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WE CAME TO BURY POSTMILLENNIALISM, NOT TO PRAISE IT

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

Though postmillennialism is one of the most simple eschatological views to understand, it is the one most regularly mischaracterized. The problem is not the system’s difficulty, but the opponent’s disbelief. But fortunately postmillennialism is vigorous and resiliant. Despite being buried often, it comes back from the dead to trouble the gainsayers.

In a 1949 article by dispensationalist John F. Walvoord published in Bibliotheca Sacra, we read these words:

“One of the outstanding facts about postmillennialism is that it was, until the present generation, one of the most important and influential millennial theories. It was probably the dominant Protestant eschatology of the nineteenth century and was embraced by Unitarian, Arminian, and Calvinist alike. It influenced as well the prevailing concept of amillennialism during this period. In the twentieth century the course of history, progress in Biblical studies, and the changing attitude of philosophy arrested its progress and brought about its apparent discard by all schools of theology. Postmillennialism is not a current issue in millenarianism, but the principles that brought it into being and resulted in its downfall are highly significant.”

As we read Walvoord’s tearful eulogy for postmillennialism, several things should strike us.

First, he admits postmillennialism’s great impact and significance in Christianity. And certainly this optimisitic eschatology has had an enormous influence on the faith, particularly in the period of the great missionary expansion of Christianity: 1700s-1900s. This is his eulogy. Now comes his burial.

Second, he buries the postion with these words: “it was,” “until the present generation,” “arrested its progress,” “apparent discard,” “not a current issue,” and “its downfall.” It is certainly true that postmillennialism faded  much in the first half of the twentieth century. But it was not wholly absent from the theological world. In fact, in the full article Walvoord cites one of its advocates, Dr. O. T. Allis, who was publishing at that very time. Unfortunately, Walvoord thought Allis was an amillennialist, so he did not recognize his influence for this eschatological system.

Third, as per usual dispensational practice, he links postmillennialism with Unitarianism. This helps scare his followers away from considering it. But there are three serious problems with this sort of attack: (1) Unitarianism cannot be “postmillennial.” Unitarians believe Christ is dead and buried; they do not believe his coming back after (post) the millennium. (2) Walvoord’s premillennialism has its own embarrassing advocates. They are widely spread in the cult world. Consider Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses as two significant examples. (3) Walvoord’s brand of dispensational premillennialism is dying out. Progressive dispensatioanlists have taken over Walvoord’s school, Dallas Theological Seminary.

Fourth, the “downfall” of postmillennialism was temporary. It has returned with renewed vigor. And of course, we believe it is here to stay. The temporary decline in postmillennial adherance among Christians is much like the temporary backsliding of the individual Christian: it is overcome.

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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.

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