What is Theonomic Postmillennialism? | Sam Waldron

by | Oct 20, 2022 | Theonomy?


*This series is a republication of lectures written by Dr. Waldron near the end of the 1980s. This is Part 8 of a series titled “Theonomy: A Reformed Baptist Assessment.”

For Part 1, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/theonomy-a-reformed-baptist-assessment-sam-waldron/

For Part 2, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-sources-of-theonomic-development-sam-waldron/

For Part 3, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-challenges-of-critiquing-theonomy-sam-waldron/

For Part 4, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/understanding-the-supposed-theocratic-kingdom-sam-waldron/

For Part 5, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/the-historical-background-of-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/

For Part 6, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/a-biblical-refutation-of-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/

For Part 7, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/a-reformed-alternative-to-theonomic-ethics-sam-waldron/


Theonomy: A Reformed Baptist Assessment

What is Theonomic Postmillenialism?


In the interest of fairness and clarity, it is well to begin by permitting Christian Reconstructionists to speak for themselves.  Having permitted both Rushdoony and North to describe in their own terms the nature of their postmillennialism, we will conclude this presentation by observing three features of their eschatol­ogy.

Rushdoony in his popular booklet entitled The Meaning of Postmillen­nialism:  God’s Plan for Victory presents his eschato­logy in stark contrast to all defeatist eschatologies whether premillennial or amillennial.  Speaking of these other es­chatologies, he says,

In theory, the amillennial position holds that there is a parallel develop­ment of good and evil, of God’s Kingdom and Satan’s Kingdom.  In reality, amillennialism holds that the major area of growth and power is in Satan’s Kingdom, because the world is seen as progres­sively falling away to Satan, the church’s trials and tribulations increasing, and the end of the world finding the church lonely and sorely beset.  There is no such thing as a millennium or a triumph of Christ and His Kingdom in history.  The role of the saints is at best to grin and bear it, and more likely to be victims and martyrs.  The world will go from bad to worse in the pessimistic viewpoint.  The Christian must retreat from the world of action in the realization that there is no hope for this world, no world-wide victory of Christ’s cause, nor world peace and righteousness.  The law of God is irrelevant, because there is no plan of conquest, no plan of triumph in Christ’s name and power.  At best, God’s law is a plan for private morality, not for men and nations in their every aspect.  Not surprisingly, amillennialism produces a retreating and crabbed outlook, a church in which men have no thought of victory but only of endless nit-picking about trifles.  It produces a phariseeism of men who believe they are the elect in a world headed for hell, a select elite who must withdraw from the futility of the world around them.  It produces what can be called an Orthodox Pharisees Church, wherein failure is a mark of election.  Lest this seem an exaggeration, one small denomination has a habit of regarding pastors who produce growth in their congregations with some suspicion, because it is openly held by many pastors that growth is a mark of compromise, whereas incompetence and failure are marks of election!  Amillennial pastors within this church regularly insist that success surely means compromise, and their failures are a mark of purity and election.  Not surprisingly, postmillennials cannot long remain in this basical­ly and almost exclusively amillennial church.

Let us now examine some common traits of amillen­nialism and premil­lennialism.  First, both regard attempts to build a Christian society or to further Christian reconstruction as either futile or wrong.  If God has decreed that the world’s future is one of downward spiral, then indeed Christian reconstruction is futile.  As a prominent premillennial pastor and radio preacher, the Rev. J. Vernon McGee declared in the early 1950’s, “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.”  If the world is a sinking ship, then efforts to eliminate prostitution, crime, or any kind of social evil, and to expect the Christian conquest of the social order, are indeed futile.”[1]

He concludes this booklet with a summary of his own eschato­logy,

Postmillennialism is the faith that Christ will through His people accomplish and put into force the glorious prophec­ies of Isaiah and all the Scriptures, that He shall overcome all His enemies through His covenant people, and that He shall exercise His power and Kingdom in all the world and over all men and nations, so that, whether in faith or in defeat, every knee shall bow to Him and every tongue shall confess God (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:11). . . .

How is Christ’s Kingdom to come?  Scripture is again very definite and explicit.  The glorious peace and prosperity of Christ’s reign will be brought about ONLY as people obey the covenant law.  In Lev. 26, Deut. 28, and all of Scripture, this is plainly stated.  There will be peace and prosper­ity in the land, the enemy will be destroy­ed, and men will be free of evils only “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them (Lev. 26:3).  The obedience of faith to the law of God produces IRRESISTIBLE BLESSINGS.  “And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God” (Deut. 28:2).  On the other hand, disobedience leads to IRRESISTIBLE CURSES. . . .

God’s deter­mination of history is thus plainly described in His law.  If we believe and obey, then we are blessed and we prosper in Him; if we deny Him and disobey His law, we are cursed and confounded. . . .

. . . Antinomian postmil­lennials deny the God-given way to God’s Kingdom when they by-pass the law.  In effect, they posit without reference to it, a rapture!  How else is the world going to move from its present depravity into God’s order?  Are we going to float in on vague prayers and “higher-life” spiritu­ality?  The antinomian postmillen­nials have no answer.

The charge is often raised that the postmillen­nialism of colonial and 19th century Calvinism led to the Social Gospel of the 20th century.  No one has documented this charge, which is obviously false.  The Hodges, Warfield, Machen, and others were not the source of the Social Gospel, and were hostile to it.  The roots of that movement are in Arminianism, and, very directly, in that notable humanist-revivalist, C. G. Finney.[2]

North in his popularization of Theonomy gives this summary of his eschatological outlook,

But it isn’t enough to proclaim the founda­tions of a godly society, nor is it sufficient to describe some of the institutional arrange­ments of such a society.   What is needed is a dynamic, a psychologi­cally motivating impulse to give godly men confidence that their efforts are not in vain, and that their work for the kingdom of God will have meaning in the future, not just in heaven, but in time and on earth.  We need a goal to sacrifice for, a standard of performance that is at the same time a legitimate quest.  What is needed is confidence that all this talk about the marvels of the kingdom of God becomes more than mere talk.  What is needed is a view of history that guarantees to Christians external, visible victory, in time and on earth, as a prelude, a down payment, to the absolute and eternal victory which Christians are confident awaits them after the day of judgment. . . .

. . . What if the following scenario were the case?  First, God saves men through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Second, these men respond in faith to God’s dominion assignment, given to us through our fathers, Adam, Noah, and Christ in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Third, these regenerate men begin to study the law of God, subduing their own hearts, lives, and areas of respons­ibility in terms of God’s comprehensive law-order.  Fourth, the blessings of God begin to flow toward these who are acting in His name and in terms of His law.  Fifth, the stewardship principle of “service as a road to leadership” begins to be acknowledged by those who call themselves Christian, in every sphere of life: family, institu­tional church, schools, civil government, economy.  This leads to step six, the rise to prominence of Christians in every sphere of life, as Satanists become increasingly impotent to handle the crises that their world-and-life view has created.  Seventh, the law of God is imposed progressively across the face of each society which has declared commit­ment to Christ.  Eighth, this provokes foreign nations to jealousy, and they begin to imitate the Christian social order, in order to receive the external blessings.  Ninth, even the Jews are provoked to jealousy, and they convert to Christ.  Tenth, the conversion of the Jews leads to an unparalleled explosion of conver­sions, followed by even greater external blessings.  Eleventh, the kingdom of God becomes worldwide in scope, serving as a down payment by God to His people on the restoration which will come beyond the day of judgment.  Twelfth, the forces of Satan have something to provoke them to rebellion, after generations of subservience outward­ly to the benefits-producing law of God.  Thirteenth, this rebellion by Satan is immedi­ately smashed by Christ in His final return in glory and judg­ment.  Fourteenth, Satan, his troops of angels, and his human followers are judged, and then condemned to the lake of fire.  And finally, fifteenth, God sets up His new heaven and new earth, for regenerate men to serve in throughout all eternity. . . .

. . .If men really believed that this scenario is possible–indeed, inevitable–would they not redouble their efforts to begin to subdue the earth?[3]

Later in the same book North elaborates upon this summary.[4]

Three features of this eschatological outlook must now be under­scored.  The first is its ethical rationale or, at least its intimate ethical association.  Theonomic Postmillennialists believe their system is demanded or, at least strongly commended by its power to motivate men to keep God’s law in every worldly sphere of life.  This is a thread which runs throughout Rushdoony’s The Meaning of Postmil­lennialism.[5]   North’s descrip­tion of his eschatological outlook as “dynamic, a psychologically motivating impulse” makes this explicit.  Theonom­ists reason that since the dominion mandate of Genesis 1 demands that we subdue every area of life to God by means of His law, then that eschatology which most encourages us to do so must be the best and most Biblical eschatology.

The second feature which emerges from these quotations is the self-conscious peculiarity of Theonomic postmillennialism.  Though they can cite those like Jonathan Edwards whom they call “pietistic postmillennialists” when it suits them,[6]  the quote from Rushdoony above evinces a self-conscious distance from those whom Rushdoony calls “antinomian postmillennialists.”  North in another work identifies Jonathan Edwards himself with such pietistic, antinomian postmil­lennialists.  Chilton writes in his book, Days of Vengeance,

The great defect with the postmillennial revival in­augurated by Jonathan Edwards and his followers in the eighteenth century was their neglect of biblical law.  They expected to see the blessings of God come as a result of merely soteriological preaching.  Look at Edwards’ Treatise on the Religious Affections.  There is nothing on the law of God on culture.  Page after page is filled with the words “sweet” and “sweetness.”  a diabetic reader is almost risking a relapse by reading this book in one sitting.  The words sometimes appear four or five times on a page.  And while Edwards was preaching the sweetness of God, Arminian semi-literates were “hot-gospeling” the Holy Common­wealth of Con­necticut into political antinomianism.  Where sweetness and emotional hot flashes are concerned, Cal­vinistic preaching is no match for antinomian sermons.  The hoped-for revival of the 1700s became the Arminian revivals of the early 1800s, leaving emotionally burned-over districts, cults, and the abolitionist movement as their devastating legacy.  Because the postmillennial preaching of the Edwardians was culturally antinomian and pietistic, it crippled the remnants of Calvinis­tic political order in the New England colonies, helping to produce a vacuum that Arminianism and then Unitarianism filled.[7]

It is clear that one peculiarity of Theonomic postmillennialism is its emphasis on the application of Biblical law to every area of human life as the means of bringing about millennial blessing.  As North is fond of reminding us, the law is man’s instrument or “tool of dominion.”[8]  As the quote from Rushdoony makes clear the full, present applicability of the blessings described in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 (and there promised to the obedience of Israel, the Theocratic nation), is the crucial link which connects obedience to the law with millennial blessing.  North seconds Rushdoony’s point.

God established His covenant with Adam, and again with Noah. It was a dominion covenant.  It was man’s authori­zation to subdue the earth, but under God’s overall authority and under His law.  God also covenanted with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, and instituting the sign of His covenant, circumcision.  He covenanted with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, changing his name to Israel, promising to bless Jacob’s efforts (Genesis 32:24-30).  God covenanted with Moses and the children of Israel, promising to bless them if they conformed to His laws, but curse them if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 8:28).  The covenant was a treaty, and it involved mutual obligations and promises.  The ruler, God, offers the peace treaty to a man or selection of men, and they in turn accept its terms of surrender.  The treaty spells out mutual obligations: protection and blessings from the King, and obedience on the part of the servants.  It also spells out the term of judgement: cursings from the King in case of rebellion on the part of the servants.

This same covenant is extended to the church to day.  It covers the institutional church, and it also applies to nations that agree to conform their laws to God’s standards . . . .

The law of God also provides us with a tool of external dominion.  God promises blessings for that society which surrenders unconditionally to Him, and then adopts the terms of His peace treaty (Deuteronomy 8 and 28).

Fourth, the blessings of God begin to flow in the direction of His people.  “A good man leaveth an in­heritance to his children’s children:  and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22).  As Benjamin Franklin said, honesty is the best policy.  Capital flows to those who will bear responsibility, predict the future accurately, plan to meet the needs of consumers with a minimum of waste, and deal honestly with both suppliers and customers. Again, Deuteronomy 8 and 28 show us the nature of this wealth-transfer process.  This wealth-transfer program is through market completion and conformity to God’s law.  Satan’s kingdom is progressively decapitalized.[9]

This use of Deut. 28 and parallel passages is a critical linchpin in the Theonomic argument for postmillennialism.

The third feature of Theonomic postmillennialism which must be under­scored, though implicit in the above quotations, is not explicit.  It is their rejection of what Chilton calls “Chilias­tic Postmil­lennialism.”[10]  Rather, they argue for the historical continuity of the present age until the return of Christ after their golden age.  They reject the idea that the millennium or at least the future millennial blessings are to be brought in by a single catastrophic event.  Chilton in his commentary on the Book of Revelation writing on Rev. 20 asserts,

Millennarianism can take two general forms.  It can be either Premillennarianism (with the Second Coming as the cataclysm that ushers in the Millennium), or Postmillen­narianism (with the Social Revolution as the cataclysm).  Examples of the first branch of Chiliasm would be, of course, the Ebionite movement of the Early Church period, and the modern Dispensationalism of the Scofield-Ryrie school.  Examples of the Postmillennarian heresy would be easy to name as well: the Munster Revolt of 1534, Nazism, and Marxism (whether “Christian” or otherwise).  Orthodox Christianity rejects both forms of the Millennarian heresy.  Christianity opposes the notion of any new redemptive cataclysm occurring before the Last Judgment.  Christianity is anti-revolutionary.  Thus, while Christians have always looked forward to the salvation of the world, believing that Christ died and rose again for that purpose, they have also seen the Kingdom’s work as leavening influence, gradually transforming the world into the image of God.  The defini­tive cataclysm has already taken place, in the finished work of Christ.   Depending on the specific question being asked, therefore, orthodox Christianity can be considered either amillennial or postmillen­nial because, in reality, it is both. . . .

With the rise of divergent eschatologies over the last two centuries, the traditional evangelical optimism of the Church was tagged with the term “postmillennialism,” whether the so-called “postmillennialists” liked it or not.  This has had positive results.  On the plus side, it is (as we have seen) a technically accurate description of orthodoxy; and it carries the connotation of optimism.  On the minus side, it can too often be confused with heretical millen­narianism.  And, while, “amillennialism” rightly expresses the orthodox abhorrence of apocalyptic revolution, it carries (both by name and by historic association) a strong connotation of defeatism.  The present writer therefore calls himself a “postmillennialist,” but also seeks to be sensitive to the inadequacies of current theological terminology. . . .

Some have sought to remedy this by styling themselves “optimistic amillennialists,” a term that has nothing wrong with it except a mouthful of syllables (the term “non-chiliastic postmillennialist” suffers from the same problem.)[11]

North likewise argues from the parables of Matt. 13.

If we are to take the parables seriously, then we have to begin to think about the continuity of history in between Pentecost and the final judgment.  If there is no great break coming which will divide this period into two or more segments, then whatever happens to the world, the flesh, the devil, and the church (institu­tional) must happen without direct, cataclysmic intervention, either from God or Satan.  The process will be one of growth or decay.  The process may be an ebb and flow, heading for victory for the church or defeat for the church, in time and on earth.  But what cannot possibly be true is that the church’s victory process or defeat process will be inter­rupted  and reversed by the direct, visible physical intervention of Jesus Christ and His angels.  No discon­tinuity of history which overcomes the very processes of history in one cataclysmic break will take place.  Christians must not base their hopes for collective or personal victory on an historically unprecedented event in history which is in fact the destruction of history.  They will sink or swim, win or lose, in time and on earth, by means of the same sorts of processes as we see today, although the speed will increase or decrease in response to man’s ethical conformity to God’s law, or his rebellion against that law.[12]

The Theonomic writers we have quoted are to be commended for avoiding a clearly unbiblical extremism and their attempt to embrace a Biblical perspective essentially alien to their own.


    [1]Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 8, 9, 10         Cf. pp. 2, 10

    [2]Ibid, pp. 53-56

    [3]Gary North, Unconditional Surrender, God’s Program for Victory, (Tyler, TX, Geneva Divinity School Press 1983) pp. 176-177

    [4]Ibid, pp. 196-201

    [5]Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 2, 8-10, 16-27, 29, 30

    [6]Ibid, pp. 21-23

    [7]Ibid, pp. 21-23

    [8] North, Unconditional Surrender, p. 73

    [9] Chilton, op. cit., p. 495

    [10] Chilton, op. cit., p. 495

    [11] Ibid, pp. 495, 496, 498

    [12]North, Unconditional Surrender, pp. 182, 193

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Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

Are all sins the same? | Tom Hicks

“Is it true that all people are equally sinful? If someone has sinful anger in his heart, but never acts on it, is that person really the same as someone who has sinful anger in his heart and then murders his whole family?”

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