Taking Dominion with Your Stories Involves More Than Fighting Culture Wars

January 23, 2023

Editor’s Note: This article is the second installment in our four-part series on pursuing the storyteller’s great commission. To learn why we’re running this series and how we’re approaching each topic, read our introductory article.


The Bible’s language can sound harsh to modern ears.


When God commands Adam and Eve to “take dominion” in Genesis 1:28, the images that phrase conjures up may make a few readers cringe. How does aggressive behavior align with the New Testament’s exhortations to be humble and meek?


The instruction raises even more questions for us as writers. If God wants humans to rule over the whole Earth, shouldn’t that encompass fiction? And what tactics are we supposed to use when claiming the territory for His kingdom?


Some Christians treat the publishing industry as a front in the war to redeem the culture. They argue that we ought to present an alternative to the liberal agenda and lead readers to a Christian worldview. Over the past sixty years, this mindset has changed from being evangelistic to pious to pugnacious. The hordes of “indoctrinating media” must be met with equal ferocity!

But is the Dominion Mandate only a bugle blast to engage in the fray around us? Or are we overlooking the higher vision it contains? 


Before we can integrate Genesis 1:28 into our storytelling, we need to reflect on God’s handiwork in the preceding verses.


What Taking Dominion Means

“Taking dominion” can feel heavy-handed because of the wreckage we’ve seen human authorities leave behind. When we consider how God exercises dominion, however, Genesis 1 depicts a starkly different outcome. Throughout the chapter, God turns chaos into order. He separates the seas from the land to provide homes for His creatures. He suspends lights in the sky to penetrate the darkness and measure the passing of time. He plants vegetation to produce sources of food.


The benevolence that characterizes God’s actions offers us an example of the noble goals our stories can accomplish. When we write, we shape disparate elements into cohesive, compelling stories that delight readers and show them how to arrange their lives according to God’s design. And just like the opening of Genesis, the monumental task ahead of us starts with a single word.


Taking Dominion During Story Creation

First, we till our memories for ideas we can fertilize our stories with. We unearth the deep thoughts locked within our minds. We excavate social interactions that made us laugh. We gently touch the wounds that define us. Then, as our story pokes its green stalk through the surface, we cultivate it with our artistry. We find the right arcs to grow the characters. We weed out the subplots that threaten to choke the roots. We intersperse metaphors to convey emotions that are difficult to express and imagery to reveal the entire landscape in vivid color.   


And when our garden is complete, we name it—giving voice and form to the human experience.


As trivial as tapping out little black symbols in a quiet, secluded room might seem, writing is the process of bringing harmony to discord and healing to brokenness. We’re fulfilling the Dominion Mandate (and, by extension, the Great Commission) without ever moving from our desks. The knowledge that we’re walking in our Creator’s footsteps ought to stimulate our drive and creativity. 


Biblical dominion is beautiful.


Taking Dominion of Storytelling Impact

When we unlatch the gates to our gardens—our stories—to welcome readers in, though, should our motivations and focus shift toward preparation for combat? Some writers lunge at the chance to join the next virtuous volley of Christian material. Others hesitate to approach the battle lines, concerned that they don’t belong in such a divisive context. 


Scripture does urge us to cast down strongholds, take every thought captive, and oppose evil. Affirming God’s reality in our stories can be rightly compared to jubilant warriors winning conquests. 


However, before charging into the oncoming crowd, we must remember that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. His weapons are spiritual, not carnal. So we don’t need to adopt a belligerent stance. We cast down strongholds not by vilifying sinners and other religions but by leveraging consequences to persuade flawed characters to discard the lies they believe. We take every thought captive not by debating hot-button issues on our social media platforms but by demonstrating the inner peace and joy that comes from faith-oriented living. We oppose evil not by sermonizing for page after page but by portraying the triumph of the righteous and destruction of the wicked.


Boldness has a place within the realm of fiction. But our version of warfare is not and should not be the same as our enemies’. Because of the Spirit’s power, we don’t need to worry that subtlety will reduce our imprint.


Reframing the Purpose of Storytelling

Readers may be asking how, specifically, they can take dominion with their projects, especially if they’re currently unpublished. Contrary to most of the articles I write for Story Embers, or even this series as a whole, I haven’t included many practical applications. The reason? We far too easily miss the point when we jump straight to implementation without reveling in the grandness of our calling. 


Rachel’s installment will outline how we can properly steward our gifts to achieve all of the biblical mandates we’ve been discussing. For now, let’s bask in the opportunity to imitate God’s magnificent and magnanimous work. To transform messes into masterpieces. To nurture the good, the true, and the beautiful in our stories and the lives of our readers. 


If that doesn’t both intimidate and energize you, you’re not recognizing the full potential of Genesis 1.


Return next Monday as Sarah explains how empathy and compassion are essential components of the Great Commission. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. What do you think healthy dominion looks like in storytelling?


  1. KT Sweet

    Wonderful guidance on applying our craft to His glory, attracting readers His way. The brutal culture wars exhaust & frustrate me. You call us to act like Jesus, who used parables to reach the hearts of sinners. Which, of course, we all are. I love reading books that gently mirror what I most need to learn or be reminded to honor.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Books give us such a great opportunity to gently mirror Christ’s truth to readers. Love the way you phrased that!

  2. Benjamin Black

    Thanks for this article Josiah! I love it. It creates a beautiful picture, especially with the creation and garden imagery. A part of the purpose of story is awakening people to deeper truths.
    I think what you’re talking also describes a greater level of the concept of ‘show’ don’t tell’ doesn’t it? In our writing and in our lives. Not that we shouldn’t tell the truth, but we should show it with it’s lifestyle, patterns, and themes more than we tell it, or the telling lacks impact.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      You’re quite welcome, Benjamin. And yes, while what I’m getting at has a variety of different applications, it does share a lot of key similarities with the concept of showing instead of telling. 🙂

  3. Valari Westeren

    Absolutely!! I’ve never been the type to be all up in people’s faces about what I believe when I think they’re wrong, and some people in my life have interpreted that as cowardice. But the thing is, I’ve seen too much of this militant preachiness, both from my own “side” and from people not on my “side.” I don’t want to be like that. I want to be different. It’s encouraging to be reminded that sometimes a quieter way forward is the most effective way forward.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      While it’s possible to be cowardly, there is a profound difference between being tactful & prudent on the one hand, or shirking courage on the other hand. And in many ways, acting wisely with prudence does take a certain amount of courage itself to do well. 🙂

  4. Katherine Briggs

    Wonderful article. The imagery of a garden is beautiful, and I am inspired.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Katherine! Really glad you appreciated this article.

  5. Rachel Gilson

    Nothing speaks like a good garden metaphor! Loved what you said about the Spirit’s power being greater than our worries regarding subtlety. Wonderful article and a great reminder to crack open my Bible and read some Genesis.

    • Josiah DeGraaf

      It’s a real blessing to know we can rest in the Spirit instead of our own efforts. 🙂

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