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Friday, October 7, 2011

Wagner's NAR 101: Dominionism and Rushdoony

On Monday I blogged about the demonic in C. Peter Wagner’s writing and speaking. Today it is the politically timely topic of dominionism that I will take up. I will again use excerpts from Wagner’s 2008 book with Chosen/Baker publishers on the subject, appropriately titled Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World because that is the clearest source for his views on dominionism. As I said in a recent blog, I thought Wagner was refreshingly candid in his interview with Terry Gross about his views of the demonic and apostolic governance of the church. I do not believe that was the case with how he spoke about the controversial subject of dominion thought and action. For instance, when Gross asked Wagner about dominion he said:

"In terms of taking dominion, we don't - we wouldn't want to - we use the word dominion, but we wouldn't want to say that we have dominion as if we're the owners or we're the rulers of, let's say, the arts and entertainment mountain."

As Rachel Tabachnick pointed out, this answer to a national radio audience is in sharp contrast to his words at a 2008 NAR event where he said:

Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing and it relates to society. In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings. It says in Revelation Chapter 1:6 that He has made us kings and priests - and check the rest of that verse; it says for dominion. So we are kings for dominion.

I want to be clear, if it were only this one speech where we can see Wagner giving a different kind of answer then I might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and attempt to parce the possible consistency between what he said in the interview and what he said in his speech; but that is not the case at all. In Wagner’s book Dominion! he gives ample reason to believe that in his interview with Gross he was altering his views in lieu of the potential controversy they might cause (Wagner is hardly alone in this—significant attempts to whitewash NAR views of dominionism are taking place in light of the media scrutiny post-Perry’s Response). This book not only distinguishes his views on dominionism from what he said in his interview, but more importantly it  shows how Wagner sees himself advancing the ideas of Rousas John Rushdoony in a fresh way. Whether or not Wagner’s dominion theology is less problematic for evangelicals and for all concerned about the common good than Rushdoony’s original type I leave to you to decide, but that he sees himself as an heir of Rushdoony is without dispute. In fact, as Wagner says below, he intentionally chose to identify himself with Rushdoony’s Dominion Theology in spite of specific counsel by friends not to. In a section titled “Dominion Theology”, Wagner explains his reasoning:

The practical theology that best builds a foundation under social transformation is dominion theology, sometimes called “Kingdom now.” Its history can be traced through R.J. Rushdoony and Abraham Kuyper to John Calvin. Some of the notable pioneering attempts to apply it in our day have been made by Bob Weiner, Rice Broocks, Dennis Peacocke and others. Unfortunately, the term dominion theology has had to navigate some rough waters in the recent past. A number of my friends, in fact, attempted to dissuade me from using dominion in the title of this book, fearing that some might reject the whole book just because of the title.

Wagner goes onto explain what he takes to be the three main reasons for objecting to using the term and none of those reasons even remotely have to do with not wanting to be associated with Rushdoony’s dominion theology. He thinks the only reasons why someone would object to Rushdoony dominion theology and his novel appropriation of it are if a Christian either 1) Believes in “the primacy of the evangelistic mandate over the cultural mandate," 2) Holds a “’pre-trib, pre-mil’ view of the end-times” (he chastens John Stott by name for refusing to “step outside strict traditional doctrinal boundaries” on eschatology) or 3) Has heard “serious accusations of moral turpitude” against “advocates of dominion theology”. Given his apparent limited understanding of the serious criticisms of dominion theology, it is no wonder he declares that “the best way we can proceed is to affirm and redeem the term dominion theology, not to discard it.” Now in saying this, I do not mean to imply that I think there is a clear correspondence between Rushdoony’s dominion theology and Wagner’s dominion theology—I am not enough of an expert on either of those topics to judge. What I am saying is that those critics who want to deny the ongoing relevance of dominion theology, or try to imply without evidence that Wagner’s dominion theology is nothing to be feared like Rushdoony’s was, have to overcome the fact that Wagner has chosen to call his views dominion theology not in spite of major objections to Rushdoony but because of what he sees as his faithful application of Rushdoony’s dominion theology. With respect to Wagner it can hardly be said that associating him with Rushdoony and dominion theology is unfair.

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