It is always a humbling and learning experience to read the responses to a blog series on a controversial subject. Iron does sharpen iron, as the Bible says, and I learn much from those responses.
In the case of my posts on Postmillennialism, I have been reminded of something that I already knew but did not make as clear as I should have. A number of the more recent, self-proclaimed postmillennialists have departed from what I think is properly called the older Postmillennialism and adopted the view that the entire inter-adventual period is the millennium. I have observed this view in Gary North’s defense of Postmillennialism. Thus, some postmils have taken a little umbrage at my description of Postmillennialism as a millennium involving a distinct, golden age following the one in which we live. Here is the way a friend of mine described his understanding of their views in an email to me. This friend is actually neither amillennial nor postmillennial, but an historic premillennialist. Nevertheless, I think he has stated their view accurately.
Their version of postmillennialism seems to be an interesting mix of beliefs. If I understand it correctly, they believe that the millennium stretches between the first and second comings of Christ like amillennialism and do not divide between an age of humility and an age of glory. But they argue for a social/cultural sanctification process through this age similar to a personal sanctification process in our lives. So the gospel is successful through this millennial age of Christianizing the world.
Another correspondent who is postmillennial has described his view this way. He begins by quoting me:
“To maintain its millennial hope for a golden age, of necessity, it must conceive of the gospel age—the period between Christ’s First and Second Advents—as divided into two distinct periods. The first period is the humiliation of the church. The second period is the triumph of the church. There is the time of the persecuted church and the time of the triumphant church.”
I know that, at least for me and many others, this is not how I conceive of the millennium AT ALL. If I had to draw a parallel image, it would be of the process of sanctification. I am a “New Creation”, but I don’t conceive of my existence as a ‘new creation’ as divided into two distinct periods after the New Birth: a period where I am alive in Christ but living an awful, sinful, and ungrateful life and a period where I suddenly start living like an awesome, totally devoted, and pure Christian. No, my sanctification is a gradual process, life growing up from infancy to adulthood. I don’t stay as an infant and then one day, TA-DA! now I’m a fully grown, matured man. No, first infancy, then toddler, adolescent, a young man, a middle aged man, and finally an old man.
So too is it for the millennium. Just as the New Creation (me) is slowly, but surely sanctified throughout my life according to God’s divine plan, so too are the New Heavens and New Earth sanctified throughout its existence according to God’s divine plan. When I die, I will have been sanctified as such that I am much closer to God then when I was first born again – but I will not be perfectly sanctified. When Christ returns, the nations will have been discipled, baptized, and taught obedience – and it will be glorious, but it will not be perfect. It is then that the final enemy, Death, will be destroyed.
Now, I freely admit that my presentation did not do justice to this sort of postmillennial theory. It should have. I was aware of North and others with this viewpoint. Nevertheless, I do have a kind of defense and restatement of my view in light of this pushback. Let me provide it now.
First, allow me to say that this view is a clear movement in the direction of Amillennialism and away from the way which most historic postmillennialists thought of the millennium. In embracing that the whole gospel age is a single era with the same, continuing characteristics, they have really embraced one of the main perspectives of Amillennialism. They have also changed significantly the definition of the millennium held by historic postmils.
Second, allow me to say consequently that, in adopting this view of the gospel age, contemporary postmils have given us a system which is very difficult to distinguish from Amillennialism and especially my form of optimistic Amillennialism. Amillennialists like myself believe in the growth of the kingdom and the building of the church throughout the world. We do not believe in the victory of evil in this age or that the only reality is that “evil men grow worse and worse.”
Third, I do have to take exception to the analogy of the personal sanctification process and the millennial conquest of this age by the Word of God. Just as the Christian is gradually sanctified, so also this age is gradually Christianized by the gospel and law of God. This is the analogy; and I need to say that it does not work. Why? It does not work because the sanctification process assumes a regenerate person. One cannot make an analogy here with the present age, because it is not a regenerate age. It is an evil age ruled by Satan. Sanctification can only take place where there is an original and radical break from evil in regeneration. But this age has not been regenerated. As I pointed out in my previous posts, it is an evil age ruled by Satan, the god of this age, and dominated by the sons of this age and not the sons of light. To be conformed to this age’s thinking and to walk according to this age is to live under the dominion of evil. This age cannot be gradually sanctified because it is not regenerate. Rather, it is evil.
Fourth, I guess that is the preterist hermeneutic which is being utilized by those who reject my reasoning here. The personal correspondent I mentioned earlier actually did say:
And no, I don’t think that this Age is ruled by the Evil One, as Waldron suggests. Rather it is Christ who rules it and has sovereignly ordaining that all enemies will be subdued under His feet in these New Heavens and New Earth.
I rather think that we have here a clue as to how contemporary postmils would respond to what I have just said. It comes back to their preterist hermeneutic. What the New Testament asserts and asserts plainly about this age is no longer true because it only obtained before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Now we are in the new heavens and new earth. It is, thus, no longer true that this is an evil age. Allow me to quote what I said previously:
The proposition here is, in other words, that the basic character of this age will always be morally evil. A number of the key passages where the two-age terminology is used require this conclusion. Luke 16:8 speaks of evil men as the sons of this age and contrasts them with the sons of light. Mark 10:30 teaches that those who have left all for Christ must always expect persecutions in this age. As long as this age lasts, then, persecution will be the lot of the true Christian. Romans 12:2 is Paul’s exhortation to Christians not to be conformed to this age. Such language plainly assumes that this age will always be an evil age. 2 Corinthians 4:4 asserts that Satan is “the god of this age”. It is, therefore, necessarily evil. Galatians 1:4 is Paul’s description of this age as a “present, evil age” from which the elect are to be delivered by the death of Christ. Ephesians 2:2 describes the former, wicked lives of Ephesian believers as a “walking according to the age of this world.”
Such passages as these presuppose and assume that this present age is, and always will be, evil. If this were not the case, there might come a day when the persecution of Christians would cease, when it would not be wrong to be conformed to this age, when Satan would not be its god, when Paul’s description of it as evil would cease to be true, and when one could walk according to the age of this world and be righteous. All this would defy, however, the plain implications of these passages.
It appears that contemporary postmils use their Preterism to refer such passages to another age or dispensation. They no longer describe “these New Heavens and New Earth.” It is just this result of Preterism which I so fervently reject. In a way not so different than Dispensationalism, it refers passages which describe our present life and duty to another period of human history and empty them of their significance for us. I think that even though fine men have adopted this preterist view in the past, they have deviated seriously from a reasonable interpretation of key passages of Scripture. See my blog series: John Owen—A Caveat.
Fifth, while admitting that my presentation was not clear with regard to some, contemporary postmillennialism, I have a difficult time regarding my criticism of a bifurcation in the present age as off-base. Let me quote Rex Semrad’s response to one correspondent on this point.
I cannot tell for certain from what you wrote whether or not you believe that for some period of time before Christ returns the majority of people in the world will be converted and nations will be governed by Christian principles. If you don’t believe this, I don’t know why you would consider yourself a postmillennialist, so I assume that is what you believe. … A period of time in which the majority of people are saved and the nations are governed by Christian principles would certainly be clearly differentiated from the world as it now is and has been since Christ ascended to His throne. One would have every reason to consider this a “golden age.” It would also be quite difficult to call it a “present evil age” to which we are not to be conformed (Gal. 1:4, Rom. 12:2). It is also hard to understand how all who seek to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution in such an age (2 Tim. 3:12). This is the bifurcation of which Dr. Waldron speaks, and it is certainly still there whether it comes about gradually or in a single generation.
Sixth, it does seem to me that there is a focus on the “sanctification” of the world in contemporary Postmillennialism which does not reflect the biblical focus. One friend remarked on this in private correspondence to me:
In any case, I am wondering if the biggest distinction between their theonomic postmillennialism and other millennial views has to do with the nature of Christ’s kingdom. They explicitly deny two kingdoms doctrine, which leads to problematic conclusions.
I think this is correct. Though it is true that the world is under the authority of Christ and the moral law ought to be the basis for all rule in the world today, yet the nations of the world—all of them—are Gentile kingdoms. They are not—any of them—potential theocracies. It is God’s will that church and state not be joined as it was in the theocracy in the world today. These Gentile kingdoms are simply the interim, civil authorities which God has appointed until … “the return of the king!
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.