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DO POSTMILLENNIALISTS MISUSE THE GREAT COMMISSION?

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  April 23, 2012 — 1 Comment

One of the key arguments for postmillennialism is the Great Commission. This is not the only argument, mind you, but it is an excellent passage from which to present the postmillennial case.  Unfortunately, amillennialists dismiss any optimistic argument from this passage. In fact, they have to — in order to remain amillennialists! But their replies to postmillennialists on this passage are not satisfying.

Once again I will return to the eschatological debate in Darrell L. Bock’s Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Zondervan, 1998). I will be interacting with Robert Strimple of Westminster Theological Seminary who defends amillennialism.

On page 62 Strimple briefly alludes to my exposition of Matthew 28:18-20, which I believe forms a positive proof for the postmillennial hope. Unfortunately, he simply sweeps away my four page presentation by declaring: “Gentry has failed to establish that making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them require the fulfillment be in postmillennial terms” (p. 62).  This sweeping assertion is remarkable both in that it so quickly dismisses one of my major exegetical arguments without even offering a contrary exegesis, and in that it does so in a self-destructive way. Let me explain.

Postmillennialism notes that the Great Commission is given by the resurrected Lord on the basis of his redemptive victory, declaring that he now has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Thus, the Commission is clothed with universal authority. The Commission also employs kingly authority in commanding us we actually to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and instructing them in all that Christ teaches. Then it closes with a promise of the very presence of the authoritative Lord with us to see that we successfully engage this commissioned program. Everything about the Great Commission breathes the rarified air of universal victory and dominion: the authority for victory, the command to victory, and the presence of the Victor insure its accomplishment.

Now notice how quickly Strimple dismisses all of this—and in a self-destructive way. Strimple writes that Gentry “implies that only the postmillennialist believes that the task given the church by her risen Lord will be successfully completed. Not so. Amillennialists (and premillennialists) certainly believe that this age will not end until the Lord’s purposes are fulfilled. But Gentry has failed to establish that making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them require the fulfillment be in postmillennial terms” (p. 62)

Read his comments for yourself. He claims he believes “the task” of the Great Commission will be “successfully completed” and that “this age will not end until the Lord’s purposes are fulfilled.” If “the task” is “successfully completed” and “the Lord’s purposes are fulfilled,” we must ask what is “the task” and what are the “purposes”? Strimple himself emphasizes our task as actually “making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them” (p. 62). If the church is to successfully baptize and disciple all nations, why does this not prove postmillennialism, which expects just these results in distinction from amillennialism?

And when he complains that Gentry “has failed to establish that making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them require the fulfillment be in postmillennial terms,” we must ask what are the amillennial terms for discipleship and baptism? If it is anything less than the “successful” baptizing and discipling of all nations, then it is less than what Jesus commands. Does Strimple expect “all nations” to be baptized? S

trimple stumbles, I believe, when he effectively equates merely leaving a “witness” with being baptized and discipled (as per the Great Commission). For in this paragraph on page 62, immediately following remarks about “making disciples,” Strimple cites Matthew 24:14. But this verse only calls for preaching the “testimony” to the world. “Testifying” and “discipling” are two different activities: testifying is the beginning point, discipling the conclusion; testifying is accomplished when men hear; discipling results when men respond; a testimony is  declared to those outside the church; “making disciples” is administered to those inside the church (for the discipled nations are “them” whom the church is “baptizing,” Matt 28:19).

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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 80 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.

One response to DO POSTMILLENNIALISTS MISUSE THE GREAT COMMISSION?

  1. Excellent post, Ken- I have to wonder sometimes that perhaps men like Strimple are trying to avoid associations with theonomy (or what some theonomy ends up looking like) while retaining their ‘amil’ status?

    Blessings-

    Tim Bushong

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