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Dominion! Kingdom Action Can
Change the World
By C. Peter Wagner
ROUGH DRAFT ONLY!
A NEW HORIZON: SOCIAL
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
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
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
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?”
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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,
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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,
Social transformation? Yes,
it can really happen through the power of God!