Postmillennialism

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Christian eschatology
Eschatology views
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In Christian end-times theology, (eschatology), postmillennialism is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation which sees Christ's second coming as occurring after (Latin post-) the "Millennium", a Golden Age in which Christian ethics prosper. The term subsumes several similar views of the end times, and it stands in contrast to premillennialism and, to a lesser extent, amillennialism (see Summary of Christian eschatological differences). Postmillenialism is a relatively rare belief compared to premillennialism and amillenialism, which are well-established in Protestant, Orthodox Church, and Catholic Church theological circles.

Contents

Key ideas

Although some postmillennialists hold to a literal millennium of 1,000 years, others postmillennialists see the thousand years more as a figurative term for a long period of time (similar in that respect to amillennialism). Among those holding to a non-literal "millennium" it is usually understood to have already begun, which implies a less obvious and less dramatic kind of millennium than that typically envisioned by premillennialists, as well as a more unexpected return of Christ.

Postmillennialism also teaches that the forces of Satan will gradually be defeated by the expansion of the Kingdom of God throughout history up until the second coming of Christ. This belief that good will gradually triumph over evil has led proponents of postmillennialism to label themselves "optimillennialists" in contrast to "pessimillennial" premillennialists and amillennialists.

Many postmillennialists also adopt some form of preterism, which holds that many of the end times prophecies in the Bible have already been fulfilled. Several key postmillennialists, however, did not adopt preterism with respect to the Book of Revelation, among them B. B. Warfield, Francis Nigel Lee, and Rousas John Rushdoony.

Types

Difference in extent

Comparison of Christian millennial interpretations

Postmillennialists diverge on the extent of the gospel's conquest. The majority of postmillennialists do not believe in an apostasy, and like B. B. Warfield, believe the apostasy refers to the Jewish people's rejection of Christianity either during the first century, or possibly until the return of Christ at the end of the millennium. This postmillennial perspective essentially dovetails with the thinking of amillennial and premillennial schools of eschatology.

There are a minority of postmillennial scholars, however, who discount the idea of a final apostasy, regarding the gospel conquest ignited by the Great Commission to be total and absolute, such that no unsaved individuals will remain after the Spirit has been fully poured out on all flesh. This minority school, promoted by B. B. Warfield and supported by exegetical work of H.A.W. Meyer,[1] has started to gain more ground, even altering the thinking of some postmillennialists previously in the majority camp, such as Loraine Boettner[2] and R. J. Rushdoony.[3]

The appeal of the minority position, apart from its obvious gambit of taking key scriptures literally (John 12:32; Romans 11:25–26; Hebrews 10:13; Isaiah 2:4; 9:7; etc.), was voiced by Boettner himself after his shift in position: the majority-form of postmillennialism lacks a capstone, which Warfield's version does not fail to provide. Warfield also linked his views to an unusual understanding of Matthew 5:18, premised on Meyer's exegesis of the same passage, which presupposed a global conquest of the gospel in order for the supposed prophecy in that verse to be realized,[4] which inexorably leads to a literal fulfillment of the third petition of the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

John Calvin's exposition of that part of the Lord's Prayer all but adopts the minority postmillennial position[5] but Calvin, and later Charles Spurgeon, were remarkably inconsistent on eschatological matters. Spurgeon delivered a sermon on Psalm 72 explicitly defending the form of absolute postmillennialism held by the minority camp today, but on other occasions he defended premillennialism. Moreover, given the nature of Warfield's views,[6] Warfield disdained the millennial labels, preferring the term "eschatological universalism" for the brand of postmillennialism now associated with his thinking.

Warfield, like those who follow in his footsteps, did not seek to support his doctrine of cosmic eschatology from Revelation 20, treating that passage (following Kliefoth, Duesterdieck,[7] and Milligan[8]) as descriptive of the intermediate state and the contrast between church militant and triumphant. This tactic represented an abandonment of the Augustinian approach to the passage,[9] ostensibly justified by a perceived advance in taking the Book of Revelation's parallel passages to the little season of Satan more seriously (cf. Revelation 6:11 and 12:12).

Difference in means

Postmillennialists also diverge on the means of the gospel's conquest. Revivalist postmillennialism is a form of the doctrine held by the Puritans and some today that teaches that the millennium will come about not from Christians changing society from the top down (that is, through its political and legal institutions) but from the bottom up at the grass roots level (that is, through changing people's hearts and minds).

Reconstructionist postmillennialism, on the other hand, sees that along with grass roots preaching of the Gospel and explicitly Christian education, Christians should also set about changing society's legal and political institutions in accordance with Biblical, and also sometimes Theonomic, ethics (see Dominion theology). The revivalists deny that the same legal and political rules which applied to theocratic state of Ancient Israel should apply directly to modern societies which are no longer directly ruled by Israel's prophets, priests, and kings. In the United States, the most prominent and organized forms of postmillennialism are based on Christian Reconstructionism and hold to a reconstructionist form of postmillennialism advanced by Gary North, Kenneth Gentry, and Greg Bahnsen.

See also

References

  1. ^ H.A.W. Meyer, Commentary on the New Testament (Winona Lake: Alpha Publications, 1979, 10 vols., originally published in English by T&T Clark in 1883), 5:447–448 on Romans 11:25–26; 3:376 on John 12:32
  2. ^ Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957, revised 1984). The purpose of the 1984 revision, as Boettner asserted, was to reassess Warfield's view favorably.
  3. ^ Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 880 (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 1994)
  4. ^ Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, p. 297-298 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929)
  5. ^ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:190 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981)
  6. ^ Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, The Power of God Unto Salvation, p. 88-95 (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1902)
  7. ^ Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 5 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1945); Allis credits both Duesterdieck (1859) and Kliefoth (1874)for this advance.
  8. ^ William Milligan, The Revelation of St. John (New York: Macmillan and Co, 1887)
  9. ^ Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 5 and p. 287n (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1945); Allis states that this gambit "has not succeeded in replacing the Augustinian view which it so vigorously attacked."

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