nothing wrong with Christians running for office or working their way up to high-level positions in the business world or in academia or media or entertainment. Why shouldn’t they seek to do this, setting examples of honesty and integrity and compassion and wisdom along the way? Conversely, why should Christians leave all the influential positions in society to non-believers, especially to those who are hostile to our faith? To give one example, how did it help the nation, let alone the Church, when our schools of higher learning departed from their Christian foundations and became hotbeds of radical secularism?
The issue, again, is emphasis, and we make a serious mistake if we think we can bring about major societal change from the top down. It will always be the reverse, as God changes the hearts of people, and those people then go and change the society.19
To the contrary, if we are not fulfilling our role as salt and light in the society, the more we push a political agenda, the more the society will resist that agenda and become embittered to our message.
Some would argue that the New Testament uses the word ekklesia (the Messiah’s congregation, wrongly translated as “church” in our English Bibles), in the sense of “the ruling governing council,” as if the Church had authority over the government. But that is based on a misunderstanding of the primary Greek usage in the New Testament and is not accepted by any major New Testament Greek dictionary.20
Is it possible that having genuine followers of Jesus in high places will help to change the hearts of the people? Of course. And is it possible that having these solid believers in places of societal influence will bring about the betterment of the country as a whole? Absolutely. And again, it’s not a question of either evangelism or social involvement. It is a question of priorities, and we must always put the gospel message first and social action second; we must put prayer first and politics second (and by that I don’t mean that most of our prayers are directed towards political outcomes).
Yet this is where we have gotten deeply off track in recent years, as if by electing the right president (or other congressmen or others) we could fundamentally change the nation. To the contrary, if we are not fulfilling our role as salt and light in the society, the more we push a political agenda, the more the society will resist that agenda and become embittered to our message. And in the end, rather than advance the cause of Christ in the land, we will hurt it.
Digging Deeper Into Dominionism
According to Frederick Clarkson,
Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological view, means, or timetable, Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.
Analyst Chip Berlet and I have suggested that there is a dominionist spectrum running from soft to hard as a way of making some broad distinctions among dominionists without getting mired in theological minutiae. But we also agree that:
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
- Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
- Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing biblical principles.
Of course, Christian nationalism takes a distinct form in the United States, but dominionism in all of its variants has a vision for all nations.21
Obviously, as followers of Jesus, we advocate for righteous causes, including standing for the life of the unborn, and we support God’s definition of family and do what we can to change both hearts and laws. But how far do we go in our legislative initiatives? What would happen if we had even more control? Would we also enforce penalties for not attending church or for working on Sunday, as some of the American colonies did?
Consider this, from “The Laws of Virginia” (1610-1611):
Every man and woman duly, twice a day upon the first tolling of the bell, shall upon the working days repair unto the church to hear divine service upon pain of losing his or her day’s allowance for the first omission, for the second to be whipped, and for the third to be condemned to the galleys for six months. Likewise, no man or woman shall dare to violate or break the Sabbath by any gaming, public or private abroad or at home, but duly sanctify and observe the same, both himself and his family, by preparing themselves at home with private prayer that they may be the better fitted for the public, according to the commandments of God and the orders of our church. As also every man and woman shall repair in the morning to the divine service and sermons preached upon the Sabbath day in the afternoon to divine service and catechizing, upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and allowance for the whole week following, for the second to lose the said allowance and also to be whipped, and for the third to suffer death.22
Does anyone think we should enforce laws like this again in America? Is that what it means to “take America back for God”? Is this part of making America great again? And if we wouldn’t go this far, how far would we go? Would we ban sports on Sunday? Would be bring out the whipping post for those who slept in on Sunday morning? Would we impose these same laws on Jews and Muslims and Hindus and atheists?
It was because of laws like this that America, unlike some of the colonies, was not established as a theocracy, although we had strong biblical roots. That’s also why someone like Thomas Jefferson, who was hardly an evangelical believer, could play such a major role in our early history. And that’s why one of the chapters in my 2017 book Saving a Sick America: A Prescription for Moral and Cultural Transformation was titled, “The Bible, Not a Theocracy, Is the Answer.”23 But not everyone sees things this way.
Theonomy Makes a Comeback
Writing for the Gospel Coalition on March 31, 2021, Andrew T. Walker asked,
Have you noticed this vision of Christianity in the public square that seems muscular, confident, even brashly triumphalist? It is tired of Christianity’s never-ending losses in the culture war. It rightly criticizes the decadence, perversion, and irrational norms of secularism and understands that under the guise of “neutrality,” secularism has become the functional god of this age. The only way for cultural sanity to be restored is for Christians to truly grasp the lordship of Jesus Christ and unapologetically assert his authority over every part of life, even government.
This vision may seem new if you’re younger than 40, but it is not. What we’re seeing is the rebirth of Christian Reconstruction or its more applied form, Theonomy.24
What, exactly, is theonomy? As explained by Walker, “Theonomy seeks to apply the civil law of the Mosaic covenant to contemporary civil government. . . . Theonomy as a theological program believes that civil law should follow the example of Israel’s civil and judicial laws under the Mosaic covenant.”25 So, as much as possible, Old Testament law — meaning, the laws of the Sinai Covenant — should be instituted in America.
He continues, in somewhat technical language,
Though the jurisdictions of church and government remain separate in Theonomy, both are under God’s authority for civil righteousness, which is enclosed in the Old Testament. Thus, Old Testament penology [referring to the system of punishment for crime] remains especially relevant to solve moral and criminal wrongdoings today.
The hermeneutic [meaning, system of biblical interpretation] used to make such an application assumes the abiding authority of the Mosaic law and would lead to executing people for a multitude of sins and crimes in our contemporary context.
Thus, he concludes, “Theonomy should be repudiated as an evangelical framework for understanding the mission of the church and the relationship between civil and sacred, eternal authority and spiritual authority.” And, when it comes to the Great Commission and making disciples of the nations, he writes,
We are not discipling nations for the sake of political hegemony. Satan would be content with a moral nation animated by the values of civil religion if those values eclipse the scandal of the cross. We are discipling nations to glorify Christ and to see obedience in every domain of life. Yes, that includes those who occupy government. But just government is not the object of our mission; it is a byproduct of transformed consciences adhering to the natural law, not submitting to the Mosaic law.26
As for why we advocate for just and righteous laws, it is not simply because these laws are found in the Bible. Rather, as explained by philosopher J. Budziszewski, “Government enforces those parts of the divine law that are also included in the natural law, such as the prohibition of murder.”27 So, we are informed by Scripture, which gives us a heart for the unborn and for the poor and the needy. But we do not push for laws because “the Bible tells us so.” We advocate for those laws because they are right and for the common good.
What About the ‘Seven Mountains Mandate’?
Still, the question remains, how, exactly, should we influence the culture? This is where the “Seven Mountains Mandate” comes in to play. Have you heard about it? Some consider it to be a commonsense application of biblical principles while others think it is a dangerous and heretical philosophy of ministry. Which is it?
The Generals International website offers a positive assessment, offering some historical background as well:
In 1975, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), developed a God-given, world-changing strategy. Their mandate: Bring Godly change to a nation by reaching its seven spheres, or mountains, of societal influence.
They concluded that in order to truly transform any nation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these seven facets of society must be reached: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment and Business.28
In other words, be strategic in your gospel outreach, and don’t just reach individuals. Influence the culture with the gospel as well.
The Got Questions website paints a decidedly negative picture:
The seven mountain mandate or the seven mountain prophecy is an anti-biblical and damaging movement that has gained a following in some Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. Those who follow the seven mountain mandate believe that, in order for Christ to return to earth, the church must take control of the seven major spheres of influence in society for the glory of Christ. Once the world has been made subject to the kingdom of God, Jesus will return and rule the world.29
What are we to make of this?30
Again, I do not believe that “the church must take control of the seven major spheres of influence in society” before Jesus can return. Absolutely, categorically not. There is far too much in the Bible that speaks of rebellion and darkness and satanic activity at the end of this age, side by side with glorious spiritual harvest and outpouring. The whole world will certainly not become Christian before Jesus returns.
More importantly, and in keeping with the emphasis of this chapter, it is certainly dangerous to think that, in order to usher in the Second Coming, the church must “take over” the world. This would actually be contrary to the spirit of the Founders of our nation, who emphasized that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”31
The issue, again, is emphasis, and we make a serious mistake if we think we can bring about major societal change from the top down.
Normally, we do not put the emphasis on the opening words of that famous statement, since there is no chance today of Congress imposing a national religion on America. But that was very important to our Founders. There would be no state-imposed Church of America like there had been a Church of England. That would not be the American way.
But the vast majority of leaders I know who emphasize the Seven Mountains are not trying to establish the “Church of America.” Instead, they talk about these Seven Mountains so for two reasons. First, they believe we should not abandon these crucial areas of society. Rather, we should be salt and light in the midst of them. Why let the world dominate our universities, many of which were founded as Christian colleges? Why let non-believers dictate the curriculum for our children in elementary school? Are no Christians called to teach and lead in the public school system, along with in Christian schools?
Why let the world control the airwaves? Shouldn’t we do our best to get our message out as well? And why give up any involvement in the government and politics? After all, if it’s right to pray for kings and rulers to become Christians, it’s right for Christians to run for office. If we constantly complain about what’s wrong with our world, shouldn’t we do our best to make things better?
Second, evangelism is often much more effective when the surrounding cultural atmosphere is less hostile to Christians. This, I believe, was one of the major issues for Bill Bright and Loren Cunningham. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this when he said, “The Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so the soul will have a chance after it is changed.”32 Not only so, but when there is less hostility to the Christian message, there is often more openness to receive it. And there is certainly more ability to get the message out.
To the extent that this is what is meant by the Seven Mountain Mandate, we should embrace it. And to the extent that Seven Mountains means seeing every area of life and culture as a mission field, we should embrace that as well.
In the words of Loren Cunningham,
Therefore, we can be missionaries, where the word ‘missionary’ means ‘one sent’, and one sent of Jesus, if you’re a lawyer in a legal office, you are sent of God. You’re sent to be his missionary, or if you’re in Hollywood, or you’re working as a dentist, or you’re working as a doctor, everything you can do for the glory of God. You may be in the area of foodservices. The Bible says in Zach 14:20 that even the cooking pots will be called ‘holy’ to the Lord. That’s foodservices. Or transportation. Everything from a bus driver to an airplane pilot or to a car dealer or whatever it is, it says even the veils of horses will be called holy to the Lord.33
At the same time, we should reject any kind of talk of a Christian “takeover.” It is misleading. It is potentially dangerous. It gives the impression that the Christian faith can be forced on a nation (at the least, legislatively). And it is contrary to the spirit of the cross.
“If the hearts of people are not changed, then further moral, and thus cultural and societal, decay is to be expected.” — John W. Whitehead
To be sure, men like Rushdoony stated plainly that, “Godly men are not revolutionists: the Lord’s way is regeneration, not revolution.”34 So, to repeat, he was absolutely not advocating for some type of militaristic takeover — God forbid — and he clearly understood the spiritual nature of the gospel. As he wrote, “The Christian theonomic society will only come about as each man governs himself under God and governs his particular sphere. And only so will we take back government from the state and put it in the hands of Christians.”35
Yet he also wrote,
The creation mandate was precisely the requirement that man subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. There is not one word of Scripture to indicate or imply that this mandate ever was revoked. There is every word of Scripture to declare that this mandate must and shall be fulfilled. Those who attempt to break it shall themselves be broken.”36
And this: “We are very much in need now of Christian pioneers. This means a people who are zealous to grow and to exercise dominion in Christ.”37
With human nature being what it is, it is all too easy for us to try to take matters into our own hands, thinking we can “Christianize” America by exercising the dominion God has given us, thinking, “We are called to rule the nations! We will impose our rule in America too! Thank God for a man like Trump (or whoever the latest icon might be) who will help us lead the way.” How far this is from the gospel of Jesus!
Some Insights From Francis Schaeffer and John Whitehead
In the summer of 2006, Christian attorney John W. Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute and known as a champion of civil and religious liberties, published a lengthy article in Liberty Magazine titled, “The Rise of Dominionism and the Christian Right.” In fact, a number of the quotes cited in this chapter are taken directly from Whitehead’s important article. He explained,
Unlike Rushdoony, who exhorted Christians to take over the world for Christ through political means, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), a Presbyterian minister and apologist, called for a return to true Christian spirituality through social activism. At no time did Schaeffer advocate a Christian theocracy. In fact, Schaeffer’s book A Christian Manifesto (1981) embraced the idea of “freedom for all and especially freedom for all religion. That was the original purpose of the First Amendment.”
Although Schaeffer rightly pointed out that the separation of church and state in America is often used to silence the Christian church, he disagreed vocally with Rushdoony’s dominionist ideas. Schaeffer wrote:
“[A]s we stand for religious freedom today, we need to realize that this must include a general religious freedom from the control of the state for all religion. It will not mean just freedom for those who are Christians. It is then up to Christians to show that Christianity is the Truth of total reality in the open marketplace of freedom.”
In Schaeffer’s mind, a truly Christian America would be an America in which all peoples of all faiths could live in freedom. Yet, Whitehead observed,
This also means, as Francis Schaeffer noted in A Christian Manifesto, that Christians must avoid joining forces with the government and arguing a theocratic position. “We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country,” Schaeffer writes. “To say it another way, ‘We should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.’” Indeed, by fusing Christianity with politics, one will only succeed in cheapening religion, robbing it of its spiritual vitality and thus destroying true Christianity. Rather than taking over the country and the world, as Dominionists suggest, Schaeffer advocated Christian involvement in all areas of life. To quote Schaeffer, “[O]ur culture, society, government and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture [italics supplied by Whitehead]. It is the church’s duty (as well as its privilege) to do now what it should have been doing all the time—to use the freedom we do have to be that salt of the culture.”
And then these important conclusions:
Thus, the activism of the true Christian flows from a sense of loving care for what God has created. This means the Christian has a responsibility to assist in preserving both freedom and order—indeed, to work for justice—while keeping in mind one’s fallen nature, spiritual priorities, and the limitations of the political process.
However, as we speak of political involvement and activism, we must be mindful that our problems are not political or cultural, but spiritual. The present state of Western culture and the declining value of human life generally are mere symptoms of a deeper problem. That problem is moral and spiritual decay.
No matter what Dominionists believe, the present spiritual problems we face will not be changed through the political system. Therefore, unless there is a spiritual reformation, there will be little alteration in the present course of society. If the hearts of people are not changed, then further moral, and thus cultural and societal, decay is to be expected.38
I could not have said it better.
Yet this is exactly how so many of us got so far off track in the last election cycle, bringing to a head a wrong emphasis that was gaining ground in our midst over a period of years. We put our emphasis on political change more than spiritual change, on legislative action more than spiritual action, on reversing negative societal trends by our votes more than by our voices. In short, we fought in the flesh rather in the Spirit. And that, a hundred times out of a hundred, is a recipe for disaster.
This is an excerpt from The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions of American Christians Have Confused Politics With the Gospel and is reprinted here with permission.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions Of American Christians Have Confused Politics with the Gospel. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
1 Myles Munroe, Reclaiming God’s Original Purpose for Your Life: God’s Big Idea (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2012).
2 Cited in John W. Whitehead, “The Rise of Dominionism and the Christian Right,” Liberty Magazine, July/August 2006.
3 Pat Robertson cited in John W. Whitehead, “The Rise of Dominionism.”
4 D. James Kennedy at Reclaiming America for Christ conference, February 2005.
5 See, e.g. John Fea, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America,” The Washington Post, February 4, 2016.
6 Wayne Besen, “We are now all members of Billy Graham’s church… whether we like it or not,” LGBTQ Nation, May 3, 2012.
7 John McCandlish Phillips, “When Columnists Cry ‘Jihad’,” The Washington Post, May 4, 2005.
8 For further discussion of Matthew 28:19, see Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1995), 886–888.
9 Jonathan Edwards, “Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
10 Steven R. Pointer, “American Postmillennialism: Seeing the Glory,” Christian History Institute, see further James D. Bratt, “The Reorientation of American Protestantism, 1835-1845,” Church History, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), 52-82.
11 Cited in Robert T. Handy, A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Realities (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1971).
12 Steven R. Pointer, “American Postmillennialism.”
13 Tim Stafford, “The abolitionists,” Christian History Institute.
14 “Bill Johnson Quotes,” AZ Quotes.
15 Michelle Goldberg, “Dominionism: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry’s Dangerous Religious Bond,” The Daily Beast, July 13, 2017.
16 Bill Johnson and Lance Wallnau, Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishing, 2013), 21–22.
17 Brad Christerson, “How a Christian movement is growing rapidly in the midst of religious decline,” Religion News Service, March 18, 2017.
18 From his book, The Changing of the Guard (The Vital Role Christians Must Play in America’s Unfolding Political and Cultural Drama) (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995), cited by Michelle Goldberg, “What Is Christian Nationalism?”, May 14, 2006 (updated May 25, 2011).
19 Author, strategist, and futurist Lance Wallnau, however, would emphasize that a well-placed, strategically-thinking minority can influence an entire nation and so, it is not simply a matter of numbers.
20 For a convenient presentation of the main lexical evidence, see my Line of Fire broadcast from December 7, 2020, “Is the Church God’s Governing Authority on the Earth?”, YouTub.; For a serious study of the subject, focusing on our spiritual authority, and with some concepts with which I would differ, see Dean Briggs, Ekklesia Rising: The Authority of Christ in Communities of Prayer (Kansas City, MO: Champion Press, 2014).
21 Frederick Clarckson, “Dominionism Rising A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight,” Political Research Associates, August 18, 2016.
22 “The Laws of Virginia (1610-1611),” Le Projet Albion/Puritan Studies on the Web/Primary Sources.
23 Michael Brown, “Why I Reject the ‘Christian Nationalist’ Label,” The Stream, December 29, 2020.
24 Andrew T. Walker, “American Culture Is Broken. Is Theonomy the Answer?,” The Gospel Coalition, March 31, 2021.
25 Walker, “American Culture Is Broken.”
26 Walker, “American Culture Is Broken.”
27 Quoted in Walker, “American Culture Is Broken.”
28 “The Seven Mountains of Societal Influence,” Generals International.
29 “What is the seven mountain mandate, and is it biblical?,” Got Questions.
30 For other negative assessments, see Jack Matirko, “Dominionism is America Part 5: The Seven Mountains Mandate,” February 20, 2019, and Marsha West, “7 Mountain Politics and Theology,” Berean Research. For another positive assessment, see “The History of the 7 Mountains.” See further Johnson and Wallnau, Invading Babylon.
31 U.S. Cont. amend. I, § 1.
32 Martin Luther King, Jr., “How Should A Christian View Communism?” Sermon from 1963.
33 Cited in Michael Brown, “Is the ‘7 Mountains Mandate’ Biblical or Heretical?,” AskDrBrown, March 5, 2020.
34 R.J. Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum.
35 Cited in Whitehead, “The Rise of Dominionism and the Christian Right.”
36 As quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, “Institutes of Biblical Law: Introduction to the Law,” Christ Rules, November 4, 2009.
37 R.J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season: Daily Messages on the Faith for All of Life, vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2012), 103.
38 John W. Whitehead, “The Rise of Dominionism and the Christian Right,” Liberty Magazine, July/August 2006; all emphasis in the original. With reference to Whitehead’s book The Second American Revolution, Schaeffer said: “If there is still an entity known as ‘the Christian church’ by the end of this century, operating with any semblance of liberty within our society here in the United States, it will probably have John Whitehead and his book to thank.” According to Wikipedia, Whitehead was described by jazz historian and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff as “this nation’s Paul Revere of protecting civil liberties.” “Rutherford Institute,” Wikipedia, last edited date June 12, 2021.