Amillennialist’s reject postmillennialism’s optimistic outlook on history. They even argue that postmillennialism allegedly discounts Christ’s present victory which has been in effect since the resurrection/ascension.
Prof. Robert Strimple’s complaint in this direction is: “But what is the nature of Christ’s present kingdom. Because Gentry has defined the victory Christ seeks in the present age in terms of ‘the vast majority of human beings’ . . . he must view Christ’s kingly reign as a failure so far—a failure for these now two thousand years since his ascension” (Strimple, in Bock, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond [Zondervan: 1998], p. 61).
How shall I respond? I would note the following:
First, this is an absolutely erroneous implication, exposing once again the methodological problem in Strimple’s preferred line of argument. It is an example of a grossly non sequitur form of argument. He has forgotten the postmillennial definition of the kingdom: The kingdom is by divine design to enter the world “mysteriously” (Matt 13:11) growing from a “seed” to a “mature plant,” from imperceptible, fragile-appearing beginnings to obvious, world-dominating fullness.
The literary context of the Matthew’s record of the Kingdom Parables provides important insights that dispel Strimple’s charge. In the preceding context Matthew presents Christ as claiming his kingdom is powerfully present (Matt 12:28), but in the following material he shows the King rejected by his own people (Matt 13:53–58). How can this be? The Kingdom Parables explain this surprising reality. They show the divinely-ordained method of the kingdom: it begins in a “mystery” (Matt 13:11), even being intentionally hidden at first (Matt 13:13). Some of its seed does not grow and prosper (Matt 13:3-8); in fact, the first century Jews—though the Old Testament people of God—have the kingdom intentionally hidden from them (Matt 13:14-17). But in the long run the kingdom will gradually develop to a place of dominance in history (Matt 13:30–33).
Since these are Christ’s own explanations of his kingdom’s predestined expectations in history, how can its early stages be a failure because they are unlike its final stages? The kingdom rule of Christ is no more a “failure” than a seed is a “failure” because it is not a tree with edible fruit. The kingdom is not failing of its purpose any more than a baby is failing because he lacks teeth, cannot walk, cannot talk, and so forth. Both the seed and the baby are successes when they operate according to their design, a design which promotes gradually developing maturity. Of course, they become “failures” (as it were) if they mutate and die. The kingdom will not mutate and die, though. Strimple is making the same mistake the Emmaus Road disciples made when they looked too narrowly at Christ’s crucifixion (Luke 24:17–21): “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21a). They failed to see the divinely-ordained, developing big picture.
Second, actually Strimple frames his critique wrongly. He expresses his concerns about my view of “the nature of Christ’s present kingdom” (Strimple, p. 61). The question, though, is not about its nature (we both agree it is by “nature” a spiritual, redemptive kingdom), but about its expectation, that is, its historical goal. Strimple forgets the context of my definition: I provide my definition in a debate book between three particular views of the millennium (i.e., kingdom). Consequently, I frame my definition in such a way as to highlight the contrast between postmillennialism and both pre- and amillennialism. For a fuller, more basic definition the reader should consult my definition which covers three full pages in He Shall Have Dominion. Therefore, my definition is succinctly highlighting an important distinction from the other views.
And once again, Strimple’s method here can be rebutted by reductio ad absurdum. Strimple focuses on my definition presented in a debate book context, noting what he perceives as imperfections. What if we were to apply this method to Paul’s teaching on the resurrection at the second advent? What if we were to argue that the lost will not be resurrected because nowhere in Paul’s writings does he teach anything other than a resurrection of the saved? That would be Scripture in contradiction to itself, for the Lord clearly teaches the resurrection of the lost (John 5:25-29). As Paul narrowly focuses on the believer’s resurrection so I narrowly focus on the debate definition of postmillennialism.
Furthermore, the postmillennialist would argue that the kingdom has grown since the first century. It has not attained its full maturity, but it has definitely grown as predicted. After all, my definition highlights the “increasing gospel success” and its “gradually” producing its effect (Strimple, p.60). I much prefer sitting before my Gateway computer framing an eschatology debate for a large Christian publisher than sitting behind the gate in the Coliseum awaiting an agonizing death by a large carnivorous panther. Progress has been made; the kingdom is not failing.