Saturday, January 23, 2021

Postmillennialism in Vogue

 


I was recently asked what big theological issue is burning hottest in the current, broad Evangelical conversation. There are many ways to answer that question, but what first came to mind is the issue of postmillennialism. Before I continue, it would be good for this issue to be defined. Here's a summary from one of my go-to theology sites on the internet.

GotQuestions says this:

Postmillennialism is an interpretation of Revelation chapter 20 which sees Christ’s second coming as occurring after the “millennium,” a golden age or era of Christian prosperity and dominance...Those who hold to postmillennialism believe that this world will become better and better—all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding—with the entire world eventually becoming “Christianized.” After this happens, Christ will return.

For those of you who were previously unfamiliar with this end times view, it's a bit bewildering to think a Christian would believe this way. The world is becoming "better and better"? Really? Some believe this to be so.

A hundred years ago, postmillennialism was popular in the Christian world, but the World Wars put a damper on its spread. Stephen Wilson wrote for Baptist Press:

In the years before World War I, western Protestants largely promoted a view of eschatology called postmillennialism...As the horrors of World War I unfolded and uncertainty set in after the conflict, many Christians began to question the idea that human society would get better. Therefore, the First World War marked the beginning of postmillennialism’s decline. Some still adhered to it after the conflict, but a Second World War, the holocaust and a Cold War with the threat of nuclear destruction led most Western Christians to abandon postmillennialism.

Essentially, Christians allowed the news of the day to shape their theology of last things. "How could the Bible be teaching that things will get better when we look around us and see that things are so bad?" 

Generally speaking, this is a very bad way to develop your doctrine. Scripture alone is authoritative and our theology must be guided by it and it only. Our biblical theology is the interpretive lens for the world around us; the world around us is not the lens for our biblical theology. This is a very important point that we all have to recognize.

That said, I have to concede on the point that as a dispensational premillennialist, if I find out that some dubious leader has signed a seven year peace treaty with Israel and they start building a temple, I will probably let go of my pre-trib rapture doctrine. There's a certain point at which you just can't deny reality anymore and your predictions for the future have to adapt. The exact location of where the line is drawn is different for all of us. 

I digress.

In recent years, but especially recent months, the influence of postmillennialism has been growing. Doug Wilson's group in Idaho (CrossPolitic, Blog & Mablog, and the like), Apologia Studios, and AD Robles all promote a postmillennial worldview. This approach to Christian living can be described as unapologetically combative in the culture and radically evangelical. Those are great things by-and-large, and, in many ways, they are exemplary.

There are a variety of concerning items that we should have about the postmillennialism movement, though. I expressed some of my initial thoughts in this Facebook post:


The resurgence of postmillennialism is, overall, a bad thing for the church and hermeneutics in general. I like many...


So, my initial beef with this end times view is the way it's acquired. Scripture must be interpreted with a poor hermeneutic for it to be true. To quote the GotQuestions article I referenced above, "Those who hold to postmillennialism use a non-literal method of interpreting unfulfilled prophecy, assigning their own meanings to words. The problem with this is that when someone starts assigning meanings to words other than their normal meaning, a person can decide that a word, phrase, or sentence means anything he wants it to mean." The result of such an approach is that "Israel" no longer refers to Israel, the throne of David is reduced to metaphor, and Romans 11 gets mangled.

A troublesome element that often accompanies the interpretive method of postmillennialism is theonomy/Christian reconstructionism. CARM provides a helpful and concise definition of this idea:

It maintains that the world should be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ in all areas:  social, moral, political, judicial, military, family, art, education, music, etc.  Christian Reconstructionism advocates the restoration of Old Testament civil and moral laws in order to reconstruct present American society into an Old Testament type Mosaic form and that the three main areas of society – family, church, government – should all be biblically modeled, the Bible being the sole standard.

Postmillennialists hold to this doctrine because they believe it is the way that the kingdom will grow. Remember, they believe Jesus is returning after His millennial reign. According to them, His reign is evidenced by the world becoming Christianized, and as the world is converted on a grand scale, biblical law will be implemented in all areas of life

There are certain things at the heart of theonomy that are admirable; however, the outworking of this theology has major issues. Listen to Todd Friel and Phil Johnson discuss the topic. A Christian reconstruction of every culture in the world is a wonderful idea and it will happen. It just won't happen until the regeneration (Matthew 19:28).

Additionally, the thought that Christians will prevail over the world before Christ's return is not a biblical teaching. Satan is the ruler of this age and he must be thrown into the abyss before the world is released to serve Christ. Currently, Satan is prowling around, exercising the dominion God has allowed him to have. In John MacArthur's most recent sermon, he stated plainly:

We don't win down here. We lose. Are you ready for that? Oh, you're a postmillennialist? You thought we were just going to go waltzing into the kingdom because we took over the world? We lose here. Get it. They killed Jesus, they killed the apostles, we're all going to be persecuted...We don't win down here...We don't win. We lose on this battlefield, but we win on the big one, the eternal one.

The premillennial worldview (or, the dispensational premillennial worldview, to be more specific) is vastly different than that of the postmillennial view. The premillennial view is more faithful to the testimony of Scripture and what the book of Revelation declares about the future of this place. Jesus stated plainly that the world would get worse and worse as it comes to an end. The church will endure persecution and the Lord will continue to build it despite the enemy's efforts; yet Christ's kingdom will not be fully realized until He returns to establish His thousand-year reign, establishing justice and righteousness on the face of the earth.

With all of that said, I'm not here to call my postmillennialist brothers heretics. I disagree with them and I truly believe that their teachings can be dangerous for the church. But I'm not condemning them.

I'm just seeking to warn you, dear reader. Just because something is in vogue and has good elements, it doesn't mean you should buy in.

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