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MILLENNIAL PREFIXES

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  June 8, 2012 — 5 Comments

In developing a systematic eschatology we may sort out the standard evangelical viewpoints along millennial lines (though the actual question of the millennium in Rev 20 really should not be central to the discussion). In attaching prefixes to the term “millennium” we modify the second coming of Christ in terms of its connection to the millennium: amillennial, premillennial, and postmillennial. The three basic positions may be briefly defined in terms of their chronology as follows:

Amillennialism: The privative a in “amillennialism” emphasizes that there will be no earthly millennial kingdom as such. As amillennialist George Murray puts it: “amillennial, a term which indicates a denial of any future millennium of one thousand years’ duration.”

Premillennialism: The prefix pre indicates that eschatological system that expects a literal earthly millennial kingdom which Christ introduces by his second coming before (pre) it. This kingdom will transpire on earth under Christ’s direct rule.

Postmillennialism: The prefix post points out a lengthy (though not necessarily a literal thousand year long) earthly period in which Christ’s kingdom influences the world, which period will conclude at Christ’s second advent. Puritan era postmillennialism tended to expect a literal thousand-year millennium introduced by the conversion of the Jews (rather than the return of Christ) as the last stage of Christ’s earthly kingdom. Modern postmillennialism tends to see the thousand years as a symbolic figure covering the entirety of the Christian era.

An important sub-class of premillennialism arose in the 1830s. We know it as “dispensationalism.” Generally dispensationalists often attempt to link the two different systems, to beef up their historical argument. But we must understand that historic premillennialists strongly disavow any commonality with dispensationalism. Premillennialist George E. Ladd vigorously protests the equation of dispensationalism and historic premillennialism. He even calls any equating of the two a “mistake.” This explains why the popular book edited by Robert G. Clouse is titled The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Anthony A. Hoekema notes that “divergent interpretations of [Revelation 20] have led to the formation of at least four major views about the nature of the millennium or the millennial reign here described.” Many other evangelicals recognize four basic positions, including for instance amillennialists Grenz and Riddlebarger, as well as premillennialist Grudem.

Blomberg and Chung design their recent important historic premillennial work for the express purpose of distinguishing premillennialism and dispensationalism: A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind Eschatology (2009). In that work we note the following strong distancing: The two systems “are two very different kinds of movements,”  “two versions of futurist premillennialism,” which involve “fierce divisions.” They lament that “Ladd paid a price for his [premillennial] views; for the next three decades, he told his Fuller students about the recriminations and condemnations sent his way by angry dispensationalists.” In fact, “Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary also paid a price” for allowing “various premillennialist views, which produced intense outside opposition for decades.” They speak of “the differences between dispensational and nondispensational premillennialism and the intense concern of their respective adherents that they not be confused.”

Classic dispensationalists are aware of their own distinctive differences, as well. Ryrie even comments: “Perhaps the issue of premillennialism is determinative [for dispensationalism]. Again the answer is negative, for there are those who are premillennial who definitely are not dispensational. The covenant premillennialist holds to the concept of the covenant of grace and the central soteriological purpose of God. He retains the idea of the millennial kingdom, though he finds little support for it in the Old Testament prophecies since he generally assigns them to the church. The kingdom in his view is markedly different from that which is taught by dispensationalists since it loses much of its Jewish character due to the slighting of the Old Testament promises concerning the kingdom.” Ryrie even argues for “The Necessity of Dispensationalism” over against premillennialism.

Allis offers us a helpful eschatological sorting device, which Adams modifies. It works quite well in classifying the three basic millennial positions. Two questions tend to sort the positions into one of the three most basic schools. These questions are:

(1) What is the chronology of the kingdom?
(2) What is the nature of the kingdom?

The chronological question focuses on the timing of Christ’s second advent in relation to the kingdom’s establishment. If his coming is before the kingdom, then the position is premillennial; if it is after the kingdom, then it may be either amillennial or postmillennial. The question regarding the nature of Christ’s kingdom highlights its historical character. If the kingdom will have a radical, objective, transforming influence in human culture, it is either premillennial or postmillennial; if it will not, it is amillennial.

 

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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.

5 responses to MILLENNIAL PREFIXES

  1. John L O’Neill June 9, 2012 at 6:30

    NOT HELPFUL !!!

  2. Kevin Evans June 10, 2012 at 6:30

    As an evangelical Christian who longs for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, I always wondered what exactly was the purpose of the 1,000 year reign of Christ in the city of Jerusalem. Why not just simply establish His eternal kingdom after He returns, rather than waiting for 1,000 years. Further, I always questioned the purpose of the animal sacrificial system during the Millennial Kingdom.This aspect of Premillennialism is expounded in Tim Lahaye’s Prophecy Study Bible. Postmillenialism teaches that the nations will be Christianized. However, how does this belief square with 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 which says that there will be a great falling away and then the Man of Sin will appear? It seems as if Amillennialism has an advantage over Postmillennialism. What say you, Dr. Gentry?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. June 10, 2012 at 6:30

      Kevin:
      Thanks for your note. You expressed the matter well with postmillennial terminology. That is, there will be a “great falling away.” And the falling away implies that it has to be from some higher plane. Postmills believe there will be a long period of dominance for the Christian faith. But that toward the end, just before Christ’s second coming, there will be a temporary “falling away” of some who have just gone along with Christianity without being truly converted. Not long before the end God will loose Satan to demonstrate his incorrigibility and to bring out the tares sown among the wheat. When Christ comes he will judge those false-converts and Satan.

      Three important things to keep in mind (from a postmillennial perspective): (1) This is truly a falling away from the higher plane, which entails a period of Christian glory on earth. (2) The period of Christian dominance, righteousness, prosperity, and peace will be longer than the prior period of man’s resistance to God. (3) The final falling away will be a brief period that will be quickly judged.

      I hope this is helpful.

  3. Lloyd G. Pearcy July 9, 2012 at 6:30

    Dr. Gentry:
    With respect to the three periods you describe in your answer to Kevin Adams (1. Man’s resistence to God; 2. Christian dominance, righteousness, prosperity, and peace; 3. Final falling away) please comment on which of these three periods mankind stands at present! And thank you for your scholarship and clarity!

    Lloyd G. Pearcy

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 10, 2012 at 6:30

      Lloyd (that’s my middle name!):

      I did not intend to map three periods (stages) of human history, or to present human history as properly divided into only three periods. In explaining the “falling away” in prophecy I was pointing out that to fall away implies that the falling is from a higher plane, which fits a postmillennial scheme well.

      As a postmillennialist I believe that the kingdom came when Christ appeared on earth in the first century (Mark 1:15; Matt 12:28; Col 1:13). That kingdom is gradually growing (as a mustard seed, Matt 13:31-32; cp. Mark 4:26–29) until it reaches full maturity and dominance in history (1 Cor 15:20-28). We have seen progress in history from Nero’s time to now, but there is much that remains to be conquered for Christ. I could not say how far along a “scale” we are toward that full fruition of the kingdom. Who knows? God could send worldwide revival tomorrow!

      Thanks for reading!

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