My Australian friend Matt Stone blogged his 7 Mountains post in November of 2008. There he stated his concerns:
The Seven Mountains imperative seems to be grounded in dominion theology and the new apostolic movement of C Peter Wagner and friends. Sounds very theocratic to me. Have any of you heard of the Seven Mountains imperative? What’s your take on it?
What I find disconcerting about the new apostolic movement is that they use much of the same language as the missional movement, are similarly concerned with cultural impact, but are much more culturally imperialistic in overall approach (and dare I say extra-biblical on some of their spiritual warfare teaching).
In brief, The Seven Mountains is about Christians retaking seven domains of society where we no longer have influence:
For the best understanding of my post, be sure to read Matt’s post first, watch the YouTube videos there, and check out the three links he gives. In case the link fails to work, as happens with archives sometimes, I’ve repeated the links here. The first video (Sarah Palin’s Seven Mountains; 10 minutes) is an exposé of the Seven Mountains movement by critic Bruce E. Wilson. The second video (UPDATE: the link to this has since been removed; 5 minutes) gives an overview of the Seven Mountains philosophy, and an invitation to the 2009 conference, given by Os Hillman, President and Founder of Market Place Leaders.
Also, I’d strongly suggest at least skimming the material I link to on some of the technical terms and such.
You’ll have to interpret for yourselves what those inside the movement say their mission is, and decide for yourselves whether this is for the better, or for the worse, for the Church and for the Kingdom. I don’t have a problem with Christians seeking to influence culture if there is an opportunity. To me, the more central issues are those of why it would be done, how, and whether the means used will negate the hoped-for impact.
I’m not writing this critique as some academic exercise – there’s a personal history side to it. The reason all this is on my radar in the first place is that I flirted with forms of “dominion theology” in the 1970s and ’80s. At that time, I read widely in several related streams of it and wondered whether it was legitimate for Christians to do more than just influence culture, or be involved in social activism – but to actually “retake the reigns” of our country. Eventually I came to discern there were just too many messy assumptions that had scant if any biblical base in the control-the-culture approach. And it seemed like the attitude of many in dominion movements back then displayed what I’ve come to call The Fool’s Gold Rule: Do unto others what was done unto you. Christians have been slighted or even shoved aside for decades, and dominionists could talk all they wanted about doing this for God, but the anger and contempt and arrogance that many of them showed surely could not be considered Christlike. If we expect to influence and not control, shouldn’t we demonstrate our cultural challenges framed with respectfulness, and righteousness tempered with compassion?
Similar issues arose in more recent decades while working through experiences of surviving spiritually abusive leadership in churches and ministries, and connecting with others – especially from post-Charismatic backgrounds – as they likewise processed similar experiences. I find that a whole lot of control issues can cloak themselves underneath language of social change … but they cannot hide forever. The true “spiritual DNA” of a movement eventually will demonstrate itself.
Anyway, I wrote most of what follows in November, but I got bogged down in other life circumstances and haven’t gotten back to this response until now. Providentially, perhaps the delay makes it more timely, as the conference Matt wrote about is due to be held next month. Also, today was set aside as a day to finish up a set of notes on the spectrum of theological perspectives related to strategic level prayer and spiritual warfare – similar constituencies and issues to Seven Mountains – so I was in the flow. Anyway, here is my response.
Examining “The Seven Mountains” Movement
It’s an intuitive process to look at the surface culture of a movement – its vocabulary, values, goals, etc. – and then attempt to analyze its paradigm and speculatively back-cast from whence it came. It’s sort of like tasting a soup and trying to figure out all the herbs and spices that went into it. Not an exact science, but certainly a process that improves, the more cultures for society or flavors for soup one becomes exposed to over time.
From my own theological movement meanderings since the 1970s, I’d suggest that the “Seven Mountains” phenomenon could well be a convergence of flavors from at least half a dozen historic theological movements I’ve been exposed to over the past four decades. (Which is to say, I’m not basing this on anyone’s research other than my own experiences with emerging movements since the 1970s that seem relevant to Seven Mountains.)
The Postmillennial Link
I’d suggest that the overall theological perspective is postmillennialism – i.e., the world will get better and better through our efforts to change social structures and rid them of evil, and then Jesus Christ will return (or can return) to finish setting up the Kingdom. For a sample of the postmillennial “battle cry,” see the lyrics to “Onward, Christian Soldier” – all six verses. [Update: March 1, 2021. It appears the original version of the hymn had only five verses and in the six-verse version, the fourth stanza may be have been added later, and not necessarily by the hymn writer. Both versions still feature a sort of social triumphalism that can feed into dominion theology.]
The largest prior wave of postmillennialism died in the wake of World War I; the world hadn’t become so enlightened or so purged of evil as originally thought. The fact that they had to have a “War to End All Wars” – and that it didn’t work to end all wars – says something important about the underlying Enlightenment-friendly theology having a misplaced optimism.
I think this current foment of postmillennial fervor springs from dissatisfaction and/or disillusionment with the influence of Christians – not God – to stem the tide of evil in our world. I say “not God,” because in this kind of view, ultimately it all depends on us. We’re responsible to use divine resources to root out evil. Our actions will create the “tipping point” to oust the infidels so that Christians can retake the Seven Mountains. No wonder this can so easily morph from sincere attempts at social influence into sheer manipulation and unbridled legalism.
Postmillennialism, the New Apostolic Reformation, and the Prosperity Gospel
It makes a difference whether one is premillennial or postmillennial. Some within the Charismatic and Pentecostal branches of Christianity have, in days gone by, been keepers of the flame for dispensationalism and the Left Behind theology of a premillennial, pre-Tribulation Rapture. Maybe I saw it wrong all along on that, or perhaps that used to be true but no longer. It seems that there may have been some theological shift in those branches to postmillennialism.
That would make a lot of sense. Postmillennialism already overlaps with some of the vocabulary, goals, and methods of the New Apostolic Reformation (with its key organization, the International Coalition of Apostles) and prosperity gospel teachings – which find themselves mostly in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. This overlap seems to indicate some underlying resonance in their “mental models” or paradigms, especially in their essential values and guiding theological principles. Specifically, all three perspectives make no real distinction between the applicability of Old and New Testaments to believers today. They collapse the distinctions between:
- Israel and the Church. So, we find passages and promises meant for Israel transferred over the Church. We also find practices that had symbolic significance for the nation of Israel being misappropriated uncritically to the Church (e.g., allusions to the tabernacle, the cycle of feasts, theocratic notions of “taking the land of Promise,” etc.).
- Church and State. As part of the removal of distinctions, we end up with a church-state. So, we hear the lust and language of theocracy where Christians will now move to rule the domains of society by infiltrating and/or overtaking its structures. We will be the head and not the tail – no more marginalization accepted! People will be drawn to us because they will see God’s “blessing” us with status, power, and wealth because of our righteousness. (Sidenote: I didn’t know that gold was magnetic …) This sounds like some very scary neo-Constantinianism in action.
- The Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Speaking of righteousness, the core of the Old Covenant is conditional blessing based on law-keeping. Social transformation then is enacted by God directly, or indirectly through conquest by His people. So, we find a lot of finger-wagging and guilt-tripping against Christians for not doing enough to “retake the land,” or not praying enough to move God to bring revival, etc. Meanwhile, the core of the New Covenant unconditional blessing based on God’s grace. Personal transformation is empowered from the inside out by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and others may be changed through the influence of those being changed. Actually, I don’t think Old Covenant thinking can ever be missional …
And so it makes sense when one of the advocates in the exposé video on Seven Mountains spoke of it as “almost like a template for warfare.” Just as the Law is external to the human heart, so the Seven Mountains seeks to change the external structures of society in order to affect the human heart. But where is the Holy Spirit in that? And grace? And the power of the resurrected Christ to transform lives, not just squash all “enemies”?
Reconstructionism, L’Abri, and Moral Majority
Seven Mountains also appears to be a logical extension or re-embodiment of several “presuppositional thought” movements. The first that comes to mind is Christian Reconstructionism, which ramped up during the late 1970s. This came out of highly analytic/systematic theology perspectives in the Calvinist/Reformed tradition, perhaps more in the Dutch Reformed branch than any other. It included authors like Cornelius Van Til, R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, and even back to Abraham Kuyper (late 1800s/early 1900s theologian and Prime Minister of The Netherlands).
Authors and followers of Christian Reconstructionism typically seemed to emphasize philosophy, politics, economics, business, education systems, and sciences. (Note the primary tie-in with four of the Seven Mountains: business, government, religion, and education.) Not all of these theologians advocated church-states, but the drive for applying scripture to all spheres of life could just as easily be taken in the direction of theocracy as not.
Also in the 1970s came the emergence into some prominence of authors in the L’Abri movement: Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Ranald Macauley, Jerram Barrs, H.R. Rookmaaker, Os Guinness, and others. The French word l’abri means “the shelter,” and this group emphasized practical apologetics for connecting with people, and holistic personhood aspects of arts, humanities, cultures, and social sciences. The film/book series of “How Should We Then Live: The Decline of Western Thought and Culture” gave a holistic framework for understanding our times and living out a biblical response. I remember seeing that series in about 1978, and I also went to one of the world premieres (about 1980) for Francis Schaeffer’s and C. Everett Koop’s pro-life lecture/film series on “What Ever Happened to the Human Race?” (Note the primary tie-in with the other three of the Seven Mountains: media, arts and entertainment, and family.)
I read a significant number of books by different authors in these two movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Even back then, I wondered what it was in the underlying presuppositions that led Christian Reconstructionism followers more into the political and economic realms, and L’Abri followers more into the realm of humanities and social sciences. I’m still not totally sure, but think it may have something to do with the emphasis on analysis in the former (looking for distinctions and categories that differentiate), versus paradox in that latter (looking for commonalities and holding polarities in place without division). Analysis tends to lead to concepts and philosophies, while paradox to concrete actions and relationships.
While these two clusters of writings held more of an appeal to intellectual Christians, the soon-afterwards emergence in the early 1980s of the Moral Majority could be seen as a more populist-level response to the dilemmas of cultural influences for the everyday disciple, especially those who were fundamentalist followers. Where L’Abri had a more irenic tone, I found Christian Reconstructionism had more edginess, and Moral Majority eventually did the equivalent of COMMUNICATING ALL IN CAPS – i.e., yelling – or at least had that reputation. The level of super-righteous stridency coming from many in the Moral Majority led a politically liberal Unitarian co-worker of mine in the mid-1980s to put a bumper sticker on his car: “The Moral Majority is neither.”
These three movements demonstrate a desire to impact the various areas of culture. It makes sense to many Christians to have some kind of approach for cultural engagement instead of isolation, and these movements set the stage for other movements to come together more explicitly to influence the Seven Mountains movement.
Tying it All Together
I began to see more parallels in the language of imperialistic social activism and supernatural warriorism when I looked more specifically at overlaps between Christian Reconstructionism and various branches in Charismatic supernaturalism (e.g., Generals/Strategic Prayer Network, the Sentinel Group and their Transformation video series, New Apostolic Reformation). With the Old Testament emphasis in these movements, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of warfare metaphorage, with references to concepts of armies, soldiers, generals, taking the land, strategic fronts, gameplans, infiltrating, invading, prophetic vindication of the victors, etc. (Many of these terms come directly from the words of Seven Mountain advocates, as heard in the videos on Matt’s blog.)
It all makes sense as these merge together: If you emphasize traditional military structure, you must have an absolute hierarchy in place (i.e., apostles, prophets, and other officials) to carry out such operations – though supposedly through war in the heavenlies – and thereby bring transformation to the domains of society.
Yes, it does make sense – but only within a closed system that has many dodgy theological premises. And so, I am still left with some very strong questions and concerns about the Seven Mountains movement, especially as to how it could taint, sidetrack, or quench the relational and social involvement efforts of those in the missional movement.
Leadership, Power, and Control Issues
Even understanding the bias of the first video on Matt’s blog as an exposé of the Seven Mountains movement, it really does seem the proponents emphasize Christians dominating all seven areas of culture in order to dictate, not on involving ourselves in order to influence.
These kinds of strong-willed leaders as we’ve seen in the New Apostolic Reformation have me concerned about whether this is really more about self-will to power than about God’s empowerment. (I have written extensively about issues of power in my series on recovery from spiritual abuse, and particularly in the post on Power Addiction is Like Porn.)
Hierarchy in leadership structures also adds significantly to the potential for overcontrol by “leaders,” as has been demonstrated in the falling apart of the Lakeland Outpouring, and the subsequent fall out. (Last year, I addressed many aspects of the leadership failure in discernment and actions related to this in my series on Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland.)
Moral Conformity and Superspirituality
Also, the pseudo-military “marching orders” emphasis in Seven Mountains make me wonder if it is more about “reversing the moral slide” (a direct quote from one of the advocates in the videos) and creating conformity through “spiritual” or “christianized” control over social structures, than about genuine transformation of human hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit from the inside out.
I have to wonder whether part of what drives this movement is that they don’t want the reality of a culturally pluralistic world. Seems they would actually prefer to impose a monolithic “biblical” culture where Christians do not remain marginalized. And I have to wonder if there is true belief in the doctrine of free will here, or if it just that some proponents don’t like it when non-Christians express it through their own cultural mandates.
At the same time, there is much use of “super spiritual” language, about doing this for God and having strategies to rout The Enemy. I was once involved in this approach, but now have severe concerns about it. In December 2008, I posted Strategic Level Prayer and Spiritual Mapping on my Radoxodar blog (and later reposted it in this blog). That post summarizes some of my concerns about whether the abiblical/extrabiblical theology in these perspectives has actually turned anti-biblical, and unwittingly focused sincere people on the darkness instead of on the light.
A “Cross” Social Gospel with No “Gospel of the Cross”
I noticed multiple references in the first video on Matt’s blog that pooh-pooh the tribulation and instead promote the visible and triumphant Kingdom. It seems that postmillennial triumphalism holds no place for a held-back, pushed-down, shoved-to-the-margins Church. These advocates want Christians to be “the head and not the tail, above and not beneath.” It is clear enough from the words of advocates that any talk of humility or suffering like Christ is missing; they speak about ending the humiliation and slighting of Christians – even if all in the name of God and the gospel being shunned by society. And it seems they don’t want simply to be countercultural; they want to reinstitute colonialism, and perhaps just ensure moralism. This is not the same as being salt and light to preserve a nation so the life of people is spared and the gospel can be shared.
To me, this all sounds like a pseudo-evangelical version of the old social gospel. But – in contrast to prior social action based in liberalism – this seems fueled by anger at the marginalization of Christians and a desire for power to reset and then control the social structures and agendas. On this theme, I am reminded of the words of Leonard Sweet about Emergent:
The emerging church has become another form of social gospel. And the problem with every social gospel is that it becomes all social and no gospel. All social justice and no social gospel. It is embarrassing that evangelicals have discovered and embraced liberation theology after it destroyed the main line, old line, side line, off line, flat line church. (JBTM, Vol. 5, No. 2, Page 72)
I have to wonder whether the Seven Mountains’ embrace of dominion theology mixed with the extrabiblical theology of “strategic level prayer and spiritual warfare” will create a similarly toxic social gospel brew. Only in this version, it is about self-justification in the name of instituting God’s rule and reign through Christians. And meanwhile, with their infiltration and retaking of social structures in the name of the Spirit, I have to wonder whether this will in fact quench the Spirit in the missional movement.
Pseudo-Missional / Anti-Missional
And so, finally, we are back to one of Matt’s original concerns: What about the missional aspects of this movement? If Seven Mountains truly is postmillennial in its core theology, then it seeks to bring about the Kingdom, while those of us in the missional movement seek to point out the Kingdom already about us. We do use many of the same or similar terms as postmillennialists, dominionists, strategic spiritual warfarists, and Seven Mountainists, but I’m convinced we just do not mean the same things by them. Our mental frameworks are different, so our methodologies are in conflict.
In my Introduction section, I noted “I don’t have a problem with Christians seeking to influence culture if there is an opportunity. To me, the more central issues are those of why it would be done, how, and whether the means used will negate the hoped-for impact.”
Personally, I don’t find the underlying why and how of the Seven Mountains movement to be at all compatible with a missional approach, despite the apparent similarity in goals of social transformation. In fact, I wonder whether their approach to “cultural engagement” is actually counterproductive. Dominionist-type disciples and “take back America!” promoters fit the negative stereotype of Christians that resulted in the bumper sticker: “Lord, protect me from your followers.” Even if they are sincere, their activities ultimately make the community relationships of missional disciples even more difficult, at least, I believe they do.
[Added later in the day: As my discerning friend Craig said when we were discussing this, “There’s a difference between a hostile takeover and a friendly merger.” If those were the only two options available, I’d suggest missional is looking for friendly merger for Christians to participate respectfully in all of our culture. I don’t see missionally-minded disciples passively avoiding cultural engagement, but neither do I see them looking to take over and make America into an overtly pro-Christian-only society based on the Old Covenant. That is not the Kingdom!]
And if those following the Seven Mountains strategy achieve their goals and end atop the “high places” in our societies, what evidence will there be that the true and Triune God of the Bible is the one who brought them there, and not an ill-conceived theology and strategy, an independent and antagonistic spirit, and an idolatrous pursuit of power?
UPDATE August 2012: Os Hillman and other leaders associated with the Seven Mountains Movement have been responding recently to challenges over whether this strategy is dominionism or not. Consider the following links for their views on this question.
Is the 7 Mountain Strategy Dominionism? [7 minutes, September 2011]
I would also suggest that regardless of what the founders or leaders of a particular position advocate, it is far too easy for the followers to enact a watered down or muddied version. In postmodern terms, they become simulacra – copies of copies, with each successive generation having less detail of the original. Eventually, the original gets lost but the copies of copies of copies are treated as if they were the actual thing. Some questions:
- Is that what has happened with the Seven Mountains strategy, such that what the originators and second-generation leaders say no longer matters that much at the grassroots level? Are the third-generation representatives of Seven Mountains misrepresenting the message, or are they embodying some underlying theological flaws in the message?
- How can you “take dominion” over culture without “taking dominion” over people?
- What is the difference between social transformation via the gospel changing the lives of individual people, versus imposing moralism?
- If the “real” taking dominion is over principalities and powers, why do these dynamics seems to lead some followers into what has been criticized as “Christian animism” through an overemphasis on Satanic forces?
- What are the differences between “being a witness” for the gospel and “spiritual colonization” of a nation for Christendom? What are indicators that the mission of being a witness is being corrupted and degraded into mere dominionist imposition of social compliance to supposed biblical imperatives?