Thursday, March 27, 2003

Back Soon

Been traveling related to work and current world events -- should be home tomorrow, posts to resume next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Working on more postmillennial posts, but I have been too busy to complete the next one—perhaps by tomorrow. (Hopefully I can complete this series before it is "truly" postmillennial.)

In addition to my pesky day job, one thing that has slowed down my blogging is my work on my novel, which is coming along nicely (in terms of quantity—as far as quality is concerned, that is an open question) as I talked about here.

I still haven’t contacted an agent. I’ll ask again for recommendations for trustworthy agents that deal with mainstream fiction. And if you missed your chance to comment on my concern about writing a story based on a time of my life before I was a Christian, feel free to do so now.

Several people are reading the manuscript, and the feedback covers the spectrum from kudos to flames, with a most severe flaming coming from a friend who has published and has taught writing.

Although one brave soul from my church is reading the manuscript, it is someone, I think, who can identify with having a period in your life where your walk, if not nonexistent (as in my case), was at least put on the back-burner. I still worry about the reactions of those who have been lifelong stout Christians. Will they find the book acceptable? Am I being paranoid? Should I worry about it? Argggh.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Postmillennialism (cont.)

This is a slight modification of a post from July, but I wanted to place it here, with a few tweaks, for completeness of the series. More scriptural support for the postmillennial view will be forthcoming.

The book of Revelation describes the millennium earthly kingdom:

1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;3and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. 7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.(Rev. 20:1-8, NKJV)
For a thousand years (taken figuratively to mean “a long time” by some) Satan will be bound and the saints shall rule the earth with Christ.

The is the only passage in the bible that speaks of a millennium.

Postmillennialism, like premillennialism, teaches there will be a millennial kingdom. The difference is in the timing of Christ’s second coming. In postmillennialism, Christ’s second coming is after the millennium. In premillennialism, His second coming is before.

Part of the explanation for this difference in chronology comes from the previous chapter in Revelation, summarized by the rider of the white (pale) horse:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. (Rev. 19:11, NASB)
Both postmills and premills agree that the events described in Rev. 19 occur prior to the events of Rev. 20 (the millennium) but they differ greatly in their interpretation. Premills interpret Rev. 19 as the second coming, and since it occurs before the millennium of chapter 20, well that’s what makes them premills. Postmills interpret the events of Rev. 19 as signifying the ultimate victory of the church on earth, not the second coming. It symbolizes victory of the gospel and the ultimate success of the great commission to evangelize the world.

To the postmill, Christ will rule during the millennium but it will be from heaven, and the millennial kingdom is largely spiritual and redemptive in nature.. For the premill, Christ will physically be on earth during the millennium, and the kingdom physical and political.

Postmillennialism, as discussed previously, is by its nature optimistic about human history, and this is a logical necessity given their interpretation of Revelation 19. To the postmill, the New Testament church is the transformed Israel, the "Israel of God" that Paul wrote of to the Galatians:
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
(Gal. 6:16, NIV)
Consequently, Postmills attach no eschatological significance to the nation of Israel. The gospel will spread throughout the world, and Christianity will strengthen, not weaken. Many nations will be Christianized as the great commission succeeds in winning converts, including Jews, to Christ. Through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, the postmill foresees gospel prosperity.

So what ushers in the millennium? Here is a big difference with premillennialists. For the postmills, there is no catastrophic event signaling the onset of the millennium, there may even be no discernable discontinuity at all. (Indeed, some believe we may already be in the millennium period.) Christianity will expand; at some point the millennium begins, perhaps with defeat of the antichrist, and Satan (having been largely defeated by the gospel) is bound. The difference between the culmination of the church age and the millennial kingdom may be as much one of extent as of substance. At the end, Satan is freed and a great apostasy ensues which is terminated by Christ’s second coming, a literal resurrection, and His judgment--followed by the final form of the Kingdom.

Famous Postmills

There have been many famous proponents of postmillennialism including Athanasius, Calvin, A. A. Hodge, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, J. M. Kik, Augustus Strong, Loraine Boettner, R. J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen. (The movement claims Agustine, but so do the amillennialists.) The reason I point out that there are theological "big shots" in the postmill camp is assure you that, as in all the millennial views, serious scholarship has occurred. I do not have the time or space to include all the biblical support for the postmill position, but you can be sure that it rests on much more that a casual interpretation of the rider of the pale horse in Revelation 19.


There is a subgroup within postmillennialism know as theonomists or reconstructionists. This group advocates an active political agenda in addition to the evangelical efforts. The idea is to accelerate, through political gains, the Christianization of the nations (or in some cases to reverse the de-Christianization) and to make the earth "ready" for the onset of the millennium. Theonomists advocate the institution of mosaic laws, including its capital offenses, into the civil code-- nothing less really than the establishment of Christian countries.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Why the postmillennial binge?

No heavyweight content today—substantive posts should resume Monday.

I wanted to let you know why I am posting on postmillennialism. My pastor has tentatively agreed to let me teach an adult Sunday school class next fall on the four major eschatological views, so I am using you as guinea pigs, just as I did last fall when I taught on God’s Sovereignty. That worked out really well, as I would take my posts, weigh the comments that had been posted, and refine the content for my class notes. Preparation was still a bear, but not nearly as onerous as it could have been.

This means that after I am done with postmillennialism, I will probably start posting on the other viewpoints.

This should be interesting, even though I vowed never to teach and end-times class. Fortunately that vow was made to myself and not to God. When I taught on Sovereignty I spent a great deal of time on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I would guess that our church is about 70% Arminian and 30% Reformed/Calvinistic, so it made for a really fun and interactive Sunday school class. A few were annoyed enough to stay away, but most just came with questions and we challenged (graciously, I hope) one another. Regardless of whether the students agreed with me, I think the class caused them to look into the Word, if only to bolster their arguments against my position, and that has to be a good thing.

Our wonderful pastor has a Reformed viewpoint, which helped to diffuse the "shock" of my position. However, things will be different in the eschatology class. I suspect that there is almost uniformly a premill-pretrib viewpoint, including the pastor and elders. My own viewpoint has varied. When I first became a Christian I was premill. When I first studied eschatology, I was confused but mostly identified myself as in the amillennial camp. Now I finally sense my position solidifying in the postmillennial camp (with partial preterist leanings.)

So I am going to be in a more extreme position than when I taught the Sovereignty class. On the other hand, people are not as passionate about eschatology as they are about the Calvinsm-Arminianism debate.

Oh, did I mention that my Sovereignty class was extended and I discussed science and Christianity. There I held another minority position, namely that the earth and universe are old. It some ways it is amazing that they haven't excommunicated me yet, let alone seem willing to let me teach again.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Postmillennialism and Covenantal Theology

The flavor of premillennialism that so dominates American evangelism cannot be fully comprehended without a basic knowledge of its theological groundwork: dispensationalism. Likewise, although not quite so critically, it is helpful in understanding postmillennialism to have a working knowledge of dispensationalism’s main competitor: covenantal theology.

Covenantal theology means different things to different people both across reformed denominations and even within denominations. We will follow a simple pedestrian approach, borrowing much from Mathison’s book Postmillennialism—An Eschatology of Hope (P&R Publishing, 1999).

Covenantal theology holds that God has structured His redemptive plan around progressively developed and revealed covenants, the purpose for which is that God, for His own pleasure, has decided to redeem a people for Himself. Unlike negotiated covenants (contracts) among men, Biblical covenants are sovereignly and unilaterally imposed by God.

What is a Covenant?

As Mathison reports, Douglas Jones has described four elements of a covenant:
  1. A mutually binding agreement between God and man
  2. Sovereign administration
  3. Conditions (commandments, sanctions)
  4. Promises

In broad terms, there are two major covenants between God and man: The covenant of works, or the Adamic covenant, and The covenant of grace, or the redemptive covenant. The latter covenant is revealed progressively through the patriarchs, and these elaborations are also usually called covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant, but they are properly viewed as falling within the umbrella of the covenant of grace. God’s part of the covenant, at least the redemptive aspect, is perfectly fulfilled with the finished work of Christ. Whether there are still promises that God will address in the future is an important echatological quaetion.

Even before there existed covenants between God and man, there was a covenant among the persons of the Godhead, or the Trinitarian covenant. In this “agreement”, God the Father chose a people for Himself, God the Son performed the redemptive work, and God the Spirit applied the redemption and would serve as a helper—to assist men in keeping their part of the covenant that they would eventually enter into with God. There is no single passage “proving” this covenant, it is essentially the same thing as proving the Trinity—it requires splicing together a number of passages. Mathison refers us to Ps. 2:8, Matt. 28:18, Luke 22:29, John 10:17-18; 14:31; 15:10; 17:5-6, 21-24; Rom. 5:19, Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:4; Phil. 2:8-9; Heb. 1:5; 4:15; 12:2; Rev. 13:8; 17:8.

The Covenant of Works (The Adamic Covenant)

In this covenant, God promised life and intimate fellowship with Adam and his descendants upon the condition of Adam’s perfect obedience. Adam failed and, since the (conditional) promise was made to all of his descendents, we have all suffered the consequence of Adam’s sin.

This may not seem fair, but Adam was our representative and even in human terms we suffer or enjoy the consequences when our representatives enter or break agreements. For example, if Bush abrogates the ABM treaty, we all will either enjoy the increased security of a missile defense system or suffer decreased security through the destabilizing effect of a renewed arms race.

The Covenant of Grace (The Redemptive Covenant)

Immediately upon man’s fall, God laid the groundwork for the covenant of Grace (Gen. 3:15). This covenant would be revealed to the patriarchs, appealed to in times of distress by the prophets, and reach its zenith (and conclusion) on the Cross.

The Noahic Covenant

With Noah, God added a prohibition against murder and a promise not to destroy the earth by flood ever again:
6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." (Gen. 9:6-11)

The Abrahamic Covenant

Here God reveals an additional promise:
2 "I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you." (Gen. 12:2-3)
This is a very important part of the covenant, eschatologically speaking, for it promises, unconditionally, (if there was a condition it was that Abraham leave his home, which he did) that all peoples on earth will be blessed.

Postmillennialists would make four points about this promise to Abraham:
  1. This is an unconditional (or effectively unconditional) promise from God
  2. This sounds like a world-wide blessing—not universalism but certainly a promise that people from all over the world would be saved
  3. The dismal state of the world makes one pessimistic regarding whether this promise has been yet fulfilled
  4. If it is a promise, and it has not been fulfilled, then it will be at some point in the future, because God never breaks a promise. Ergo, we have reason to be optimistic about the future and to look forward to the success of the great commission
Now postmillennialism is not based on this interpretation of this one passage. Rather this gives some of the flavor of the comprehensive answer to the criticism of postmillennialism’s optimism: It is not misplaced optimism, but merely the certainty that God will keep His promises.

Mathison points out and amazing feature of the Abrahamic covenant. In ancient times two parties in a contract would pass through the carcasses of dead animals. This signified that if either broke the agreement, then their blood should be shed, just like the animal’s blood was shed. If you read Genisis 15 carefully, you will see that Abram arranged the carcasses, and God alone passed through them (Ge, 15:17), without requiring Abram to do likewise. The ramification is staggering: God did not require Abram to accept a death sentence if he didn’t keep his part of the covenant perfectly, but God imposed a death sentence on Himself should He fail to keep the covenant. Of course we know He surely will keep every single promise.

The Mosaic Covenant

Here the law in its fullness was revealed to the Jews, and the practice of tabernacle fellowship with God was instituted.

The Davidic Covenant

Here God promises an eternal kingship to David, to be delivered in his line. In other words, the Messiah would be a descendant of David.

The New Covenant

In the new covenant, the final revelation in the progression of the covenant of grace, all God’s promises relating to redemption are fulfilled. And for the first time, God has provided a helper to man to assist him in keeping his part of the contract, this too being a promise from God:
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezek. 36:27)
This is an important part of the postmillennialist’s optimism. As mentioned earlier, the formal reason for optimism is that God appears to have promised that evangelism will succeed (more about that later). The instrumental reason for optimism is that God has sent the Spirit to assist us. We are not relying on man’s efforts—no cause for optimism there—but on the power of God Himself to accomplish His will.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Next Postmillennialism Post is coming...

But work for which I get paid is getting in the way... either later tonight or tomorrow morning. Preview: it is an overview of Covenantal theology, which is not essential but useful in terms of understanding the theological basis for postmillennialism.

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.

Monday, March 03, 2003


Postmillennialism is one of the four major eschatological schools of thought. It teaches that the millennium described in Revelation chapter 20 occurs prior to the Second Coming.

This is in contrast to the more popular premillennial view, which holds that the Second Advent precedes the millennial kingdom, which will be ruled by Christ on earth.

The amillennialism view has a timeline similar to the postmillennial view, namely that the millennial kingdom comes first, followed by the Second Coming.

The difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism is in the nature of the kingdom.

In amillennialism, it is purely spiritual, and in fact refers to the present church age. There is no expectation of a literal millennial kingdom: that is just a reference to the Spirit filled church and refers to the entire period between the First and Second Advent. The present age will simply end with Second Coming. A general increase in evil and apostasy is expected, culminating with the Second Coming, the general resurrection, the Last Judgment, and new heaven and earth. As far as human history is concerned, things will keep getting worse. Like premillennialism, the overall view is one of pessimism.

Postmillennialism is optimistic about the future. It holds that things will get better, and that the great commission will, in some measure succeed. This will lead (perhaps so gradually that the start cannot be determined—perhaps it has already begun) to the earthy millennial kingdom, ruled by Christ in Heaven. In general, the 1000 year duration is not taken literally. After the "millennium" Christ will return, there will be a general resurrection and final judgment.

Of course, there are many details which have been omitted. The only point I want to make is that postmillennialism is optimistic.

That has been its downfall. How could anyone think things are getting better?

There are three lines of attack to this criticism.
  1. Things are getting better. Everyone throughout history always thinks they live in the worst of times. So do we. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that you could be killed for having an English translation of the Bible. Calvin's Geneva, it pains me to say, was not a safe place for dissenters. There are more Christians now than ever before, with vast inroads being made in Asia, Africa, and South America. Are you sure things are getting worse?

  2. Things are getting worse at the moment, but like the stock market, the long term trend always has a positive slope.

  3. It is a mistake to look at, or at least to overemphasize human history, for we are limiting God to work within the confines of what we think is possible. The only relevant question is: Does scripture teach that we have reason for optimism? Does it teach that God promises that the great commission will succeed, and that there will be multitudes of believers from all nations? The postmillennialist says that it does, and what we should believe is scripture, not our extrapolation of human history, whose course God can alter in an instant by Holy fiat.
I would like to, if I can find the time, post on some of the scripture that supports the postmillennial optimism. Discounting this scripture, and assuming that it can’t possibly happen, is to make the mistake of Sarah who laughed in derision at the notion that she could have a son. Everything "human" around her, all of human history as she knew it, told her it was impossible. God worked outside of that domain, He can do so again in order to accomplish His plan.

It is scripture, not CNN, from which we should learn eschatology.