Priority #1: Placing “Our People” Atop the “Seven Mountains of Culture”?

In a recent Christian Post article entitled “How Christians Can Change Our Culture,” devotional writer and conference speaker Os Hillman makes the following statements:

“We must realize that making more converts will not necessarily change culture. It is important to have conversions, but it is more important to have those who are converted operate at the tops of the cultural mountains from a biblical worldview.

Those at the tops of these mountains are expressing their liberal worldview through these cultural spheres. The more godly the change agent at the top, the more righteous the culture will be. The more ungodly, the more liberal we will become. 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.”

If we are going to have a positive influence in culture, we must rethink our strategy from getting more people saved to getting more Kingdom marketplace leaders operating in the places of influence. Both strategies are important, but change will only happen when a small group of Kingdom marketplace leaders operate at the top of these cultural mountains by solving societal problems and bringing a Christian worldview into their leadership.”

It is my contention that Hillman, and others who understand the transformation of culture as a key, if not the primary, element of our task as Christians in the world today, have misunderstood and correspondingly distorted the mission of the church.

An important part of the background for Hillman’s statements is his personal interpretation and application of the content of James Davison Hunter’s important and insightful book To Change the World. While Hillman correctly understands Hunter’s thesis that important cultural changes almost always originate through the influence of a small group of cultural elite—a club almost exclusively composed of people who are not Evangelical Christians, and who are not guided by a biblical worldview— it appears to me that he misses Hunter’s ultimate point that, perhaps, as Christians, God hasn’t really called us to figure out how “to change the world” after all, but rather to exercise a faithful presence in the midst of culture, living a life that bears testimony to the grace of God, sacrificially serving those within our own natural spheres of influence, and leaving the results up to Him.

Another important element for understanding Hillman’s perspective is the fact that he is a prominent leader in the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture movement (see links below if you are unfamiliar with this). Some have linked the Seven Mountains movement to Dominion Theology (a.k.a. Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy). In an article on the website of Hillman’s ministry organization, he pleads innocent to this charge and does an admirable job of explaining his perspective on the differences between the two. As a matter of fact, I whole-heartedly agree with the following words expressing the core idea of his article:

I do not believe God’s intent is for Christians to rule the earth; rather, I believe the New Testament calls us to serve the culture. God determines the fruit of our obedience to love Him and others in the culture. We should not make culture change a goal; it can only be fruit. Jesus never tried to use His authority; instead, He served people by solving their problems. He only exercised His authority over demons and principalities that sought to destroy people. Jesus loved all people, even when He disagreed with them.

An important understanding and distinction must be stated at this point. Dominion, or perhaps a better word to use is influence, is a result of our love and obedience to God, not a goal to be achieved. It is a result of serving those in all aspects of culture. It is the fruit of our obedience. Otherwise we begin to use fleshly strategies to exploit and subjugate others to our way of thinking.

What I have trouble understanding, though, is how Hillman’s words in this article square with his quotes from the article referenced at the beginning of this post. If our true goal is to serve, and not to rule, I don’t get the supposed priority of placing “our people” at the top of the “mountains of culture.” As I see it, this mindset is diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught when He made the following statements:

Matthew 11:25–26. At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:1–4. At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 20:25–28. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Luke 17:20–21. Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

John 18:36. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Luke 19:10. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

And it doesn’t appear, from the following passages, that God’s strategy for carrying out His plan for the world involves placing His servants in key places of influence among the cultural elite:

1 Corinthians 1:26–29. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

James 2:5­–7. Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

A lot of what is at stake in this discussion revolves around different approaches to eschatology. Hillman shows some of his eschatological cards when, in his Christian Post article, he writes, “I believe we need to operate from a victorious eschatology viewpoint.” While I certainly would agree that, as Christians, we need to learn to walk in victory in our daily lives, and enjoy the spiritual blessings that are ours by virtue of Jesus’ victory over the forces of darkness on the cross of Calvary, I believe we mistake the mission Jesus assigned us when we seek to usher in the blessings of His second-advent kingdom ahead of time instead of faithfully carrying on His first-advent ministry He commissioned us with in passages such as Matthew 28:18­–20, John 20:21, Luke 4:18–19, and Acts 1:6–8.

By this time some of you may be asking, who is this Os Hillman guy, anyway? And how does all this about the Seven Mountains of Culture affect me? Though some are more directly tied to the actual Seven Mountains movement than others, the general mindset behind this movement is present and influential in many, if not most, of the various “culture warrior” ministries in the States today. It was prominent in the prayer gathering called by Rick Perry at the early stages of the presidential primary campaigns in 2011. It also plays an important role in many other joint prayer efforts for calling America back to God. In the past several years, I have personally participated in a couple of local prayer rallies organized in conjunction with the National Day of Prayer, in which the Seven Mountains of Culture were the framework around which the prayer agenda was organized (see here for an example).

While I certainly believe in prayer, and in gospel-centered Christian unity (which finds one of its most strategic expressions through joint community-wide prayer events), I am concerned when the main focus of this prayer is on transforming culture, and the expressed motive that draws us together is that of strategically joining forces to take back America (and the Seven Mountains of Culture) for God.

All in all, though, these concerns have not led me to refrain from joining together in prayer with God’s people who adopt this emphasis. I believe that, in general, the good in most of these efforts outweighs whatever misguided emphases there may be. I believe the majority of the folks involved (Hillman among them) are sincerely motivated by seeking to obey God and be faithful to His Word. And I believe the sincere prayers and ministry efforts of God’s people whose hearts and motives are pure, though sometimes misguided in this or that, are never in vain. On top of this, some of the strongest criticism of this movement has come from very ungodly sources, or at times from liberal Christians who don’t really accept the authority of God’s Word.

Because of all this, I post the things I am saying here with a certain degree of hesitancy. I am hopeful that what I say here will not be taken as an attack of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but rather as a friendly in-house word of admonition to help us all as the Body of Christ to walk more circumspectly as we seek to be faithful to His call in our life.

——————————————–

For more information on the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture movement, see here:

Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture

Sarah Palin, the New Apostolic Reformation, and the Seven Mountains

For a post in which I lay out my own ideas regarding a more biblically based Christian approach to culture, see here:

Christ, the Faithful Suffering Servant in the Midst of Culture

Comments

  1. Dave Miller says

    Excellent post. It’s a tough balance.

    J. Vernon McGee used to say, “We’re not here to clean up the pond, just to fish from it.” That is one extreme. The social gospel advocates are on the other.

    Just how much social/political issues play a part in the work of the church is a great question. You have set it forth well.

  2. says

    This post is excellent. I’m in complete agreement with David that “It is my contention that Hillman, and others who understand the transformation of culture as a key, if not the primary, element of our task as Christians in the world today, have misunderstood and correspondingly distorted the mission of the church.”

    Even as a postmillennial-minded and practical theonomist (aka “victorious eschatology”), I so dislike when people stand up and make Christianity focus on a “king of the hill” type adventure. History has shown that all type of theology have struggled against this seduction. The church was and must continue to be about one thing, the gospel. The gospel alone has the power to instill gospel living. Gospel living rejections moralism and licentiousness.

    Do I believe the Holy Spirit will use the gospel to convert the world? Yes. But not through means like, “it is more important to have those who are converted operate at the tops of the cultural mountains from a biblical worldview”. That kind of talk scares me.

  3. David Rogers says

    Joshua,

    Interesting. I’m still trying to figure out how what I am saying here can be reconciled with postmillennial theonomy. Do you think Christians will eventually be on top of the cultural mountains before the Second Coming of Christ?

    • says

      Let me be helpful and say I didn’t agree with the wording of everything you said! :-)

      I would say the very opposite of Mr Hillman. The church “changes culture” from the bottom up and the inside out. From our children through the church to the world. From the soul through the gospel to living passionately for Christ.

      To your question, I would never use a phrase like “cultural mountain”. But I do believe the Holy Spirit will convert the world. So I can answer “Yes” in theory. Do I ever believe that will come through changing the culture? No. I believe society in turning it’s heart to God will change a culture. Does that mean I expect all “Christians” to agree on what to do and how to live as that happens (aka “be on top”)? No.

      • David Rogers says

        Thanks for the explanation. Still trying to wrap my mind around it all, though. Would you embrace the term “dominion theology”? Why or why not?

        • says

          David,

          If you’re asking me if I affirm a statement like “they share a postmillennial vision in which the Kingdom of God will be established on Earth through political and (in some cases) military means” then the answer is no. In fact that statement is a gross slander against many who hold to dominion theology. Sadly it is an easy stigma to pin since some have gotten carried away with their theology.

          Secondly, if it is insinuated that the church would ever be apart of the government I would reject that also. The Israel model was not the singular-organism “theocracy” that we like to make it seem. There was a clear and clean distinction between the rulers and the priests. The church should be the priests pointing the people to the work of Christ. This should never change.

          I would consider myself aligned with Reconstructionism. In both cases (Dominion/Reconstruction), I have found that many perceive and confuse the end result with the means. I do think theonomy is correct but should never be imposed. That under guidance of the Holy Spirit, a converted nation would turn to God’s law allowing the principals and applications (meaning the spirit and not the strict letter) to be applied today but would never force it on people.

          Thus non-believers should be allowed to leave without punishment, other Christian countries could adopt different principals and the church and the people of the nation would remain about the gospel permanently.

          • David Rogers says

            I probably need to read up on it some more to not end up putting my foot in my mouth more than I may have already done so. The whole concept of “non-believers leaving without punishment” and “Christian countries,” etc. seems, frankly, bizarre, to me. What sources would you recommend to get an entry-level explanation of your views on all this?

          • says

            David,

            You’ve done no such things. In fact you’re been exceptionally cordial about the matter. There are many who have taken these principals to the extreme and are to be rejected for their dangerous views (I’m on the fence about Gary North for example lol). I have no problem joining sides with brothers from differing views to do this.

            I personally would recommend anything by Greg Bahnsen (audio and book). I would also recommend God’s Law Made Easy by Kenneth Gentry. I feel those men are (were in the case of Bahnsen) some of the more sober minded and compassionate modern theonomists.

  4. Bob Hendry says

    Let me begin by saying it’s my understanding that pastors are charged to lead their flocks, and that whether or not a pastor leads effectively, his flock will follow. Now, this discussion of evangelism vs. cultural engagement is not an “either/or” issue. Therein lies the fault with both arguments. We too often forget that the church is a body comprised of many parts, with various functions. The reason this discussion is extremely relevant to American Christianity today, is that we have really fallen short on both training for personal evangelism and unabashed engagement with the culture, and pastors must do both. Evangelism, (if conducted at all by churches,) is typically reduced to a formatted outline (for example, the widely used Evangelism Explosion system) which does little credit to the Gospel, has little or no relevance to the issues playing out on the news and affecting unchurched families, and generally does little to help move the evangelizing church members toward spiritual maturity. One reason this approach generally falls flat on the general populace, is that pastors have allowed Christianity to become marginalized in the public forum. Over three generations of American pastors have been wrongly taught to avoid speaking out to the (churched and unchurched) culture about God’s plan for, and expectations of, the culture; because of a set of IRS codes. We must abandon this wrongful thinking. There is no vibrant distinction in the mind of the common American between what the church stands for and what “being a tolerant, spiritual person” stands for. This is distinctly the fault of pastors, who out of fear of losing their tax exemption, will waste sermons chipping and sniping at other denominations, or seek to impress the Sunday congregants with their exegesis of Greek and Hebrew, rather than to stand openly in the face of societal evil and name it for what it is. This is why evil men and women are running the country – the pastors have abdicated their public forum to the liberal atheists, and thereby train no one in their congregations to engage the culture effectively – either as personal evangelists, or as members of a society which is rapidly crumbling around us. Given today’s communications technology, there is absolutely no excuse for this. Under the leadership of today’s pastors, elders, and deacons, the Christian church in America would simply rather serve mammon than God, when they fear mammon is at risk. This is the test pastors in America face today – taking the eternal Gospel and openly, bravely, unabashedly, passionately, and in some cases angrily, espousing it’s eternal relevance on behalf of the one true, living God. So the question has to be, what are we really afraid of? Matt: 17:24-27
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2017:%2024-27&version=NASB

    • David Rogers says

      So, Bob, if I am hearing you right, you believe we do need to be concerned about placing godly people in the places of influence and authority of the seven mountains of culture. And we even need to be angry about it at times. I guess you wouldn’t agree with Don Carson’s statement on this I posted about here, then, would you?

      http://sbcvoices.com/d-a-carson-on-angry-christians-and-the-devils-tactics/

      You certainly have a right to your opinion, and I want to be careful to understand you correctly. And I am not calling for cultural disengagement, but rather a different type of engagement. See the final link at the bottom of my post for further explanation. And I really couldn’t care less about tax exemption, just understanding correctly and faithfully carrying out the mission our Lord has entrusted us with.

  5. Christiane says

    ” . . . God hasn’t really called us to figure out how “to change the world” after all, but rather to exercise a faithful presence in the midst of culture, living a life that bears testimony to the grace of God, sacrificially serving those within our own natural spheres of influence, and leaving the results up to Him.”

    Amen.

    • Christiane says

      from Psalm 104, this:

      “You hide Your Face, they are troubled:
      You take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
      You send forth Your Spirit, they are created:
      and You renew the face of the earth.

      The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever:
      the LORD shall rejoice in His works.”

  6. Jess Alford says

    David Rogers,

    You have been one of the few that I’ve ever agreed with. I agree this time too. Truly a masterpiece. When you post something I actually feel comfortable reading it.

      • Jess Alford says

        Oh wise one, the reason I feel comfortable reading David’s posts
        is that David doesn’t have an agenda, he writes truth. For you to pull an insult from my comment is very sad. I suppose the old Proverb is true. A fool will utter all their mind, and a wise man will keep it in until afterwards. Please don’t think any of this pertains to you, it’s just that this is one of my favorite verses.

        • Frank L. says

          Dear Dave,

          “”” Please don’t think any of this pertains to you””””

        • Dale Pugh says

          Maybe….just maybe……one should consider how things are being said. When said person then has it pointed out that what is being said comes across negatively, that person might then begin to see how that which is being said is perceived. Just a thought. Please don’t think that any of this pertains to you, it’s just something that came to mind.

  7. Jess Alford says

    Frank L,

    It’s great to have you back from your break. How are you doing?

  8. Frank L. says

    Jess, thank you for asking my Voices friend. I get a kick out of your unique mountain perspective.

  9. Jess Alford says

    Dale Pugh,

    Sir, Please read comment 14, and if you can find anything that sounds like an insult I will openly apologize for it.

    • Dale Pugh says

      Jess, it isn’t just about comment 14, but entire body of work. I’ll leave it at that.

      • Jess Alford says

        Dale,

        If I rode your horse, I would get a nose bleed because I would be up so high. I’ll just leave it at that…

  10. Jess Alford says

    David Rogers,

    I think it’s like the old saying the lower we bow the taller we stand before God. As far as a different type of engagement, sure I can go along with it, as long as it doesn’t leave God’s word. I think we have an array of misguided efforts pertaining to the world that need to be prayed about.

    I apologize to you for this post getting off track.

  11. Robert I Masters says

    David Rogers,
    I think there is a big distinction between Reformed dominionism and NAR or Seven Mountain dominionism which Os Hillman describes here.
    This is a good description as I understand it.

    http://tinyurl.com/3bdmcj7

      • says

        David,

        Have you ever listened to “Franky” tell the story of his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy?

        I enjoyed this article. I’m not a major fan of Rushdoony. As a theonomist, I am thankful for his contributions but think he went off the deep end. His general approach was not wrong but the strict literalism in hermeneutics is as dangerous as dispensationalism (imho).

        That said, there is a signed first edition of his Institutes of Biblical Law at my half-priced books. I found myself curiously called to it but my wallet refused to open. I guess it was a Balaam’s donkey thing.

        • David Rogers says

          Joshua,

          I was aware that he had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I have never heard the story of his conversion. Do you have a link somewhere?

          • says

            Here is a link on youtube. You’ll also find some of his speeches in defense of Orthodoxy against Protestants. I have a deep respect for EO and feel we could learn a lot from them.
            http://youtu.be/9-CJhPlmznA

            Personally, I think his political opinions and rejection of the Protestant faith go hand in hand. In either case, I enjoy listening to him and value his opinion.

          • David Rogers says

            Thanks for the link, Joshua. I just got done listening to it. It’s arguments like those of Schaeffer that motivate me in my studies of an Evangelical theology of Christian unity. I believe we need to have a good answer, and I’m convinced that we do, but not many have been diligent to think these things out.

            Also, this is just a subjective impression, and it may prove to be false. But I noticed the date of this interview is 2000. At least, that is the copyright date given on the video credits. It seems to me that Schaeffer’s general attitude in more recent things I have heard from him is a little more irreverent and disrespectful of his upbringing and the Evangelical tradition in general. He may just adjust his tone for his audience, though.

          • says

            David,

            I think I can agree with you. I think he, like most, are turned off by “Christians” who desire to assert themselves politically without asserting the full gospel of Christ. Maybe I’m giving him some leeway on that though.