One of the great challenges of the present age is deciding when ideas or concepts that are seemingly far from the mainstream are worth highlighting and critiquing. On the one hand, there’s the danger of “nutpicking”—of highlighting fringe voices and wrongly describing them as representative of your opponents’ beliefs.
On the other hand—in part because of the stress and pressure of the pandemic and the intensity of political polarization—there are previously obscure (and even crazy) ideas that have become suddenly and violently relevant to American life. QAnon is a prime example.
Today I’m going to talk about something called the Seven Mountain Mandate. While it’s a term that few people know, the core concept is deeply influential to the way in which millions of Evangelicals approach culture and politics. It’s a concept that has its uses, but it’s also subject to profound abuse. In short, it often confuses Christian power with biblical justice, and it creates incentives for Christians to not just seek power but to feel a sense of failure and emergency when they are not in positions of cultural or political control.
The origin of the Seven Mountain Mandate rests with an alleged divine revelation shared by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission, and the theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Not one of those men is fringe. They’re among the most influential Evangelicals of the modern age. And what was that revelation? Cunningham explains it in the short YouTube below:
In its distilled essence, the Seven Mountain concept describes seven key cultural/religious institutions that should be influenced and transformed by Christian believers to create “Godly change” in America. The key to transforming the nation rests with reaching the family, the church, education, media, arts, the economy, and the government with the truth of the Gospel.
At one level, this analysis seems less like revelation and more like logic. Each of these men accurately described important arenas of life, and if Christians truly want to be “salt and light” in the world, they should want to comprehensively cultivate true biblical values in American culture.
To put it another way: If God asks mankind to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” He does not intend that those virtues be confined to church. The fruits of the spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”—are not mere Sunday School values. They should pervade our interactions with the wider world.
Moreover, if and when those seven key institutions become instruments of injustice, Christians should respond. To take some obvious examples, if the “mountain” of government turns against its citizens, Christians have an obligation to stand with the oppressed. If the mountain of popular culture transforms the beauty of art into the perversion of porn, Christians must resist. And if the mountain of education teaches falsehoods, Christians have an obligation to tell the truth.
The command to “do justice” has real force, and it’s incumbent on Christians to seek justice across the length and breadth of American life.
But there is an immense and important difference between seeking justice and seeking power. In fact, the quest for power can sideline or derail the quest for justice. And that’s where we get to the real problem—the difference between a Seven Mountain concept and a Seven Mountain mandate or Seven Mountain dominionism.
In 2013, Bethel Church pastor Bill Johnson and author Lance Wallnau co-authored a short book called Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate. In that book, here’s how Wallnau described the stakes:
Each of these seven mountains represents an individual sphere of influence that shapes the way people think. These mountains are crowned with high places that modern-day kings occupy as ideological strongholds. These strongholds are, in reality, houses built out of thoughts. These thought structures are fortified with spiritual reinforcement that shapes the culture and establishes the spiritual climate of each nation. I sensed the Lord telling me, “He who can take these mountains can take the harvest of nations.” (Emphasis added.)
“We don’t really have a choice in the matter,” he writes. “It will require nothing less than the government of God to dispossess and occupy the territory dominated by the gates of hell.” He continued, “The sober truth is that everywhere the Church fails to exercise her authority, a vacuum opens for darkness to occupy.”
Wallnau went on to describe the importance of “mountain kings”—those individuals who have a “position in a high place” and who wield influence over “their own sphere directly and other spheres indirectly.” It is thus of urgent importance for Christians to reach, influence, or even become these “mountain kings.”
At its most extreme edges, Seven Mountain dominionism holds that Christ will not return unless and until the church successfully invades or “occupies” each of the seven key spheres of life.
Seven Mountain dominionism is common within the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation,” a term that describes a charismatic movement that is attempting to restore the so-called “lost offices” of apostle and prophet. These new apostles and prophets place great store in their ability to discern the will of God for individuals and for the nation. A number of these “prophets” accurately predicted the rise of Donald Trump and then confidently predicted another Trump victory in 2020.
One of those Seven Mountain adherents, Paula White, became arguably Trump’s closest spiritual advisor, chair of his Evangelical Advisory Board, and a special advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
Astute readers will by now have noticed two things. First, you’ll note the extent to which the heart of this strategy (or mandate) isn’t based on clear scriptural commands but rather on claimed special revelations from God. Second, you’ll note how much it emphasizes the importance of placing people in positions of power and control.
Taken together, these realities explain at least some of the hysteria surrounding Trump’s electoral loss. Seven Mountain dominionism joins with other forms of Protestant Christian dominionism, Christian nationalism, and newly emergent strains of Catholic integralism (which seeks to integrate Catholic “religious authority with political power”) to place an immense amount of spiritual importance on political leadership.
In Invading Babylon, Wallnau makes this explicit. He says, “The business of shifting culture or transforming nations does not require a majority of conversions.” What does it require? “We need more disciples in the right places, the high places.”
To put it another way, when Trump lost the election, the church not only lost a “mountain king,” alleged apostles and prophets lost their own access to the “high places.” They also lost a portion of their spiritual credibility. The post-election challenges weren’t just the path to preserve the presidency—for some of Trump’s most fervent and prominent Evangelical leaders, they were a means of preserving the integrity of their divine pronouncements.
Yet belief in those pronouncements dies hard. When Jeremiah Johnson, a man who claims to possess a “prophetic anointing,” predicted Trump’s win in 2015 had the integrity to apologize for falsely prophesying that Trump would win re-election, the backlash was immense. The New York Times’s Ruth Graham tells the story:
On Facebook, [Johnson] reported that he received “multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry.” He also said he had lost funding from donors who accused him of being “a coward, sellout, and traitor to the Holy Spirit.”
There’s also a tragedy inherent in Christian support for Donald Trump as our “mountain king.” There’s little evidence that he brought biblical justice to our land. Quite the contrary. He left us diseased and divided. He drenched America in a tidal wave of lies.
What is the alternative to the pursuit of power? I prefer the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
Christians can never forget that they live in what my pastor once called an “upside-down kingdom.” The last shall be first. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for Christ, you’ll save it. And don’t forget, the Son of God himself spent his entire life on earth far from the mountaintop.
He was born in a manger distant from the centers of power. He was the friend of sinners. He was persecuted and punished by a “mountain king” named Pilate and executed next to a thief. When he rose, he appeared not to Caesar but to a small band of ordinary men and women who would become martyrs, not rulers.
Christ prevailed, as my friend (and seminary professor) Curtis Chang told me, not by fighting from the commanding power of the heights, but by fighting from “utterly different terrain.” When scripture calls Christians to “take up your cross and follow me,” it’s declaring, in Curtis’s words, that “our mountain is Golgotha”—the dusty Israeli hill where Christ was crucified.
No amount of special revelation or modern-day prophecy should take our eyes off that biblical model. Any admonition that declares that we must rule should be checked with the immediate reminder that Christ did not. It is the cross—not the boardroom, not the Oval Office, and not the box office—that is the absolute center of the Kingdom of God.
One last thing …
Every now and then, I like to end with a song that’s pure joy. This fits the bill, both in lyrics and performance. Ellie Holcomb is a reader favorite, for good reason. Enjoy: