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PREMATURE REJECTIONS 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 “Premature Charges.”

In addition to the misguided and failed attempts to dismiss postmillennialism based on (1) newspaper exegesis, (2) misrepresentation, and (3) the application of two-edged criticism (which applies to the critic as well as the position criticized), there are current day charges against the position which are premature or unfounded.

To this category belongs the allegation that postmillennialism is founded on Old Testament passages rather than New Testament evidence,[1] that the New Testament knows nothing of the proclamation of a semi-golden age.[2] Such statements do not bear their own weight in the face of postmillennial appeals to New Testament passages like the kingdom growth parables of Matthew 13, the apostle John’s teachings about the overcoming of Satan and the world (e.g., John 12:31-32; 16:33; I John 2:13-14; 3:8; 4:4, 14; 5:4-5), Peter’s Pentecost address (Acts 2:32-36, 41), Paul’s declaration that all Israel shall be saved (Rom. 11:25-32), his resurrection victory chapter in I Corinthians 15 (esp. vss. 20-26, 57-58), the statements of Hebrews 1-2 about the subjection of all enemies to Christ in the post-ascension era (1:8-9, 13; 2:5-9), and numerous passages from Revelation, notably about the vastness of the redeemed (7:9-10), the open door for missionary triumph and the Christian’s reign with Christ over the nations (2:25-27; 3:7-9), the submission of the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of Christ (11:15), and the utter victory of gospel proclamation (19:11-21). Opponents of postmillennialism may wish to dispute its interpretation of such passages, but it is groundless for them to allege without qualifications and without detailed interaction with postmillennial writings that the position is not taken from the New Testament itself.

Further premature criticisms would include Walvoord’s accusation that postmillennialism obscures the doctrine of Christ’s second coming by including it in God’s providential works in history,[3] and Adams’ charge that it confounds the millennium with the eternal state – since it takes Old Testament prophecies of kingdom peace and prosperity and illegitimately applies them to the New Testament mention of the millennium, and thereby winds up with the dilemma that either there is no need for a new heavens and earth (to which the Old Testament prophecies really apply) or else the millennium is frustrated.[4]

Walvoord has failed to grasp adequately the postmillennialist’s philosophy of history; it is not the case that the postmillennialist fails to distinguish providence from consummation, but rather that he sees providence as well orchestrated to subserve the ultimate ends of consummation. And in connection with this understanding, he recognizes that the New Testament speaks of Christ “coming” in various ways (contrary to Walvoord’s apparent thought that there is only one single sense in which Christ “comes,” namely, at his return in glory) – for example, in the first-century establishment of his kingdom (Matt. 16:28), in the person of the Holy spirit at Pentecost (John 14:18, 28; cf. vs. 16; Acts 2:33; I Cor 15:45; II Cor. 3:17), in fellowship with the repentant and obedient believer (Rev. 3:20; John 14;21-23), in historical judgment upon nations (Matt. 24:29-30, 34; Mark 14:61-62), and upon churches (Rev. 2:5, 16). Such “comings” of the Lord are part of God’s providential government of pre-consummation history and are in addition to Christ’s visible and glorious coming in final judgment (II Thess. 1:7-10). The postmillennialist does not obscure the second coming with providence.

Nor does he, as Adams said, confound the millennium with the eternal state; the postmillennialist clearly knows the difference between the two. It is just that he disagrees with Adams that certain Old Testament prophecies pertain exclusively to the eternal state. Prior to the amillennialists and postmillennialists engaging in full exegetical debate over such passages, it would be just as legitimate for the postmillennialist to accuse Adams of confounding the eternal state with the millennium. The postmillennialist has a sound rationale for connecting relevant Old Testament passages with the New Testament millennium, in that these passages (according to postmillennialist claims) speak of the pre-consummation prosperity of Christ’s kingdom, and the millennium is precisely the pre-consummation form of his kingdom. Such Old Testament passages are taken to be (at least in part) predictions concerning a pre-consummation state of affairs because they speak of things which are inappropriate to the eternal state (e.g., opposition to the kingdom, evangelism, kingdom growth, national interaction, death, etc.). Again, the opponents of postmillennialism may dispute its interpretation of such passages, but it is premature to accuse the position of confounding two openly recognized distinct entities (namely, the millennium and eternity) prior to refuting the exegetical reasoning of the position. Postmillennialism is not suspect in advance, any more than amillennialism is.

A further groundless criticism of postmillennialism as a system is Adams’ claim that it has even less reason to expect a semi-golden age in history than does the premillennialist, since there is nothing but sinful, non-glorified humanity to produce it, and that it has no explanation for the anticipated sudden change of conditions in the world at the end of history.[5] Such statements are unwarranted, for the postmillennialist sees the powerful presence of Christ through the Holy spirit as sufficient reason to expect the release of Satan from the post-resurrection restraints on his deceiving power over the nations as adequate explanation of the change of world conditions at the very end of the age (just as Adams does). Such tenets have been made well known in postmillennial teaching, and thus Adams’ criticism is an obvious oversight of what is an important element of the position criticized.

A similar reply is called for with respect to Walvoord’s criticism that postmillennialism deprives today’s believer of the hope of Christ’s imminent return.[6] The fact is that postmillennial never claimed to salvage the doctrine of the any-moment return of Christ; indeed, distinctive to it is the denial of the imminent physical return. The New Testament definitely indicates that the coming of the Lord is a delayed event, and that the Christian should expect to see precursor signs of its approach.[7] It is not to come upon him as an unexpected thief (I Thess. 5:4), for he believes the Scriptures that certain things must first occur (cf. II Thess. 2:1-3, etc.). Indeed, it was the error of the foolish virgins to expect the imminent coming of the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-8). Hence postmillennialism can hardly be faulted for not preserving a doctrine which it does not, by the very nature of its position, think should be preserved (cf. Matt. 25:5, 10).

We must conclude, then, that current day writers have offered no good prima facie reason for ignoring or rejecting postmillennialism as an important theological option for biblical believers. It has been unwarrantedly dismissed in the past fifty years on the basis of newspaper exegesis, misrepresentation, two-edged criticisms, and premature or unfounded charges. Postmillennialism deserves to be taken seriously and considered in the light of Scripture; quick dismissal or ignoring of it in recent years has no good justification.



 

Notes

1. George L. Murray, Millennial Studies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 86-87.

2. Jay E. Adams, The Time Is at Hand (Nutley, N. J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970),13.

3. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), 33.

4. Adams, The Time Is at Hand, 9, 14, 99; Adams applies these comments to “unrealized millennialists,” among whom he counts postmillennialists.

5. Adams, The Time Is at Hand, 12, 87.

6.Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 32-33.

7. Cf. O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1945),  173-174. This fact should clearly not be taken to imply that the Christian knows the actual day or hour of Christ’s return; Christ did not even claim such knowledge (Mark 13:32), and it is not for us to know God’s secret decree for the commencement of this event (Luke 12:40; Acts 1:6). Our duty is simply to be in faithful preparation for it (Matt. 24:46; 25:19-23; Mark 35-36).

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