Recently, I was asked to speak on the “Seven Mountains of Cultural Influence.” This is the idea that there are seven areas of activity in society that influence our common culture. If we as Christians are to be salt and light in the world and influence the culture around us, we need to understand how to impact these “Seven Mountains.”
Little Kingdoms on Earth
This is not a new idea. At the close of the nineteenth century, Abraham Kuyper, theologian, journalist, and prime minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905, argued that God’s sovereign rule extends over every square inch of his creation and all of our lives. He talked about something he called “sphere sovereignty,” the idea that different social institutions, while under God’s sovereign control, had legitimately different rules, tasks, and duties, for the proper functioning of the world.
In a lecture series delivered at Princeton in 1898 entitled “Lectures on Calvinism”, Kuyper said:
…that the family, the business, science, art and so forth are all social spheres, which do not owe their existence to the state, and which do not derive the law of their life from the superiority of the state, but obey a high authority within their own bosom; an authority which rules, by the grace of God, just as the sovereignty of the state does.
Others in Europe agreed with Kuyper’s idea of the importance of these different social institutions, yet they argued that the state was sovereign over all these spheres, not God. They believed that it is the state that should tell the church what it can and cannot do. The state should be the one to define marriage. It is the state that should tell us what our children should learn. Kuyper lost the argument, and as a result, today we can see examples throughout Europe where the state is sovereign, and the church has been diminished.
In the twentieth century, the seven spheres became known as the “Seven Mountains,” a strategy to influence culture made popular within evangelical circles by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). They determined that to truly impact our culture with the gospel, these seven facets of society must be reached: religion, family, education, government, media, arts and entertainment, and business. According to some, their strategy had more impact on the religion sphere, raising up young leaders for evangelism, “but failed to raise up business leaders or leaders in these other spheres.”
A similar “Seven Mountains” strategy was successfully used by groups advocating other agendas, such as the gay rights movement. As I discussed in my book How Then Should We Work?:
In the late 1980s, a group of about 175 leaders met in Warrington, Virginia, to strategically launch several initiatives through various channels of cultural influence to support what they hoped would bring about substantial cultural change…In less than 30 years they were successful because they persuaded the decision makers from the areas in which the greatest influence on the culture is exerted.
The Mountain of All of Our Work
The “Seven Mountains” strategy made another comeback in the early 2000s when it was introduced to the faith and work movement by Os Hillman. He suggests that there are only a few thousand people at the tops of these seven cultural mountains that shape our current culture. If Christians are going to impact the culture, we must do it through our vocational calling, working out of a Christian worldview influencing these key positions. Hillman writes in his book, Change Agent:
It doesn’t matter if the majority of the culture is made up of Christians. It only matters who has the greatest influence over that cultural mountain.
We at IFWE agree with Hillman, but we would add the need to affect the culture around us with the work we do outside our vocational callings. Our obedience to our primary calling to become a disciple of Christ can be seen working itself out in four distinct ways through what Os Guinness calls in his book, The Call, “secondary callings.” These four secondary callings are our call to family, the church, community, and vocation.
All the work we do, both paid and unpaid, is part of God’s call on our lives. For the mother who is called to stay at home with her children, her call to vocation overlaps with her call to family. For the pastor, his vocational call overlaps with his call to the church. But for most of us, the work we do falls out into these four separate silos, and no one category is more important than another.
By doing all the work we are called to do in the light of God’s design and desire, we act as salt and light in the surrounding culture. The decisions we make, the example we are, and how we pursue relationships every day through our work all contribute to building a vocational mountain of influence. We don’t have to be among the voices at the top of the mountain to make an impact.
As Dorothy Sayers, in her essay “Why Work?” writes:
“…[Work] is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
If God can move mountains through our faith, he can certainly use any of us to impact the mountains of cultural influence.
Editor’s note: Help young people understand God’s calling to impact the world through their work in Understanding God’s Calling, a high-school homeschool curriculum.