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ZEALOUS OVERSTATMENT IN AMILLENNIALISM

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  April 19, 2012 — 14 Comments

Robert Strimple is a Reformed scholar and former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. He is a strong advocate of amillennialism who deems postmillennialism to be a skewed eschatological system.

Strimple commits an error in theological argumentation that is commonly witnessed in amillennial circles. I believe that he either overstates his case, or he holds to an historically indefensible position.

On page 63 of Darrell L. Bock, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (1998) Strimple boldly declares that Jesus “tells his disciples that in this present age they cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.” Read this carefully: disciples of the Lord “cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.” Strimple is here speaking of Christians as such, not just the first century disciples, the Apostles. This is evident in that:

(1) In the preceding paragraph (p. 62) Strimple is rebutting my postmillennialism: “Gentry writes that Christ ‘will be with [his people] through the many days until the end to oversee the successful completing of the task. This is the postmillennial hope.'” His concern involves my expectation for “his [Christ’s] people,” not just the Apostles.

(2) His whole paragraph is presenting insights for “us” today. Two sentences before his overstatement he writes: “Think, for example, of what the Lord Jesus himself has taught us” (emphasis added).

(3) In the very next sentence (the one immediately preceding the overstatement) he observes: “Our Lord knows of only two ages, the present age and the age to come.” And Strimple clearly states that Jesus “tells his disciples that in this present age they cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.” Thus, Strimple is commenting on “us,” i. e.,  we who are Christ’s disciples in “this present age.”

But is it true that Christians during the entirety of “this present age” cannot expect anything other than persecution? Is Strimple being persecuted? Are you? I know I am not. Are teaching conditions at Westminster so horrendous and life in Southern California so torturous that he may properly claim that he can expect nothing more than oppression and persecution?

We must remember that persecution is serious, life-and-death oppression by external forces, not mere teasing, ridicule, and such. At least here in America Christians are not under persecution. His theological expectation is falsified by our historical experience. And since is a universal assertion, it is false on its very surface.

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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.

14 responses to ZEALOUS OVERSTATMENT IN AMILLENNIALISM

  1. Christians in America may not be under persecution at the moment,but this does not take away from the fact that somewhere in the world Christians are ALWAYS being persecuted.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 19, 2012 at 6:30

      Neil: That is true (so far in history). And I state that elsehwere in this series comparing postmil and amill thought. However, I am responding to Strimple’s bold, universal declaration that Christians (all Christians) “cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.”

      • In response to Strimple’s bold, universal declaration that Christians (all Christians) “cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.”
        You say, But is it true that Christians during the entirety of “this present age” cannot expect anything other than persecution? Is Strimple being persecuted? Are you? I know I am not. Are teaching conditions at Westminster so horrendous and life in Southern California so torturous that he may properly claim that he can expect nothing more than oppression and persecution?

        We must remember that persecution is serious, life-and-death oppression by external forces, not mere teasing, ridicule, and such. At least here in America Christians are not under persecution. His theological expectation is falsified by our historical experience. And since is a universal assertion, it is false on its very surface.

        In my judgement, ignoring oppression you set up a straw man and are guilty of the same zealous overstatement. As I alluded to in my first comment.
        (I’m not sure I agree with the definition of persecution you offer either by the way, as all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will
        experience persecution, but that’s another story)

        -Thanks for writing Before Jerusalem Fell,… great contribution to the body of Christ.

  2. This is one of the interesting things when it comes to amillennialism vs. postmillennialism. Ironically, amillennialism will be less likely to be persecuted, since it poses no threat to the world system. Whereas postmillennialism will be more persecuted, since is poses a great threat to it. So which one was Paul (for example)? Was Paul amillennial or postmillennial? (In my opinion, he probably didn’t have a chance to read Revelation 20, and so wasn’t post-“millennial”; neither was he a-“millennial”; the question of a millennium probably didn’t come up [if I’m wrong, correct me on this]). Paul’s eschatology appears to be postmillennialistic, given his statements regarding how God would “justify the uncircumcision by faith” (Rom. 3:30); how the fall of Israel was the “reconciling of the world” (Rom. 11:15); how the “fullness of the Gentiles” would “come in” (Rom. 11:25); how “the end” comes when Christ “shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24); how “the ministration of righteousness” would “exceed in glory” (2 Cor. 3:9); how “God would justify the heathen through faith” (Gal. 3:8); how “the blessing of Abraham” would “come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:14); how Christ “came and preached peace” to those “who were afar off and to them that were nigh” (Eph. 2:17); how “the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6); how we ought to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2), and so on and so forth.

    A postmillennial theology of suffering is summed up in 2 Timothy 2:9: “I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”

    Thanks
    Ethan

  3. ” And Strimple clearly states that Jesus “tells his disciples that in this present age they cannot expect anything other than OPPRESSION and persecution.” …
    Do you really think Strimple believes Christians will ONLY experience serious, life-and-death oppression by external forces ALL the time. Why ignore oppression to substantiate your argument?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 19, 2012 at 6:30

      Mike: Be careful. You are confusing the point of the article. I am simply pointing out the error in Strimple’s universal declaration. Whatever we might think of the matter of “oppression,” we have to face the fact that he clearly states that Christians “cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.” That is my point. Other issues will be dealt with at other times.

  4. I agree Strimple’s statement was an overstatement, but in responding to it, I think you fell in the same snare. I understand you can only go by what someone says, but unless you really believe he believes christians will ONLY experience persecution, why not recognize that if pressed, he would concede and acknowledge that of course christians will experience more than oppression and persecution, such as sweet fellowship, blessings, more than conquering and so forth, and be fair and charitable with his statement, recognizing it was poor choice of words, then respond to only the persecution part. (just going by you own words in the article)
    Again, I think it was an overstatement as well, but in seeking to correct it, I think a skunk has wondered in to your backyard friend.

    peace,
    also looking forward to you commentary

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. April 20, 2012 at 6:30

      Mike:

      I appreciate your concern on this matter: a charitable reading of another person’s statement is always called for in academic, and particularly Christian academic, discussion. And I am glad your are reading and thinking-through the posts on this website. Thanks for coming and thanks for engaging! But I have a few things against thee.

      Regarding Strimple’s statement, I would note that:

      (1) This was not a vague statement susceptible of alternative interpretation. It is very strongly, clearly, and articulately expressed: “in this present age they cannot expect anything other than oppression and persecution.”

      (2) This was not an off-the-cuff statement in some informal discussion by a careless speaker. This was:
      (a) a carefully planned, reviewed, and edited statement (I wrote in the same book and knew full-well I had one chance to get it right and had plenty of time to do so, about one year);
      (b) by a well-known (not just anyone receives an invitation to contribute to a collected academic work), competent (for 41 years he taught theology, he was Professor of Theology, journal contributor, academic author), highly-trained (Th.M., Westminster Theological Seminary; Ph.D., University of Toronto), theologian at a major academic theological institution (Westminster Theological Seminary);
      (c) that was published in a internationally prominent debate book (Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond) by one of the world’s largest Christian publishers (Zondervan).

      (3) This statement fits his reasoning throughout his chapter and in his other writings. It was not an experimental thought he tossed out there to see if it would stick.

      (4) This statement does not represent a stray statement by one writer. It is common among contemporary amillennial scholars. It is in fact their theology; it is the way they interpret the Bible’s eschatological expectation during this current age. Systematic theologian R. Fowler White writes elsewhere of the “amillennial hermeneutic of persecution.” Systematic theologian Richard B. Gaffin argues that “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 NT teaches, is more basic to its identity than that.”

      I hope this is helpful.

  5. Good article , and amen to that .

  6. I cannot refute your sound speech. Please disregard my previous comments as I stand corrected and no longer hold this against me. Thanks for taking the time to interact with me.

  7. This is a weak argument, the people who classify themselves as Christian are most likely not, furthermore, it is going by current trends. Truth is, narrow is the way, says the Lord. Catholics are not saved, Mormons arent, yet they try to go under the Christian name.
    Also, post millenialism is works based, Jesus is King of kings. Psalm 24:1. The dominion is to tend the land, care for animals. Not rule the world. In a pure post mil scenario, Scripture is contradicted and the Lord will be prevented by us? What nonsense.

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

      By stating this you are admitting that the cause of Christ has impacted great numbers — even where men are not truly converted. The band of twelve Apostles in a little strip of land far away from the seat of power and influence in Rome, caused such a massive movement that it not only actually saves millions, but influences other millions. Postmillennialism does not believe that the kingdom’s advance has reached it height yet. We believe that even these who have been touched by Christian influence will one day be truly converted.

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