Theology 101

A Biblical View of Dominion: Stewardship

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…our churches are teaching a low view of stewardship. We’re missing the essential goodness of work in particular, even “non-spiritual” work. “Non-spiritual” work, in case you’re wondering, is any work in which God is not interested, which is just to say there is no such thing.

-Tom Gilson, Thinking Christian

Christians today need a much more exciting view of stewardship, a view that provides everything we do with a deep sense of purpose — what we at IFWE are calling “stewardship with a capital ‘S’”.  To understand Stewardship from this prospective we have to start at the beginning.

In Genesis 1:26-28 God calls mankind, beginning with Adam and Eve, to exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop its latent potential. We are called to fill the earth with his glory through creating what we commonly call “culture.”

The Hebrew word radah in this passage carries the idea of ruling, subduing, and exercising dominion. This command, often called the “cultural mandate,” has never been nullified. It is still in effect, and was confirmed and expanded to Noah after the Flood (see Gen. 9:6-7).

However, we in the church today tend to shy away from God’s more specific call of dominion. This is somewhat understandable. For many of us in this current generation, the word “dominion” has gotten a bad rap: it implies some sort of aggressive or violent destruction.

Justin Holcomb over at The Resurgence provides some great insights on a more biblical view of dominion, focusing specifically on how it must mirror the dominion of our Creator.  Holcomb writes:

Dominion does not mean destruction, but responsibility. It is important to avoid flawed convictions about the right and power of humankind in relation to the rest of the natural world. 

Holcomb then quotes Francis Schaeffer on a right view of dominion:

Fallen man has dominion over nature, but he uses it wrongly. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive. 

Holcomb concludes:

It is true that a false view of dominion has played a role in the mistreatment of creation, but a correct understanding of the concept can lead to service, responsibility, and stewardship.

We who have been redeemed by Christ stand again in the place of Adam and Eve. Like Adam, we know the will of God and have the choice to obey or not obey it. Through the Holy Spirit we not only know the will of God, but have been empowered to keep it. As Nancy Pearcey writes in her book Total Truth,

When we obey the Cultural Mandate, we participate in the work of God himself, as agents of his common grace… entering upon a lifelong quest to devote our skills and talents to building things that are beautiful and useful, while fighting the forces of evil and sin that oppress and distort the creation.

God has restored us for stewardship in this current age. Through the work of Christ we are being called back to God’s original purpose—to live in his image and to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over… every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28).

To fulfill our role we must be prepared to understand that this work of dominion should be expressed as service—sacrificial service that serves God and the common good.

Again Holcomb writes,

God gives us the opportunity to reflect him in his work of caring for and transforming all of creation. To follow this aspect of our multifaceted calling as humans is to image in our lives the One who is at work in the world and in human life, creating, sustaining, and liberating creation. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s first step in making all things new, which will culminate in a renewed world that completely honors Jesus, who rules it.

We work for and toward this new world knowing that its full realization awaits Christ’s second coming. Yet, as theologian Glenn Sunshine writes, we labor knowing that God redeemed us to carry out the work that He uniquely prepared us to do (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Apostle John tells us that God loved the world (Greek cosmos, the entirety of creation) so much that he gave his son to save those who believe in him. Our lives and work here are not about ourselves, but instead the good of the entire created order. We have a unique and critical role to play, however small it may look to us, in fulfilling God’s purposes for the world.

In doing this work we will truly find our purpose.

What do you think? What is your opinion of dominion? How might you think differently about dominion?

  • Scott Rodin

    Thanks for your good thoughts here, Hugh. In response to your question, here is an excerpt from something I write a few years ago:

    How were Adam and Eve to know what God meant by these words? Very simply, they understood ‘dominion’, and ‘subdue’ in light of their creator! Adam and
    Eve were commanded to have dominion over the created world just as God had demonstrated his dominion over them! They knew God as the God who sought to
    be with them rather than over them. They knew in God one who lovingly provided for them, who sought only their good and who they trusted intimately for their very
    existence. They saw a God who was for them in every way, who sought their best and with whom they were at peace. And they saw a God who created for them an environment in which they could grow and flourish, one which worked together in harmony, and one which provided abundantly for their welfare and future.

    It was this God and no other that gave to the first humans the precious
    responsibility to have like dominion over creation. To subdue it like God had subdued them. To rule over it like God ruled. And this meant a call to loving service
    and godly care for God’s creation. This is the only proper way in which we can understand the command to have dominion, subdue and rule over!
    The Biblical interpreters provide exegetical support for this
    understanding, and the integrity of the entire theological methodology of this
    book can lead us to no other conclusion.
    We must therefore avoid at every cost taking a post-fall, sin-filled
    definition of ‘dominion’ and ‘rule’ and foist it back upon God’s original
    proclamation in a way to lend credibility to the exploitation of the
    planet! Only after the fall does ‘dominion’ become ‘dominance’, ‘subdue’ become ‘exploit’, and ‘rule over’ become ‘abuse.’ We must not read these back into God’s original divine intent!

    R. Scott Rodin

  • Gladys Chandia

    This is a very good series on Stewardship. I must say that I am learning quite a bit from the posts on IFWE. For me, before I read the article, dominion was about power and control and not in a good way. Now this concept of dominion that is explained within the context of Stewardship makes so much sense to me. For me, to be a good Steward we have to love. The Bible teaches us like Jesus, all our actions should come from a place of love.

    The way I understand your explanation of dominion. It is a by- product (I use this because I cannot think of a better word) of stewardship. So if you practice stewardship then you are already exercising dominion as a natural consequence. Therefore dominion is not about a persons ability to exercise control and power over things, it is about love! Primarily Gods love for us and secondary, our love for the cosmos!

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I came across it when I googled the word stewardship because I thought that my understanding needed fine tuning. Clearly, it did!

    • Hugh Whelchel

      Thank you for your words of encouragement. Your comments
      on stewardship are right on. Unfortunately, far too many Christians, when
      they hear the word stewardship, think you are talking about giving money to the church.

      • Teens

        Because that is what they are taught….by the church. Great series you’ve written on stewardship.

  • patty davenport

    If we are to be the stewards of the earth and take care of it,how does this pertain to the care if the environment ?

    • showmesplfd

      Patty Davenport: Isn’t the environment a part of the earth? This earth and all that is in it are the handiwork of the Creator and not the accidental results of random and statistically improbable successful series of mutations over supposedly eons of time. As such, care should be taken to treat all of creation with respect and care. If you honor a Creator, it is much easier to respect and care for creation. Does this mean that under this philosophy mankind will never make mistakes or inadvertently cause harm? Of course not, but by looking at the world around us through this lens, it is less likely that massive destructive actions will be taken.

      • Steve Mc

        Inadvertently cause harm? Are you a vegetarian? I hate to point out facts, but nations with the largest number of their populations bieng Christian are also the ones with the highest meat consumption on the planet. As well as the consumption of all other native resources as well. I would hardly call that respect or care of the planet, as you put it.

        Most religious people on this planet believe in the dominion = power/submission philosophy and really could care less what they do to its inhabitants both human or otherwise. All the while criticising, mocking, and ridiculing non- religious people who do care. Calling them tree huggers, hippies, libtards etc… I hold no venom towards Christianity as a fundamental belief system in and of itself, or any other religion for that matter.

        I have however been on this planet long enough to have realized that every single person, in at least this country, who kills animals for trophy or sport, or who knowingly abuses or exploits natural resources found here all seem to claim Christianity as their belief. Yet I as an athiest who doesn’t believe in any of those practices and actually go out of my way to cherish, nurture, and defend against this abuse of so called “gods creation”. I recieve nothing but scorn, hatred, bigotry, and vitriol to condemn my unworthy, heathen, damned soul because I don’t hold the same beliefs in god as these hypocrites do.

        It’s all nice and dandy to talk about on a website a perfect world where gods love of all things should require us to care for them in a loving and respectful way, unfortunately the reality is that most people just don’t care, are clueless about where their resources come from, are too greedy to stop, or they think what they can do as an individual person will make no difference.

        How did I find myself on a religious website if I am an athiest you might ask, good question. I was looking up good stewardship practices concerning nature and found myself here accidentally. It’s good stuff, wish all religious people believed the concept that the original poster intended in this article. It would make the world a much better, more beautiful place to consider myself a part of. I wish with all my heart it was so, but alas, it’s not. It’s just a big spherical farm and we have to try and avoid stepping in the wet piles as we go along.

        Peace to all, have a nice day.

        • Debbie

          Interesting that there was no response to your post. I don’t see how someone can be a Christian and not be vegan. The animal and dairy industries at this point are horrific and the abuse to these creatures inexcusable just for the sake of taste and human pleasure. Animals are sentient beings and should be cared for with the respect they deserve. Do we have dominion over the animals? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean their destruction, rape, tortured living conditions, etc. that we put them through for the sake of meat and milk. It’s atrocious. We do not need their flesh to eat healthy, nutrient-dense food. To me, and yes I am a Christian, it’s deplorable.

  • Scott Staffiery

    Hugh,
    Could you please define how your “Biblical view of Dominion Stewardship” differs from that of the NAR (New Apostolic Reformation)?

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