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.)
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/.
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.
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.