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NEWSPAPER EXEGESIS V. POSTMILLENNIALISM

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by Greg L. Bahnsen (edited by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.)

This is the first in a four-part series on “Misguided Grounds for Rejecting Postmillennialism.” This article was originally written by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, but is presented here as edited by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. In this article, Dr. Bahnsen considers the problem of “Newspaper Exegesis.”

It must be observed that postmillennialism lost favor (and today remains held in disfavor) with conservative theologians for manifestly unorthodox and insufficient reasons. Extra-biblical reasoning, as well as lazy or poor scholarship, has intruded itself into Christian discussions of eschatology. I will highlight four misguided grounds often used for rejecting this hope-filled eschatology. In this article I will focus on: Newspaper Exegesis.

Alva J. McClain says of postmillennialism: “This optimistic theory of human progress had much of its own way for the half-century ending in World War I of 1914. After that the foundations were badly shaken; prop after prop went down, until today the whole theory is under attack from every side. Devout Postmillennialism has virtually disappeared.”[1] J. Barton Payne’s massive Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy mentions postmillennialism only once, and that merely in a footnote which parenthetically declares “two world wars killed this optimism.”[2] Merrill F. Unger dismisses postmillennialism in short order, declaring: “This theory, largely disproved by the progress of history, is practically a dead issue.”[3] John F. Walvoord tells us that “In eschatology the trend away from postmillennialism became almost a rout with the advent of World War II” because it forced upon Christians “a realistic appraisal of the decline of the church in power and influence.”[4] Hence he says that “In the twentieth century the course of history, progress in Biblical studies, and the changing attitude of philosophy arrested its progress and brought about its apparent discard by all schools of theology. Postmillennialism is not a current issue in millenarianism.”[5] He accuses it of failing to fit the facts of current history, of being unrealistic, and of being outmoded and out of step.[6]

Jay Adams recognizes postmillennialism as a “dead issue” with conservative scholars, since it predicts a golden age while the world awaits momentary destruction; he agrees with the above authors that the “advent of two World Wars . . . virtually rang the death knell upon conservative postmillennialism.”[7] Adams apparently offers his own opinion that Boettner’s long-range postmillennialism “is too difficult to grant when Christians must face the fact of hydrogen bombs in the hands of depraved humanity.”[8] Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth captures well the attitude of these previous writers, stating that “there used to be” a group called “postmillennialists” who were greatly disheartened by World War I and virtually wiped out by World War II. Lindsey’s (poorly researched) conclusion is this: “No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a ‘postmillennialist.’”[9]

The sad fact is that our Christian brothers mentioned above should be embarrassed by what they have written and concluded; the attitude and reasoning they have set forth is woefully lacking as respectable Christian scholarship. By means of such newspaper exegesis, one could just as well discount the return of Christ in glory, saying “where is the promise of his coming?” (cf. II Peter 3:1-4). This reductio ad absurdum must be reckoned with. The fact that an era of gospel prosperity and world peace has not yet arrived would no more disprove the Bible’s teaching that such an era shall be realized (in the power of God’s spirit and the faithfulness of Christ’s church to its great commission) than the fact that Christ has not yet returned disproves the Bible’s teaching that such an event shall take place!

The only question is whether the Bible actually teaches these things. If it does, then “let God be true but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). The newspaper has no prerogative to challenge God’s word of truth. Nor do those who read the newspapers. As faithful disciples of Christ, we are to trust God as the sovereign controller over human history, “who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11), “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:10), so that “none can stay his hand” (Dan. 4:35). With the Psalmist we should declare, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth” (115:3). If God says something is to happen, then it shall happen; it is to our discredit if we are men of little faith with respect to his promises.

Just imagine the following scenario: devout Simeon is in the temple looking for the consolation of Israel (cf. Luke 2), when a popular Jewish theologian comes in and tells him, “Simeon, your hope of a personal Messiah is a dead issue, an idealistic anachronism. Your unrealistic theory has been disproved by the course of history and discarded by all schools; it is out of date, outmoded, and no longer a current issue. No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and remembers the four hundred years of silence from God believes as you do; prop after prop has gone down, and the events that have come upon our nation have killed the optimism of your theory.” Would any conservative theologian say that Simeon’s belief had been refuted or incapacitated by such considerations? Would any think him justified in no longer treating it as a vital position worthy of scriptural consideration? Of course not. Likewise biblical postmillennialism cannot be thus dismissed.



 Notes

1. “Premillennialism as a Philosophy of History,” in W. Culbertson and H. B. Centz, eds., Understanding the Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956), 22.
2. J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 596.
3. “Millennium,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, rev. 1961), 739.
4. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 9.
5.  Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 18.
6. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 35, 36.
7. Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 2.
8. Adams, The Time is at Hand, p. 4.
9. Hal Lindsey (with C. C. Carlson), The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 176.

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