WHAT ARE "DOMINION THEOLOGY" AND "KINGDOM NOW" THEOLOGY?

Why Christians Should Reject Such Theological Concepts as 'Kingdom Now,' 'Theonomy' and 'Dominionist Reconstructionism'





RJ Rushdoony

R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001).

A recent article of mine in which I mentioned 'Kingdom Now' theology brought in several requests for us to define and write a little more about this theological brand.


'Dominion Theology' is perhaps, more widely understood, but 'Kingdom Now' theology (though related) is sometimes defined and explained a little differently by various writers so clarification has been badly needed. This, however, may serve as a good opportunity to issue a most important warning about certain strands of theology which, in our opinion, effectively undermine biblical teaching.

Firstly we will consider the former, secondly, we will look at 'Kingdom Now' which is the correct order since that largely derives from the former.


DOMINION 'RECONSTRUCTIONIST' THEOLOGY

"Dominion Theology" may be said to be originally derived from Genesis 1:28-30, where God grants Mankind dominion over the Earth.

Genesis 1:28: 'And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it. And have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heavens, and all animals that move upon the earth.'
29: 'And God said, Behold! I have given you every herb seeding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree seeding seed; to you it shall be for food.'
30: 'And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the heavens, and to every creeper on the earth which has in it a living soul every green plant is for food; and it was so.' (MKJ).

While Christians have typically interpreted this passage as meaning that God gave Mankind responsibility over the Earth, 'Dominion Theology,' mainly from the early 1970s, started to teach that these verses offer a mandate for Christian stewardship right across human civil affairs - without restriction.

So we here discuss a grouping of two theological approaches which hold the common belief that modern society should be governed exclusively by the Law of God as outlined in the Old Testament, primarily, of course, in the Pentateuch. The two main streams of Dominion theology are 'Christian Reconstructionism' (which is 'Dominon Theology' in it's original reformed, Calvinist schema) and 'Kingdom Now' theology (which is charismatic, and which we shall briefly consider later).

Theonomy

'Theonomy' obviously derives from the Greek words for "God" (Theos), and "law" (nomos), however, the word has been used to describe various views which view the biblical God as the sole source of human ethics. Using the word in this sense, Cornelius Van Til argued that there "is no alternative but [either] that of theonomy or autonomy" (Christian Theistic Ethics, p. 134).

Existentialist philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich used the term "theonomy" differently, to describe his own existentialist-influenced view of ethics, obviously a radically different use from its use by Reformed writers in the Christian Reconstructionist movement. Greg Bahnsen's book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1984), has done much to popularize the more modern reconstructionist concept of 'theonomy.'

In the terminology of modern Rushdoony-based Christian Reconstructionism, theonomy is the idea that, in the Bible, God provides the basis of both personal and social ethics. In that context, the term is always used in antithesis to 'autonomy,' which is the idea that human reasoning alone should provide the basis of ethics. Theonomic ethics, therefore, asserts that the Bible has been given as the abiding standard for all of human government — individual, family, church, and civil; and that Biblical Law must be fully incorporated into an all-encompassing Christian view of life.

Despite being initially intriguing and compelling, many objections can be found to this view where it is proposed that it should be set forth evangelistically. The main problem is that it appears to be a plea to set up an approach based on justification by works rather than justification by faith alone which is at the very centre of New Testament Pauline theology, and which has always been considered as a bedrock of Protestantism.
Robin A. Brace.


'Dominion Theology' is invariably postmillenial and adherents believe that the Church itself will have to set up the Kingdom of God upon earth before Jesus Christ returns. It is believed that Christ's kingdom will need to be established by political, and even military means if and when that might prove necessary. A literal millenium is usually envisaged but Christianity itself, it is believed, must bring this about by Christians becoming much more political in outlook than many of them have traditionally been. So this is a highly political approach which advocates strong, ongoing, and ultra-conservative political activism. Essentially, a massive change in typical Christian attitudes is required. One must wonder how such an approach could ever be squared with the 'turning of the other cheek' approach advocated by our Lord in the 'Sermon on the Mount' (Matthew 5-7).

Reformed (or, Calvinist) Dominionism largely originated from the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony in the 1970s. Rushdoony's theology focused on a proposed theonomy (that is, the rule of the Law of God), and upheld the belief that all of society should be ordered according to the laws that governed the Israelites in the Old Testament. Being Calvinistic, the sovereignty of God is emphasized and applied to the entirety of human behaviour, culture and society. Mostly, the theology itself is unashamedly hard-lined, 5-point Calvinist. Rushdoony's major book on this topic was the highly influential, The Institutes of Biblical Law, published in 1973, a book of 890 pages. Rushdoony proposed that biblical law urgently needed to be applied to all of modern society and that there should be a Christian theocracy. He even discussed how his proposed revolution (it would obviously take nothing short of that), might be brought about. Strangely enough, at the height of the Cold War, Rushdoony was not considered as a pro-militarist conservative, but he spoke out fiercely against the moral breakdown of the 1960s, proclaiming that Christians should apply the Faith in all areas of life, including politics, which meant dismantling the mammoth state. He believed that political government should be replaced with church government and family government. For Rushdoony, if these governments correctly did their job, there would be little use for the state. Obviously, without question he was partly correct.

So 'Reconstructionists' believe that the laws of the Old Testament, even the more apparently minor ones, are by no means obsolete, and should be adhered to today. Such writers have designed entire political, economic, financial and legal agendas solely on the basis of Mosaic law, although allowing for certain modifications in the light of the New Testament.

According to Rushdoony's own teaching in 'The Institutes of Biblical Law,' in the "reconstructed society," there would be no democracy (most reconstructionists view democracy as a heretical concept), and government would only operate at a state, county or local level. Federal government (too open to corruption, greed and manipulation), would no longer exist. Rushdoony envisaged a society in which the Bible would be the only charter and constitutional document. He also denied that women could rightfully claim "priority or even equality" with men. Meanwhile, parents would become solely responsible for the education of their own children with state education being banned.

'Reconstructionists' will quote the Old Testament laws condemning usury, and usually argue that a thirty-year mortgage on a home is an unbiblical practice (citing Deuteronomy 15). They often suggest debts being limited to no more than six years. Moreover, a "biblical" form of slavery is often advocated in order to allow impoverished persons to labour to solve their indebtedness, and for criminals to make restitution for damages they have incurred; but the slave, that is, according to the usual reasoning, should be cared for and educated in civic responsibility. If such a slave is a Christian, he or she should certainly be freed after a particular set period of time. Perhaps surprisingly, some reconstructionists have even argued that such slavery has unequalled "job security." Hmmm!

The Reconstructed society would have no property tax, since taxes supposedly imply that the state, not God, owns the Earth, and the practice of tithing would replace all income tax. There are, of course, necessarily differences in how various such writers have expressed some of these points but, overall, this is the approach which one finds.

The late Greg Bahnsen was a major advocate of 'Dominion theology.' He listed fifteen crimes that deserve capital punishment in the Reconstructed society. These include murder, rape, homosexuality, sabbath-breaking, apostasy, witchcraft, blasphemy and incorrigibility in children. Bahnsen writes that, "Christians do well at this point to adjust their attitudes so as to coincide with those of their Heavenly Father." The envisaged 'Reconstructed society' will have no prisons. Under biblical law, "men either died as criminals or made restitution." Career criminals would be executed and occasional lawbreakers would pay for the damages of their actions as slaves (Various pages, Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics - Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984).

Other well known teachers of this theological view include Gary North, whose book Conspiracy has become very popular. North is published by Dominion Press, a Reconstructionist publisher. These theonomist books have been strongly endorsed by personalities such as Jerry Falwell who supports this brand of ultra-conservative political activism, with a postmillenial aim, by Christians.

We should just point out that this form of theology is not widely-accepted but has only a minority following.


'KINGDOM NOW' THEOLOGY

Whereas the hard-lined, 5-point Calvinism of 'Dominian Theology' denied the operation of charismatic gifts in the present day (mostly holding to full cessationism), 'Kingdom Now' is fully charismatic, placing a high store on the continuation and availability of the supernatural gifts which, it is believed, remain fully available to the modern Christian with only unbelief being a hindrance or a stumblingblock.
'Kingdom Now' theology is then, a strain of Dominion Theology operating within the Charismatic movement, although not supported by all charismatics, but with a dramatically different approach. The church, it is believed, under the leadership of "restored" apostles, prophets and evangelists, must be prepared to take over the world and put down all opposition to it before Christ can return, so it is postmillenial, although certain such charismatics certainly reject this label. Anyone who rebels against the church, along with other 'evildoers,' must convert or accept their punishment. So as this brand is charismatic, often Arminian and usually anti-Calvinist, the Kingdom Now movement belongs to a very different theological stream compared to Christian Reconstructionism, moreover, the 'kingdom now' outlook is sometimes quite restricted compared to the more all-encompassing and more fully thought-out schema found in 'Dominion Reconstructionism.' It is usually seen as more for the new prophets and apostles to convert the world rather than for the average Christian to become a political activist. Moreover, the 'kingdom now' scenario itself is sometimes even confined to the area of the supernatural gifts, only being 'activist' in the sense of mobilizing Christians to becoming triumphalist, self-actualised leaders within society and gradually enabling change in that way. Charismatic 'Kingdom Now' almost necessarily embraces the 'health, wealth and prosperity' message and usually encourages this as a necessary tool to help empower Christians to overturn society. Beyond that, the full theological implications are rarely considered.

So it would be fair to say that this brand of theology, while being rooted within a branch of Presbyterian Reconstructionism, is much more naive and less well-ordered. It is a bite out of the cake and an admiration of the flavour rather than being a fully consistent approach. The political aspect excites, the worldliness excites, the power excites but few charismatics truly understand, nor even want to understand, the precise recipe or baking routine of this particular dominionist cake, at least in my experience.

This unquestionably more naive branch of Dominion Theology (that is, 'Kingdom Now') has developed a much wider following than it's parent - but only among charismatics whose grasp of theological essentials might be said to be often very uncultivated.


CRITIQUE AND CONCLUSION

We need to say little with regard to the charismatic 'Kingdom Now' theological view since we view it as largely undeveloped, naive and inconsistent. Regarding the more carefully outlined and more painstakingly studied view of 'Dominionist Reconstructionism,' however, we do need to say rather more.

Initially, at least, one may look at certain points within this view and probably find much to admire. How wonderful indeed if parents started taking full responsibility for their own children rather than simply sending them off to state schools to become indoctrinated in atheistic Darwinism. We parents have foolishly been too eager to hand the education of our children over to the godless State. There is also much else to admire in the envisaged 'reconstructed' society. How wonderful if criminals were either adequately punished for their crimes or forced to repay their victims - yes by slavery if necessary! How ludicrous indeed to have huge prisons filled with violent seasoned criminals which is such a huge burden on the tax-payer. One can quickly sympathise with an approach which would say, 'Reform right now or forfeit your right to life.' Several other things too might earn our admiration. However, the big problem with this entire schema is that it completely contravenes the teaching of the New Testament! Fact is: Jesus did not come to earth in order to give Israel's theocratic government another go - it never worked correctly anyway, in fact it was a disaster!! Jesus was clear that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), yet this approach seems disinterested in the approach of Jesus and appears to be saying, 'His kingdom might not be of this world, but - by brute force - we can even yet set up the Mosaic system in our own land!' Is that not patently, and quite seriously, misguided?

It was none other than Satan who wanted Jesus to be a world ruler presiding over worldly governments (Matthew 4:8-11), but it was not His approach. Why should it be? Israel's failed mosaic theocracy was a long way in the past. Then in Acts 1, certain of the disciples again wondered about whether Jesus would restore Israel's theocracy, however, He directed them away from such political ambitions telling them that they had a mission, that of being eye-witnesses to His ministry, starting in Israel and eventually extending to the whole earth (see Acts 1:6-8).

Moreover, Dominion Theology is inherently legalistic having a high interest in law but little apparent interest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even though that is the message which the Church has now been commisioned to deliver to the world (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:7-8). Christian ministers are now to be,

'Ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter (of the law) but of the Spirit; For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.' (2 Corinthians 3:6).

But apparently certain reconstructionist ministers think they know better and want to continue to uphold the Old Covenant even though, according to Hebrews 8:13, that system is now obsolete. Actually, most dominionists would probably agree that they recognise that Jesus has come and that many things have changed, but nevertheless, they still apparently want to pursue their own human experiment in Mosaic Law, but is that to choose one's own 'gospel proclamation?'
Problem is: This form of theology operates under the clear error of 'Covenant Theology' which is a clearly legalistic re-working of the biblical teaching on 'covenant,' and which effectively demotes the New Covenant (absolutely central in the New Testament revelation of Christ) to being only a sub-covenant. This approach clearly offers legalism an open door (for much more information, and a full appraisal of 'Covenant Theology' go here).

The New Testament is not silent on law and legalism within the Christian life and most of it's conclusions are not good news for reconstructionists and theonomists. Paul the Apostle said,

'...For you are not under law but grace.' (Romans 6:14).

'We have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were once held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.' (Romans 7:6).

What letter might that be? The very 'letter' which certain misguided theologians now want to re-establish!

Dominion theology would turn its collective back on the marvellous Book of Galatians which one writer called, "The Christian declaration of independence from the law."

'The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith, but after faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.' (Galatians 3:24-26).

Both 'Kingdom Now' and full 'Dominionist Reconstructionists' believe that the Old Testament laws are applicable for life today, but the message of Christ, and of the New Testament, is quite different:

'...If righteousness came through the law then Christ died in vain.' (Galatians 2:21).

'You who attempt to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace.' (Galatians 5:2).

During this era of the Christian Church, God has not directed His people to have another attempt at setting up a theocracy (which, this time, would not even have divine involvement and blessing, as in the case of Israel), but rather to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations.

Truth is: this is a false gospel, indeed, no less than 'Galatianism' itself (a cunning mixture of Christ and legalism in which the legalism clearly teaches justification by works, with Christ - though important - effectively demoted to being a 'bit part player'), and the 'prosperity gospel' are false gospels and since the inherent problem is legalism, we may say, along with Paul in Galatians,

Galatians 1:6: 'I marvel that you so soon are being moved away from Him who called you into the grace of Christ, to another gospel,'
7. 'which is not another, but some are troubling you, and desiring to pervert the gospel of Christ.'
8. 'But even if we or an angel from Heaven preach a gospel to you beside what we preached to you, let him be accursed.'
9. 'As we said before, and now I say again, If anyone preaches a gospel to you beside what you have received, let him be accursed.' (Galatians 1:6-9, MKJV).

I have looked at some of the solutions to the woeful problems of modern society which Dominionism offers and sometimes such solutions can appear highly tempting and mouth-watering, indeed, many of them might well prove highly effective, but the major problem is: Christianity has no divine mandate to preach any such message. The New Testament has already, in quite clear terms, delivered our Christian mandate.
Postmillenialism has far too much faith and confidence in what Mankind and human solutions can accomplish, and yes, these would be an attempt at human solutions to very deep spiritual problems which only an all-powerful Jesus Christ can successfully address. We should also be reminded that medieval Roman Catholicism - effectively - ran a sort of theocracy in much of western Europe and the record of that is quite a hideous one. We must surely conclude that - as a political kingdom - God's kingdom is not of this world.
Robin A. Brace. April, 2009.

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