The doctrine of postmillennialism supplies us with great hope for the future of our world, a promise of vast redemption. After having laid some basic foundations for the optimistic doctrine in previous posts, I wish here to further clarify the nature of this vast redemption, rather than leaving it amid such unclarity. Dissenters have made many biblical and theological objections against the doctrine based largely on a misunderstanding of it, and so I desire to explicate the doctrine in such a way as to clear the reader’s minds of potential objections.1
In God’s Timing
Inasmuch as postmillennialists affirm that “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), we will likewise maintain the monergistic essence of world Christianization. Plenteous redemption will come by the bountiful grace of God, not by some inherent goodness in man, nor by some social gospel, nor by any other fanciful conjuration. Postmillennialism stresses the ultimate power of Christ, not man, over sin.
Consequently, just as everything else executed in time and history is by the counsel of God’s predestinating will (Eph. 1:11), so also the progress of His plan of salvation will be entirely according to God’s timing. Although God could, if He wanted, convert every single soul in an instant, He has decreed for the progression of His kingdom on earth to be gradual and steady, just as the creation of the world, the unveiling of special revelation, the nature of sanctification, and the history of redemption are (or were) similarly gradual. While Jesus taught that unregenerate sinners would always exist before His return (Matt. 13:24-30), He nonetheless instructed us concerning the gradual development (Matt. 13:31-32; Mark 4:26-29) and the ultimate outcome of the kingdom, namely, that the kingdom would thoroughly permeate the earth (Matt. 13:33; Dan. 2:44-45).
Our Savior also has ordained a particular means by which widespread conversion will ordinarily come to fruition, the preaching of the gospel—contrary, e.g., to the manner of Bolshevik Jews with their violent revolution and upheaval. Christ’s church will save souls through the proclamation of the Word (Rom. 10:14), and hell’s own gates will collapse (Matt. 16:18) by the sword of the Spirit.
Therefore, the “picture” of the victory of Christ’s kingdom on earth is one where Christ presently reigns from heaven (Matt. 28:18-20) as His enemies are made His footstool (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Rather than anti-Christian revolutions, Christian dominion is essentially spiritual, not essentially political—though it has manifold political implications. Christ rules by His spiritual representatives on earth, the church, just as Satan attempts to rule on earth through unbelievers; and by and through them His kingdom progresses. This progression can take a very long time, perhaps many millennia: whatever God has willed.
Optimism and Occupation
The fundamental optimism which characterizes postmillennialism has very practical implications for us. We can be confident that our endeavors on earth will be worthwhile in the long run, for God has promised worldwide Christianization. This stands in contrast with other Christian eschatological systems, which, with their emphasis on the imminent return of Jesus, argue that “one shouldn’t polish the brass on a sinking ship,” thereby abandoning society to Satan’s designs. Contrary to such pessimism, the Lord Jesus Christ commands us to occupy until He returns (Luke 19:13).
Interestingly, adherents of pessimistic eschatological views will usually accuse postmillennialists of undermining a constant watchfulness, since we hold that Christ’s coming is in the distant future—yet they do not realize the terrible practical implications of their pessimism. Scripture teaches that we do not know the date of Christ’s return (Matt. 24:36, 42; Acts 1:7), and even seems to note that it will be a long time (Matt. 25:5, 14, 19), but it never teaches that His return is ever-imminent.
The practical utility of an optimistic eschatology can actually be ascertained from a cult with which we are all familiar, Mormonism. Not only do Mormons have a workable model of missions—sending unmarried men to work in foreign lands before bringing them back home to settle down, keeping their family and societal roots safe—but they also have an incredibly optimistic eschatology, one which manifests itself in exorbitant evangelistic energy for their own religion. Irrespective of what they might believe regarding the eventual success of Mormon conversions, they believe that with sufficiently righteous obedience on earth and participation in the church, one may become a god and gain sovereignty over his own planet following death. This feature of Mormon personal eschatology undoubtedly motivates many of its adherents to righteous living and impassioned evangelism. This is not to say their views have any merit, of course—only that eschatological beliefs have very practical consequences. Having understood the promises of Scripture that the saving knowledge of Christ will be as the waters covering the sea, and being energized and sanctified by the true God, the Holy Spirit, Christians ought to surpass Mormons in postmillennial fervor.
The Bruising of Christ’s Heel
While Christ’s kingdom will, in the long run, progress towards a full Christianization of the world, there will always be brief, anomalous downward trends (cf. John 15:6). Yet, we can still rest on the promises of God, realizing that He will nevertheless be victorious on earth and in history. Just as we can be confident that our personal sanctification will progressively increase in holiness despite anomalous breaches here and there, so also we can be confident that the world’s corporate sanctification will do the same. These “anomalous breaches” in the scope of world history might last a very long time, and might involve the decadence of a large society into full-blown degeneracy; but nevertheless we cannot engage in what Greg Bahnsen has termed “newspaper exegesis.” Despite the downward trends in our modern Western civilization, we can still be ultimately confident of Christ’s victory.
Since the church will sometimes experience backwardness (and even comatoseness) at certain points in time, we should hesitate to condemn postmillennialism when we read passages speaking of small numbers of the redeemed at a given point in time (e.g., Matt. 7:13-14; 22:14). Such verses are examples of previous circumstances which served to spur Christ’s servants on to greater obedience, not predictions of how things will always be in the future. Descriptions of certain periods in history do not constitute predictions of how history will always be. Tertullian’s observation that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church” was not intended to extend through all of history.
Moreover, the fact that the church will be victorious on earth and in history does not imply that she will experience no pain or suffering in the process. Anti-postmillennialists sometimes appeal to Scriptures dealing with persecution (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:7-9; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 8:17), but these do not imply defeat for the church. Warriors usually exit battle with scars and wounds, and the war between Christ and Satan will be no different. But what we can be assured of is that, in our war, we will be victorious through Christ, the Conqueror of the nations by the sword of the gospel (Rev. 19:11-16). Though Satan will bruise Christ’s heel, Christ shall yet crush his head (Gen. 3:15).
As I outlined in part 3 of this series, God’s plan of salvation involves more than the invisible modification of scattered souls. Seeking to glorify Himself above all, the Lord will transform the whole world, redeeming all of creation (Rom. 8:20-21). This will no doubt involve a prodigious number of individual conversions, but neither will it be so circumscribed: salvation will apply to all the kingdoms of this world. Only with sporadic exceptions, all institutions, all cultures, all nations, all peoples will be turned to the Lord.
In a similar vein, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 shows our Savior commanding His disciples to “make disciples of all the nations.” The nations, as nations, are the proper objects of evangelization and discipleship; and due to this, the obligations attendant to the Great Commission and to the cultural mandate give the gospel-transformation of the world a theonomic and kinistic character. There will be an organic redemption of all the institutions and cultures of this world.
Rejecting the principles of kinism, many Christians will unfortunately retain a utopian vision of world Christianization. They may generally hold that it will be theonomic, but will still fantasize about a world where biology is erased rather than redeemed. They might fantasize that nations like Liberia and Guatemala would, post-redemption, be unaffected by their lower average IQ or their native propensity to sins of violence, and so be as prosperous and righteous as we would expect a European Christian nation to be. While such a view is to be commended for its high view of divine efficacy, it can be criticized for its deficient understanding of the faculties with which God has endowed other peoples, in addition to its implicit affirmation that God will wipe out these characteristics to create utterly “new” spiritual beings, rather than redeem them as they are. Certainly, the redemption of such nations will be for their people’s great benefit, not only eternally but temporally, yet it would be foolish and unrealistic of us to expect them to act in ways impossibly different from how they behave currently.
For example, though this is not a fact in which we glory, it is a frank matter of fact that blacks behave more violently than whites, as well as that they have a lower IQ. Though blacks can be steadily improved by multi-generational Christian instruction, it is fanciful to suppose these deficiencies would ever be entirely erased; and consequently, if we multiply these differences in characteristics to the scope of entire nations, the nations will be very visibly different. It is at a time like this when we realize that “the poor you have with you always” (John 12:8).
This is certainly no reason for anyone to boast. Whatever good characteristics a people may possess, they possess them by the plentiful grace of God; and even the best possible race anyone can imagine would be nothing compared to the superlative power, wisdom, and glory of God. More to the point, the differing characteristics of the races, including the various superiorities and inferiorities among them, should drive the nations to aid each other. Having separated into ethno-states, each race can collectively work to minimize their weaknesses while maximizing their God-given strengths. The gospel, serving as the balm of the nations (cf. Rev. 22:2), will bring each of them into a harmonious and perichoretic2 interrelation.
However, given the kinistic doctrine that the nations will be unequal with respect not only to neutral features (such as cuisine), but also to various value-laden characteristics (such as intelligence and industriousness), it follows that certain races will likely be more among the helpers, and others more among the helped. This conclusion might remind the reader of the older practice of colonialism; and indeed, I would affirm that in many ways, worldwide Christian victory might consist in and be caused by practices resembling white colonialism. White Christian nations certainly should not favor foreign evangelism to the point of altruistic suicide, as is occurring today, but we should nevertheless apprehend our grand responsibility. For practical purposes, however, I contend that, in the present, we ought to focus our attention and efforts exclusively towards our own. The West needs to survive before she can consider how much she ought to aid others.
The biblical doctrine of postmillennialism is one of which all Christians need to be more mindful. Though the promise of salvation and God’s general sovereignty over all things ought to serve as a firm basis in spurring Christians unto holy action, the larger scope of worldwide gospel success, divinely authorized and guaranteed, ought to serve as even further motivation in the hearts of believers. Jesus Christ is Lord over all, the one “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10), and we may therefore joyfully anticipate the ever-increasing of His government and peace, of which there will be no end (Isa. 9:6).
- As with part 3 of the series, for the following information I owe a great debt to Ken Gentry’s book on postmillennialism, He Shall Have Dominion, 2nd ed., and to the following mp3 lectures by Greg Bahnsen: “Chronology and History,” “The Nature of Christ’s Kingdom,” and “Christ’s Expectation of His Earthly Kingdom.” ↩
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perichoresis ↩