Rule, Reign, and Transformation
Many have heard of Francis Schaeffer and perhaps have seen his movie How Should We Then Live? In it he traces the decline of Western Civilization and attempts to motivate his audience to think about these larger cultural issues. Schaeffer was a key architect of the early Anti-abortion and Christian Right movements. Maybe architect isn't the right word. He provided inspiration and helped formulate some of the basic concepts. Others like Falwell and some of the wealthy and less known backers helped get the political wing moving.
Schaeffer was largely expanding and applying the ideas of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1921) a veritable colossus in the Reformed world. Kuyper led a large group of believers out of the theologically liberal Dutch Reformed Church, formed a new body, was a leader in ecclesiastical and scholastic circles and even served as the Prime Minister of The Netherlands from 1901-1905.
Anti-Revolution was his platform...Revolution as in the French Revolution which was still reverberating across Europe when Kuyper was a young man. There was a definite political and sociological element to what he was doing.
He famously proclaimed that there's not a square inch of the universe that Christ does not proclaim as 'mine.'
How can you argue with that?
In fact if you question it, you're likely to be met with skepticism regarding the state of your soul.
We've written about this in many other posts. The problem is this....
When Kuyper says every square inch belongs to Christ he means that every part of the creation will be or is meant to be part of the Holy Kingdom PRIOR TO the Second Coming of Christ. That is, in this age, all aspects of this world are to be reckoned part of the Holy Kingdom. The distinction between that which is the World vs. that which is the Holy Kingdom is to be eradicated.
Therefore it is incumbent for the Church to labour to this end....transformation. Obviously we have a lot of work to do. The Middle Ages are often presented as a time in which society was much closer to attaining that ideal and so there's been a big push to look back to that time period for inspiration.
We argue that we must distinguish between Christ as Lord and Ruler of Creation and Christ as Head of the Church, the Risen King of the Redeemed. Our understanding of Kingdom defines what we do here in this fallen world and it certainly shapes our expectations regarding what will be accomplished. What is our hope? Transformation of the present realm into the Holy, or ever labouring and suffering with our hope resting on one thing.... the Second Coming of Christ Jesus?
All of creation is subject to God's Providential RULE. To believe otherwise is to believe in a less than omnipotent God...not the God of Scripture.
But this does not mean that all is at present part of the Holy REALM. This is a key, an absolutely critical distinction...that between the Church and the World. While the Scriptures speak to the world with the messages of impending Judgment and hope and the commands to Repent and Believe...the Scripture is not for the world. The Scriptures are written for the community of covenant believers, the Church, the Body of Christ.
Dominionists argue that since God is Lord of both realms or kingdoms, it ultimately must be one, that is it must be brought under the unified authority. If there's a schism between the World and the Church, our job is to eradicate it and reconcile them by transforming the world into the Holy Kingdom.
The question is.......can this line, this tension, this dynamic, this dualism be erased? It's not at present, no one suggests that...but can it be? Is that our task?
This question must be answered from the pages of the New Testament and I argue the answer is absolutely clear.
The distinction will be maintained....a stark distinction...right up until the 2nd Coming. Obviously after that in the New Heavens and New Earth there will be no sin and hence the RULE and REALM will be one. The Transformation comes about not by the world being reformed and cleaned up....but by fire and the removal of all that is non-holy. The realm of Common Grace will come to an end. Kuyper believed Common Grace allowed for us to work in the world...to build the Kingdom with the unbeliever as it were. He sought to transform the Common into the Holy. I'm arguing the Common cannot be transformed, it merely provides a forum for us to work and transfer people from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light.
Maintaining the expectation that the entire world will be transformed into the Holy REALM has tremendous implications and consequences.
First, if the New Testament doesn't present a Transformationalist view of the Kingdom, and I will strongly argue it does, then it necessarily must CHANGE the definition of the Kingdom from its plain New Testament meaning. And Dominionism certainly does this. The Kingdom that's not of this world, does not come with observation, not to be physically fought for, with regeneration being the prerequisite for even being able to see it... is cast aside. It takes a physical and thus cultural and political nature in the present age. It loses its transcendent nature. Engaging in culture building and shaping becomes not just something we do by living our lives, but indeed a Holy and thus Redemptive task.
And because of this a whole host of questions and issues not found in Scripture are raised to the forefront. Tools must be developed in order to bring this about. You certainly cannot find this type of thinking in the New Testament. Neither Paul nor Christ Himself had anything to say regarding how the Church should go about transforming Greco-Roman society. And their society was no less wicked than our own.
As one put it recently, Transformationalism is the new orthodoxy. With the seeming implosion of the West and much that went with it, many people have been thrown into crisis. The Reformation rent asunder the model of Medieval Christendom. After nearly two centuries of war, Europe began the process of secularization... the separation of the religious sphere from the issues pertinent to what we would call the Common realm. Sacralists lament this, while we actually applaud it. There is no problem for us in living within a secular world. We are still Christians and the Bible tells us very explicitly how to interact with the world. It tells how to think about art, science, culture, politics, economics and so forth. But the Bible does not tell us nor provide blueprints to transform or "Christianize" these spheres of the Common realm.
Medieval Christendom was Sacralist. All of society was Holy-ized as it were. This all began with the Constantinian Shift in the 4th century. Sadly with all the good that came with the Reformation, this model was in no way abandoned. Secularism was generated not by a conscious endeavour by Christians to shed this Sacralist error, but by unbelievers more or less rebelling from the established order of post-Constantinian Westernism. Often they were not rebelling against Christianity per se. By the 1700's, much that was called Christian in both Europe and America was little more than form. The Church struggled and watched with despair but did not reach a crisis until the 20th century.
The sweeping changes brought about by new technology, the new world order brought about the World Wars, and the modern and increasingly rapid secularist campaign threw the remnants of Sacralism into crisis.
A new theology was needed, a new historical narrative in order to reform the West. This new theology, that of Dominionism was born under men like Kuyper who as I said was shaken by the watershed moment of the French Revolution, and built upon by others in the latter half of the 20th century.
But the theology was hardly new. It was simply a Protestant re-casting of the Medievalism, the push for Christendom, a new Sacral society. Since we living in a different cultural venue, many of the issues are different, the means certainly are. In the United States, a long running mythic narrative regarding the calling, mission, and destiny of the United States played into this and gave this theology a force and power that it could never attain in the post-nationalism of post-war Europe. In Europe with its financial and demographic crises, this is starting to change, opening Europe to a flood of both old and new ideas.