Print Friendly and PDF

POSTMILLENNIAL POSTMORTEMS

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

I have frequently stated — in print and in lectures — that postmillennialism is the most misunderstood and misrepresented eschatological position. So many false notions surround discussion of postmillennialism that there is a widespread confusion as to exactly what it teaches. This leads to a tendency to obscure the facts regarding contemporary eschatological options. Christians sometimes do this through ignorance, and other times through carelessness. Whatever the reason, a great disservice is done to the unsuspecting reader who inadvertently adopts and then labors under a delusion.

In this article, I will present a problem plaguing the understanding of postmillennialism that, for many, has let them write it off as moribund. We often read that postmillennialism is dead, supposedly having totally collapsed because of World War I. Although postmillennialism fell upon hard times after World Wars I and II, it did 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.


Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (Thomas Ice v. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.)
Debate book on the nature and timing of the great tribulation
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


Though these are older comments they are important to understand today for two important reasons: (1) Many of the books in which they are made are still in print, and therefore still misleading people. (2) In demonstrating their error even when they were originally given, this should expose the poor quality of research by the writers, thereby discrediting them.

So let’s begin with the earlier ones and work our way forward.

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.”

Chafer’s 1936 statement demonstrates little awareness of the strong postmillennialism current in Southern Presbyterian circles in the 1920’s. [1] Important articles on postmillennialism were published after World War I in Union Seminary Review by Eugene C. Caldwell in 1922 [2] and T. Cary Johnson in 1923. [3] A postmillennial book by Russell Cecil was published in 1923. [4] And sometime after 1921 David S. Clark published a postmillennial commentary on Revelation. [5] 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. [6] 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.” [7] O. T. Allis, an important defender of the faith and a writer well-known to Pentecost, [8] defends postmillennialism in 1947 and 1954, just prior to Pentecost’s Things to Come.[9] 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 [10]. 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” [11]. 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” [12]. 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” [13] 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. [14]

By Lindsey’s heyday postmillennialism was making its reinvigorated presence strongly felt. John Murray’s postmillennial commentary on Romans appears in 1965. [15] Erroll Hulse’s postmillennial work, The Restoration of Israel, precedes Lindsey’s book by two years. [16] Boettner’s book goes through six printings by the time Lindsey publishes his statement.


Nourishment from the Word (by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.)
Reformed studies covering baptism, creation, creeds, tongues, God’s law, apologetics, and Revelation
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


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 [17]. 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 [18] 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 [19]. 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. [20]

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 or so years

begun to admit the presence of postmillennialism. [21]

Notes

1. The following material and bibliographic data regarding Southern Presbyterian postmillennialism is derived from Jordan, “A Survey of Southern Presbyterian Millennial Views Before 1930” (Journal of Christian Reconstruction): 106–121.

2. Caldwell, “A Kingdom That Shall Stand Forever” (Union Seminary Review): 112.

3. Johnson, “The Signs of the Times” (Union Seminary Review): 47ff. Johnson was professor of systematics at Union. This was written after World War I and in spite of it to show that Christ “is going to disciple all the nations of the earth. . . . Further triumph is ahead for the church.”

4. Cecil, Handbook of Theology, 101.

5. Clark, The Message from Patmos (rep. 1989). The book is undated, but on page 9 he refers to the “very recent” publication of A. S. Peake’s commentary on Revelation, which was published in 1919.

6. See: Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen (1978). Machen urges Christians to go forth joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God” (p. 187). “And despite all ridicule of peace movements I cherish the hope that the gospel is going to win” (p. 245). “I do believe that there is going to be a spiritual rebellion of the common people throughout the world which if taken at the flood may sweep away the folly of war” (p. 261). See also: Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 49, 152, 178, 180. Gary North writes: “I once asked [Paul] Woolley what eschatological views were held by J. Gresham Machen. . . . Woolley replied that he had been a postmillennialist, to the extent that he ever announced his views, which I gathered was infrequently.” North, “Editor’s Introduction,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction 3:2 (Winter 1976–77): 3–4. Professor Norman Shepherd subsequently told North that Woolley had said much the same thing to him about Machen’s views.

7. Kromminga, Prophecy and the Church, 257. See: Hamilton, The Basis of the Millennial Faith, 1942.

8. The first two quotations and six of the thirty-four quotations in the first chapter of Pentecost’s Things to Come were from Allis’ Prophecy and the Church.

9. We can point to at least two postmillennial contributions to the debate by Allis, one in 1947, the other in 1954. Allis, “The Parable of the Leaven” (Evangelical Quarterly): 254–273 and Allis, “Foreword,” in Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant, vii–x.

10. J. Marcellus Kik produced two book-length contributions to the discussion. See: Eschatology of Victory. This book is a collection of two smaller books by J. M. Kik dated 1948 and 1954 (as well as a short series of lectures given at Westminster Seminary in 1961). For the two earlier dates see: Boettner, The Millennium, 12, 385. See also: Ford, “The Second Advent in Relation to the Reign of Christ” (Evangelical Quarterly): 30–39; Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant; Boettner, The Millennium.

11. Ladd, Crucial Questions, 47–48. In 1978 he spoke of it as “a minority view today.” Ladd, Last Things, 108–110.

12. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, 210. Emph. mine

13. Kevan, “Millennium” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology) , 353.

14. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 289.

15. Murray, Romans vol. 2. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., seems mistaken as to Murray’s amillennialism, based on reviewing Murray’s earlier work (1954) rather than his later work (1965). Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 199.

16. Hulse, Restoration of Israel (1968).

17. In the very year of the publication of Lindsey’s book (1970), issues 76–88 of the monthly Banner of Truth were published. In the first article these neo-Puritans mentioned their numbers had “grown steadily over the last decade,” despite widespread liberalism and defection around them. Anonymous, “The End of the Sixties” (Banner of Truth): 3.

18. Macleod, “The Second Coming of Christ” (Banner of Truth):16–22. Dunkerley, “Review of The Time Is at Hand” (Banner of Truth): 46–47. Murray, “The Hope and Missionary Activity” (Banner of Truth): 7–11. This is a reprint of Alexander Somerville’s nineteenth century article, “The Evangelisation of the World” (Banner of Truth): 31–35. Houghton, “Maintaining the Prayer for the World-wide Outreach of the Gospel” (Banner of Truth): 36–37. Reid, “Christian Realism and Optimism” (Banner of Truth): 3–6.

19. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come (1970). Toon, Puritans, the Millennium, and the Future of Israel (1970).

20. Murray, The Puritan Hope (1971). See the advance notice through publication of a chapter entitled “The Hope and Missionary Activity” (Banner of Truth): 7–11.

21. See: House and Ice, Dominion Theology; John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handboog, 17; Lightner, Last Days Handbook, 85.

Print Friendly and PDF

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Posts

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.

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML.

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> 

*