Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Postmillennialism has been criticized, as discussed yesterday, for its unrealistically optimistic view of human history. In a similar vein, it is often criticized for spawning the social gospel and utopian secular liberalism. The reasoning is thus: Postmillennialism was the dominant eschatology of American evangelicals prior to the twentieth century. (Among others, Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest scholar and theologian, was a postmillennialist.) As certain segments of the community liberalized and abandoned their affirmation of biblical inerrancy, they naturally turned to liberal social causes. Their postmillennial optimism evolved into humanistic optimism. Like their conservative forefathers, they believed that the world would get better, but with the all-important difference being that they believed that man, not God, would be the primary mover of the transformation to a better society.

Postmillennialists have been found guilty-by-association ever since, especially by dispensationalists. For example, John F. Walvoord, as quoted in Keith A. Mathison’s book Postmillennialism—An Eschatology of Hope (P&R Publishing, 1999)
Postmillennialism lends itself to liberalism with only minor adjustments.
and fellow dispensationalist Charles C Rryie, also as quoted by Mathison:
[the] social gospel…has been the outgrowth of this system since the idea that a world free from evil is envisioned as a result of man's efforts.

The criticism that postmillennialists have an unrealistic view of the future is wrong but legitimate. The association of postmillennialists with social Darwinists and liberal utopianism is an illegitimate ad hominem attack. It is no different than attacking dispensational premillennialism by saying: Premillennialism lends itself to greedy, cash-cow book deals with only minor efforts.

Mathison makes some excellent points (which I will paraphrase) in addressing this criticism:
  • Postmillennialism existed long before 19th century liberalism. (If you won’t concede it is scriptural, you must at least acknowledge that many of the early church leaders including Augustine fell for it.)

  • Postmillennialists affirm all the fundamental truths that liberals deny, such as biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.

  • Postmillennialism does not teach that progress will be made as a result of human efforts. It teaches that the Holy Spirit will supernaturally use men to carry out God’s Sovereign and scriptural plan (and promise) of the spreading of the kingdom of the gospel.

  • Proponents of the social gospel believe that man is basically good, and with proper education (and governmental support) can be made into a productive and willing participant in a great society. Postmillennialists believe that man is totally depraved and if left to his own devices the only possible outcome would be total anarchy.

We still need to look at the scriptural case for postmillennialism. However I find it useful to deal first with some of the baggage.

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