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ANCIENT SEEDS OF POSTMILLENNIALISM

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment
Creeds

Is postmillennialism a modern phenomenon? Did it arise only in the excitement of the discovery of the new world and the development of America? These are important questions, historically and theologically.

The primary argument for postmillennialism is biblical rather than historical or practical. If it cannot be proven from Scripture it does not matter who in history held to the postmillennial hope. Nor does it matter what a practical encouragement in may be if believed. The question before us in understanding eschatology is: Is it biblical.

Nevertheless, it would seem rather odd if postmillennialism were the biblical outlook and it never was held by anyone until modern times. Perhaps some truths of Scripture must be developed over time through rigorous study of the Bible, but surely not the very goal of history, i.e., eschatology.


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(by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.)
A rebuttal to dispensationalism’s view of eschatology and God’s Law
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Eschatology in the Creeds

Interestingly, despite the frequent appearance of prophetic statements in the early church fathers, an intriguing phenomenon presents itself to us: No ancient creed affirms a millennial view. No creed affirms either premillennialism, amillennialism, or postmillennialism. Actually, the early creedal formulations of Christianity provide us with only the most rudimentary elements of eschatology. That is, eschatology does appear in the creeds, but in its most basic form.

For instance, the Apostle’s Creed simply affirms: “He ascended into heaven; and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” and a belief “in the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.” The eschatology of the Nicene Creed makes only very slight advances, asserting that he “ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”

Yet, despite the very basic formulations appearing in the creeds, both amillennialism and postmillennialism fit comfortably within these and other ancient creedal affirmations. Premillennialism’s fit is a bit more awkward, however, due to its requiring two separate resurrections and two distinct judgments rather than general ones involving all men simultaneously.

As classic dispensationalist Robert P. Lightner admits: “None of the major creeds of the church include premillennialism in their statements.”[1] Nevertheless, not one of the millennial views, though, is expressly delineated in any early creed as the orthodox position. This is not surprising in that, as Millard Erickson explains, “all three millennial positions have been held virtually throughout church history.” [2]

Eschatology and the Creeds

This noted, we should expect to find a gradual development of the millennial schemes, rather than a fully functioning system in early Christian history. For example, John Walvoord admits when defending dispensationalism: “It must be conceded that the advanced and detailed theology of pretribulationism is not found in the Fathers, but neither is any other detailed and ‘established’ exposition of premillennialism. The development of most important doctrines took centuries.” [3]

And though premillennialism finds slightly earlier development (especially in Irenaeus, A.D. 130-202), theologian Donald G. Bloesch notes: “postmillennialism was already anticipated in the church father Eusebius of Caesarea” (A.D. 260-340). [4]

The great ecclesiastical historian and biblical scholar Philip Schaff traces postmillennialism back even farther, observing that Origen (A.D. 185-254) “expected that Christianity, by continual growth, would gain the dominion over the world.” [5] He can say this based on such statement by Origen as: “every form of worship will be destroyed except the religion of Christ, which will alone prevail. And indeed it will one day triumph, as its principles take possession of the minds of men more and more every day” (Origen, Against Celsus, 8:68).


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(by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.)
Sub-title: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Two other prominent church fathers whose historical confidence appears to express a nascent postmillennialism are Athanasius (A.D. 296-372) and Augustine (A.D. 354-430). For instance, as Wendy Zoba notes, Augustine teaches that history “would be marked by the ever-increasing influence of the church in overturning evil in the world before the Lord’s return.” [6] This would eventually issue forth in a “future rest of the saints on earth” (Augustine, Sermon 259:2) “when the Church will be purged of all the wicked elements now mixed among its members and Christ will rule peacefully in its midst.” [7] This early incipient postmillennialism contains the most basic element of the later developed system: a confident hope in gospel victory in history prior to Christ’s return.

Notes

1. Robert P. Lightner, The Last Days Handbook:  A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Different Views of Prophecy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 158.

2. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 3:1207.

3. John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), 52. Emphasis mine.

4. Donald G. Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology: Vol. 2: Life, Ministry, and Hope (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979), 192.

5. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, rep. n.d. [1910]), 2:591, cp. 122.

6. Wendy Murray Zoba, “Future Tense,” Christianity Today, October 2, 1995, 20.

7. Brian E. Daley, The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology (Cambridge: University Press, 1991), 133.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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