08 January 2015

Dominionism in Dallas and the New Ecumenical Movement

Recently I've been listening to some podcasts put out by Dallas Theological Seminary which if you don't know it already is usually viewed as one of the primary vehicles of Dispensationalism in the United States.

Most of the big names in the Dispensational movement have at one time or another been associated with that school.

What surprised me was to hear the extent to which Dominionism has infiltrated those circles. The whole movement continues to reinvent itself. Having reached the point of ascendancy it has for the past fifty years been in constant crisis as it is so susceptible to criticism. And now it would seem that in order to survive in the contemporary context it has finally entered a phase of total schizophrenia embracing a theology of action that directly contradicts what it believes to be the future prophetic course of this world.

They've been re-working their theology since the 1960's abandoning many of its older tenets. Part of this was the shift that took place (beginning in the 1950's) wherein many abandoned the Fundamentalist mindset of Separatism and embraced the post-World War II milieu of societal progress as well as the great geopolitical challenge and perceived crisis. And yet this shift caused problems, because Separatism was really more in line with the eschatology of the system.

The Fundamentalists who believed the Church needed to be more involved, more respected, a bit more mainstream and part of the fight against Communism became known as Evangelicals. One of the most prominent leaders was the young Billy Graham who would continue to be a leader for many years to come.

They retained the Eschatology, the whole timeline of events based on the unbiblical Israel-Church distinction but at the same time they became active in creating a theology and narrative binding their Fundamentalism to Nationalism. It's never worked very well and they've often been quite muddled, that is until they were introduced to Dominionism. This theology was born in Calvinistic circles and was quite outside their normal scope. It's been modified but now has largely been embraced and over the most 15-20 years another form has become quite prevalent in Charismatic circles.

Now they are focused and determined but they still can't escape the fact that their theology in practice behaves as if it's trying to Christianize the earth in Postmillennial fashion but at the same time they still hold to a prophetically necessary downgrade and a timeline of events demanding the earth slips into greater darkness and destruction.

For me it was a depressing listen. I didn't agree with the exegetical, theological or sociological assumptions being made and thus I obviously did not agree with the conclusions.

As much as I disagree with Dispensationalism I have long appreciated the social stand many of them made in the early days... not their support of Israel or anything along those lines. Rather, when the New Deal came along they denounced it, not just because it was Leftist, though that would certainly motivate them as well, but because they recognized that all man-made systems were doomed to fail. Nothing could solve the world's problems but faith and repentance and the return of Christ.

Maybe I would go further and say... I expect the world to try and come up with solutions and some may be better or worse than others. Maybe the New Deal was the best that could be hoped for at the time. But, as a Christian I'm not going to sign on to any of them not will I attempt to package any of them as somehow Christian. And that would include all the alternatives offered by the other side of the political spectrum. I'll listen to their criticisms but I don't buy their solutions either.

If these solutions were in fact Christian, then they wouldn't work in a society filled with unregenerate people. The Lost cannot understand the Holy, or the ethics it generates and demands.

But many Christians were traumatized by the Depression and the War and felt that sitting on the side-lines and not offering societal leadership or not being involved was no longer an option.

I don't believe the Christian Right was born in the 1970's. That's a flawed narrative or at the very least a little misleading. The Church was stirring in the 1950's but Christians were not united politically. That doesn't mean they were asleep or disconnected. Many Churches were splitting or had split and a lot of the conservative remnants were busy trying to salvage what they had and rebuild. So in that sense they were turned inward.

But in terms of the larger society Churchgoers were quite involved. In some cases their descendants don't want to revisit this past in an honest way. Conservative Christians (to use the term sociologically) were involved in protesting Civil Rights, in many cases supporting Segregation and supported many aspects of Anti-Communism whether we're speaking of McCarthyism or Rollback in the context of the Cold War.

On the extreme end the KKK and the John Birch Society flourished during this period and particularly within the context of the Church. The former was destroyed in the late 1960's and 70's by the FBI, leading to fear and the flight of its members. The latter destroyed itself in the 1980's when it didn't go along with the Reagan brand of Conservatism and fell into what was perceived as extremist and conspiratorial irrelevance.

Christians in the South were likely to be Democrats and in the North they were most likely Republicans. It took Civil Rights and Nixon's Southern Strategy to begin the change. It backfired when it led to support for Carter but the long sought unity finally came together in 1980 as the Christian Right came into its own.

And it was right about that time that some of the last old Fundamentalist leaders like J. Vernon McGee began to fade from the scene. His credo of not bothering to polish brass on a sinking ship had been left behind.

But today to hear the heirs of Scofield teaching a variation of Reformed Kuyperian Dominionism? How times have changed.

To me the great theological dangers, the great cancers at work within the larger mainstream field of American Protestantism are Dispensationalism, Dominionism and the Charismatic Movement.

It's stunning to see how they are all coalescing, working together and even uniting with the old foe of Rome. For years Conservatives were terrified of the Liberal Ecumenical movement. Liberal Christianity is dying a fast death. The Ecumenical Movement to be reckoned with is conservative and yet as far as you can be from Scripture.

Dominionism has provided the umbrella theology that is able to tie them all together. It recasts the nature of the spiritual conflict as a political and cultural one. It's Christendom vs. Secularism.

And yet the New Testament is abundantly clear the greatest threats are the wolves dressed as sheep, the false teachers who will make merchandise of God's people and seek to bring them into bondage, those that have a form of godliness but in the end deny its power... those who baptize sin.

Yes, listening to that podcast was a little depressing. It was nothing I didn't already know but sad nonetheless.

We're always told that change is always wrought by minority groups. It's largely true and has also been proven true within the Church. Few leaders today are fully aware of the intellectual origins of Dominionism. Few realize they've embraced 'something'... they just think of it as Biblical orthodoxy. The Kuyperian branch of Reformed Theology has borne fruit in ways it could have never imagined. Kuyper himself died in the 1920's but his descendants especially the 'bridge' figures like Francis Schaeffer continue to exert a massive influence over the American Church and increasingly the world.