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Post-millennialism: the good and the bad

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I'm probably Post-millennial. I don't mind the label, the associations, and even the stigma (whatever it may be). There is enough plainness in Scripture that I feel it is necessary to own it. That being said, there are a few points that aren't satisfactory to me (just yet). Here's a brief and incomplete breakdown of how I perceive the doctrine (at the time of writing).

The Good

Jesus is King!

Of course, this is not a unique viewpoint in the broader sense, but the post-mil perspective on this is particularly bold in its faith regarding the implications of Jesus' Reign. The explicit teaching that "the gates of hell will not prevail" and the ultimate victory of the church in modern history (the whole "church age", that is) is incredibly uplifting and nothing makes my spirit sing in chorus with The Spirit quite like giving Jesus the credit he deserves for having accomplished all of this and for actively accomplishing this right now, in my life and in yours. There is no room for doomsday talk and pessimism about the church's influence or role in society. We have already won, we win whenever we act in faith, and we will win in the immediate future if we will step out in faith in God's promises, secured in Christ. I can't get enough of #DatPostMil!

To zero in on a specific element of this dominion of Christ's, I appreciate that this theological tradition teaches that the Gospel has a purifying effect on everything that a believer involves himself in. This brings to life the teaching about Salt and Light. We aren't merely preaching a spiritual and future salvation. We are proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of all things! And so as we believe in him and walk in his light, not only do we change internally (spiritually), it begins to manifest itself outwardly, in our behaviors, in our speech, in our influence over society, and in the flavor of culture we create 1. Sometimes folks get upset about the theonomist elements of the post-mil crowd, and maybe sometimes they should (still figure this out myself), but often if we are seeking a true manifestation of obedience to Jesus' Lordship in our lives, we are just talking about living boldly in this way, and thus, unavoidably, exerting an explicitly Christian influence on our communities. I'm a huge fan of this, and we need to dig into this in America. It begins and ends with believing and preaching the gospel, and that's something we can all get on board with, even if we're not completely sold on #DatDominion.

One last thing to mention: I've found it helpful to wrap my head around the idea that the Gospel will succeed in its mission on earth before Christ returns. I grew up pre-mil, pre-trib, so this was a hard one to shake, but at the end of the day, Christ can come like a thief in the night on those who are slumbering, without needing to come "literally at any minute." It's clear enough that God has global goals to achieve during this time period, and our focus should be on working with him toward those goals, not wishing that he'd settle for good enough soon so we can get out of here. So I'm learning to dream big, expect much, and submit to God's leading in my life as it pertains to my family, my church, and my community, because this is how he is bringing about (and has brought about) his kingdom. I'm of the opinion, currently, that we don't really know what God's criteria are for when he will wrap this thing up. It could be that we are in the last days, sure! But, as Doug Wilson has said, we could also be in the early church. And that sounds great! Let's get busy making this place a sweet savor of God's glory in Christ! Let's raise the bar even higher for future generations (like the Puritans did)! Let's "hasten the coming of the day of God"!

The Bad

A.D. 70.

This date is so significant, and I appreciate the explanatory power that it has in the post-millennial view, but there are places where it crosses a line for me. What I do appreciate is:

  1. Christ made a prophetic prediction that came to pass, validating him as a prophet who spoke words from God.
  2. It takes a lot of pressure off of the reader to figure out every possible (future) eschatological detail when reading certain passages, because at the very least you can see how some of the text is directly fulfilled in the events of A.D. 70. Acknowledging this gives the reader a chance to take a deeper breath before trying to figure out any of the other present or future meanings of such challenging texts. I receive this as the kindness of God in giving me a break from the frenetic search for meaning when none can readily be found (something I think most of us suffer from if we're being honest, and it often leads to sketchy interpretations).

What I don't appreciate could be summed up in one basic idea: Temporary events can never be the whole message of a passage of Scripture, especially if that results in limiting the relevance of that passage for the believer today.

Now, you can push back on that sentence as much as you like, but I've found that to be a very helpful guiding axiom, personally, and my reading of the church throughout history is that this is always how believers have approached Scripture: it means something to me, today, directly.2 I see dispensationalism violating that principle quite often, where myriad passages are "for Israel" or "for the 12 disciples" or "for the millennium", et cetera ad nauseam. And in a handful of post-millennialism discussions around hard texts, I see the same thing pop up, and it bothers me. It's not enough to throw out the framework, but I have to say that on those points, I think my post-mil brothers would do well to stop limiting their interpretive options.

One example of this is in interpreting "narrow is the gate" from Luke 13 3. While it might be meaningful, and even correct, to say that this passage is referring to 1st century Jews, I believe it is an error to say that it only applies to 1st century Jews. And maybe it can be a tougher matter to establish what the application and meaning is for today's reader, since a committed post-millennialist isn't inclined to say that "few will be saved," BUT that doesn't mean we have a right to curtail the meaning and relevance of the passage just to keep our personal theological categories neat and tidy. Maybe in another article I'll explore some possible interpretations of this text as an example, but maybe not. I can't put pressure on myself to perform like a hermeneutical circus act. The Spirit guides us into wisdom on his own terms. But I can commit to praying about that, and so should you, if this text troubles you.

Conclusion

I'm unashamedly "probably post-mil" (cue laughter from the reader), though I have my qualms with how certain ideas and texts are handled in that broader tradition. At the same time, I don't feel the need to apologize for most of that, because, importantly, I accept the label because it associates me with a view of the present (and the future) that is optimistic and gospel-focused. Nobody is perfect, and popular (or unpopular) theological frameworks are mere expressions of imperfect people. I can take the good with the bad without feeling like I need to draw hard lines in the sand among brothers. Rather, I'll draw my hard lines between us and the ever-dwindling, self-sabotaging armies of Satan. On our side of such lines, there is plenty of room for healthy discussion where we learn with one another about God's victorious wisdom.

Footnotes

1All humans create culture all the time, but what sort of culture it is will be a manifestation of their hearts. I should probably do some writing on this...back

2I wrote tangentially about this in "The Church Is Israel", feel free to check that out for a slightly more thorough explanation of what I mean. More could be said about this, and I doubtless need to get my own thoughts together more coherently on this in general.back

3For example, see Doug Wilson's comments on that passage in Heaven Misplaced, chapter 8.back