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Peter Wagner New Book Preview

Dominion! Kingdom Action Can Change the World

By C. Peter Wagner




            I can remember when, not just a few of us evangelical leaders, but a whole lot of us would assume that a book on social transformation could be written only by a liberal.  Momentarily I want to explain the very interesting historical process that led us to that erroneous conclusion.

            First, however, I would like to say that we are clearly in a new season.  As I mentioned in the last chapter, the Holy Spirit has now begun to speak strongly to the churches about taking dominion, or, in other words, transforming society.   Now that we are in the Second Apostolic Age, we have in place a governmental infrastructure of the church much more capable of supporting an assignment to transform cities and nations and other social units that we have had before.

The Hebrew Mindset

            One of the most significant changes in this new wineskin is a distinct shift from what we could call the “Greek mindset” to the “Hebrew mindset.”  The Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, comes out of the background of a Hebrew mindset.  The basic idea behind the Hebrew mindset is that God and spiritual principles permeate all of life here on earth.  Some people call it “holistic.”   True, the New Testament was written in the Roman Empire which had assimilated the Greek mindset, but, with the exception of Luke, it was written by Jews.  However, as the church developed over the centuries, more and more of the Greco-Roman culture crept in until Emperor Constantine finally hijacked the church and, to all intents and purposes, completed the switch.

            Bryant Myers, Professor of Transformational Development at Fuller Seminary, is one of the most accomplished theoretician-practitioners of the current social transformation movement.  He calls it “transformational development.”  For years he has been on the forefront of trying to pull the church back into the Hebrew mindset.  In his book Walking with the Poor, here is how he explains what has been happening. 

            Myers says, “Throughout this book I will struggle to overcome problems presented by the persistent and insistent belief in the West [Myers is referencing the Greek mindset] that the spiritual and physical domains of life are separate and unrelated.  This assumption has invaded and controlled almost every area of intellectual inquiry, including development theory and practice as well as much Christian theology.  I will seek an understanding of development in which physical, social, and spiritual development are seamlessly interrelated.”[1]  This reflects the typical Hebrew approach to life.

Christians Should Change the World

            I agree with Bryant Myers, and clearly we are not the only ones who are thinking that way.  Another is James Davidson Hunter, a sociologist from the University of Virginia.  Look at this question that Hunter raises:  “While Americans are among the most religious people on earth” (56 per cent worship at least monthly, 43 percent weekly) “how is it that our culture is thoroughly secular?”[2]    Most of us have heard questions like this numerous times, and, to be honest, answers have been hard to come up with.  I believe that one of the causes of this is our Greek mindset which tells us that Christians should be concerned with saving souls and going to heaven rather than paying much attention to material things like transforming our societies.

            Hunter, to the contrary, says, “Most Christians in history have interpreted the creation mandate in Genesis as a mandate to change the world.”[3]  Consider what a radical suggestion this is.  As I think back to my years and years of graduate theological training, I cannot remember hearing such a thing from any of my professors.  I learned that, as Christian ministers, our assignment was to change people. The assumption was that if we got enough individuals saved, the world might then change.  I find it significant that James Davidson Hunter is a sociologist, not a theologian.

            Take Australia as an example.  Not many Americans realize that Australia has been showing signs of significant social transformation, a good deal of which is attributed to a new upsurge of Christians taking seriously their mandate to change the world.  Brian Pickering, head of the Australian Prayer Network, comments, “Not for many years have Christians had such an impact on a federal election.  Not for many years has the Christian faith been the centre of national focus and discussion through all forms of the media . . . This election may come to be acknowledged as the turning point when personal faith took over from political correctness as the greatest influence upon the future direction of our society.”[4]

            As Christian believers, when we read something like this we want to applaud.  It makes so much sense.  Instead of letting society take its own course, why shouldn’t we move out there, get our hands dirty, and change things for the good?   We should!  I believe that we will be seeing things like what happened in Australia all over the world because it is what the Spirit is currently saying to the churches.  He will give us understanding and He will give us power to accomplish His purposes.

            Speaking of understanding, if we’re going to move in a new direction, we need to have a clear understanding of where we are at present.  And one of the ways of knowing where we are now is to understand how we got here.  Therefore, I think it will be very helpful at this point to paint some broad brush strokes across the canvas of social transformation history.

Social Transformation History

            Constantine became the emperor of Rome in the 4th Century.  As I mentioned earlier, the philosophical underpinnings of the Roman Empire had been molded by the Greek mindset.  Famous thinkers of the past like Plato and Aristotle had shaped people’s views of reality.  They believed that reality had two overriding dimensions, the spiritual and the natural.  The purest arena was the spiritual, the world of ideas.  The natural or the material world was a necessary part of life, but an inferior arena.  To the degree that people could absorb the spiritual and succeed in distancing themselves from the natural, the better off they would be.

            This Greco-Roman perspective, sometimes known as “dualism,” was different from God’s original design for the world.  He had no plans to separate the spiritual from the material, but rather to keep them both as integrated parts of the whole.  What happens in the natural always affects the spiritual and vice versa.  God’s revelation, the Bible, is based on this presupposition which we have been calling the Hebrew mindset.

            The church began in the Roman Empire among a small demographic unit, namely the Jews.  While all of the first believers in Jesus the Messiah were Jews, the gospel soon began to spread to the Gentiles and before long the Jews became a minority in the church.  It was natural for the Jewish believers to see life through a Hebrew mindset, but for the Gentiles it required a paradigm shift.  As the centuries leading to Constantine went by, predictably the prevailing Greco-Roman culture gained more and more of an influence over church leaders.  Even though the Bible was birthed in Hebrew culture, it increasingly was interpreted and applied to the church through the dualistic ideas of the Greek mindset.

            What does this have to do with social transformation?   The surrounding culture influences the church.   It always has and it always will.  However, as we will see in detail in the next chapter, the church is part of the kingdom of God.  Every culture, including the Greco-Roman culture, has been corrupted to one degree or another by the works of the enemy, and it is the duty of God’s people to identify and change those ungodly aspects of culture so that God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

            Emperor Constantine professed conversion to Christianity.  I say “professed,” because only God knows if he was truly born again or if his actions were more of a political expedient than a spiritual experience.  In any case, Constantine started a state church, making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  At first this may seem like true social transformation, a victory for the kingdom of God.  True, it did have some short-term benefits.  For example, widespread persecution of the church became illegal, and as a result many more were born again.  But long-range, it ended up producing negative effects which we are still struggling with today.

            Here’s what happens with a state church.  Instead of the church transforming the government, the government transforms the church.  Under Constantine and his successors, the church became spiritually impotent and ended up in what we know as the Dark Ages.  The church is called to influence the government, but not to rule over society.  This is one reason why the threat of Muslim sharia law is so terrifying.  We Christians learned our lesson through Constantine.

The Reformers

            A huge change came with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century.  The two most outstanding leaders of the Reformation were Martin Luther of Germany and John Calvin of Geneva. 

            Martin Luther, the great reformer who broke the bondage of medieval Catholicism, laid the basic theological foundations of our Protestant movement with doctrines like the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the priesthood of all believers.  All of us have benefited from his courageous and brilliant theological breakthroughs.

            However, relating to our subject, Luther maintained the standard Greek-oriented dualism prevalent since Constantine.   H. Richard Niebuhr, a recognized analyst of Luther’s thought, says, “[Luther] seems to have a double attitude toward reason and philosophy, toward business and trade, toward religious organizations and rites, as well as toward state and politics . . . Luther divided life into compartments, or taught that the Christian right hand should not know what a man’s worldly left hand was doing.”[5]

            Luther himself said, “There are two kingdoms, one the kingdom of God, the other a kingdom of the world . . . God’s kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy . . . but the kingdom of the world is a kingdom of wrath and severity . . . Now he who would confuse these two kingdoms . . . would put wrath into God’s kingdom and mercy into the world’s kingdom, and that is the same as putting the devil in heaven and God in hell.”[6]  Luther was far from holistic.

            I mention this because, in contrast, John Calvin, Luther’s fellow reformer, had a more positive view of the mandate of the church to get involved with and transform culture.  Neibuhr says, “More than Luther [Calvin] looks for the present permeation of all life by the gospel.  His more dynamic conception of the vocations of men as activities in which they may express their faith and love and may glorify God in their calling . . . leads to the thought that what the gospel promises and makes possible . . . is the transformation of mankind in all its nature and culture into a kingdom of God.”[7]

            A contemporary term for this position of John Calvin that I will refer to from time to time in this book is the “cultural mandate.”  By it I mean, simply, that we have an assignment from God to take dominion and transform society. 

               An example of how this cultural mandate played out in real life happened in Holland around 1900 through one of Calvin’s disciples, Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper, an ordained Reformed minister and a renowned theologian, said that his deepest desire was “that in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school, and in the state for the good of the people to carve, as it were, into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord . . . until the nation pays homage again to God.”[8]  In order to make this happen, Kuyper ran for and was elected Prime Minister of Holland.  He truly brought social transformation to a nation.

               But only for a time.  It could be that one of the reasons why Holland did not remain a transformed nation for long was that Kuyper lacked insights into the strategic-level spiritual dimensions of social transformation.   He did not explicitly tune in to the proactive role that Satan, along with the principalities and powers of darkness, played in infecting societies with unrighteousness,  For him, principalities and powers were sinful human social institutions rather than demonic beings per se.  Because we are now correcting this, I have strong hopes that we will see the kinds of social changes that Kuyper brought sustained through succeeding generations.

The U.S. Constitution and the Modern Missionary Movement

               Neither Luther nor Calvin took steps to disband the structures of the state church which Constantine instituted.  Both before and after the Reformation, it was assumed that the government should be in charge of the church.  Churches like the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Reformed Church, the Anglican Church, and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) were the only churches in their nations recognized and supported by the government.  It seems strange to us today that pastors, for example, would be government employees, but such a thing commonly  happens with state churches. 

               Parenthetically, it is important to note that a major reason why Abraham Kuyper could accomplish what he did was that his Dutch Reformed Church was the official state church of Holland at the time.  That is one reason why today’s strategies for social transformation will necessarily be different from Kuyper’s.

               The U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1783, and the Modern Missionary Movement pioneered by William Carey who went from England to India in 1792, fostered some of the first significant alternatives to state churches.  The Constitution prohibited a state church in the United States.  Also, when missionaries from state churches went to Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim or animistic nations, state churches were no longer possible.  The result was the emergence of what we now know as denominations.

               Faced with this new religious reality, the idea of transforming society began to take a back seat.  Most people didn’t know how to transform society without a state church.   The missionary movement began to focus on what we call the “evangelistic mandate” to the exclusion of the cultural mandate.  Winning souls and planting churches became the agreed upon central task.  Improving the immediate social situation on the mission field by establishing schools and hospitals and orphanages and the like was common enough, but it was generally seen as a means toward saving more souls rather than as an effort to change the nation itself. 

               This focus on the evangelistic mandate also carried over to the great spiritual awakenings that have punctuated American history.  Social reforms such as women suffrage, abolition of slavery and temperance were notable exceptions, not the rule.  None produced structural social transformation.

The Social Gospel

               In the late 1800s, the voice of Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester, New York, began to be heard.   He attempted to bring the cultural mandate back to one of the front burners of the missionary movement alongside the evangelistic mandate.   He is remembered today as one of the more prominent pioneers of what soon came to be called the Social Gospel Movement.

               Unfortunately, it was at this point that the liberal element of the church succeeded in co-opting the cultural mandate.  Ironically, Rauschenbusch himself advocated that the evangelistic mandate should be kept primary, but he wasn’t able to stem the liberal tide.  His Social Gospel followers alienated themselves from evangelicals by (1) attributing the root of social evil in the U.S. to capitalism, and (2) removing the evangelistic mandate from their agenda.

               This caused a strong negative reaction among evangelical leaders as we moved into the 1900s.   It helped provoke, among other things, the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.  It caused evangelicals to reject the idea of social transformation because it became stereotyped as a liberal doctrine.  This is why I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter that there was a time when any book on social transformation, like this one, would have been assumed to be written by a liberal.

               That, of course, has now changed.  As best I can track it, the changes began in the 1960s.  At that time, the Holy Spirit started speaking strongly to biblical, evangelical Christians about their responsibility to care for the poor and the oppressed.  It seems like many of those who had ears to hear at the time were Latin American evangelical leaders.  Unfortunately, some took the cultural mandate to an extreme and ended up with a flawed Latin American Theology of Liberation.  Following in the footsteps of the U.S. Social Gospel, they appeared to regard the evangelistic mandate as a historical relic.  Many liberal Latin American theologians seemed to be saying that the true message of the gospel was to save society from North American capitalism rather than to save souls and grow churches.

               Back then, I was still serving as a field missionary in Latin America, I observed the trends first hand, and I was one of those who began to wave red flags.  I decided to put my thoughts into a book, Latin American Theology: Radical or Evangelical? in order to warn others of this emerging liberalism.  As soon as I did, I was blindsided by passionately negative reactions to my book on the part of some of my evangelical Latin American friends such as Samuel Escobar and René Padilla and Orlando Costas.  I thought they would have agreed with my plea to keep the evangelistic mandate front and center.  However, their main concern was that, to all intents and purposes, I was purposely neglecting the cultural mandate to transform society.  Looking back, I now see that they were correct, although I must confess that at the time I proceeded to argue publicly and rather strenuously against them.

Lausanne 1974

               The major turning point leading to where we are today, was the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974.  Sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and attended by 4,500 hand-picked delegates from virtually every nation of the world, the major focus was on the evangelistic mandate.  However, enough people were there, including the Latin Americans I have mentioned, to bring the cultural mandate strongly to the attention of the Congress.

               A controversy of sorts arose when the official position paper of the Congress, the Lausanne Covenant, was drafted.  Much to the relief of my Latin American friends and others like them, the Lausanne Covenant included the cultural mandate.  This was a decided break from the past.  However, much to their disappointment, it stated that the evangelistic mandate was “primary.”  They wanted the two mandates to be placed on an equal plane, not one over the other.  In fact they were so passionate with their objections that they noisily refused to sign the Lausanne Covenant, deciding to draft their own counter-covenant which they proceeded to sign instead. 

               It so happened that an ongoing body of 48 emerged from the congress called the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE), and I turned out to be one of the 48.  My Latin American friends were not eligible because they had not signed the Lausanne Covenant.   For the next 15 years, the course of LCWE was largely set by a Theology Working Group headed up by John Stott of U.K. and a Strategy Working Group which I headed up.  While I was using my influence to keep the evangelistic mandate central, John Stott, who was the principal author of the Lausanne Covenant, was undergoing a paradigm shift, strongly swayed by my Latin American friends.  Consequently, we found ourselves in an ongoing creative tension.

               It is fascinating to me to review the public dialogue on issues related to social transformation that peaked during the 1980s, since (1) I was a key player and (2) I now see that I was on the wrong side.  John Stott at one time before Lausanne had said, “The commission of the church is not to reform society, but to preach the Gospel.”[9]   Not long after that he began to change his position and he became an advocate of social transformation, just the opposite of where he was before.  John Stott made this change  probably twenty years before I finally did.   Meanwhile, we convened two LCWE-related international meetings as platforms to air our differing views, one in Pattaya, Thailand (1980), and one in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1982).

               Just for the record, here is the kind of thing I was saying at the time:  “From beginning to end [the Pattaya meeting] took a clear and direct stand on the issue of the primacy of evangelism … While recognizing that the cultural mandate is indeed part of holistic mission, [the meeting] refused to go the route of the World Council of Churches and make it either primary or equal to evangelism.”[10]  Unfortunately, now that I’m looking back, I can see that, regrettably, my influence and that of others like me persisted even to the Grand Rapids meeting which was much more overtly oriented toward the cultural mandate than previous gatherings.  The final paper said, among other things:

               Seldom if ever should we have to choose between satisfying physical hunger  and spiritual hunger, or between healing bodies and saving souls, since authentic love for our neighbor will lead us to serve him or her as a whole  person.  Nevertheless, if we must choose, then we have to say that the supreme and ultimate need of all humankind is the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and that therefore a person’s eternal, spiritual salvation is of greater importance than his or her temporal and material well-being.[11]

               Over the years since then, the evangelical community has become more and more comfortable with the cultural mandate without fearing it would dilute the evangelistic mandate.  By 2005, for example, the Mission America Coalition under Paul Cedar, which is the U.S. branch of LCWE, had begun to gear its programs toward transforming America, calling for cities to be renewed and redeemed.  This was a departure from the past.

Taking Our Cities for God, 1990.

               Meanwhile the charismatically-inclined evangelicals in the U.S. began to move in a direction somewhat different from traditional evangelicals by taking the biblical mandate for strategic-level spiritual warfare more seriously.  Previous to 1990, not much had been written about, preached on, or discussed among leaders concerning high-ranking principalities and powers assigned by Satan to keep whole segments of society in darkness and misery.

               This began to change in the last large meeting of the Lausanne Movement which took place in Manila in 1989.   In Manila no fewer than five of the international leaders who had been invited to speak chose to address the phenomenon of what came to be called “territorial spirits.”  I happened to be one of them.  Before the meeting was over, I sensed the Lord prompting me to take a leadership role in communicating this concept to the body of Christ in general.

               As I will detail in Chapter 6, a group of us subsequently formed a roundtable called Spiritual Warfare Network (SWN) to investigate issues concerning territorial spirits.  One of the members of the SWN was John Dawson who had just published his landmark book, Taking Our Cities for God.  In my opinion, it was his book, which sold 100,000 copies in 1990 alone, that firmly placed the cultural mandate on the agenda of charismatically-inclined evangelicals.  By expanding the plan of action from winning individuals to taking whole social units such as cities, Dawson initiated a major paradigm shift which has grown stronger through the years.  Taking action aimed at social transformation is no longer the exclusive domain of social-gospel liberals; those of us on the conservative end of the spectrum have now readjusted our priorities as well.

“Social Transformation”

               As more and more of the church begins to strategize along these lines, the sooner we can reach a general agreement on terminology the better we will be able to communicate with each other.  I would like to argue that “social transformation,” along with its derivatives, might be the most useful term.  Some have been using “city taking” or “city reaching” or “transforming culture” or “renewal” or “restoration” or “reformation” or “redeeming the city.”  Each of these terms has merit, but they tend to scatter us instead of bringing us to a unified focus.  With heavyweights like George Otis, Jr. (the Transformations series of videos), Luis Bush (Transform World), and Alistair Petrie (Transformed! People, Cities, Nations) using it, the term seems to be gaining acceptance.

               Once we agree that social transformation is a useful term, we must also agree on what we mean by it and how we measure it.

               Luis Bush points out that the biblical word for transformation is derived from metamorpho, the word also used for a caterpillar being metamorphosed into a butterfly.  Bush says, “Unlike reformation, [transformation] does not merely tinker with society; it changes it from inside out.”  He goes on to say, “[Transformation] may be characterized by pervasive awareness of the reality of God, a radical correction of social ills, a commensurate decrease in crime rates, supernatural blessing on local commerce, healing of the brokenhearted (the alienated and disenfranchised), regenerative acts of restoring the productivity of the land, and an exporting of kingdom righteousness.”[12]

               The analogy of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly also helps us come to realistic terms as to how to measure social transformation.  The tendency over the past few years has been to use fuzzy measurements based mostly on anecdotes.  Some lists of transformed cities or nations have reached into the hundreds.  But what is meant by “transformed?”  In most cases it means that the city is better off than it used to be.  Some porn shops have closed or a school district has improved or a bank prays for its customers or the rate of AIDS has been reduced or wells have been dug or races have been reconciled or the economy has improved and on and on.  I don’t mean to trivialize any of the above, but I do not agree that any one of them, or even a cluster of a few of them, warrants using the past tense “transformed.”  Saying that certain cities are “in the process of transformation” would be much better.

               I believe that our goal should be nothing short of sociologically verifiable transformation.  By this I mean that an independent, outside, qualified observer, using standard tools of social science or investigative reporting concludes that the social unit is now as different from what it used to be as a butterfly is from a caterpillar.  Is this too high a standard?  I don’t think so.  It seems to me that if we allow half-hearted, anecdotal measurements of transformation based largely on unprofessional enthusiasm, we put ourselves in danger of watering down the true message of the kingdom of God which is for us to take dominion.

Almolonga, Guatemala

               One of the best examples of sociologically verifiable transformation that we have to date is Almolonga, Guatemala.  Almolonga was featured in George Otis Jr’s first transformations video, and since then it has become a popular Christian tourist attraction.  Let’s conclude this chapter by excerpting from a 2005 news release from CBN’s Christian World News:

                 Imagine a town where there are so few crimes the jails have been closed, and  the food crops are so big and luscious they could have come from the Garden of Eden.The majority of Almolonga’s 18,000 residents are farmers . . . On a typical market day, during one of the 8 harvests per year, tons and tons of fresh vegetables are gathered in the town center for export.  Here they are loaded onto large tractor-trailers.  An average of 40 of these tractor-trailers a day leave Almolonga, loaded with some of the finest produce grown in the Western Hemisphere. . . The trailers that haul away vegetables are most often pulled by Mercedes Benz trucks.

               It’s been estimated that over 90% of Almolonga’s people are now born again  Christians. . . A generation ago, there were only 4 churches here.  Today there are 23!

               Pastor Harold Caballeros of El Shaddai Church in Guatemala City says repentance and revival have completely transformed Almolonga!  Pastor Harold explained, “The mentality and the way of thinking of the people has changed so drastically!  Changed from a culture of death, a culture of alcoholism, idolatry and witchcraft, to a culture today where they think only about expanding the kingdom of God—prosperity, blessing, healing.”[13]

               Social transformation?  Yes, it can really happen through the power of God!


[1] Bryant L. Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development                 (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1999), p.1.

[2] Joe Woodard, “Solving the secular paradox: How can Christians influence world culture?” Calgary                 Herald, Observer Section, p. B7.

[3] Personal correspondence with James D. Hunter, January 11, 2007.

[4] Brian Pickering, “Christian Influence on Australian Politics Clearly Growing,” City Harvest Prayerlink,                 December 1, 2004, p. 3.

[5] H. Richard Neibuhr, Christ and Culture (New York NY: Harper & Row Publishers, 1951), p.171.

[6] Ibid., pp 171-172.

[7] Ibid., pp. 217-218.

[8] Quoted in D. James Kennedy, “God’s Purpose for Our Lives,” Business Reform, July/August 2002,       p. 17.

[9] John R. W. Stott, “The Great Commission” in One Race, One Gospel, One Task, ed. Carl F. H. Henry and                 W. Stanley Mooneyham (Minneapolis MN: World Wide Publications, 1967), vol. 1, p. 50.

[10] C. Peter Wagner, “Lausanne’s Consultation on World Evangelization: A Personal Assessment,” quoted   in Waldron Scott, “The Significance of Pattaya,” p. 74, in Jacob Thomas, From Lausanne to            Manila: Evangelical Social Thought (Delhi, India: ISPCK, 2003) p.117.

[11] Lausanne Occasional Papers No. 21 Grand Rapids Report.  Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An                 Evangelical Commitment.  (n.p., A Joint Publication of the Lausanne Committee for World                 Evangelization and the World Evangelical Fellowship, 1982), p. 25.

[12] Luis Bush, “Transform World Indonesia 2005,” privately published and circulated, p. 14.

[13] Sarah Pollak, “Guatemala: The Miracle of Almolonga,” CWNews, June 10, 2005, CBN.com.

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