And now, Network Christianity

Lots of Christians supported Donald Trump, for many different reasons.  Some didn’t approve of him, but thought that he would be better than Hillary Clinton.  Some thought Trump would be more favorable to the pro-life cause.  Some thought he would be better on religious liberty.  Some thought Trump would bring more jobs, shake up the status quo, and make America great again.  Most Christians who supported him probably did so for various of these reasons.  But some apparently supported him for theological reasons.

Did you notice how a number of Pentecostal groups, particularly those influenced by TV preachers, were with Trump from the beginning and expressed no qualms about some of his questionable behavior?

According to a recent book on the subject by Brad Christerson and Richard Flory (published by Oxford University Press), there is  a new movement within Pentecostal and charismatic circles.  The authors call it “Independent Network Charismatic”–or “INC”–Christianity.  It doesn’t focus on evangelism or building congregations, nor speaking in tongues or performing miracles.  Though of course Pentecostalists and charismatics continue to care about and to practice such things, this particular strain is solely about acquiring influence.  And it is based not at all on a church, but on independent networks of leaders known as “Apostles.”

INC Christianity teaches that there are “seven mountains of culture”:  business, government, media, arts & entertainment, education, family, and religion.  The idea is that if Christians “capture” each of these mountains–that is, assume leadership in these fields–the nation’s problems will be solved and they will “bring heaven to earth.”

These Network Christians still believe in signs and wonders:  They are convinced that one of them was the election of Donald Trump, whom they consider to be God’s chosen agent to bring in the kingdom of Heaven on earth.

These are not to be confused with Dominionists or Theonomists, who are Calvinists.  Nor do they seem to be millennialists, either pre- or post-, though I could be wrong about that.  (Please enlighten me if you know.)  They are charismatics, seeing leadership in all of these areas as a sort of spiritual gift. UPDATE:  They also strike me as applying the “prosperity gospel”–which these groups also hold to–on the national level.  These leaders are part of the New Apostolic Reformation movement, which more fully accounts for their theology.

I suspect all Christians who support Trump or who are active in politics or who seek cultural impact will get tarred with this brush.  You can ascend those seven mountains–if that is your vocation–without buying into the theology behind these “networks.”  But you should be aware that this new social gospel is in the air.

From Brad Christerson & Richard Flory, How a Christian Movement Is Growing Rapidly in the Midst of Religious Decline | RealClearReligion:

INC Christianity is led by a network of popular independent religious entrepreneurs, often referred to as “apostles.” They have close ties, we found, to conservative U.S. politicians, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and more recently President Donald Trump.

Charismatic Christians emphasize supernatural miracles and divine interventions, but INC Christianity is different from other charismatics – and other Christian denominations in general – in the following ways:

  • It is not focused primarily on building congregations but rather on spreading beliefs and practices through media, conferences and ministry schools.
  • It is not so much about proselytizing to unbelievers as it is about transforming society through placing Christian believers in powerful positions in all sectors of society.
  • It is organized as a network of independent leaders rather than as formally organized denominations.

INC Christianity is the fastest-growing Christian group in America and possibly around the world. Over the 40 years from 1970 to 2010, the number of regular attenders of Protestant churches as a whole shrunk by an average of .05 percent per year, while independent neo-charismatic congregations (a category in which INC groups reside) grew by an average of 3.24 percent per year. . . .

Most Christian groups in America have seen the role of the church as connecting individuals to God through the saving grace of Jesus and building congregations that provide communities of meaning and belonging through worship services. They also believe in serving and providing for the needs their local communities. Such traditional Christian groups believe that although the world can be improved, it will not be restored to God’s original plan (until Jesus comes back again to rule the Earth).

INC beliefs, however, are different – their leaders are not content simply to connect individuals to God and grow congregations. Most INC Christian groups we studied seek to bring heaven or God’s intended perfect society to Earth by placing “kingdom-minded people” in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society.

INC leaders have labeled them the “seven mountains of culture.” These include business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. In this form of “trickle-down Christianity,” they believe if Christians rise to the top of all seven “mountains,” society will be completely transformed.

One INC leader we interviewed summed it up this way:

“The goal of this new movement is transforming social units like cities, ethnic groups, nations rather than individuals…if Christians permeate each mountain and rise to the top of all seven mountains…society would have biblical morality, people would live in harmony, there would be peace and not war, there would be no poverty.”

We heard these ideas repeatedly in most of our interviews, at events we attended and in INC media materials.

Most significantly, since the 2016 presidential election, some INC leaders have released public statements claiming that the Trump presidency is part of fulfilling God’s plan to “bring heaven to Earth” by placing believers in top posts, including Rick Perry, who is currently heading the Energy Department; Betsy DeVos directing the Department of Education; and Ben Carson leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

[Keep reading. . .]

 

About Gene Veith

I am a retired English professor and college administrator. I have written over 20 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.