Jonathan David Faulkner
Editor’s Note: This article is not discussing Theonomy, though God’s Heart rejects theonomy as a plausible governmental structure in a Post-Fall World. This article focuses on the roots of Dominion Theology in the Classical Sense and the evils perpetrated in its application. No attempt was made to engage the modern definition of Dominion Theology as this was a broad overview and not dedicated to specific forms of dominion Theology.
I attended a men’s retreat this weekend, one I had attended two years before. I looked forward to this weekend as it is likely the last time I will attend one with this particular group of men. It gave me a chance to soak up that last bit of wisdom from these older saints that I have been gleaning the past three years. Many of these men have been in ministry, both ordained and otherwise, and I have enjoyed learning from and being encouraged by them as I prepare to embark on my own ministry. The topic of this retreat was: “How to pray like a King.” I did not think much of it at the time, the same speaker had spoken a year before, though I had not attended because of my status as a newlywed. I had seen the theme and did not think anything of it until the speak decided to give a summation of last years teaching. He had told the men a year before that they were kings and that they needed to rule and subdue the Earth because of Genesis 1:28. He also said they needed to rule as one submissive to the Lordship of Christ, with their “crowns up” to God instead of “crown down.”
As a historian and one who has studied Historical Theology I have come across this particular teaching numerous times in my study. The first is in the documents regarding the crusades, the second in the early colonial period of Europe in what is called “The Discovery Doctrine” and finally in western Protestantism and the theology behind Manifest Destiny. All these amount to what has been called “Dominionist Theology” which still exists today in the twisted acclamations of the Alt-Right and even Alt-Left, along within Jim Crow Laws and the White Supremacy of the KKK and Anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Nazi’s and the modern Neo-Nazis. The idea has been propagated, since the beginning of European Dominance of Church History that the mandate to have dominion over and subdue the Earth was a justification for terrible atrocities carried out by the Catholic Church & the Protestant Settlers during the colonial period, as well as a justification for the Slave Trade, Theonomy. The Discovery Doctrine is particularly evil, teaching that if you encountered a native tribe and they would not convert to Christianity then they were to be destroyed or sold into slavery.
Not to my surprise, when I privately confronted the speaker over my concerns about what he was teaching he had never heard of Dominion Theology. Nor was he aware of the history of the same teaching within the modern Health and Wealth Movement that consistently compares us to heroes of the bible and gives us their importance. He was also not conscious of how his teaching my be received by a member of another ethnic group, particularly one of the man that has been decimated by White, European, Dominion Theology. He also was not willing to drop the analogy, though I did not insist he do, claiming that he likes it better.
Ironically, scripture only supports this idea of dominion in Genesis 1:28 with a few places in the Psalms looking back to the Pre-Fall order. It is true that God tells Israel to take the promised land that required killing off people groups. Groups that had lived in the land where Abraham had been called and Isaac and Jacob’s families had worshiped Yahweh and been blessed by that family until they left for Egypt yet had still rejected God. Israel had a legal mandate from the one who had deeded them the land and who had made Himself known through creation (Rom 2). The language that is constant, even through Israel’s conquest period is that of service and blessing.
This language actually gets picked up directly after the fall. It also seems that instead of us subduing the Earth we would have to struggle against it and any attempt by man at dominion would be frustrated and eventually end in absolute evil as is exemplified by Israel’s monarchy. Abraham’s offspring are to be a blessing to all the nations through engaging in fair and justice practices such as trade and the treatment of the highest visiting dignitaries to the lowest immigrant traveler.
Jesus himself is said to be a servant, not coming as a powerful ruler, but giving up his position at the right hand of the father to become a servant. (Is. 53, Phil 2:5-11). Even telling his disciples that they will not “Lord it over” their followers (Matt. 20:25 Lk. 22:26) but instead an example of service, humility and love. Therefore, to put off the old self and to put on the new self “which is hidden in Christ” (Col 3:1-17) is to take on the mantel of a servant, to take up the towel as it has been put. In short, in a Post-Fall world we no longer have dominion, but instead are to be as servants working towards seeking Justice through the righteousness of GOD which we now have access to through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we lived in a Pre-Fall world, things would be much different, instead we work as ambassadors for Christ, not as kings serving under him.
The Catholic Historian George Santayana once said that: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As our recent election cycle has shown, when compared to the rise of other authoritarian figures from Mao Zae Dong to Adolf Hitler have shown us, when we do not learn from out history, we will repeat it. Just as the speaker was unaware of the history of the very thing he was teaching, which has been used to justify so many tragedies and resulted in the deaths of millions, he is doomed to repeat it.
Yet, I did not initially learn about Dominion Theology when I first entered Seminary. It was not until year three when a professor challenged me to look into the Discovery Doctrine that I became aware of it. It certainly was not a part of the myriad of Church History classes I had taken or books I have read, most of whom were white or taught by white men or women. I did not even engage with disability theologians until a different professor sent me some reading material. I learned about the Civil Rights Movement as settled history, then took a class on it from a Black professor and discovered it is far from settled history in the perspective of the Black Community, something we should take into consideration. I read Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell with weeping, know that my own propensity to not listen to my brothers and sisters of different ethnic backgrounds had continued that same attitude of indifference. I did not learn about the need for ethnic reconciliation until I started paying attention to what was going on around and started really listening to my friends from all different backgrounds. The history is not something I want to repeat and I hope one day I can teach my kids not just to treat their fellow man with dignity and respect, but to listen deeply to them and not to be afraid of their pain.
Because we are dealing with the results of more than 1000 years of Dominion Theology and we are not handling it well. Most seminarians do not learn about this part of Christian History, the bad parts, the times the church royally messed up and turned its back on God on a matter. Such as the slaughter of Muslim men women and children during the first Crusade, the killing off of entire tribes (numbering in the Millions) of First Nation peoples in the Caribbean, South America, Mexico and the North American Colonies. Or the Southern Justification for Slavery preached from the Pulpits of Churches in the North and South or Jim Crow and the reign of fear supported by the White Churches. These events are part of our history as White Europeans, and even if we have never personally engaged in these things, we are still dealing with the brokenness and shame these events have caused, especially in our current climate of racial tensions.
Another Irony here is that there should not be a “White Church” or a “Black Church” there should only be The Church, which God has intended from the beginning. Undivided and multi-ethnic, made of men and women in its congregations and leadership, where the wall of hostility that once kept us apart has been torn down and in its place a table set where we all dine as one. But if we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat that history, and I fear with statements like John MacArthur’s Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel we are in danger of repeating it again. Segregation is the ultimate form of that evil spirit of Sectarianism that has long dominated the Church here in America.
Yet, if we do not learn about this history as pastors, as future theologians, if we do not acknowledge it, but instead fight against the need to even learn it, then we will repeat it and we will train the next generation to repeat it. As I have said before, we as a church have been historically great at getting rid of false or heretical teachers without eliminating the false or heretical teachings. Dominion Theology, as far as it is concerned, is just one such example of one of those heretical teachers we have not abandoned and which still comes out in our thinking and the way we go about higher theological education.
The truth is, Africa had a rich Christian tradition before White Settlers came to its shores, one that traces its roots back to the book of Acts. Yet, in the spirit of Dominion, settlers came to “Civilize” the Africans and save them from their pagan history. This would be done initially through missions work but later the subservience of the slave trade would be seen as the best way to civilize and Christianize “them.” The same approach was taken to the First Nation in the America’s by the Puritans through the creation of Mission Towns designed to civilize and Christianize the native peoples. “Christianization” and Missions work were always attached to the colonial powers and always intertwined with the conquering government. The Colonial Government would then look at African Christianity, which was much older than the European Form and work to destroy it because it did not fit their ethnocentric model of what it meant to be a Christian. In this we have done great harm to ourselves, to those whom were victimized by colonization and the slave trade and their descendants.
I have before quoted Dr. Philip Schaff who said in his great sermon The Principle of Protestantism: “Christianity, awakened within a certain context of cultures and did not seek to destroy them but to infuse in them its own transforming power to make them the best version of themselves.” If we only learn about Western Christianity as a “Civilizing force” then we do not see what Dr. Schaff saw in the historical development of the Church, God working within ethnic groups for His glory, not abolishing them or making them all alike, but bringing out the best of what He had created them to be.
We have destroyed cultures and even entire ethnic populations in the name of God who wants nothing to do with our destruction of people made in His image. Our seminaries need to teach this History to ensure we do not repeat it, but also to show us the current state of The Church, which has flourished in=spite of Western Colonialism, flourished in its own beautiful ways, shapes and forms with many languages and expressions of Worship across every tribe and tongue, something we need to embrace, not destroy.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church.