Dominion v. Faithful Presence: Forces Battle For The Soul Of Evangelicalism

"When Christians turn to law, public policy, and politics as the last resort, they have essentially given up on a desire to persuade their opponents. They want the patronage of the state and its coercive power to rule the day." --James Davison Hunter

Should religion be politicized? Polls show that the vast majority of Americans don’t think so.

Unfortunately, an aggressive contingent of Religious Right activists disagrees.

In a recent issue of the Pentecostal magazine Charisma, charismatic religious leaders offered their vision of life for the church in 2020. Some had “visions” that would be a nightmare for the rest of us.

Militant evangelist Chuck Pierce said, “A new governmental order will arise before 2020. The restored government of God will be key to establishing this new order, as the church will regain its power to legislate the heavens.” He predicted war as “governments of the world both realign and come against God’s covenant plan in the earth.”

Pierce’s colleague Peter Wagner foresaw religious conservatives moving into a “kingdom mindset.”

“Instead of preaching a gospel of salvation or a gospel of the church,” he said, “we will be preaching the gospel of the kingdom…. We will take seriously the dominion mandate of seeing God’s will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. Our goal will be nothing less than the reformation of our society….”

Dominion. Over the rest of us.

That’s pretty scary stuff if you believe in freedom of conscience and church-state separation.

Fortunately, not all evangelicals think this way.

In an interview with Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine, James Davison Hunter lays out the case for repudiating the politicization of religion – whether it comes from the right or the left.

Hunter, a University of Virginia professor, is author of a new book – To Change The World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford) -- that decries the political agenda of Chuck Colson and James Dobson as “deeply flawed.” He says “the public witness of the church today has become a political witness” and argues for a “faithful presence” for Christians in society that is much more likely to change the world and honor God.

“The state,” Hunter told CT, “is the sole legitimate source of coercion and violence. When Christians turn to law, public policy, and politics as the last resort, they have essentially given up on a desire to persuade their opponents. They want the patronage of the state and its coercive power to rule the day.

“What makes this problematic, in my view, is that the dominant public witness of the church is political, rooted in narratives of injury and discourses of negation,” Hunter argues, criticizing both the Christian Right and the Christian Left.

Concludes Hunter, “Christians need to abandon talk about ‘redeeming the culture,’ ‘advancing the kingdom,’ and ‘changing the world.’ Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life.

“When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care -- again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.”

It’s clear that there is a struggle for the soul of evangelical Christianity. Who will win:  those like Hunter who think religion should be about God’s love or those like Colson, Dobson, Pierce and Wagner who want to see churches take political dominion over everyone?

The answer is incredibly important to us all.