I once learned a very useful metric from the late Gary North, one that describes virtually every circumstance in which religion interacts with culture. Putting it in a shoebox, there are three basic ways that religion can respond to culture, or interact with society generally. Or, looking at it from yet another angle, there are three different kinds of religion—power religion, escape religion, and dominion religion.
And by religion, I am not excluding the godless ones—secularism, for example. Every worldview that deals with the ultimate issues of human existence can fit into one of these three categories. All human cultures contain corridors of power, and these different religious mentalities react to this fact, this reality, in different ways. One gravitates toward those power corridors, seeking to walk alongside the big boys in them, and to get themselves a piece of the action. One tries to get away from those power centers, and just wants to be left alone—he knows he serves a hard master, one who reaps where he has not sown, and so he takes his talent off and buries it in a napkin. The third wants to subvert those power centers, and see them transformed into another sort of governance altogether.
Power, escape, or dominion. Play the game and play to win, or get away from the game and go up to your room, or change the game into something more edifying—and more truly human. And that is why it has to be dominion for my money. And there is no such thing as dominion without Christ.
Sometimes the Labels are Misleading
But before getting into a straightforward analysis of these different approaches, I need first to caution against a particular form of camouflaged confusion.
There are some who are pure examples of the different types. An example of power religion would be Cardinal Richelieu, maneuvering against the Huguenots. An example of escape religion would be a simple Amish farmer tending to his field of corn. An example of dominion . . . well, we don’t have too many examples of dominion religion yet. But we are getting there. Patience, patience. More about this shortly.
But the situation is somewhat complicated in our current ecclesiastical politics by the fact that many mainstream Reformed evangelicals have been acting as though they wanted to be tagged with an “above it all” label, arguing that Christians just need to stay gospel-focused, and not to get involved in worldly politics.
But this purported third way is not a third way at all, but merely a staging platform for those who are eventually going to make their peace with the left. So what this actually happened to be was a maneuver to keep them from having to dragged into the culture wars in a way they didn’t like. They did not want to be tarred with a label like “right-wing” or “conservative” because that would get them lumped in with the mouth-breathers. Their “above it all” coquetry was a way of sucking up to the power religionists of the left. It buys them time, in other words, at least until it is safe to join up with the left openly.
Do you think I overstate things? I really don’t see any other way to account for just how rapidly vast swaths of evangelicalism collapsed into various incoherent wokeries, thus spurning the based vision of the psalmist.
“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wokedness.”
Psalm 84:10 (KJV, adjusted for the times)
Evangelicals collapsed so rapidly it is almost as though they were waiting for a signal to do so. Like the surrender was pre-arranged.
At some earlier point somebody shrewd had determined that it would be easier to get Christians into the grip of the left by keeping them in the holding tank of faux-neutrality for a time, as opposed to trying to get them to that same lefty place from a place of decided conservatism. It can be done, of course, and has been done, but there there are a lot more intermediate steps, and then there is the time and money involved.
In other words, the lack of political involvement on the part of a church that was being put on ice was a lack of involvement in one direction only. “The elders have decided not to announce the march for life because we think we really need to stay gospel centered, gospel focused.” Thank you, you might say. But why then did we announce the Awareness Night for the Battered Wives of Super Bowl Sunday? The answer is that certain kinds of social, cultural, and political involvement are Approved, and others are Not Approved. There are the Cool Kid Issues (CKI), like sex trafficking, and there are Leftover Moral Majority Issues (LMMI), like abortion. If a racial reconciliation rally is encouraged by your session, and you ask where the much bally-hooed two kingdoms doctrine went, you, my friend, are in serious trouble. The material out of which a dedicated gospel-focus in your local church is manufactured is in fact stretchy, but it only stretches to the left. Always remember that.
And if you got indignant when I called the fight against sex trafficking an “approved cause,” and want to know what’s wrong with fighting that particular evil, the answer is that nothing is wrong with fighting it—just as long as you keep fighting it after the language brokers declare sex work a constitutional right, and a human right, and that those who fight it are perpetrating hateful stereotypes. If you keep on fighting after that point, then you are the real deal, and not a poser, and my hat’s off to you.
I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I know anything about this song, but I did live through the eighties, and I did want to know what the younger generation back in those days was listening to. Had to stay reverrlant, fellow kids. And of course it now gives me kind of a warm glow to think that the sixteen-year-olds in the year that song released are now approaching retirement. So there’s always a bright side to every situation, however grim it might seem. And of course, the reason for bringing this up is that on one level, everybody does want to rule the world.
Now in power religion, the two main instruments are coercion and manipulation—threats and lies. The state simply assumes the right of ownership of everything and issues bright idea after bright idea, all of them so good they have to be mandatory. Lies are preferred as they are generally cheaper, but the right arm of coercion is always there as the final backstop for them. Jesus taught us that the pagan mind naturally gravitates in this direction.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”
Matthew 20:25–26 (NKJV)
But godly authority does not operate this way. It is true authority, but it does not work through lies and coercion. Husbands have true authority in the home, ministers and elders in the church, and magistrates in the civil sphere. But when this true authority devolves into the kind of bullying that is basic to the heathen mind, we are taught that we shouldn’t be all that cooperative.
“For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.”
2 Corinthians 11:20 (NKJV)
The Christian worldview is inescapably hierarchical, but it is not a bullying hierarchy, and for more on this, see the section on dominion below.
The thing that is different about power religionists in our day is not the nature of their peculiar lust, but rather how expanded their field of lusts has become. C.S. Lewis outlined all of this in his prescient book The Abolition of Man. In the old days, a tyrannical ruler had limited scope. He could enslave everybody and make them build him some pyramids, but at the end of the day he could only wield his power over a limited range of the natural world. Now that technology and science have declared nothing in nature off limits, the despots have naturally expanded how much they want to dominate. Lewis outlined it clearly. The rape of nature was going to lead, eventually, to the rape of the nature of man, and hence the title—the abolition of man. The domineering ways of man over nature was going to lead to an assault on the nature of man himself, which was going to result in the eradication of mankind. We are witnessing the first waves of this now. This is what the tranny movement is all about, and trans-humanism is next after that.
I recently watched the Babylon Bee interview with R. Scott Clark, in which he (endearingly) appealed to natural law. He argued we should oppose these outrages on the basis of natural law. Okay, but let me pose a few questions to all out-maneuvered Christians everywhere. What is this “nature” you speak of? Is it created nature, as we read in Genesis, or is it the Big Bang nature that we read about everywhere else? In order to frame our laws in justice, we will have to make a “sectarian” decision, and if there is one thing that out-maneuvered Christians are allergic to, it is sectarian decisions. We would have to determine that Darwinism is a profound error, and to be rejected at the constitutional level. If there is no Creator God over nature, then there can be no such thing as natural law. This mean there can be no such thing as natural law in the law if there is no God in the law. If secular materialism is the case, then there is nothing in nature that you can appeal to.
And this is why we are stranded here, and in this terrible position. Our globalists rulers have staked their claim all right. They have said they have controlling rights when it comes to the climate, the weather, the water that falls out of the sky on your land, and any ducks that land on it, your chromosomes, your descendants, your thoughts, your memes, your children’s education, your gas stove, your voting, and your cis-identity.
For those of us who are prepared to say, “no, no, you don’t have any such right,” we are going to need a Book to appeal to, and a world that our Book said was shaped and fashioned by the same God who inspired the Book—meaning the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The god of Voltaire can’t save us—he’s dead now, and never did much of anything to begin with.
There is no place for compromise with the power religionists of our day. We have to go all the way back to first principles. When they say that there was this Big Bang, we must respond with, “Let us stop you right there.” One of the first principles we must remember is that water always flows downstream. He who says A will eventually say B. And so we cannot have natural law without nature, and we cannot have nature without nature’s God, and we cannot have nature’s God without Genesis, and we cannot have Genesis without Christian nationalism. Without such a line of reasoning, the power religionists remain in the driver’s seat.
There is no such thing as epistemic neutrality. If you want the judge to act as though the universe is something more than a meaningless concourse of atoms, you are going to have tell him why you think that. And before the judge makes his decision, he is going to have to come down on a side. If he comes down on one side, saying that there is a God, and that we are accountable to him, then this is first stirrings of mere Christendom. If he comes down on the side of the theological foundations of clown world, then brace yourselves for more of the same, although progressively worse.
When children play hide and seek, they hunt out different hiding places. It is no different here. Some Christians have hidden away in a cloistered community, which may be as large as what the Hutterites have, or as small as a single church. Some Christians hide away in the doctrine of a rapidly approaching rapture. Some Christians hide in their own personal peace and affluence. Like Hezekiah, they think something like peace and safety in my time. There are lots of places to hide. Other Christians hide in their own mortality—this world is not their home, they’re just passing through. Keep your head down, and don’t make any loud noises.
Some have figured out how to hide themselves, while others have clustered together with other Christians who provide them with a theological rationale for a shared escape religion.
There are non-Christians who seek to escape from the world as it is as well. Their preferred methods involve mind-altering substances like drugs or alcohol, big-time distractions like sex, porn, or Marvel movies, and sometimes more socially responsible things like meditation or personal enlightenment. And there is always the option of getting off social media.
But coming back to the Christians, we also must budget for human inconsistencies. I would call dispensationalism a theology of escape, for example, but there are fine Christians who are dispensational, and who are culturally engaged in productive and responsible ways. And there are Reformed Kuyperian types who think imagine cultural engagement means learning how to detect death and resurrection patterns in the hard-R movies they watch all the time. So they do that, and just drift along with whatever the world is up to, only five years behind.
Anyway, the escape option is that which is pursued by the “brave, brave Sir Robin” Christians. Hide out. Keep your head down. Don’t risk anything.
Dominion is the gift of God. It is grace. It cannot be seized, or bought, or stolen. It must come down to us the way water falls from the sky, and it must come up to us the way that a fruitful crop does. We must therefore pray and work for this kind of Deuteronomic blessing.
This is the true death and resurrection pattern. I began with an image of Lord Acton’s aphorism about power corrupting, and the thing that keeps dominion from being corrupted this way is the fact that the seed must first die and go into the ground before it can be fruitful (John 12:24). Power climbs the greasy pole of ambition, while dominion surrenders all of it, letting it all go. Power is how Hazael became the king of Syria (2 Kings 8:15), and dominion is how Joseph rose to prominence in Egypt (Gen. 41:39-44 ) and Daniel did in Babylon (Dan. 2:48). The first rung of the ladder for both was slavery, and in addition Joseph was a prisoner.
Dominion means staying on the road. Power religion is the right ditch, and escape religion is the left ditch. When you are laboring with dominion in mind, the escapists will all accuse you of playing the power game. Not only so, but because you are laboring quietly seeking the blessing of God on your work, the impatient power religionists will accuse you of quietism or escapism.
What we have been trying to do here in Moscow is build a culture. You cannot be a true participant in a culture war without a culture. Just as you cannot have a naval war without ships, or tank warfare without tanks, so also evangelicals cannot effectively engage in a culture war when we do not have a distinctively Christian culture. For too much of this last generation, our evangelical subculture, such as it is, has been a knock-off culture, an imitative culture, instead of something that grows out of a distinctively Christian vision of “all of Christ for all of life.” In saying this, we do not reject common grace, and we do not require a distinctively different Christian culture to have nothing in common with the culture of unbelievers. In both believing and unbelieving cultures, the water has to run through the pipes and not puddle on the floor.
But for far too long Christians have been allowing the world to establish their values for them. The results have been predictably atrocious. The end result is that we have large numbers of Christians who actually believe that we have an ethical obligation to give massive amounts of power to the state in a vain attempt to control the weather, and in a successful attempt to raise everyone’s taxes. They actually think that.
H.L. Mencken once said that trying to reform politics by sending good men to Washington is like trying to reform prostitution by staffing the brothel with virgins. His cynical observation is one that more of our people should have paid attention to. Christian organizations that promise to arrange a Senate internship for your bright young student are often just throwing our best and brightest into the maw of the state. Our response to the current craziness needs to be much more thoroughgoing than that. We need to be Christian across the board.
I don’t think Chesterton actually said this, but I think we can all agree that he should have. Those who do not stand for something do not believe in nothing—they will actually believe in anything. Before we engage with the adversary, we need to put away all of our idols.
“Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Now before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after him did any arise like him.”
2 Kings 23:24–25 (NKJV)
But being Christian across the board means that there has to be a willingness to die, a willingness to lose. That classical Christian school you started? Better to have it fold than to go woke, for example. Reluctance to die is the foothold that every form of worldliness has in us. Shrinking from death is the way that dominion is undone. It is the way that dominion becomes a grasping for something else. Shrinking from death is how we evade the fruitfulness that God promises us. The key to dominion and fruitfulness is to be found here. You don’t always have to die, but you always have to be willing to.
Look around. Why is the landscape littered with so many institutions that used to be Christian and now are solidly in the enemy’s camp? The reason is that there was always a fatal board meeting somewhere when they decided that unfaithful survival was better than faithful martyrdom.
Here is something that Chesterton actually did say.
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”G.K. Chesterton