Lisa Miller observes in The Washington Post that the Republican primary race has spawned many news stories raising fears about “crazy Christians.” She writes,
“Their echo-chamber effect reignites old anxieties among liberals about evangelical Christians. Some on the left seem suspicious that a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world… This isn’t a defense of the religious beliefs of Bachmann or Perry, whatever they are. It’s a plea, given the acrimonious tone of our political discourse, for a certain amount of dispassionate care in the coverage of religion. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they’re Christian. One-third of Americans call themselves ‘evangelical.’ When millions of voters get lumped together and associated with the fringe views of a few, divisions will grow.”
She recommends, therefore, some clarifying points that address some of the common misconceptions that folks on the left have about evangelicals:
1. Evangelicals generally do not want to take over the world.
2. Evangelicals aren’t of one mind.
3. Christian conservatives in America are not more militant than ever.
This is a good article, and I recommend that you read the rest of it. I would add one other clarifying point.
Reporters are prone to misinterpret certain evangelical jargon as “dominionism” because they don’t understand different varieties of Christian eschatology. Lisa Miller quotes Pat Robertson as expressive of the true “dominionist” position. In Robertson’s own words,
“There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.”
While it may be true that Robertson holds to “dominionism” and that this sentence reflects his belief, this very same sentence might have been spoken by someone else in a different context, and it would not necessarily reflect “dominionism.” In the latter scenario, reporters are prone to get confused.
Evangelicals do in fact believe that God’s “dominion” or “kingdom” will one day cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). They really do believe that there will come a day when perfect peace will arrive on earth and that such peace can only come when Christians are ruling the world with Christ. John the Revelator made this very prediction, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). In that day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:11).
Evangelicals differ with one another, however, over the how and the when of Christ’s coming reign on earth. Nevertheless, all agree that it will happen. Hardly any evangelicals believe that Christ’s reign will be ushered onto the planet via the machinations of human political structures. By and large, evangelicals are not looking to the Republicans, Democrats, the President, or Congress to bring in his kingdom. Christ will bring it in himself at an appointed time (Matthew 24:36). There is coming a day when the Lord will descend from heaven with a sword coming out of his mouth to make war on his enemies (Revelation 2:16). It will be militant. It will be comprehensive. It will be decisive. Jesus will initiate that conquest, not us. That is what most evangelicals believe.
Evangelicals also believe that Christ’s redemptive reign is already effective on earth in the life of his church and in the preaching of the gospel (Luke 11:20). In the present, evangelicals do not wage war with coercive physical force (2 Corinthians 10:4). Our task is to preach the gospel—to invite sinners to repent and believe. That is how Christ’s reign spreads in the present. In the present, faithful Christians might die for their faith, but they will not kill for it. The way of Christ in the present is the way of martyrdom, not of militancy (Matthew 16:24; 26:52).
Most evangelicals see the consummation of Christ’s kingdom as a part of the “not yet” of Christian eschatology. So in one sense, all evangelicals are “dominionists.” But in another sense they are not. In the present, they are not “dominionists,” but in the future they are.
The inability of reporters to detect the “not yet” of Christian eschatology contributes to the anxiety that gets ginned up among the left in every presidential election season. I am not holding my breath that they will accurately represent the evangelical mainstream this go around. But maybe some like Lisa Miller will.
(HT: Trevin Wax)