As we did previously with “Five things Postmillennialism is not,” I would like to dispel some of the common myths, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations concerning Dominion Theology.
1. Dominion Theology is not a bad word
The first hurdle to get over is the fact that so many people sneer when they say the word “dominion,” or express fear when they hear it. It’s somewhat understandable when coming from the considerable number of leftist unbelievers who have covered the movements, but it’s simply inexcusable when coming from other Christians. And the sad fact is that the sneers and fears come just as often from Christians as from non-believers.
The first thing we must realize is that “dominion” is not an evil word. It is a biblical word. Men can (and do) pervert dominion and render it an evil concept by associating it with their evil teachings or acts, but that does not disqualify the biblical concept of dominion as a biblical concept any more than an adulterer disqualifies the biblical sanction of the marriage bed, or any other sinner destroys the righteous path of God that we should acknowledge and obey. Perverters gonna pervert, but their perversion can’t overturn what God has established. So let’s talk about what God has established, shall we?
So, our first priority is to understand the biblical concept of dominion, which begins in Genesis 1:26, 28:
Then God said, “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.” . . . 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 birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
A whole book can be written about this passage alone; I’ll let a couple points suffice here. First, man’s dominion is both a created fact and a command to be fulfilled. It is both a position and a call to action. The created fact aspect is that Man is created in God’s Image—a preeminent position above the rest of creation. Adam did not have to achieve this position, he was given it from day one. God not only created man in this position, he decreed Man to “have” this position simultaneously as He created Man for it: “let them have dominion” (v. 26).
For this reason, those who profess what has come to be called “Dominion Theology” should be careful using language such as “taking dominion.” We don’t have to take anything. We already have it. You could say it was “lost” in a sense through the fall and curse, but we have it again in Christ (a discussion which needs more space that I’ll take here). The Christian’s perspective should not be one of needing to take dominion but to exercise it. This leads to discussing the second aspect.
The second aspect is the mandate to exercise dominion. Just because Adam was given both the position and authority to have dominion in the earth does not necessarily mean he would be faithful in it. He was created to “dress and keep” (work and guard) the Garden (Gen. 2:15), but he could have sat on his rump enjoying the scenery and the breeze instead. God added to Man’s position by giving him direct revelation concerning his purpose: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over” (v. 28).
This statement is not a declarative statement as in verse 26; here it is an imperative statement. It is a mandate, a command. This command is multi-faceted: be productive, have lots of babies, acquire property, expand territory, apply jurisdiction, and govern. The scope of this command is exhaustive. As I have written elsewhere:
We should not fear to consider the scope of these works in the broadest sense possible. As Torah exegete S. R. Hirsch (1989) notes, kaḇaš hā’āreṣ in Genesis 1:28 refers to the general acquisition and dominion of “property” by which mankind engages in “the mastering, appropriating and transforming the earth and its products for human purposes” (Hirsch 1989, p. 35). This larger effort is to be considered fundamental to human dominion, or as Hirsch puts it, “a preliminary necessity for the preceding tasks of home and society which require it as the means for accomplishing them” (Hirsch 1989, p. 35). Those “preceding tasks” which verse 28 mentions, Hirsch notes, naturally cover the whole spectrum of human existence: “be fruitful” refers to marriage, “multiply” indicates family, “fill the earth” entails society, and “subdue” covers the whole scope of human endeavors and business that make the previous three possible. He concludes even more broadly: “By these sentences the seal of God is stamped on the whole of family and civic life” (Hirsch 1989, p. 35).
We could expound upon each of these facets at length, but the point to be made here is merely that they exist as commands. In sum, dominion is a biblical concept which pertains to both Man’s position in creation and the tasks which he is called to perform. Man was created for dominion, placed in dominion, and commanded to exercise dominion.
Now, whatever we may say about the meaning and application of this dominion before and after the fall, and before and after the finished work of Christ, we must accept “dominion” as a theological doctrine taught directly in the Bible. And in fact, it is taught all through the Bible. (Those who would like to see my perspective spelled out at length in a scholarly venue and a polemic setting, read my 10,000-word version “The Dominion Mandate: Yesterday, Today, and Forever,” in Answers Research Journal 6 (2013):145–155.)
Perhaps the critic will say that when they express contempt, it is not for “dominion” in general, but for a particular “Dominion Theology” for which they have X, Y, and Z criticisms. But even this is not a good excuse. Since “dominion” is a biblical concept, and since the Bible is the foundation of Christian theology, then all Christians everywhere must have some theology of dominion. We may differ radically on what that entails—you may not like that guy’s Dominion Theology, and he may not like yours—but we will all have one. Dominion Theology is thus an inescapable concept. So, let’s not sneer at the term. Christians who dismiss it up front are not dismissing one theological position merely, they are expressing contempt for a part of God’s Word.
In short, don’t turn your nose up at Dominion Theology—because you have one, no matter what. If you try to ignore it, you’ll be forced sooner or later to realize that your Dominion Theology includes the belief that someone else besides you should have dominion. Unfortunately, such negligence has resulted in “the whole of family and civic life” being handed over to unbelievers, and liberals.
Likewise, liberals may dismiss Dominion Theology, but they have an even more developed and expansive belief in it and application of it than most Christians do. The liberals’ versions just happen to be perverted and unbiblical, but they have it nonetheless. (Sometimes, as I’ve written before, they have actually used the term “dominion” for their political visions.) And one major reason they have it is because too many Christians have given it to them by sneering at the term and without examining the Bible’s teaching of it. It is time to stop this and instead develop your biblical theology of dominion, and then exercise it.
Now, I can see that I have already well exceeded 1,000 words on point one alone. For points 2 through 5, see my second post.