By Rev. Greg L. Bahnsen, Ph.D. (Philosophy, University of Southern California)
According to evangelical, Bible-believing postmillennialism, fallen man is utterly incapable of entering or advancing the kingdom of God in his own effort, wisdom, or accomplishment. God’s kingdom comes not by human work, but by the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ (cf. Colossians 1:13-14) and according to the gracious power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Postmillennialists believe that Jesus established the kingdom of God on earth during His first advent. Mark summarizes what Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14). From His exorcism of demons Jesus authoritatively concluded: “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Jesus is now despoiling Satan’s house (v. 29), as the kingdom slowly grows in the earth (Matthew 13:31-32), and every enemy is brought in submission under His feet (Hebrews 1:13; 10:13). He must reign until all opposition is defeated, and then He will deliver up the kingdom to the Father — at His second coming, which is “the end” of history (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).
Postmillennialists believe that the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom comes about by means of the preaching of the gospel and the powerful work of God’s Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. That is, it is the pursuit of the Great Commission, rather than the use of violence or military confrontation, which peacefully secures the widespread conversion of the world and brings it to obey all that Jesus has commanded (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
However, the process through which the kingdom grows involves an intense spiritual battle, with its ensuing afflictions, persecutions, hardships and suffering for God’s people. The ultimate victory which shall come through the struggle does not cancel the pain and sorrow which attends that struggle. The Apostle John spoke of himself as a “companion in the suffering and kingdom… that are ours in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Paul called on Timothy to “be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8), realizing that “if we suffer [with Him], we shall also reign with Him” (2:12).
Question 1: But isn’t postmillennialism a form of naturalism and humanism, arrogantly trusting in man and earthly politics to establish God’s kingdom in the world?
Answer: Absolutely not, although many opponents of the position, either out of misconception or malice, have tried over and over again to portray it as such.
In fact, though, Bible-believing postmillennialism is the diametric opposite and mortal enemy of naturalism and humanism, for it teaches the need for God’s supernatural intervention in human affairs and in human hearts in order for His kingdom to come. Postmillennialism, as can be seen from what was said above, humbles man’s pride and accomplishments by declaring the necessity of God’s grace in order for anyone to enter the kingdom of God.
Question 2: Postmillennialists are dangerous, though, because they have the idea that they and their followers are going to bring in the kingdom of God, and they are going to do so through political compulsion and even armed conflict.
Answer: That kind of remark is nothing less than slander, which falls under the wrath and curse of God (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19). I realize that this amounts to a sharp reply to the comment, but such a rebuke is morally required — for the glory of God and the good of the verbal abuser. “He who utters a slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18) who will not be allowed to dwell with Jehovah (Psalm 15:3). Theologians and Bible teachers are even more responsible to guard what they say than others (cf. James 3:1) — so they especially must take care and realize that “the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8).
Teachers who oppose postmillennialism have no right to distort and misrepresent what it stands for. Postmillennialists most surely do not hold that they are going to bring in God’s kingdom. Their proclamation, to the very opposite effect, is that Christ has already established His own kingdom Himself! And He did so at His first advent. Postmillennialists insist that Christ not be deprived of His glory. He is the King. He is the one in whom victory comes. We are only servants of the King.
Moreover, postmillennialists do not advocate political compulsion or violence as the means by which Christ works through us to establish His dominion or kingdom throughout the world. As Paul says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” — and for that reason are “mighty before God” for casting down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Christ’s kingdom does not originate from this world, which is the explanation for the fact that His servants do not fight (John 18:36). Postmillennialists look to the Great Commission, not political revolution, for the victory of Christ’s cause. To say the opposite is to malign them and the truth.
Question 3: But don’t postmillennialists overlook the dimension of suffering and weakness in the Christian life? At least that is what I have read and been told. Postmillennialists are called “triumphalists” who forget the theology of the cross.
Answer: This too, like the cases seen above, is a rhetorical distortion. By using language like this the critic insinuates false accusations and communicates unfair connotations about the postmillennial position, without offering details or objective proof. You will find that it is much easier to make these kinds of claims than to demonstrate them through responsible analysis and scholarship.
Postmillennialists do not deny, try to evade, or downplay the constitutive dimension of suffering and sorrow in the Christian life or in the history of the church. One can hardly imagine that the Scottish theologians Symington or Brown had somehow forgotten the “killing times” of the Covenanters when they expressed their postmillennial confidence.
Charles Hodge, the postmillennial “dean of theologians” at Princeton Seminary in the last century, wrote in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 4 that “We constantly illustrate in our person the sufferings of Christ… [being] neglected, defamed, despised, maltreated….” This is hardly consistent with the charge that postmillennialists forget the theology of the cross!
Both postmillennialists and amillennialists (not to mention premillennialists) recognize the inevitable hardships and persecution which believers undergo in this world. That is not what separates them. Postmillennialists trust the word of the Lord that, even when contrary to outward appearances, our sufferings in this world eventuate in a greater manifestation of Christ’s saving rule on earth, not a diminished one. We suffer to be sure, but it is a suffering-unto-victory, rather than a suffering-unto-defeat.