The Postmillennial Doctrine of Bifurcation—Two ages in the Gospel Age?
Let me pursue an aspect of the problem with Postmillennialism which I raised in my last post. I think, though my memory is dim with age, that this had a lot to do with my “apostasy” from Postmillennialism of my college years. Key to systematic Postmillennialism is the notion that we are not in the millennium, but that some day before Christ’s return the church will experience millennial glory. The persecution and humiliation that has been the portion of the church for the last 2000 years will be replaced by the triumph and glory of the millennial reign of the church on earth. Thus, there is an essential bifurcation of the gospel age into very different eras. This is not only necessary to Postmillennialism, but also it is its distinguishing mark.
The Absence of Evidence for the Doctrine of Bifurcation
But in my desire to be postmillennial in my early years as a Reformed Christian here was the problem I encountered. I could not find any good evidence for such a bifurcation of the gospel age in the New Testament.
I was rather confronted with phrases and verses that might possibly imply such a bifurcation, but I could find no clear evidence.
Somewhere I saw Postmillennialism read into James 5:7: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” But the next verse does not sound postmillennial. James 5:8 speaks of Christ’s near coming: “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
There is, of course, Romans 11. But again I encountered difficulty. First, even if you think a mass conversion of the Jewish nation in the future is taught there, that seems to be the last event before the Second Coming and not the beginning of the millennium. Romans 11:25-26 so interpreted seem to make the conversion of the Jews to follow the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles and not to precede it. Second, I knew that many reputable Reformed theologians beginning with Calvin himself wholly rejected such a view. Gradually, I came to accept a version of Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 11.
The Presence of Evidence against Bifurcation
Against this meagre evidence, I found many passages which taught clearly—it seemed to me—that the gospel age was not two eras but a single era with the same characteristics throughout.
I was impressed, of course, by the evidence presented in the last blog post that this age continues to be an evil age till its end. It is not an evil age for a while but then a good and golden age for a long era before Christ’s return.
The Parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13 also taught me that the gospel age was a single era with a single character. They surely implied the same mixed and troubled character of this age. The Parable of the Soils taught that the gospel in this age would always encounter four types of soil. Only one of them would bear fruit. The Parables of the Wheat and Weeds taught that wheat and weeds would grow together until the end of the age. The Parables of the Treasure Hidden in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price both taught that great sacrifice (selling all that you have) would always be necessary in this age to have the kingdom.
The bottom-line for me was this. I saw no clear evidence for the bifurcation of the gospel age. On the other hand, I saw persuasive evidence against the postmillennial doctrine of bifurcation.
I anticipate that my postmillennial readers will feel that I have overlooked an important feature of the New Testament in what I have said so far. They want to ask, What about the New Testament teaching about the growth and progress of the gospel during this age? Does this not lead directly to postmillennial hopes and convictions? I will take up this teaching next time and show why it does not lead to Postmillennialism, but rather to Optimistic Amillennialism.
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.