Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Dominion Mandate in This Age, to Infinity, and Beyond

If you have been following Doug Wilson's posts on my book Dual Citizens, you will have noticed that the theme of dominion has come up quite a bit, especially among his commenters. The complaints usually go something like this: Genesis 1:28 talks about how Adam was to take dominion over creation, and yet Stellman's focus on the believer's identity as a pilgrim and exile fails to do justice to the dominion mandate given by God at creation."

Assuming that this is a faithful summary of the critique, I would like to offer a response.

I agree that God told Adam to exercise dominion over creation, and I agree that Adam's dominion-taking would have helped usher in God's eternal kingdom, a kingdom which would have brought with it eternal life and Sabbath rest for Adam and his posterity. But where many go wrong, in my view, is in the fact that they seem to stop reading at Genesis 1.

After the Fall, God tells man that the elements of prelapsarian life, such as marriage, childbearing, and labor are to continue on, albeit in a context of curse. In a word, these aspects of life will now be perverted to reflect the curse sanction that God had pronounced on creation due to Adam's rebellion. Marriage will now be a power-struggle, childbirth will now be painful, and bread will now be produced through sweat and an uncooperative earth. The same is true of the dominion mandate.

The dominion motif comes to the fore again after the flood, only now Noah is to practice his mastery over creation in the context of a covenant that is not redemptive but common, a covenant made "between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations" (Gen. 9:1-17). As shown by the inauguration of the kingdom of man in Genesis 4, the cultural work of human hands is valuable for building a temporal, common kingdom, but due to the Fall, our cultural endeavors cannot bring about the kingdom of Christ (a kingdom which Jesus said "is not of this world").

What, then, of the dominion mandate?

We read in Psalm 8 a divine commentary on Genesis 1:28, one in which David speaks of man thus:

You have made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet... (vv. 5-6).
Sounds great, right? It sounds like the dominion mandate is still in force, reiterated in all its prelapsarian glory. But again, we need to keep reading. When we come to Hebrews 2, which is a commentary on Psalm 8 (which is a commentary on Genesis 1), we see a truly Christocentric interpretation of the dominion mandate. According to the writer,

Now in putting everything in subjection to [man], [God] left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (vv. 8b-9).
Talk about an already/not yet hermeneutic! According to the author here, there is a promise to man of dominion that is still outstanding and unfulfilled, one which we do "not yet see." But what do we see? "We see Jesus" who, like Adam, was made for a litte while lower than the angels. He is the One who exercises dominion, the One to whom has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Will we, the men and women whom Jesus represented and whose nature he assumed, ever get to share in this dominion? Indeed we will, but the writer to the Hebrews insists that this dominion is "not yet." Immediately preceding the quotation from Psalm 8, Hebrews says:

Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking (v. 5).
The implication is that though this present fallen order is not under man's control, the world to come will be. The conclusion, then, is clear: The dominion mandate of Genesis 1 has not been revoked, but due to the Fall, man cannot by his own cultural labors usher in the power and glory of the kingdom like Adam could have. Rather, this promise is now reformulated Christocentrically, with Jesus experiencing "the dominion of the resurrection" now, as demonstrated in his ascension to the Father's right hand. We, on the other hand, do not see these things with our eyes, but only embrace them by faith and hopeful cross-bearing. The day will come, however, when faith will give way to sight and the cross will give way to glory. On that day, and not before, "the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ," and we will reign with him forever and ever.