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POSTMILLENNIALISM AND ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  4 Comments

Eschatology tremendously affects the Christian’s worldview and, consequently, his practical, daily living. The one particular eschatological theme that dominates the entire prophetic Scriptures and most influences hope-filled family living, a full-orbed Christian witness, and Bible-based social activism is: the gospel victory theme. We must understand the biblical worldview and its practical influence on the Christian’s approach to culture. Broadly speaking three approaches to culture lie before us: the Identificationist Model, the Separationist Model, and the Transformationist Model.

The Identificationist Model essentially represents Christianity’s left wing. It sees the church’s role as flowing alongside of and sanctifying the evolutionary changes in culture, while adapting to them. It is wholly this-world in orientation, inevitably adopting the contemporary worldview. Liberation theology and main line denominations are contemporary representatives of this view.

The Separationist Model represents Christianity’s right wing (i.e., it is to the right of what God intends for Christianity). It urges Christians to be wholly separated from contemporary culture. The focus of this view is on heavenly citizenship, seeing the church as but a pilgrim community passing through this world to a greater world above. It is essentially retreatist, recognizing sin’s power at work in the world and seeking to avoid staining itself with such tendencies.

When contrasted to the two views above, the Transformationist Model represents the truly centrist wing of historic, orthodox Christianity. It sees an important role for Christianity in leading human culture according to the directives of God’s Word, with a view to transforming every area of life. The Transformationist Model sees the significance of this world in light of the world above and seeks to promote God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. It promotes godly culture in the stead of an ungodly culture. As we will see postmillennialism provides a better foundation for the Transformationist Model.

We should lament the omission of the gospel victory theme in most of modern eschatological speculation. Its replacement with a defeatist scheme for Christian enterprise paralyzes the Christian cultural enterprise, empties the Christian worldview of practical significance, and gives Christians a sinful “comfort in lethargy,” because it tends “to justify social irresponsibility.”[1] It leaves the earth (which is the Lord’s, Ps 24:1) to a conquered foe: the enemy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This paralysis is all the more lamentable because it forfeits the great gains made by the tireless and costly labors of our Christian forefathers, particularly from the Reformation era through the early 1900s.

We may characterize as pessimistic three of the four major evangelical eschatological systems, whereas postmillennialism is fundamentally “optimistic.” In categorizing them as pessimistic, I am speaking of the following issues:

(1) As systems of gospel proclamation, each teaches Christ’s gospel will fail to exercise any major influence in the world before Christ’s return;

(2) As systems of historical understanding, each holds that the Bible teaches prophetically determined, irresistible trends downward toward chaos in the outworking and development of history; and therefore

(3) As systems for Christian discipleship, each dissuades the church from anticipating, planning, and laboring for wide-scale success in influencing the world for Christ during this age.

Timothy P. Weber appropriately notes regarding postmillennialism: “Operating with the certainty of prophetic promises, evangelicals built schools, churches, publishing houses, and missionary agencies in order to carry out God’s plan to Christianize America and the world.” [2] But he resists this optimistic eschatology on his pessimistic assumptions, noting postmillennialism’s “unrealistic expectation that Christians can produce this millennium apart from God’s supernatural intervention.”[3] Apparently, God’s supernatural providence is insufficient.

Dispensationalist Paul N. Benware relates the matter clearly: “Both premillennialists and amillennialists believe just the opposite [of postmillennialism]: that spiritual and moral conditions in this world will get worse and worse as this present age draws to a close.”[4] Millard J. Erickson recognizes that “basically, then, postmillennialism is an optimistic view” in that “the major tenet of postmillennialism is the successful spread of the gospel.”[5] He sets this distinctive over against the other millennial positions. When Stanley J. Grenz analyzes “The Deeper Issue of Millennialism,” he opens his postmillennial discussion with these words: “Postmillennialism sets forth a basically optimistic outlook toward history and our role in the attainment of God’s program.”[6] He even notes that: “It is no historical accident that by and large the great thrusts toward worldwide evangelistic outreach and social concern in the modern era were launched by a church imbued with the optimism that characterizes the postmillennial thinking.”[7] Then he comments: “In contrast to the optimism of postmillennialism, premillennialists display a basic pessimism concerning history and the role we play in its culmination.”[8] Of his own amillennialism he states: “victory and defeat, success and failure, good and evil will coexist until the end,” so that “both unchastened optimism and despairing pessimism are illegitimate.”[9]

The pessimism/optimism question has very much to do with the practical endeavors of Christians in the world today.



 Notes

1. Peters, Futures, 29, 28.

2. Weber in Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 5

3. Weber in Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 69.

4. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, 124. He only presents three millennial views because in typical dispensational fashion he collapses dispensationalism into premillennialism — despite the vigorous antagonism between the two systems.

5. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1213, 1214.

6. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 803.

7. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 804 n 43.

8. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 805.

9. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 805.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

4 responses to POSTMILLENNIALISM AND ESCHATOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

  1. Hello Dr Gentry, and blessings. Quick question: how would you respond to the Helvitic Confession (of which I am sure you are familiar) which states, “The same Christ will come again to judgment, when the wickedness of the world shall have reached the highest point, and Antichrist corrupted the true religion.” And, “We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment.” Noting that this Confession is one of the most popular Reformed expressions, how would you deal with those who have used it against Postmillennialism? Thank you very much for your time.

    Blessings,
    Samuel M. Frost

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. January 14, 2012 at 6:30

      Sam:
      I would simply admit that the Helvitic confession is opposed to postmillennialism. I don’t believe the same can be said for the Westminster Standards to which I am committed as a Presbyterian minister. However, I would point out a possible reconsideration of this statement: (1) Most postmils believe that the kingdom will come to worldwide glory and dominance for a long period of time. But toward the end Satan will be loosed and seek to over throw it. Perhaps the Helvitic Confession’s “wickedness” era could be placed there. (2) The “Jewish dream of a millennium” seems more to respond to premillennialism. Early Christian history shows that it arose out of Judaic orientation for the church. However, I generally just admit that the Helvitic Confession is anti-postmillennial.
      Thanks for your question!

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. February 15, 2012 at 6:30

      I would note two things: (1) It is primarily directed against premillennialism with its “Jewish dream of a millennium.” (2) It simply is not postmillennial. Not all Reformed scholars or confessions are postmillennial. But I do believe that the Westminster Standards are postmillennial. For instance, Larger Catechism 191 reads:

      “In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.”

  2. Daniel Jansky January 20, 2012 at 6:30

    Thank God for this website! I used to search the web looking for postmillennial websites, but would turn up empty repeatedly.
    I have been a postmillenial for 4 years now. I regret to say that I have never met another postmillenial in the flesh. It has been a lonely road. My family accepts me, but do not agree with me.
    At first I thought I was the only one, until in God’s providence He led me into some other postmillenial material. Imagine my suprise reading books by Gentry, DeMar, Bahnsen, and others that used the same arguments that convinced me! Up to that point (about a year and a half) I was a self taught postmillenial, only from reading the Bible.
    Currently, I am going to a Pre-trib Dispensational Bible College and it gets lonely. Just recently my interest and zeal was renewed for postmillenialism. Then I found this site. Praise God!
    Keep up the good work!

    P.S. I think it interesting that you use the 1599 Geneva Bible. I am a Bible collector (having over 200 Bibles of almost every version) and the Geneva Bible is my favorite translation.

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