Few things have been more destructive to implementing a well-rounded, biblically grounded Christian worldview than an incorrect perspective on the end times. A stark, though inadvertent, illustration of this is available in a 1977 interview with premillennial evangelist Billy Graham:
- “Q. If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?
- A. One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. . . . Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up.”
A similar problem is admitted by Tim LaHaye. Many Christians are committed to the approaching end of the age, with all of its horror (according to their dispensational view):
- “Most knowledgeable Christians are looking for the Second Coming of Christ and the tribulation period that He predicted would come before the end of the age. Because present world conditions are so similar to those the Bible prophesies for the last days. . . , they conclude that a takeover of our culture by the forces of evil is inevitable; so they do nothing to resist it.”
Such pessimistic outlooks cannot encourage promoting a full-orbed Christian worldview. A book review in Christianity Today further illustrates this mindset. There we read that “Myers calls us ‘not to change the world, but to understand it.’” The review also notes that author Myers writes: “If we cannot expect our culture to be a holy enterprise, we can at least try to avoid participating in its profanities.”
Not surprisingly, the defenders and extenders of pessimistic eschatologies often speak of suffering and sorrow as the lot of Christians throughout the Christian history, with no hope of a let up. Writes amillennialist professor Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary: “Over the interadvental period in its entirety, from beginning to end, a fundamental aspect of the church’s existence is (to be) ‘suffering with Christ’; nothing, the New Testament teaches, is more basic to its identity than that.” “The normal situation for the community of Jesus is not to be influential and prosperous but poor and oppressed.” “The church is called to suffer in this world.” “Such tolerance as [Christians] receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than in the later, stage of history.”
The study of eschatology is a worthy Christian endeavor. Its significance to the Christian worldview is evident in the large role it plays in Scripture, which holds priority in developing a truly Christian worldview. It is also crucial to the development of a distinctively Christian philosophy of history, which is fundamental to the Christian understanding of the here and now. In addition, eschatology significantly impacts the Christian’s cultural endeavors because it sets before the Christian the foreordained pattern of the future. If that pattern is one of pessimism, it will tend to discourage and thwart the Christian social enterprise.
But postmillennialism involves a biblically-based eschatology that emphasizes the gospel victory theme. The optimistic eschatological perspective from which I write is that of postmillennialism — a postmillennialism generated neither by a contemporary can-do American optimism nor by a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, but by a careful exegetical and theological study of Scripture.
I believe with Roderick Campbell that “the church today needs this kind of vision — the vision of her reigning Lord with all the resources of heaven and earth under His command for the help and protection of His church and the ingathering of His elect.” In the Foreword to that book, O. T. Allis writes:
“My own studies in this and related fields have convinced me that the most serious error in much of the current ‘prophetic’ teaching of today is the claim that the future of Christendom is to be read not in terms of Revival and Victory, but of growing impotence and apostasy, and that the only hope of the world is that the Lord will by His visible coming and reign complete the task which He has so plainly entrusted to the church. This claim . . . is pessimistic and defeatist. I hold it to be unscriptural. The language of the Great Commission is world-embracing; and it has back of it the authority and power of One who said: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The duty of the church is to address herself to the achieving of this task in anticipation of the Lord’s coming, and not to expect Him to call her away to glory before her task is accomplished.”
Contrary to many theologians, Stanely Grenz observes of postmillennialism: “its unquestioning optimism concerning the work of God through the proclamation of the gospel and the activity of the church in the world stands as a major contribution of postmillennialism.”
1. Taking the World’s Temperature” (interview), Christianity Today (Sept. 23, 1977): 19.
2. Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind (Old Tappan, N. J.: Revell, 1980), 217.
3. Steve Rabey, “Review of Kenneth A. Myers,” (Christianity Today (Sept. 23, 1977): 43.
4. Richard Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism” in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. by William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990) 210–211.
5. Hendrik Van Riessen, The Society of the Future (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1957), 234.
6. John R. Muether, “The Era of Common Grace: Living Between the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet.’” RTS Ministry 9 (Summer 1990), 18.
7. Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1972), 85.
8. Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Tyler, Tex.: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1981 [rep. 1954], 79.
9. Allis, “Foreword,” in Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant, ix.
10. Stanley Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 88.