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THE MISREPRESENTATION OF POSTMILLENNIALISM

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

This is the second 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 “Misrepresentation.”

Misrepresentation Documented

Postmillennialism has not only been discarded in this century on clearly unorthodox grounds; it has also been made a straw man so that modern advocates of the other schools of interpretation can easily knock it down and get on to other interests. The worst possible interpretation is put on postmillennial tenets, or the eccentric aspect of some postmillennial writer’s position is set forth as representing the basic school of thought.

As instances of these procedures we can note the following. Hal Lindsey says that postmillennialists believe in the inherent goodness of man,[1] and Walvoord says that the position could not resist the trend toward liberalism.[2] He also accuses it of not seeing the kingdom as consummated by the Second Advent.[3] William E. Cox claims that postmillennialism is characterized by a literal interpretation of Revelation 20.[4] Adams portrays the postmillennialist as unable to conceive of the millennium as coextensive with the church age or as a present reality,[5] for he (according to Adams) must see it as exclusively future – a golden age just around the corner.[6] Finally, it is popularly thought and taught that postmillennialism maintains that there is an unbroken progression toward righteousness in history – that the world is perceptibly getting better and better all the time – until a utopian age is reached. Geerhardus Vos portrays the postmillennialist as looking for “ideal perfection” when “every individual” will be converted, and some will become “sinless individuals.”[7]

All of the above claims are simply inaccurate. The Calvinist, Loraine Boettner, certainly does not believe in man’s inherent goodness, and B. B. Warfield can hardly be accused of not resisting liberalism. That A. A. Hodge did not see the second coming of Christ as the great day of consummation is preposterous.

In addition, J. Marcellus Kik and many others insisted on a figurative interpretation of Revelation 20. Certain sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch theologians, as well as Jonathan Edwards and E. W. Hengstenberg, were all postmillennialists who saw the millennium as coeval with the interadventual age (in which there would be progressive growth for the church in numbers and influence). Charles Hodge, Snowden, and Boettner were all postmillennialists who explained that the growth of Christ’s kingdom in the world suffers periodic crises, and Boettner has especially stressed the fact that it grows by imperceptible degrees over a long period.

Finally, anyone who thinks of postmillennialism as a utopian position misunderstands one or the other in their historically essential principles. Indeed, a chapter in Boettner’s book, The Millennium, is entitled, “The Millennium not a Perfect or Sinless State,” contrary to the misrepresentations of Vos. Nobody has ever propounded, in the name of evangelical postmillennialism, what Vos claimed (least of all his Princeton colleagues or predecessors). Therefore, the recent opponents of postmillennialism have not been fair to its genuine distinctives, but rather have misrepresented it as a general category of interpretation. This surely provides no firm ground for rejecting the position.

Misrepresentation Cures

All of this misrepresentation could easily be cured by three simple correctives:

First, the opponent of postmillennialism should read its leading, current-day representatives, not simply secondary sources bent on rejecting the eschatological system.

Second, the opponent should also read these representatives carefully. Some of the denunciations of postmillennialism cite the appropriate articles and books, but do so in an anti-contextual manner. All theological statements should be read in their contexts rather than jerked from them.

Third, he should have in mind an adequate definition of postmillennialism (such as Gentry gives in an earlier post: “Definining Postmillennialism”). How can you reject something of which you have no working definition? But such is the large-scale practice in evangelical debate today.



 

Notes

1. Hal Lindsey (with C. C. Carlson), The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 176.

2. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 34.

3. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 31.

4. William E. Cox, Amillennialism Today (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and, 1966), 64.

5. Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 90.

6. Adams, The Time is at Hand, 2, 41.

7. Geerhardus Vos, “Outline of Notes on New Testament Biblical Theology,” 89, 90.

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