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The Blessing of Dominion Theology

It’s something of a testament to the power of dishonest reporting that so many Christians believe that anyone writing on The Blessing of Dominion Theology must somehow be arguing for The Blessing of Abject Miserable Tyrannical Legalism.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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It’s something of a testament to the power of dishonest reporting that so many Christians believe that anyone writing on The Blessing of Dominion Theology must somehow be arguing for The Blessing of Abject Miserable Tyrannical Legalism. If you see a blessing in dominion theology, it is held, it can only be because you’ve turned a blind eye to the Scriptures, which supposedly bar anyone from forming such a dangerous view.

Dominion theology is equated with the yoke of bondage, to be repudiated and thrown off without further thought. That its critics might actually be echoing the raging nations so intent on bursting Christ’s bands asunder and casting His cords from them (Ps. 2:3) is summarily discounted. But there is a world of difference between saying you have a strong Biblical case and actually making good on that claim. To that end, let us consider the Biblical testimony regarding the relationship of blessing to the matter of dominion theology.

Some housecleaning is necessary before we can launch into a fair appraisal of the Biblical case. It is needful to sweep away distortions, slanders, libels, and evil reports. Rarely is dominion theology allowed the courtesy of setting forth its own distinctives.1 Words are stuffed into the mouths of dominion theologians by opponents intent on knocking down straw men. This near-universal tendency to malign dominion theology introduces a peculiar pathology: distancing oneself from dominion theology entails distancing oneself from the Bible. Whether done out of deliberation or ignorant inconsistency, the result is equally crippling.

Critics seem to think that dominion theology implies taking the existing massive government we currently have and forcibly installing Priests, Preachers, and Pastors (the Three P’s) at the top to run the show. Given the track record of the Three P’s, this is an admittedly unattractive option. It’s also an imaginary scenario with no foundation in fact, used to scare people away from dominion theology by invoking images of an American Taliban.

The truth be told, dominion theology goes the other direction entirely in its consistent call for decentralization of power.2 Modern man confuses the concept of dominion with domination, for in humanism the two are synonymous. In actuality, the ideas are radically different, but Christians often fail to discern the difference. As R. J. Rushdoony points out,

The Christian can never exercise sovereign power. As David tells us, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Ps. 62:11). At most, the Christian can exercise delegated power. His truest power comes from faithfulness to every word of God (Matt. 4:4). God’s law-word gives man the way to dominion, and dominion is not domination. Domination is the exercise of lawless power over others. Dominion is the exercise of godly power in our God-given sphere. The rejection of God’s sovereignty leads to domination; the affirmation of God’s sovereignty and His law is the foundation of dominion.3

Chalcedon is entering its forty-third year of setting the record straight on this fundamental issue, yet there remains no more heavily misrepresented position than that of the dominion theologians. From all that can be gathered, “truth is fallen in the street” (Isa. 59:14), but wisdom shall be justified of her children (Matt. 11:19).

How Do We Resolve the Question?

Some scholars have posed the challenging question, Is dominion theology a blessing or a curse? Behind this question is an even more important question: how do we determine if something is a blessing or a curse? By what standard is it to be determined to be one or the other? Do we appeal to historic precedents and analogies, or do we ground our answer unapologetically in the Scripture? The way we answer this question tells us a lot more about ourselves than it tells us about dominion theology.

It is understandable for humanists to reject dominion theology; humanism and dominion theology are clearly antithetical. But it is disturbing for Christians to dismiss dominion theology, for the substitutes offered up in its place (antinomianism, neoplatonism, taking nothing captive to Christ, and/or slothfulness raised to a theological ideal) are woefully destitute of any compelling scriptural support.

For surely it is to Scripture that we must resort if we wish to seek the mind of God on the question of our duty before Him. Making up answers as we go along is tantamount to simply doing what is right in our own eyes. This is bad enough, but we often compound this by asking God to bless this dereliction, leading to an oil-and-water mixture R. J. Rushdoony labeled baptized humanism. The baptism part is for show: the fundamental thing being retained was the core humanism that invariably lies behind all anti-dominionism.

We shall examine six different aspects of dominion theology as it relates to the question of blessing and blessedness: Blessing and Law, Blessing and Work, Blessing and Eschatology, The Buried Talent, The Beatitudes, and Blessing and Subjection under Christ’s Feet. We propose to establish, by appeal to Scripture, the close, intimate relationship of blessing with the key elements of dominion theology, taken severally and as a system. If, in the course of examining the scriptural data, this relationship is seen to be clearly revealed, we can come to only one conclusion: with all due respect, the opponents of dominion theology “have some ‘splainin’ to do.”

Blessing and God’s Law

It defies imagination that we should need to prove that God’s law is tightly correlated with God’s blessing. Misunderstanding concerning the “curse of the law” has evidently led many Christians into an erroneous mindset, one at war with the Bible itself, a mindset that sunders the Scriptures into bite-size bits of uneven relevance. This Scripture-slicing tactic raises a problem, since preachers very much want to appropriate many wonderfully relevant verses without really appropriating them—“possessing as if not possessing them” (1 Cor. 7:30). What to do when a verse needs to be tweaked to fit your theology, especially if it fits the tenets of dominion theology if left to stand as God had originally written it? Short answer: tweak it anyway.

There is no more brutalized victim of such illicit tweaking in all the Bible than Psalm One. As litmus tests go, the principle of Isaiah 8:20 (“[I]f they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them”) is a powerful tool, but an awareness of how Psalm One is being handled by an expositor of Scripture is no less important. You, the redeemed of God, need to maintain a continual vigil against the Psalm One Bait and Switch.

The Psalm One Bait and Switch

Psalm One, at the head of the Psalter, pronounces a blessing. This Psalm is all about blessing, in fact, and it premises the blessing that it promises on certain specific things. This Psalm is fairly clear about what those things are. The language isn’t muddled or vague.

The reason the verse gets tweaked is not to introduce clarity to a vague verse, but to rob the Psalm of clarity and introduce vagueness where there was none before. This is the principle of the Psalm One Bait and Switch.

Blessed is the man who … meditates on God’s law day and night. By way of the bait and switch, the last clause becomes transmuted, in sermon after sermon, into “meditates on God’s Word.” That’s Step One of the bait and switch. Step Two happens when the term “God’s Word” is shifted entirely OFF the law that the psalmist mentions onto passages of the New Testament where the law isn’t the topic of discussion at all. The bait and switch completely reverses the intent of David the psalmist with absolute impunity. This is conservative Biblical scholarship?

How can the blessing arise when the stated cause of the blessing (meditation on God’s law) has been arbitrarily struck down by our pastors and seminary professors? You, the flock of God, are then forced to choose between the authority of the scribes and the authority of God Himself on the matter. This bait and switch cuts Christians off from the blessings God would otherwise bestow, for the reader is being led astray as to David’s meaning.

It is equally clear that once the bait and switch has been taught, and Christians mentally substitute “New Testament” for “God’s law” when they read this Psalm, they will be unable to see the blessing that dominion theology brings. They have already blinded themselves with artificial blinkers to God’s own promises. They see very different words than these: “[The blessed man’s] delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Critics of dominion theology generally do not delight in the law of the Lord, nor do they meditate upon it day and night. In their view, no blessing can come from doing so.

They’d be more honest to cross out the words of this Psalm than to adjust the wording to suit their revisionist approach to God’s revelation. Their intention is obvious, and they’ve hit the target quite well: Christians read Psalm One and then flip forward to the New Testament. One in a thousand might actually flip back to the source of blessing the psalmist bore such solemn witness to.

Blessing and Cursing Are Indexed to Law, Justice, and Righteousness

The list of Scriptures that link blessing with obedience to God’s law, and cursing with rebellion against His statutes and precepts, is a long one. They dovetail perfectly with Psalm One.

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. (Ps. 112:1 NIV, emphasis added)
Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right. (Ps. 106:3 NIV, emphasis added)
Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law (Psalm 94:12 NIV, emphasis added)
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse; the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today (Deut. 11:26–27 NIV, emphasis added)
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Prov. 29:18 NIV, emphasis added. See also Deut. 27:26, 28:1, 30:19; Josh. 8:34; Ps. 119:1–2, 21; Luke 11:28; James 1:25)

Dominion theology’s emphasis on the law of God as a source of blessing is hardly an idea foisted onto the Bible. The Bible itself witnesses to this association, and does so consistently. Although the Bible condemns the idea that justification can be secured by keeping the law (an idea that finds no support in either Old Testament or New), it magnifies God’s law as the pattern of sanctification for the redeemed to walk by.

Failure to distinguish abuse of the law from the right use of the law can create the erroneous impression that the New Testament is opposed to God’s law as a standard for Christian conduct. To forestall this conclusion, Paul informs us that “the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8). That there can be an unlawful use of the law does not rule out a good, lawful use of it. Dominion theology is predicated on the lawful use of the law, the law that Paul calls upon Christians everywhere to establish (Rom. 3:31). Only a lawful use of God’s law can deliver a blessing, and it is this use of it that dominion theology defends and promotes, to the end that God’s blessings would extend to all those who are called by His Name.

Blessing and Work

There is no more distinctive component to dominion theology than its emphasis on work, the primary domain where dominion is to be exercised. Work includes vocation, but much more as well. Competing theologies call upon man to enter into a holding pattern, often teaching that little can be achieved in such spheres since Christians are not called to exercise godly dominion therein. Dominion theology sees work, godly labor in all spheres and discipline, as God’s ordained means of extending His dominion “from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10).

The association of God’s blessing upon dominion, upon work, is established early on at man’s creation, in Gen. 1:28, where blessing and dominion are tied together. Too many theologians today are anxious to cut God’s people off from this connection, on the assumption that work is now an irrevocably cursed activity and that (by implication) dominion theology can never bring a blessing since a fountain can’t bring forth both salt water and fresh water (James 3:12).

Such an anti-dominion stance would have been easier to establish had there not been continued testimony to God’s blessing being laid upon work done to His honor and glory (the basis of dominion theology’s approach to all labor):

The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. (Deut. 2:7a NIV, emphasis added)
There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deut. 12:7 NIV, emphasis added)
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. (Deut. 28:5 NIV, emphasis added)
You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. (Job 1:10b NIV, emphasis added)
[H]ow blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free. (Isa. 32:20 NIV, emphasis added)

The blessings upon diligence are rife throughout the book of Proverbs. Dominion theology is nothing less than a theology of diligence, of total commitment to the King to bring all things in subjection to Him, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in every realm, particularly in every work of our hands. Note the contrast between productivity and indolence reflected in Hebrews 6:

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Heb. 6:7–8 NIV, emphasis added)

A misconception concerning God’s blessing of work needs to be pointed out. Mark 4:28 establishes the pattern of blessing with respect to the Kingdom of God and our work: “For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” R. J. Rushdoony identifies the misconception with precision: it is the expectation of “quick or immediate results in the growth of God’s Kingdom. If we plant grain, we must cultivate it, often water it, tend to the field, and, only after much labor, reap a harvest.”4 This is the pattern that dominion theology recognizes as God’s plan for godly dominion.

As Rushdoony adds, “[O]ur Lord describes quick growth as false (Matt. 13:5–6, 20–21).”5 The revolutionary call for instant growth, particularly in God’s church, leads to disaster for the preachers who pursue it: “Such men often do better at growing weeds than grain.”6 Dominion theology expressly condemns “the myth of victory by revolution,” the gospel of instant growth.7 As Rushdoony summarizes it,

Our Lord is very clear: the pattern of the Kingdom of God is like that of the earth which bringeth forth fruit of itself. There is an order and a progression from the seed, to the first green shoot to emerge, to the cultivated growth, and finally the harvest. Both time and work are essential.8

Slothfulness is the antithesis of dominion theology’s emphasis (see “The Ten-Toed Sloth” in my article The Perpetual Kindergarten for an exposition of Heb. 5:11 in this regard).9 A long-term vision pinned to vocation, to diligent labor in the fields ripe unto harvest (wherever we may find them), lies at the heart of dominion theology. When God finds His people so occupied, His blessings will be poured out “on the work of our hands,” so long as we’re working to self-consciously glorify Him in all (and dominion theology takes this to literally mean all) that we do.

Blessing and Eschatology

Distinctive to dominion theology is its view of the future, a time when the promised blessings of the Bible come upon all men then living, when “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; Acts 3:25 NKJV), wherein “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” in Abraham (Gen. 18:18), “the heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). The Great Commission, driven forward by the gradual pouring out of God’s Spirit upon all flesh, is God’s ordained means for securing this blessing, namely, through the foolishness of preaching and the power of an almighty Spirit.

Dominion theology prays the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer in faith, and works for the day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. This emphasis has, inexplicably, been criticized as a route to curses, not blessings, by the critics of dominion theology. We are apparently expected to pray one way, and work in another direction altogether! Perhaps our prayers and labors were intended to align more harmoniously than our critics are willing to grant.

It is common for our premillennial and amillennial brethren to argue that dominion theologians are blind to God’s judgments in history, blind to the crippling pervasiveness of man’s sin nature.10 But it’s impossible to read any appreciable sequence in Chalcedon’s voluminous output without being confronted with Christendom’s most realistic and scripturally relevant assessment of man’s sin nature and God’s judgments in history. If anything, it’s the other prophetic views that discount current judgments as being a mere warm-up for something bigger. Dominion theology can see God’s judgments for what they are: God being the governor among the nations, now (Ps. 22:28).

Dominion theology ties the affairs of men and nations to God’s covenant of blessing and cursing. When competing eschatologies have seen plagues, wars, earthquakes, and famines, they’ve pointed to Matthew 24 … and, for twenty centuries, have been dead wrong in doing so. Dominion theologians see the same events and point to Deuteronomy 28. The covenantal blessings and curses tied to God’s law are thus relevant to dominion theology as it interprets history and how it moves toward the era when no man need teach his neighbor saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Him, from the least unto the greatest (Heb. 8:11). Dominion theology teaches the widest possible extension of God’s blessing of any orthodox Christian theology. To question dominion theology’s relationship to blessing is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. Dominion theology is the theology of blessing, par excellence.

The Buried Talent

If the message of dominion theology is unpopular, it’s because it affirms that far too many Christians have buried the talent. Dominion, by definition, entails taking what God has given us and working with it, being productive with it, and therefore multiplying God’s stake in it. Dominion theology is thus the antithesis of easy-believism and slothful conduct.

Perhaps more upsetting to dominion theology’s critics is the other implication of the position, namely, that such slothfulness is ultimately traitorous, for Christ’s Kingship is implicitly denied over anything we refuse to treat as His property. Two things, it is said, never sleep: God and rust. If we fail to labor on God’s behalf in His world on His orders, then rust will gain the upper hand. At the moral level, such slothfulness delivers victory notices to Satan stamped “won by forfeit.” The Christians refused to engage. Perhaps our troops spend too much time at pleasant retreats.

This is the offense of dominion theology: its message implicitly suggests that until we move in terms of dominion theology, we’re probably burying the talent and failing to redeem the time properly. Such a message, if true (and we believe it is), will be a tough sell if the champions of dominion theology are perceived to be caustic, judgmental, and harsh in their discourse. The challenge is to issue a clear wake-up call (1 Cor. 14:8) while not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax (Isa. 42:3; Matt. 12:20). When men and women who take Scripture seriously are mature enough to strike this difficult balance, the blessings (Luke 12:43) that dominion theology preaches will overtake God’s church.

The Beatitudes

It is sufficient to note that the opening twenty verses in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1–20) break down into clear sections: a list of blessings, the salt of the earth, an impossible-to-hide city, an unquenchable lamp, and Christ’s canonization of God’s law as eternally valid. Our Lord had no difficulty putting a positive endorsement of God’s law in close conjunction to an extended pronouncement of blessings. The notion that any appeal to God’s law obliterates blessings is preposterous on the face of it.

While no scholar would dare dispute that blessings are iterated in the first twelve verses, no end of efforts have been made to evade the positive force of Matthew 5:17–18. The most compelling exegetical analyses of these critical verses were done by H. A. W. Meyer11 and Benjamin B. Warfield,12 whose respective seminal works are unlikely to be surpassed any time soon. Their century-old scholarship exposes modern antinomian evasions for what they are. Dominion theology has neither the desire nor the need to play fast and loose with the Greek text of this pivotal passage.

We are thus comfortable in standing by the assertion that the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount are pulled into tight conjunction with the law of God, and that the two are not only compatible, but in some sense dependent upon one another. Dominion theology therefore becomes the seat of blessing because it magnifies God’s law. Matthew 5:19 teaches that those who do and teach the least of the law’s jots and tittles shall be called great in the Kingdom of heaven, while those who loosen them shall be called the least in the Kingdom of heaven.

Which group sounds more likely to be blessed? Those who loosen the jots and tittles, or those who keep and teach them? Dominion theology is all but defined by the latter option. The position of the Beatitudes in our Lord’s sermon reminds us that blessing is never far from the keeping and teaching of the least of His commandments.

Blessing and Subjection

There is a proper place for humanistic thinking, and dominion theology makes room for it in its proper sphere. That proper sphere is what the Bible calls hell.13 Humanistic thinking reflects the serpent’s call to Adam to be his own god (Gen. 3:5). Dominion theology finds no legitimate place in God’s church for humanistic thinking and holds that humanism’s days are numbered in the world, for whatsoever thing the Lord hath not planted shall be rooted up (Matt. 15:13). Hebrews 2:8 teaches that all things are put in subjection under Christ’s feet, despite the fact that we don’t yet see all things in subjection. Dominion theology works consistently for the advancing subjection of all things under the Lord Jesus, in accordance with the 2 Corinthians 10:4–5 command to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, following the growth pattern of Mark 4:28.

The Bible does not offer any blessing upon those who operate outside of God’s parameters, who think and act humanistically, beyond the orbit of God’s revealed law-word. Blessings can never be secured humanistically.

Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth; he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth. (Isa. 65:16 NIV, emphasis added)
When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. (Deut. 29:19 NIV, emphasis added)
“If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.” (Mal. 2:2 NIV, emphasis added)
Thus saith the LORD, Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, that maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord … Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the LORD is. (Jer. 17:5, 7)

Some critics of dominion theology believe the position goes too far, that by applying the Word of God to everything dominion theologians have lost balance and turned God’s Word into an unnecessary burden. Apart from being out of harmony with St. John’s view of God’s commandments not being burdensome (1 John 5:3), these critics fail to appreciate that God’s law liberates whatever it touches, unchaining all things from sin and releasing them to freely serve and glorify their Author and Maker. In this, the critics are the ones unwittingly suppressing the blessing of God, a blessing that enriches without any sorrow being added to it (Prov. 10:22).

Who Shall Have the Preeminence?

Christ is to have the preeminence in all things (Col. 1:18). One would think this would be an uncontroversial position, but lo, it remaineth a bone of contention, even among orthodox Christians. But the relationship of this question to the matter of blessings eventually fans out into even more pointed questions.

Are we more blessed when Christ is denied the preeminence, when we deliberately pry His fingers off of all human enterprises? Ought things then to be left to themselves? Is that God’s plan, that nothing really needs to bow the knee to Christ here and now, and that working now to expand His Kingship over all things brings a curse to the world?

Critics of dominion theology hold that the route to blessing lies elsewhere, not in working consistently with the premise that He shall have the preeminence in all things. To which I can only ask one final question:

How can Christ bless something over which He has no preeminence?

1. It is remarkable that some of the more dispassionate, evenhanded assessments have been written by scholars on the secular side of the aisle. See Michael McVicar, “Rushdoony Among the Academics: The Secular Relevance of the Thought of R. J. Rushdoony” Faith for All of Life, May/June 2007, 20f. McVicar takes pains to be accurate, shaming many careless Christian critics of dominion theology in the process.

2. McVicar, “Rushdoony Among the Academics.” See also Rushdoony’s massive study referenced in note 3 below. On a lighter note, some pastors find it difficult to operate consistently with respect to certain forms of ecclesiastical decentralization. They sometimes find themselves in the shoes of the dwarf, Randall, in the fantasy movie Time Bandits, who enforces decentralization among his cohorts in a peculiar way: “Remember, we agreed, no leaders! Right? Right. So shut up and do as I say!”

3. R. J. Rushdoony, Sovereignty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2007), 165.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, The Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 374f.

5. Ibid., 375.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., 378.

8. Ibid.

9. Martin G. Selbrede, “The Perpetual Kindergarten” Faith for All of Life, May/June 2007, 14.

10. Paint man’s pathetic, perpetual sinfulness in as dark a shade as you can muster, and all you’re doing is further magnifying the stupendous victory of Christ, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20; see the entire passage Rom. 5:9–21).

11. H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of Matthew (Winona Lake, IN: Alpha Publications, 1980; originally published by T&T Clark, 1883), 119–123.

12. Benjamin B. Warfield, “Jesus’ Mission According to His Own Testimony” Biblical Doctrines (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003 reprint; originally published by Oxford University Press, 1932), 293–299.

13. Chalcedon Communications Director Rev. Chris Ortiz, surveying the mass of emergency fund-raising appeals coming in from all quarters of Christendom (including ministries sympathetic to dominion theology), had a wry observation to make about this in light of Matthew 16:18: “Shouldn’t it be the gates of hell that have to keep issuing emergency fund-raising appeals?” Surely such a view has inherent within it the premise that blessings upon the godly will discomfit the wicked.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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