Godlike Dominion Not Human Opinion: Redefining Leadership in God’s Economy
By Rob A. Fringer
Leadership is redefined in terms of God’s mandate to live Godlike dominion in our world.
Corruption of power is an everyday occurrence in our world. Sadly, it has not escaped the institutional church. People are increasingly skeptical of Christianity and its leaders. As a result, God’s name is blemished in the court of public opinion, and the opinion is that God no longer matters. Maybe the problem isn’t power, but how we, the church, wield it. Maybe the dilemma arises out of our misunderstanding of power and its purpose. Instead of looking to God for our example, we have too often emulated the world around us. This must change!
In the opening chapter of Genesis, we learn of humanity’s creation and of God’s first mandate to us.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen 1:26-28, NRSV)
There is a clear parallel between the image of God in which humanity was created and humanity’s charge to have dominion over God’s creation; it is repeated twice. We were given the opportunity and the responsibility to be the leaders. We were called to rule over the land and the animals of sea, air, and land, but not over other humans. Unfortunately, we quickly got it wrong. We mistakenly assumed that dominion and rule meant controlling and exploiting those persons and things that should have been under our protection. We used power for our own personal gain. In the Fall, there was another significant shift that took place; the harmony and union of humanity was disrupted, and a hierarchical system emerged as the inevitable consequence of sin—man began to rule over woman (Gen 3:16).
Is this what dominion was supposed to look like? In order to answer this question, we must address one of the most significant questions set before the church in each and every generation— “Who is this God?” Is this God a malevolent overlord hell-bent on judgement and completely self-absorbed, or is this God a benevolent and loving parent desiring intimate relationship with humanity? Obviously, there are other options in the middle. Nevertheless, the point is that our understanding of God significantly influences our self-understanding. We have been created in God’s image and charged with having dominion over creation in the same way God exercises dominion. If God is relational, then our leadership must also be relational. If God exercises dominion through loving influence, then we must abandon coercion and manipulation and find ways to lead in love.
It is sometimes claimed that we get two contradicting pictures of God between the Old and New Testaments. In other of my writings, I have argued strongly against such an assertion. Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of God’s relational nature. God’s unrelenting forgiveness toward individuals and whole communities (e.g., Israel in the book of Hosea, and Nineveh in the book of Jonah) attests to God’s unbounding love. God desires relationship and continues to provide avenues to make this possible. God’s calling of Abraham (Gen 12), Moses (Exod 3-4), and the whole people of Israel is proof that God’s overarching plan of salvation, redemption, and restoration includes human involvement. Rather than ruling with an iron first, God invites participation in mission.
In case we are still in doubt concerning the Old Testament representation of God, we must remember that Christ is the ultimate revelation of the Father. This is clearly articulated in John’s Gospel—“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NRSV). Furthermore, Christ is sent by the Father (John 12:44), abides in the Father’s love (John 15:10) and only does what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19). In other words, the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is united in a single-minded mission to restore all of creation one relationship at a time. Christ reveals the fullness of God’s love and shows us what Godlike dominion looks like. God’s dominion is defined by God’s love! Therefore, just as God’s love is epitomized in self-emptying surrender, so is God’s power (Phil 2:5-8). And God extends this kind of Godlike dominion to us, the Church.
The New Testament uses a family of Greek words (oikonomia and cognates) to refer to the position and act of managing or stewarding the people and possessions under one’s care (Luke 12:42; Titus 1:7). This language is used to reference those entrusted by God (Eph 3:2; 1 Cor 4:1-2) and to speak about God’s divine plan or economy of salvation (1 Tim 1:4-5). In a very real way, Scripture teaches us that all Christians have been entrusted by God and given stewardship over God’s creation and over God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration of all creation back to God. In other words, all Christians are leaders; and as such, we are called to lead in a very specific way, through personal relationship that flows out of our relationship with God. This kind of divine economy is only possible as we walk in relationship with God and as we live by the power of the Holy Spirit. We glorify God by reflecting God’s image to a watching world. In the words of 1 Peter 4:10-11,
10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)
Through the incarnation, cross, and resurrection, the image of God can be fully restored in humanity as we place ourselves in Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit. And with this renewed image, the creation mandate is reiterated and reestablished. We are once again entrusted to steward God’s creation through God’s love.
The wonder of God’s dominion is that God yields power rather than wields it. This is because God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). God is, therefore, the definition of love. Love is always expanding, encompassing, encouraging, and empowering. If we are going to lead like God, then we must lead with love. It is not about controlling others. It is about releasing them while still walking alongside of them and seeking to help them be the best steward of the resources and gifts with which God has entrusted them. This kind of leadership will not be easy, and it will not be quick. Relationships are never easy or quick. But in God’s economy, every person has value and every relationship is worth it.
By way of benediction, allow me to paraphrase John 3:16 as a mandate to us, God’s church:
“For the Church so loved the world that she gave herself away in sacrificial leadership, so that everyone might come into relationship with Christ, might escape the destroying grip of sin, and might experience God’s everlasting love both now and forevermore.”
Go! And be this kind of Church and this kind of leader.
Rob A. Fringer, PhD (Manchester) is Principal and Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Biblical Language at Nazarene Theological College, Australian & New Zealand. Fringer is the author of Paul’s Corporate Christophany (Pickwick, 2019) and Engaging the Story of God (Global Nazarene Publications, 2018), and co-author of Theology of Luck (Beacon Hill, 2015) and The Samaritan Project (The House, 2012).