“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?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 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? 6 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? 7 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:
For a post in which I lay out my own ideas regarding a more biblically based Christian approach to culture, see here: