Comments on The Psychology of Dominion

A friend of mine pointed out a post by Mr Andrew Kerns entitled The Psychology of Dominion at The Circe Institute blog. After reading the article I was moved to comment in a bit of counterpoint to the general theme of Mr Kern’s article. If I understand him correctly, Mr Kern believes that a part of the problem with “youth culture” today is that we don’t expect teenagers to act like adults, nor to adopt adult responsibilities. The solution he suggests is for parents to get out of the way of their teenager’s appropriate independence. While I might generally agree with Mr Kern’s advice that we not “over-parent” our young adults, it seems to me that he has misconstrued the nature of godly dominion which is ostensibly his primary concern.

Mr Kern begins his post as follows, and my comments are below.

I have a sixteen year old son who does not like being told what to do. He’s actually a very pleasant son, very funny (though overly sarcastic, which he must have got from his mother for I would never be sarcastic myself), amazingly helpful around the house, and an independently home schooled kid this year. I hardly have to involve myself at all.

In fact, when I do involve myself, he can get pretty testy. I, of course, being the father, whoop him good when he doesn’t treat me with reverence, awe, and deference every time I speak to him.

Or not.

I have no desire to provoke my son to anger, and I think one of the best ways to do so is to continue to parent them after they don’t need or want it.

When the God of Genesis made the first man He said: Let them have dominion.

To understand the Judaeo-Christian view of man, one of the first things to remember is that he was created to rule. This is, to misapply Dr. Seuss, a wonderful, awful idea.

I offered the following comments to Mr Kern at his blog as follows.

While I agree with your assessment of the disaster that is “youth culture” I think you may have missed a critical component in the solution. Let me illustrate this from your opening comment regarding the testiness of your son. God requires of your sixteen year old son a due reverence in heart, word, and behaviour toward his parents. As best I can understand, testiness is not a godly response to the involvement of his parent in some matter. As best I understand the fifth commandment, you have a responsibility before God lovingly to shepherd your son in keeping his duty of reverence. Your son has a duty before God lovingly to show reverence to his parents. He learns how to honour and revere other superiors throughout his whole life, in no small part, by how he learns to honour and revere you. Obviously, your shepherding of your sixteen year old son would be both loving and age appropriate: no, you wouldn’t “whoop” him. I understand your use of hyperbole here. But even with that in mind you seem to imply, first, that his testiness is appropriate in light of his dominion impulse and, second, that correcting him would do him a disservice. But even on your own terms, you are to exercise dominion in your home to the blessedness of your son. No, it would not be blessing him if you kept him from growing in his decision making skills, but neither are you blessing him if you leave him to foster a sinful attitude toward your involvement.

My concern is not to major on a minor point of your article, but to point out what seems to be lacking in this talk of dominion. If we wish to foster “godly dominion,” we must first learn godly submission. Indeed, godly submission is always the way of godly dominion. It sounds as though you think that a primary component of godly dominion is independence, or perhaps you mean that this is a key component that is lacking in the upbringing of our children. If I have understood you correctly, I think you have mistaken “independence” for the godly traits of self discipline and personal responsibility. I press this because “dominion” (or sometimes “manliness”) has been used frequently to excuse all sorts of ungodliness in our children (not to mention adults).

Dominion on God’s terms involves dying to self, and thankfully living in obedience to God’s law. No, we mustn’t over-parent. However, godly dominion for a sixteen year old son is learned from the inside out, for example, by being man enough to put to death the natural surliness he might feel when his father offers unwanted instruction, and rather to express such strength of character as to require of himself what God requires, a loving and patient embrace of his father’s instruction. A young man with that kind of mastery over his own soul is being prepared for every form of outward dominion.


2 thoughts on “Comments on The Psychology of Dominion

  1. Mr Kern was kind enough to offer a thoughtful reply to my comment on his blog post. He wrote as follows.

    Hi Vaughn,

    Thank you for your reply. So far as I can tell, I agree with almost every thing you said. If we were face to face, I expect we’d talk this out and find out we agree almost completely and maybe you’d show me something I had thought of and maybe I’d return the favor. As it is, we’ll have to blog on it and hope my tone is consistent with my hopes: grateful and receptive.

    I might possibly disagree with two points, though probably by degree and not by contradiction. First, while I’m sure I have missed at least one critical component in the solution, I hope it isn’t the one you mentioned, which I embrace enthusiastically and always have. It won’t cause 16 year olds to attain holiness, however, and as result in spite of the perfection of my parenting they may still go through a surly stage. I agree that if he was perfectly submissive in spirit, he would not be surly, ever. Now that he is my fifth sixteen year old, however, I have learned that some things just have to be “waited out.” I’m not worried about him.

    The other thing I’d stop short of is suggeting that I think his disrespect is appropriate. It isn’t. And I can trace it back to his sinfulness too. But the issue here is intimately circumstantial, which is why I went to the trouble of mentioning my beloved son. There are many reasons why a sixteen year old can be disrespectful. But when it is a cultural plague and when children in faithful Christian homes manifest more of it than they have in other ages, then it is legitimate to consider what cultural influences are affecting his attitudes.

    After all, we talk constantly about television and movies and electronic seductions and how they impact children. I agree with all of that, but I don’t think it goes deep enough. The truth is that my son was created for dominion, but that the culture in which he has grown up removes virtually every natural opportunity for that dominion. Therefore, and this is my entire point, young men grow up frustrated in our culture. They have to find some expression for the God-given impulse to rule. That might be a dog or a garden for younger children. But the normal sixteen year old is capable, by nature, of running a household. Whether they are conscious or not of the robbery they have experienced, they have been robbed. Heck, they might even think they prefer it. But something deep within them, something God-given, has been cut out.

    It’s part of the removal of the chest that Lewis contends with in the Abolition of Man.

    So I agree that I need to shepherd my child/man to be more respectful toward me and his mother. But if I think I can move him toward submission without meeting his God-given impulse toward dominion I am fooling myself and ignoring what the scriptures teach about men.

    I did not intend to make my son or even my parenting (which is pretty mediocre) the focus of this blog. Rather, i intended to introduce an idea that I think is not adequately considered in the general dialogues on parenting among Christians. When I was a youth pastor, this idea never, ever came up in any training I received or conferences I attended. I’ve never heard it adequately discussed on Dobson or anywhere else. I suppose some people of the “Dominion Theology” persuasion or something moving in that direction must have discussed it. But for me, I wish I’d been more aware of it sooner.

    We are and therefore ought to be raising our children to rule the creation for its blessedness. We spend, in my opinion, a disproportionate amount of time contending negatively with their sins and far too little time acting proactively toward this calling to rule. They are both necessary and are both intimately bound together. Either without the other is catastrophic.

    I want my children to be among those who judge the angels.

    Thanks for your challenges and for compelling me to think through this issue more thoroughly.

  2. My reply to Mr Kern was as follows.

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Yes, I am immersed in “Dominion Theology” circles and have been for the better part of the past two decades, so my comments, and perhaps my tone, were shaped in part by that familiarity. However, I am not intending to be harsh.

    As I mentioned in my comments, it was not my intention to “major on the minor” of your post — it wasn’t my aim to address the particulars of your parenting. Still further from my intentions was any suggestion that we should put faith in perfect parenting. As I mentioned, my concern was to point out what I perceive to be missing frequently in the “dominionist” parenting perspective. I was merely using your introductory example to form a counter example in order to make my point. I see how this might have seemed harsh and I apologise. Christian parenting is already a deeply humbling experience — I wasn’t trying to add to the load.

    Indeed, that was partly my motivation — to remove another agenda item about which parents will undoubtedly feel inadequate. You clarified, “…this is my entire point, young men grow up frustrated in our culture. They have to find some expression for the God-given impulse to rule.” I can’t find where Scripture suggests that every son has this “impulse to rule” because of a dominion mandate or where you as a parent are called to cultivate such an impulse or find an outlet for it. I think you are misunderstanding the creation mandate to which you are alluding. The command given at creation does not imply an impulse present in every male. That “dominion mandate” was given to male and female alike, not just males. It involves a given superiority and a warrant for cultivation — and that is true for male and female alike. I think you are confusing “manliness” with these other ideas. I’m suggesting that we don’t load up our parenting with themes of “dominion” when all we’re talking about is expecting our young men to grow into godly manhood. Godly manhood is to be cultivated by self discipline and personal responsibility in the context of God’s law. Yes, we need to shepherd our young men with an eye toward their unique callings and capacities as men. But then, what do the Scriptures say about this? That was my point before — so far as I can tell, the Scriptures don’t urge parents to bring up a son by “meeting his God-given impulse toward dominion.” Perhaps I need to understand better, but I think this is where we disagree.

    Associating our parenting of boys with a dominion mandated impetus to rule confuses our parenting priorities. For example, since boys tend to be more aggressive and competitive, parents have been encouraged to see this as part of their dominion mandate. Thus, parents ought not to break up fist fights since this is how boys become men and realise their dominion impulse to rule. “Do you wish to make sissies of them? Let them be boys!” In terms of personal piety, I know what the Scriptures teach about turning the other cheek, forgiving and loving our enemies, doing good to all men, and so on. There is also a coordinate teaching in the Scriptures to defend the weak and innocent, even by force when lawful and appropriate. But I can find nowhere in Scripture where we are encouraged to shepherd our sons in light of a supposed dominion mandated impulse to rule. We have no biblical warrant for making that our guiding precept in parenting, and doing so results in confounding our real, God-given, biblical priorities.

    Clearly you are expressing a good deal of concern that we ought to expect more from our young adults, and especially our young men. Agreed. But again, please don’t load this up with more than what the Scriptures charge parents. Some young men are gifted with an aptitude for great leadership. Some are not. All men must learn how to lead their families in godliness. Certainly, a Christian parent must do his best to guide each of his children to make the best use of all his gifts to the glory of his Saviour. But we do the child a disservice if we add to the requirements of godliness more than what God has required. With regard to parenting, the Scriptures place emphasis upon cultivating godly piety — that is a great gain in every lawful endeavour, for both sons and daughters, especially when combined with contentment. Good stewardship will include the proper maintenance of the creation at our disposal, and cultivating that creation for our good and God’s glory to the best of our ability. This is certainly a part of our creation calling. If that’s all you mean, then we agree. But our sons (and daughters) will judge angels if and only if their lives are hid in Christ, not somehow in proportion to how much they appear to have “ruled the creation.”

    Thank you for the opportunity to interact on this. I appreciate the time and effort you have taken to share.