05 July 2012

Kirk Cameron's Monumental: Initial Considerations

Dominionism is the idea that says we must seek to transform society and culture. Among the myriad of Christian sects almost everyone would agree that Christianity brings a set of ethics and values to the table, it has something to say regarding human conduct and behaviour.
Protestants in particular have laid an emphasis on the new life, being 'born again' as Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3. As New Creatures, we approach all ethical tangles differently than the nonbeliever. In addition our entire focus is different, we seek heavenly wisdom, we are to lay up treasure in heaven where are our hearts, our hopes are.
Dominionism says we must go further. Based off their reading of Genesis 1.26-27 they believe we are to subdue the earth. This combined with Paul's injunction to 'bring every thought captive' launches them on what seem to them to be a clear programme to transform all of culture and society. To them this is Kingdom work, this is bringing the Kingdom of God to earth and making it manifest.

This teaching has picked up steam in recent years. A less well defined version of it governed the Middle Ages. Protestantism shifted some of the emphasis and yet many Protestant groups rejected this teaching for various reasons...that is up until recent times. Today, it is virtually the new orthodoxy. As Christians perceived the West and in particular the United States to be in decline, for many it seemed as if the Kingdom itself is in danger. As people scrambled for answers, the Reformed wing of Protestantism though in decline in the United States had available answers. These were questions the Reformed (easily the most intellectually vigorous branch of Protestantism) had wrestled with for some time.
Today thanks to Francis Schaeffer, Charles Colson and others, we witness the strange anomaly of Dominionism being embraced by Dispensationalists and others who not only formally rejected Dominionist theology in the past, their theology explicitly rejects it. Nevertheless they now adhere to its tenets, throwing their theological systems into turmoil, and as a result Dispensationalism is beginning to lose its once commanding grip on the American Evangelical scene. Even the eschatological schema laid out in the Left Behind novels is increasingly being abandoned as people find it does not accurately reflect Scripture.
Though it is not my intention to launch into a full refutation of Dominionism here, suffice it to say, that those who reject it can make a case from Scripture that this theology has misunderstood Redemptive History and in particular the Kingdom of God. This theology has neglected to take into account the fell theological implications of the Fall in Genesis 3. In addition rather than bring every thought captive, they've embraced certain culturally ingrained philosophical ideas about how systems work, how we are to think and this combined with a faulty view of the Kingdom has led them to venture far beyond the Scripture. Instead of bringing every thought captive they've erected a massive superstructure of ideas which they have mistakenly equated with Scripture. Ultimately in the end they believe their task in order to glorify Christ is to conquer the world and they believe the Scriptures have given them the building blocks in order for them to create blueprints to do so.
There are factions within this general realm of thinking. Some believe things can be turned back, reformed, or reconstructed...to what we're not sure...often the eras they wish to turn back to have been whitewashed and romanticised. Others believe things have reached the point of no return and their job is to weather the storm and await the coming opportunity to step into the coming social collapse and rebuild as it were from scratch. They believe the opportunity is coming wherein they'll be able to build a new civilization almost from the bottom up.
This theology has become so dominant and aspects of it so ingrained in Christian thinking that they often don't feel the need to make their foundational case. It is assumed.
Begging the question is an old philosophical term which is used to expose a fallacy. It's saying that you failed to prove your initial point, your argument is built on a foundation which you have assumed.**
Many sermons, lectures, movies and media presentations put out today are nothing more than large scale exercises in question begging. They assume the validity of their initial point and build large and elaborate arguments on that foundation. Of course if the foundation is wrong, if they've made a mistake when it comes to the initial point, then everything subsequent vanishes in a puff of smoke. If they've built a house on a bad foundation, the whole house is ruined, it all collapses and there's nothing to be salvaged, no repair to be made.
Kirk Cameron's 'Monumental' is yet another example of this. From the beginning it is assumed that the notion of a 'Christian Nation' is valid. It assumes that we can apply the term Christian not only to a nation but a culture and society.
We would argue the Bible knows nothing of these concepts, that applying the label 'Christian' to these constructs is not only a misuse of the label but a redefinition of how the Bible uses the very word...Christian. If that's true then the implications are profound, if not breathtaking. I argue that Dominionism in their zeal to make everything 'Christian' have erred at the very beginning and are using the term Christian in a sense the Bible knows nothing of.
If Cameron is wrong in his assumption then his film is nothing less than a monumental fallacy, a 90 minute error in theological principle and application.
Aside from the fact the film is riddled with a host of additional errors...bad theology, history, argument etc... none of that really matters too much. This is the key point. Dominionism defines the Kingdom of God in terms that embrace the culture and thus political formations...nations.  This allows its adherents to speak of political, social, and economic systems as 'Biblical' or 'Christian'. If these things, these manifestations of ideas truly represent the will and presence of God they become Holy in character. Defending them becomes not just a expedient or desirable but theologically mandatory.
Cameron symbolically employs the National Monument to the Forefathers dedicated to the Pilgrims located in Plymouth Massachusetts. This is a the monument he wants to point to, suggesting the United States has lost something. The monument provides a lesson, pointing back to what he believes a people and time reflecting the theology he wishes to emulate. While Dominionism has certain historical foundations, many modern interpreters embarking on projects like this often make a mess of things, oversimplifying and often forcing anachronistic interpretations on the past. And this doesn't even address the Biblical and Theological considerations which of course from a Christian perspective are the real issue and what help us interpret history and its symbols.
** Today many (especially in America) use this term differently than how it has been used in the past. Today people will say in response to a statement, 'that begs the question' meaning...it causes us to ask the question, or it raises the question. Some believe this is a valid use of the term but the meaning is quite different than it has been understood and used historically. At risk of sounding priggish I insist on using it in its original sense....assuming an argument.


Jim C. said...

An interesting choice of topic for an Independence Day-themed post - an Independence Day that seemed...lackluster this year. I don't recall witnessing any massive outpouring of blind patriotism (at least in the news) and I would guess that the overbearing heat along with power outages and flooding along the eastern seaboard have put a dampener on the occasion.

I've been aware of some time of Kirk Cameron's movie project and I reacted more or less the same way you did. In fact, as soon as I first heard about it I immediately thought of what you would think about it and how you would respond.

Having said that, I still believe that Kirk Cameron is an earnest man of God even if he's mistaken about certain elements in his theology. This is understandable, too...he's a fairly recent convert and those new to the faith can often get sucked in to erroneous ways of thinking. After all, it happened to me. At least he's more sincere than some of the other "famous converts" I've seen in the past. He seems sincere about his faith and has no compunction about speaking openly about it regardless of how people will react or how it will affect his career. For example, I've seen him interact favorably with Paul Washer and if you know anything about the latter's preaching then you'll know this is a good sign.

Jim C.

Protoprotestant said...

I agree. From what I've gathered, he's a decent guy that certainly means well. I'm glad he's moved away from the Left Behind Dispensational stuff...but he's falling in with some bad folks.

Pretty soon I'm going to wish he'd just go back to being Mike Seaver!

I've listened to several Paul Washer sermons/podcasts. Pretty convicting stuff. Aside from the Baptist part, he's pretty good. I don't know where he's at on the America/Nationalist stuff.

I did watch Cameron on Piers Morgan...wasn't too impressed. I'm not sure how helpful it is to go into those venues. His testimony is certainly better than many celebrity converts...I just don't understand why their celebrity grants them some kind of authority? We're all irritated when Hollywood actors do it...why does he get a free pass?

Cal said...

From reading this and your comments, my first thought (odd as it may be) is: I now understand why Calvin wrote his Institutes.

How frustrating when a man who is after our Lord, gets blown about by wolves seeking to grow political agendas without any foundation. You just want him to understand. It's probably a bad impulse because the primary thoughts can become walls. But at least it sets you on the right road.