devotional

12MAY
2012

A question about dominionism

     

     On 8 May Stacey W. asked:

 

     “Sitting up researching the other night I came across a blog talking about "dominionism". The claim made by the blogger is that the new Calvinism and the emergent movement is really "dominionism." He specifically named John Piper as being part of the Catholic infiltrated Lausanne movement and apparently the new reformation is to move the church back to its catholic origins. His specific claim is that this new reformed movement is a Catholic ecumenical counter reformation movement. He sounds crazy, but I have never heard of the term dominionism. Do you have any thoughts or information on dominionism and what its origins are?”

 

     Response:

 

     Man, I believe, is a two part being, Genesis 2:7. He is both body and spirit. Consequently, he has both physical and spiritual needs that are very real. How we work to address and/or meet these needs as we go to make disciples works itself out in our theologies in areas such as this.

     “Dominionism” is somewhat of another (considerably less derogatory) synonym for “Kingdom Theology.” Kingdom theology, much like dominionism, has as its assumption that the works of the church are to bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth. Most would prefer to label the emergent church, which is often heretical, with Kingdom Theology instead of dominionism, but the terms can often overlap.

     Basically, the idea behind dominionism, or kingdom theology for that matter, is that the gospel brings with it not only an evangelistic responsibility, but also a socio-economic one. Some liken the idea more to what’s called the dominion mandate embodied for man at the start in the words, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion…” Genesis 1:28. It is an ideal that, along with the gospel, emphasizes the aspects of social action and social justice on earth. It is the idea that Christians are supposed to be involved in every area of life, not just in the church. Politics quickly enter in, feeding programs, social issues, etc. The ditch to watch out for is when Christians either 1) begin to feel too much at home on earth (Philippians 3:20) or 2) what’s most often the case, when people falsely begin to think that social actions and the like equal the gospel. It is not evangelistic work to feed the poor. It is not evangelistic work to write legal statutes in our state or federal courts. It is not evangelistic work to fight for racial equality or welfare reform. All these things might (and perhaps we could say should) accompany the evangelistic works of the church, but they are not what saves souls. It is preaching that saves, 1 Corinthians 1:21. It is the verbal proclamation of the gospel that is required for people to get saved, and that verbal proclamation should be the center of any organization that wishes to call itself evangelistic. The Lausanne Covenant is a formal document that came to express the beliefs of those involved in the group first organized by Billy Graham in 1974. The document is careful to affirm in section five of its faith statement that the proclamation of the gospel and its social commitments are separate saying, "We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression…we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty."

     None of these ideals are inherently bad. Jesus did a lot of good for people, but it was subsequent to His proclamation. He was first known to preach repentance, not heal or feed, Matthew 4:17. We should follow His example. No one comes to a knowledge of sin and the need for the Savior because they’re fed, clothed or housed. They must hear the truth, repent and believe rightly. If they’ve heard the truth, then any works we do to bless them can only help them to see the love of God that we proclaim in the cross.  

     Another ditch, of course, can be a gospel proclamation that’s devoid of compassion when a need is seen. The Apostle James said clearly, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” James 2:14-17. The concept here is so broad that it could rightly be applied to our evangelism itself.

     The bottom line I think is that we must recognize the superiority of preaching as that medium that is required for people to be saved while not neglecting the fact that our lesser works should help to make our proclamations heard. People have physical needs. Meeting them, when able, is a necessary thing, and if doing so makes us dominionistic or kingdom theologians in the eyes of some then so be it. This, of course, reduces the two ideals down to this single area of measure and excludes what’s perhaps the bad theology of other men and women who claim it who would hold the same label. We can indeed bless the world with good things like food, shelter, social justice, etc., but as good as these things are, even to the desperately poor, they are not the gospel. The gospel is infinitely better. The gospel is eternal life in Christ, not just a full stomach.

     Heaven is not on earth now! One day it will be. We do not bring the kingdom of heaven to earth by our humanitarian works. This is kingdom theology. In all we do in this life we must remember that heaven is where it is, earth is where it is and hell is where it is. Certain believers have more of a conviction about such things than others though all will recognize the blessedness of taking care of others. In fact, Jesus stated that a distinguishing factor between true and false Christians in the end will be their care for the poor, Matthew 25:31-46. Such truths as this motivate those who would be comfortable taking the banner of “dominionist” or “kingdom theologian” over their church’s works.

     Dominionistic ideas will be seen in varying degrees in every ministry. The Lausanne Movement (Lausanne being a town in Switzerland) is a movement that outlines a mission for world evangelization. Because it’s made up of multiple denominations from around the world it inherently takes on a catholic constituency. I would hope that any pastor would be accused of being a part of such an ideal, especially one at the level of cultural influence as John Piper because we should all be about world evangelization.

     I’m not certain concerning the origins of each movement. Like a lot of other theologies outlined today that are not necessarily identified with any one denomination, tracing the origins of such ideals is likely very difficult except to say where perhaps we first began to see the terms themselves being used. While I don’t know the exact origins of either movement, I do know the origins of whatever I see as good within each.

     As far as dominionism being a movement to take the church back to its “catholic origins,” I think I’m all for this depending on what one means by it. As early as Acts 6 we see the church caring for the needs of its people both spiritually and physically. The origins of the church are rich with social overtones, Acts 4:32-35. Much later on no one can deny the hand that the Roman Church played in history, but the Christian church does NOT have a Catholic origin. Rather, it is the Catholic Church that had a catholic origin. Long before Rome was a system under a pope (circa A.D. 590) there was a Christian church. Any movement that purports to bring believers back to this Christ-centered, gospel preaching organization with a view to both local and global outreach containing all of its accompanying good works, I’m all for it. That’s what we see in Acts (our catholic origin).

     I am not very familiar with the Lausanne Movement, and cannot speak intimately as to any Roman Catholic agenda. The group doesn’t paint itself as such. The only name on its board I’ve ever even heard of is Leighton Ford and I know almost nothing of him except that he once recommended the evangelistic ministry of Ray Comfort who I love dearly.

     I know that the new Calvinism is not counter-reformational. Anyone who makes that claim might be able to make it against a person claiming the theology, but not against the theology itself. New Calvinism, in a nutshell, is simply a trans-denominational rediscovery of the glorious centrality in much of Calvin’s theology on the sovereignty of God without taking on some of his denominationally distinctive practices.

     John Piper writes about his experiences with the Lausanne II Movement a long time ago very positively, yes, but he is listed nowhere on their site today as an elder, staff or board member, or main proponent. As far as I know, and I could be mistaken here, he has had no long-standing active involvement with the group. He does most certainly have a heart for world missions. That makes him similar in mission to them. If their main doctrinal statement holds sway in their conduct and mission focus then I’m sure he’d be all for them. Al Mohler, though mentioning the group only briefly, speaks well of the movement in its evangelical commitments as well.

 

     Thanks very much for your question!

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