This is Part Two. The first part can be read here.
Discussions about “dominion” have taken a wild turn. Dominion theology is equated to something called ‘Christian Nationalism.’ Here’s one example: “With a burgeoning interest in the idea of Christian Nationalism, the Christian Church in America has seen a renewed interest in modified versions of theonomy.” If “modified versions of theonomy” are operating, it might be best to get an accurate description and application of theonomy. One thing a well-informed theonomist would tell you is that politics is fourth behind self-, family, and church governments. In addition, R.J. Rushdoony called those promoting armed rebellion as “romantic revolutionaries” and James H. Billington described such dreamers as part of a “revolutionary faith.” Rushdoony wrote:
We should not be surprised … that Marxists and other worshipers of chaos are committed to revolution even when the peaceful take-over of a country is possible. Revolution must be created by mass liquidations and the destruction of all established law and order, including economic order. The “economics" of socialism (and welfare states) do not make sense because they are not intended to make sense: they are a defiance of the universe of God in the name of chaos. They invoke chaos as the highway to the golden age.
If they fail, the guilt is not theirs. They blame the failure on residual areas and pockets of religion, law, and order, or property and national loyalty. Their solution therefore is to increase the chaos. Since their universe is a universe of chaos: their golden age can only come through planned chaos. Hence, they deny the validity of the biblical God; they cannot accept a world of moral and economic law. Their golden age requires the triumph of man over religion, over morality, and over economics. The liberation of man requires the systematic violation and destruction of every law sphere.
D. James Kennedy, the late Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, was a vocal advocate of what he and others have called the “cultural mandate.” He defined it this way:
As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. 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.
So then, there is nothing unusual about advocating dominion based on Genesis 1:26-28. Even some dispensationalists support it (see Does the Church Win by Losing?).
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Second, contrary to Bowman, non-Reconstructionists have seen a relationship between the “dominion mandate” of Genesis and the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Dr. Harold John Ockenga, in his Introduction to Carl F. H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, wrote the following (note the date) in 1947:
A Christian world- and life-view embracing world questions, societal needs, personal education ought to rise out of Matt. 28:18-21 as much as evangelism does. Culture depends on such a view, and Fundamentalism is prodigally dissipating the Christian culture accretion of centuries, a serious sin. A sorry answer lies in the abandonment of social fields to the secularist.
As you probably know, there is a lot more literature on this topic. The above sources immediately come to mind. With a little more research, I could find a lot more. But, of course, this does nothing to refute Mr. Bowman’s assertion that there is no such mandate. Just because other theologians believe the Bible teaches a doctrine does not make it true. It’s a bit misleading, however, in leaving the impression that the dominion mandate is a manufactured doctrine of Reconstructionism.
Third, dominion is an “inescapable concept.” Dominion will be exercised. The question is: “What standard will be used to “take dominion”? Rushdoony writes: “Dominion does not disappear when a man renounces it; it is simply transferred to another person, perhaps to his wife, children, employer, or the state. Where the individual surrenders his due dominion, where the family abdicates it, and the worker and employer reduce it, there another party, usually the state, concentrates dominion. Where organized society surrenders power, the mob gains it proportionate to the surrender.” Mr. Bowman asks whether Christians are “supposed to take dominion.” The fact that dominion is being taken is some evidence that dominion is an attribute of man who was created in God’s image. Since God is a dominion God, we should expect man, created in God’s image, to reflect an aspect of His dominion attribute. When Reconstructionists talk about “taking dominion,” they mean exercising dominion according to biblical norms rather than humanistic ones.
Bowman continues with another misconception:
[The claim of a dominion mandate] does not bear close scrutiny of the texts. In Genesis 1:28 God gives dominion over the animal kingdom to man.
Mr. Bowman did not scrutinize the first few chapters of Genesis very carefully. God created the earth for His image-bearers to live and act on their special status. He didn’t create earth for the plants, minerals, and animals to dominate the world. God gives dominion over the entire creation to His image bearers, not only the animal kingdom. These created entities were given to serve God’s highest creation: “And God blessed them [Adam and Eve]; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Gen. 1:28). There are two aspects of God’s command relating to dominion: subdue and fill the earth and rule over the animals. So then, all the earth’s potentialities are legitimate, even mandated, domains for our activity. This is why the “dominion mandate” is often described as the “cultural” or “creation mandate.” Culture is the object. This includes art, music, literature, technology, and the sciences. The Bible is the standard for mining these potentialities.
Another criticism, not voiced by Bowman but certainly implied in his critique, is that the dominion mandate of Genesis does not give dominion to man over other men. We should not expect to find such a mandate in a pre-fall command. Some men dominate other men only in a sinful world. Sin adds to the difficulty of what would have been an already arduous dominion task. This is seen in Genesis 9:5-7 where the dominion mandate is repeated with the addition of giving man the authority to exercise civil and punitive restraint of criminal activity.
Some will claim that only the command to be fruitful and multiply is repeated. By this we are to conclude that man’s mastery of the creation is no longer in effect because of the fall. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 has been rescinded. The creation was good before the fall (1:31) and after the fall (1 Tim. 4:1-4). We believe in progressive revelation not regressive revelation.
Psalm 8 reiterates the dominion mandate of Genesis by telling us that “Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands” (8:6). Included in the works of man’s hands, but not limited to them, is the animal creation. In his commentary on the Psalms, Leupold writes of Psalm 8:6: “How much [‘the works of Thy hands’] involves neither this statement nor Gen. 1 specifies, but it certainly cannot indicate a mere nominal control, for the parallel statement of v. 6 … extends man’s authority to ‘everything’ and … claims that these things may be said to have been ‘put under his feet.’”
With the fall, a further dimension is added to the dominion mandate. Man must be subdued ethically. Without a fall, there would have been no need to establish guidelines regarding punishing those who might steal. But because of sin, some men steal and kill other men to secure wealth for themselves. This sin must be subdued or ruled over. But what standard should man use? Scripture tells us that because of the transgression the law was given (Gal. 3:19). The standard has not changed.
The Bible gives instructions on each of the following subjects, all considered the domain of Christians: civil government, the judicial system, economics, indebtedness, the punishment of criminals, foreign affairs, care for the poor, animal husbandry, ecology, journalism, science, medicine, business, education, taxation, inflation, property, terrorism, war, peace negotiations, military defense, ethical issues like abortion and homosexuality, environmental concerns, inheritance, investments, building safety, banking, child discipline, pollution, marriage, contracts, and many other worldview issues. This is the dominion mandate. If God instructs us on an issue, then we are mandated to follow those commands according to His Law in every area of life. This is true for non-believers as well.
There is something James Jordan defines as the “Dominion Trap.”
There is, however, a precondition for such dominion: Godliness. When Adam rebelled against God, he was cast out of the Garden, and lost much of his dominion privilege. Men who do not repent eventually lose all dominion by being consigned to hell.
Godliness, in the sense we are speaking of here, is not an instant affair, however. It is not a matter of saying, “Well, now you are a Christian. Go out and take dominion!” Such a simplistic formula is fraught with spiritual danger, and the history of Christian social movements illustrates it well….
What the Bible actually teaches is that spiritual maturity or wisdom results from a process of growth, and it is the precondition for dominion all along the way. This is fairly obvious to us if we think of children. We expect our children to grow and become mature and wise before we burden them with adult, dominion tasks. To load such a burden on a child would be to crush him. For a child to presume to take such adult responsibilities on himself would be arrogant and destructive. We don’t wish, after all, to be ruled by children.
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The author of the letter to the Hebrews makes the point that maturity takes time. Christians in his day were not equipped for anything more challenging than what a nursing baby would be able to do. Maturity takes time, experience, and practice.
Concerning [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain, since you have become poor listeners. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the beginning [ἀρχῆς] principles [στοιχεῖα] of the actual words of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14).
If we can’t get basic principles of God’s Word right in terms of ourselves, how will we be able to apply them to the broader world? The starting point for dominion is self-government.
The Religion of Revolution (Victoria, TX: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1965), [3-4].
D. James Kennedy, Led by the Carpenter: Finding God’s Purpose for Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 7.
Harold J. Ockenga, “Introduction,” in Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947), 14.
For example, J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” originally published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. IX, 1913 and Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1959). See my three chapters in Theonomy: An Informed Response soon to be republished by American Vision.
Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973), 448.
H. C. Leupold, Exposition on Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,  1977), 104-105.