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TWO-EDGED CRITICISMS OF POSTMILLENNIALISM

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

This is the third in a four-part series on the sad practice of rejecting postmillennialism on faulty grounds. Dr. Bahnsen wrote this material and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., has edited it and offered here. This rejection falls on its own sword in that it involves two-edged criticisms. Let’s see how this is so.

A third infelicitous way in which postmillennialism has been disposed of is by means of (allegedly) critical considerations which in fact apply as much to the other eschatological positions as to postmillennialism. This is particularly embarrassing as a scholarly lapse. But what do we mean?

One example, is that some have contended that there is incoherence among various postmillennialists rather than a unified theology, and in connection with this criticism it is observed that postmillennialism is adhered to by extremely divergent theological schools.[1] However, this is just as true of amillennialism and premillennialism; numerous details differ among proponents of these positions (indeed, one is inclined to think that they are more extensive and significant differences than those among proponents of these positions (indeed, one is inclined to think that they are more extensive and significant differences than those among postmillennialists), but this says nothing about the truth of their central tenets. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this problem is the strong antipathy that historic premillennialists (such as George Eldon Ladd, G. M. Beasley-Murray) have toward dispensational premillennialists. And the dispensationalists recognize this strong criticism of their position (as we see for instance in Ryrie’s, Dispensationalism).

Then again, postmillennialism is sometimes thought to be falsified through imputing guilt to it by association, observing that it has sometimes been held in some form by unitarians and liberals. But “premillennialism” has been advocated by the apostate Jews and modern cultists, and “amillennialism” is endorsed by neo-orthodox dialectical theology.

The fact that there are functional similarities between various evangelical and heretical theologians does not in itself settle the key question of which position is taught by God’s word; whichever millennial position is scriptural, it is nonetheless subject to misuse and inappropriation. Hence the use of one of these positions by an unorthodox writer does nothing in itself to discredit the position.

A further criticism which cannot be applied uniquely to postmillennialism is that it interprets biblical prophecy both figuratively [2] and literally.[3] The premillennialists see symbolic interpretation as a failure of nerve, and amillennialists take literal understanding of prophecy as crude and insensitive. But the fact remains that none of the three schools interprets biblical prophecy exclusively in either a literal or figurative fashion. (And, by the way, nobody really adheres to the rule, “Literal where possible,” as is evident from the respective treatments of the beast of Revelation, which could possibly be a literal monster but obviously is not.)

All three eschatological schools end up finding both kinds of literature in the prophetic passages, and it is dishonest to give an opposite impression. If anything, the fact that postmillennialism is seen as too literal by amillennialists and too figurative by premillennialists perhaps suggests (certainly does not prove) that it alone has maintained a proper balance. The upshot is this: the charge of subjective spiritualization or hyperliteralism against any of the three eschatological positions cannot be settled in general; rather, the opponents must get down to hand-to-hand exegetical combat on particular passages and phrases.



 

Notes

1. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 23, 34, 36.

2. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 24-25, 34.

3. William E. Cox, Amillennialism Today (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1966), 20, 136; Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyteri

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