Kingdom Through Culture: The New Apostolic Reformation and its Cultural Appeal, Part 2

Read the series.

Six Theological Distinctives (Continued)

(5) Postmillennial dominionism is the NAR’s distinctive eschatological perspective and helps define its culture-changing emphasis. “When Jesus came, He brought the kingdom of God and He expects His kingdom-minded people to take whatever action is needed to push back the long-standing kingdom of Satan and bring the peace and prosperity of His kingdom here on earth. This is what we mean by dominionism.”26 Wagner rejects the escapist eschatology of pretribulationalist premillennialism in favor of what he calls “dominionist eschatology.”27 He describes the present activity of the church as “aggressively retaking dominion, and the rate at which this is happening will soon become exponential. The day will come when “‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever’”28

Bill Johnson, Senior Leader of Bethel, describes this dominionist premise, saying, “It was God’s intention that as [Adam and Eve] bore more children, who also lived under God’s rule, they would be extending the boundaries of his garden (His government) through the simplicity of their devotion to Him. The greater the number of people in right relationship to God, the greater the impact of their leadership. This process was to continue until the entire earth was covered with the glorious rule of God through man.”29 While Wagner does not advocate the advancement of the kingdom through political force, he envisions, “a country in which a critical mass of its citizens are followers of Jesus Christ and thus agents of the kingdom of God … these people using whatever influence they may have to promote kingdom blessings and kingdom values as much as possible throughout American culture.”30 Lance Wallnau describes this kind of cultural impact as impacting seven mountains – religion, family, education, government, media, arts, and business.31 The NAR is much broader and more comprehensive in its efforts than its predecessors.

Finally, (6) the NAR is a relational rather than legal structure. There are no denominational guidelines or external accountabilities. Because of this, some consider the leadership structures of some of the NAR churches to be cultic. For example, Bethel Church lists Bill and Beni Johnson as “Senior Leaders” while Eric and Candace Johnson hold the title of “Senior Pastors.”32 This unorthodox leadership structure doesn’t offer anything to dissuade those who might have suspicions of cult of personality. Bill Johnson further exemplifies the concern, when he suggests that signs are necessary because, “He wants to take us farther, and we can only get there by following signs. Our present understanding of Scripture can only take us so far … signs and wonders are a natural part of the Kingdom of God. They are the normal way to get us from where we are to where we need to be.”33 This subjectivity is emblematic of the NAR in thought and practice. There are no external rules and no objective interpreters of these signs, consequently, followers must simply trust the self-appointed apostles of the movement.

Practical and Liturgical Distinctives

Beyond the theological distinctives is a movement that has been incredible successful at influencing especially evangelical culture across the globe. This influence has not been accomplished primarily through internal church growth efforts. “Ironically, this group isn’t really focused on building up big congregations. Their ideas are spreading through other means, like high-profile conferences and the media products that they are selling … These apostles are able to access a lot more money, because they are operating with a pay-for-service model, rather than relying on people’s donations and their goodwill. Congregations bend over backwards to keep people happy and keep the butts in the seats; people don’t have to pay unless they feel like it. But this is a completely different financial model, and it tends to generate much more money.”34 While there are tangible theological differences from earlier movements, perhaps the biggest practical difference between earlier waves of charismatic movement and the NAR is the effectiveness of the music and multimedia packaging to extend beyond traditional sectarian boundaries. Employing powerful contemporary artistic, musical, and aesthetic tendencies to skillfully envelope the experientialist and postmillennial dominionist message, the music of churches like Hillsong and Bethel provides a most compelling vehicle.

Bethel’s diverse ministries, for instance, reflect a commitment to leading by example in fulfilling a cultural mandate, particularly through education. These ministries include Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry (BSSM), Bethel Christian School, WorshipU, Bethel Conservatory of the Arts, Bethel Leadership Program, and the Bethel School of Technology.35 These schools are designed to training up revivalists – change agents who will be able to impact the culture for the advancement of God’s Kingdom on earth. These education programs are unapologetically continuationist, as illustrated by the curriculum objectives of BSSM: “Students will learn how to read, understand, and “do” the Bible, how to practice His presence, to witness, heal the sick, prophesy, preach, pray, cast out demons and much more.”36

While the influence of these programs is increasing, the most impactful program for Bethel remains the worship program, characterized as “ … passionate about God’s manifest presence,”37 and exists “to ignite individual hearts until Heaven meets Earth. We gather to encounter God’s presence … ”38 That presence is manifest now, and is accessible through worship, which “creates a space for us to experience the tangible presence of our good Father.”39 Worship then should “lead people into a profound experience with God that transforms lives … ”40

Bethel’s perspective is that the worship (in music) experience is the transformative force. This is consistent with the experiential theology of Bethel and that of other NAR programs. “[C]reating an environment goes beyond the abilities of playing an instrument or leading a team,”41 and it is that environment that creates the space for the transformative experience. The continuity between Bethel’s theology, praxis, and liturgy is emblematic of the NAR’s comprehensive program for the advancement of the Kingdom through the dominion of culture.

(Next: Seven Implications for Consideration.)

Notes

26  Wagner, Ibid.

27  C. Peter Wagner, “Why You Must Take Dominion of Everything,” Charisma Magazine, 12/5/2012, viewed at https://www.charismamag.com/spirit/prophecy/15402-the-case-for-dominionism.

28  Wagner, Ibid.

29  Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2005), 8.

30  C. Peter Wagner, The Great Transfer of Wealth: Financial Release for Advancing God’s Kingdom, Kindle Edition (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2014), Chapter 1.

31  Lance Wallnau, “Your Roadmap to Change Culture – 7 Mountains Explained” viewed at https://lancewallnau.com/your-road-map-to-change-culture-7-mountains-explained/.

32  https://www.bethel.com/leadership/#/?filter=senior-leadership&page=1&numPages=1.

33  Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2005), 142.

34  Interview by Bob Smietana, “The ‘Prophets’ and ‘Apostles’ Leading the Quiet Revolution in American Religion” Christianity Today, August 3, 2017, viewed at https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/august-web-only/bethel-church-international-house-prayer-prophets-apostles.html.

35  https://www.bethel.com/schools/.

36  http://bssm.net/school/academics/.

37  https://www.bethel.com/.

38  Ibid.

39  Ibid.

40  https://www.worshipu.com/.

41  Ibid.

Christopher Cone 2016


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

At what point does a group that is championing a collection of errors earn the label "cult"?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Even in less charismatic churches, the idea of "worship" has been a buy-in of the New Apostolic Reformation movement.  The idea that the Spirit primarily uses "worship" [music and group dynamics]  rather than the Word to transform lives is the heart of much of evangelicalism today, not just the NAR.

Having to create an "environment" is as ancient as paganism and confuses the truly spiritual with the emotional and the manipulative.

If we are to be honest, we can probably start all this with revivalism and experientialism of past centuries.  You go from the emotion of the revivals under Edwards up to the Second blessing of Wesleyanism then into the Pentecostal and charismatic with it various stages, ever-inching away from an attempt at fairly and accurately interpreting and applying Scripture and more toward the authority of feeling.  Instead of trusting our hearts, as the world would advocate, many trust their hearts but claim their emotions are the work of the Spirit. 

These movements -- intentional or not -- involve spiritualizing emotional manipulation.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Mostly agree with that. Do you think, though, that there is also an opposite error that puts the individual and the Scriptures almost exclusively at the center of "how growth and change happens"?

Someone long ago told me (or probably I read it) that God uses mainly three things to bring believers increasingly into likeness to Christ:

  • The Spirit of God
  • The people of God
  • The word of God

If we omit any of these or de-emphasize them too much, it leads to some serious errors.

But it's also necessary, at the heart of it, to put the Scriptures first. Otherwise, how do we know who the people of God even are, or what the Spirit is saying? Bullets 1 and 3 may seem redundant, but they really aren't, since ​there is a dynamic aspect of "walking in the Spirit" -- and though I firmly believe there is no "new revelation" in that, there is what I'd call special awareness of revelation, special sensitivity to the bits of revealed truth we need to see at the moment.

Bullet 3 without 1 and 2, leads to intellectualism (the cold, abstract, maybe even unregenerate form).

Bullets 1 and 2 without enough weight to 3 leads to anti-intellectualism, erroneous new doctrines, and lots of other problems.

Bullet 2 by itself or overemphasized leads to a social club, maybe with a an intense social justice focus... mere civil society.

1 and 3 without enough 2 leads to unbiblical individualism, and undervaluing the body of Christ. Arrogance and the special kind of doctrinal innovation that seems to thrive on excessive individualism.

We don't want to overcomplicate things, but I think there's greater danger in our constant drive to oversimplify.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dear Aaron.  I don't disagree with you, but I think I need to expand upon where I am coming from:

1. There are always weird and anti-social people, and some of them are Christians.  They may need to be admonished toward balance and participating in church life, but my advice is "save your breath."  These people do not want the challenge to their (sometimes weird and quirky) beliefs, which is precisely why they stay in isolation. Like the poor, we will always have these people with us.  These people usually do not belong to clubs or organizations, either.  To me, pointing that they need body life falls on deaf ears, and, other than obligation, I would never even address it. But we are obligated to at least try to talk to such people.

2. In the past (and some in the present), we might point out  Bible-centered churches that were mostly about teaching the Bible but not necessarily "doing church" according to the Bible.  People like Ray Stedman and Gene Getz, I believe, attempted to correct this imbalance.  But the need is simply not there as much. Rather than move churches that are essentially Bible schools to become loving and involved, the need is a zillion times greater to move churches toward being more of a Bible school.

3. Then there are trends, and the trend is clearly away from Scripture and toward rewarding attention deficit and feeling (but non-thinking) Christianity.  Having said that, it is possible to have a very passionate church (e.g., "passionate" is the code-word for feeling-oriented much like "concerned" is the code word for worried), coupled with solid Bible teaching and doctrine.  But that is not where I see things heading as a rule.

4. I recognize that Appalachia and the South have a very different dynamic, and so might other regions.  In my neck of the woods, however, very few Christians want a church that teaches the Bible in depth and addresses theology.  Even many -- and I am thinking most -- have pastors with no Bible college or seminary training.  I recognize the problem is probably not as bad in other areas, but the trend is definitely in that direction.  Overtly so.  

I don't think you disagree with me on much of this, but your concern is balance.   I would add this: the people that are balanced don't need the admonition, and the people that aren't balanced think their inbalance is preferable, and thus calls for balance fall on deaf ears. Preaching to the choir. 

"The Midrash Detective"

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