Many evangelicals obscure the facts regarding contemporary options, sometimes through abject ignorance, sometimes through careless overstatement. Whatever the reason, a great disservice is done to the unsuspecting reader who inadvertently adopts and then labors under a delusion.
For instance, we often read that postmillennialism is dead, supposedly having totally collapsed because of World War I. Although postmillennialism falls upon hard times after World Wars I and II, it does not totally disappear from the Church. Here are several statements from different decades regarding the alleged death of postmillennialism. These are at best misleading overstatements and at worst downright erroneous.
In 1936 Lewis Sperry Chafer states: “postmillennialism is dead. . . . It is dead in the sense that it offers no living voice in its own defense when the millennial question is under discussion.” “It exists only in the limited literature which it created and with no living voice to defend it” (1948).
- In 1956 Culbertson and Centz observe: “Devout Postmillennialism has virtually disappeared.”
- In 1958 J. Dwight Pentecost writes that “Postmillennialism is no longer an issue in theology. . . . Postmillennialism finds no defenders or advocates in the present chiliastic discussions within the theological world.”
- In 1959 John F. Walvoord suggests that “Postmillennialism is not a current issue in millennarianism” and that “in eschatology the trend away from postmillennialism became almost a rout with the advent of World War II.”
- In 1961 Merrill F. Unger claims of postmillennialism: “This theory, largely disproved by the progress of history, is practically a dead issue.”
- In 1970 Hal Lindsey comments: “There used to be a group called ‘postmillennialists’. . . . No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a ‘postmillennialist.’ “
- In 1973 J. Barton Payne (as noted previously) dismisses postmillennialism in a footnote: “the position of 19th-century postmillennialism, as represented for example in the writings of P. Fairbairn . . . is here dismissed as no longer a current option.”
- In 1990 John Walvoord writes: “Postmillennialism largely died out in the first quarter of the 20th century. World War I dashed the hopes of those who said the world was getting better and Christianity was triumphing.”
The impression left by such statements is simply false. What is worse, the statements were incorrect when originally made. Chafer’s 1936 statement demonstrates little awareness of the strong postmillennialism current in Southern Presbyterian circles in the 1920’s. Important articles on postmillennialism were published after World War I in Union Seminary Review by Eugene C. Caldwell in 1922 and T. Cary Johnson in 1923. A postmillennial book by Russell Cecil was published in 1923. And sometime after 1921 David S. Clark published a postmillennial commentary on Revelation. J. Gresham Machen, who died in 1937, was a widely known writer, who fought valiantly against encroaching liberalism in the church and in society. He also was a postmillennialist. Chafer was simply in error when he stated that postmillennialism was “dead” and had “no living voice” in his time.
J. Dwight Pentecost has even less reason in 1958 to assert postmillennialism’s total demise. In the 1940s premillennialist D. H. Kromminga and amillennialist Floyd E. Hamilton contend with postmillennialists. Kromminga writes in 1945: “That all three major eschatological views are still persisting among Protestants and in our country, Floyd E. Hamilton makes clear.” O. T. Allis, an important defender of the faith and a writer well-known to Pentecost, defends postmillennialism in 1947 and 1954, just prior to Pentecost’s Things to Come. Not long before Pentecost’s statements, J. M. Kik (1948, 1954), Allan R. Ford (1951), Roderick Campbell (1954), and Loraine Boettner (1958) contribute important postmillennial works to the eschatological debate. In 1952 premillennialist George E. Ladd (in a book referenced in Pentecost’s Things to Come) admits that “the postmillennial interpretation . . . is not altogether dead.” In 1953 enough interest in postmillennialism exists to justify reprinting David Brown’s postmillennial work, Christ’s Second Coming. Pentecost’s statements simply is not justified by the evidence.
In the case of the statement by popular prophecy writer, Hal Lindsey (1970), we have no excuse for the error. In 1989 fellow dispensationalist Thomas Ice admits that “the last twenty years has seen an upsurge of postmillennialism.” Just two years after Pentecost’s work and a decade before Lindsey’s, E. F. Kevan writes: “There are many evangelical believers who hold these postmillennial views.” The classic dispensational commentary on Revelation by one of Lindsey’s seminary professors, John Walvoord, clearly point out in 1966 that Boettner’s postmillennial work “has revived” postmillennialism.
By Lindsey’s heyday postmillennialism was making its reinvigorated presence strongly felt. John Murray’s postmillennial commentary on Romans appears in 1965. Erroll Hulse’s postmillennial work, The Restoration of Israel, precedes Lindsey’s book by two years. Boettner’s book goes through six printings by the time Lindsey publishes his statement. The Banner of Truth Trust is established in the 1950s and had been republishing many Puritan postmillennial books for more than a decade before Lindsey. It also republishes postmillennial articles in its popular magazine. In fact, postmillennial contributions in The Banner of Truth magazine in the year Lindsey published his book (1970) include articles by Donald Macleod, Donald Dunkerley, Iain Murray, Alexander Somerville, S. M. Houghton, and W. Stanford Reid. Also, 1970 witnesses the publication of R. J. Rushdoony’s postmillennial book Thy Kingdom Come and Peter Toon’s Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel. In the next year a major postmillennial work appears and is advertised and promoted in 1970: Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy.
To quote Mark Twain, the postmillennial system could well complain: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Dispensationalists have only in the last twenty years begun to admit the presence of postmillennialism.