Postmillennialism, Part 2: Clarification
1. Optimism: Postmillennialism teaches that the millennium, as a distinct age of redemption history, will not be brought about by the sudden physical appearance of Christ (which they believe will occur after the millennium), but by the advance of the gospel in great multitudes around the globe coming to faith in Jesus. When Christians observe the state of world affairs, and when we engage in personal evangelism, it may seem implausible that we are moving toward a Christ-honoring millennial state: isn't society less Christian than it used to be, and don't hearts seem harder to reach with the gospel than in times past?
Two considerations must be observed in regards to the charge of unrealistic optimism on the part of postmillennialism:
a. Context: It may be the case that the United States is growing less Christian, both in the sense that biblical values are less formative in public policy decisions and in the sense that it may seem like people are harder to reach with the gospel, as even the most basic teachings from the Bible concerning right and wrong are called into question.
But the situation of our post-Christian society should not blind us to the movement of the Holy Spirit in other nations- we should rejoice in reports of great numbers of people finding hope in Christ in sub-Saharan Africa and through the underground church in China. Does this mean that the gospel is advancing in such a way as to usher in a millennial age such as that envisioned by the postmillennialists? Perhaps not, but the advance of the gospel in countries where the name of Jesus was virtually unheard of in previous decades may mean that the postmillennial position should not be simply dismissed as blind optimism.
b. Revival/Awakening power: The postmillennial position does not depend upon an ability to show steady growth in populations of believers to non-believers year after year. It may be the case that the power of the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a special way and that revivals and awakenings (such as the Great Awakenings in earlier American history) will sweep the entire Earth. If such events do occur (and regardless of our views on the "end times," all followers of Jesus should pray that they do occur), then they will make the postmillennial position much more plausible.
2. Theonomy: Some people object to postmillennialism because they equate postmillennialism with theonomy- the idea that God's Law (as found in the Mosaic Code) should be put into effect in modern governments. The most controversial aspect of theonomy is the extension of the death penalty to idolaters, blasphemers, etc. (I refer to this type of thinking as an "error" in the first paragraph of this post, because I believe that theonomy, in this sense, fails to properly discern how the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws function today in distinction from how they functioned under the Old Covenant.)
It must be noted, however, that while some postmillennialists are theonomists, one does not necessarily have to agree with theonomy in order to take a postmillennial position [listen, for example, to Chris Arnzen's interview with John Jefferson Davis, found HERE].
Labels: Bible study