Resources

The Case for Historical Optimism

We live in a world suffering great trials and tribulations, natural and human, legal and moral. The Indian Ocean earthquake-generated tsunami on December 26, 2004, resulted in nearly 300,000 people dead or missing. The horrible atrocities by Islamists on September 11, 2001, and in numerous places since then burden our hearts almost daily.

In our own once-Christian nation we are witnessing growing efforts to legitimize homosexual marriages. During this past Christmas season we weathered a relentless storm of complaints against public officials who dared bid someone “Merry Christmas“ (instead of “Happy Holidays”) and municipalities that allowed displays of manger scenes and other displays of Christian origin.

With these and many other contemporary concerns, how can the Christian hold an optimistic outlook on the future? Can a world-wise Christian really expect an accelerated progress of the gospel’s effects among men? How can the postmillennial hope be seriously considered among Christian students of the world scene? These are legitimate real-world questions which often serve as rhetorical challenges to any eschatological optimism.

As Christians we must view the world and life from a Bible-based, Christian-oriented perspective, from within a Christian worldview. As the title of our magazine expresses it, we believe in Faith for All of Life, not just for the inter-personal, private part of it.

One’s personal worldview weighs, categorizes, organizes, interprets, and judges each fact or piece of data presented to the mind, determining its possibility, meaning, value, and significance for life. Our worldview is an interpretive grid for understanding and responding to life’s experiences and developing its expectations.

The Christian worldview is securely founded on two immoveable presuppositions (foundational principles): God and Scripture. Our infinite, eternal God who is the almighty Creator of the Universe, the loving Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the merciful Redeemer of God’s elect assuredly exists. And this glorious God has graciously revealed Himself infallibly, objectively, and propositionally in His holy word, the Bible. These two principles must be clearly accepted as the focal lenses to any Christian effort to interpret the world and history.

The Christian worldview arising from these two presuppositions necessarily entails a two-level reality: the eternal God and the created order (which involves all else, including angels, men, animals, and the universe). And of this two-level reality we hold to the Creator-creature distinction: God is not a part of creation; creation never becomes a part of God. God and creation are fundamentally and eternally distinct.

From this sort of worldview, the Christian must recognize the priority of God and His will in all things. A Christian must build his hopes and expectations on the sure revelation of the Almighty Creator. Had we the time we could set forth numerous principles from Scripture which serve as keystones of hope, and I will mention three that we must bear in mind. I would note up front that these do not in themselves establish our optimistic outlook. But they do make it possible and counter the general objections of pessimists who cannot accept any future hope in the unfolding of history before the Lord’s return. Other articles in this issue will provide specific Biblical texts formally establishing the postmillennial hope.1

God’s Creational Purpose

In Genesis 1 we find the record of God’s creation of the universe in the space of six days (Gen. 1:1-31; Ex. 20:9-11). As a result of God’s purposeful creative power, all is originally “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Of course, we expect this because God creates the world for His own glory: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36). “All things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16b).

Frequently, Scripture reaffirms God’s love of His created order and His ownership claim over all things: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).2 The postmillennialist holds that God’s love for His creation prompts His concern to bring it back to its original purpose of bringing positive glory to Him. Thus, the postmillennialist’s optimistic expectation is rooted in creational reality. This world did not magically explode into existence and randomly evolve to its present state. It was created by the rational God of Scripture for His own moral purpose and end.

God’s Sovereign Power

Our evangelistic task in God’s world should be emboldened by the certainty that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). We confidently believe that God controls history by means of His decree, whereby He determines “the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10). Consequently, postmillennialists assert that God’s Word, as He says, “shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11), irrespective of the opposition of men or of demons, despite natural phenomena or historical circumstances. Neither the worst tsunami nor the most vile terrorist group can overthrow God’s decree for the outcome of history.

The Christian, then, ought not use past short-term historical incidents or present cultural circumstances to pre-judge the prospects for future gospel success. Rather, he should evaluate its possibilities solely on the basis of the revelation of God in Scripture — for the success of the gospel is “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). The postmillennialist’s ultimate confidence is in the sovereign God. Our optimism flows out of our worldview.

God’s Blessed Provision

In addition, the Lord of lords amply equips His church for the task of world evangelistic success. This is where our worldview must prevail: the church is not simply a collection of fallen sinners wandering about; it is the kingdom of Christ on earth. Christ easily shifts between the “church” and the “kingdom” when He speaks to Peter: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16:18-19, my emphasis).

Among the abundant divine provisions for the church are the following:

First, we have the very presence of the risen Christ with us.3 He is the One who commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations,” while promising to be with us to the end (Mt. 28:19-20). “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Second, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit from on high.4 We believe that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4b). Among His many ministries He causes the new birth, empowers believers for righteous living, and blesses their gospel proclamation in bringing sinners to salvation.5

Third, the Father delights in saving sinners.6 In fact, the Father “did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn. 3:17).

Fourth, we have the gospel that is the very “power of God unto salvation.”7 We also wield the powerful Word of God as our spiritual weapon: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5).8

Fifth, to undergird and empower us to gospel victory, we have full access to God in prayer9 through Jesus’ name.10 Christ even directs us to pray to the Father: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).

Sixth, though we have supernatural opposition in Satan, he is a defeated foe as a result of the first advent of Christ. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).11 Consequently, we can so resist him that he will flee from us (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9); we can crush him under our feet (Rom. 16:20). Indeed, our God-given mission is to turn men “from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). Thus, the church’s ample equipment is given by a gracious Savior.

Conclusion

Since God creates the world for His glory, governs it by His almighty power, and equips His people to overcome the Enemy, the postmillennialist asks: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

Our confidence is in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). He sits at God’s “right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph. 1:20-22). We have confidence that the resurrection of Christ is more powerful than the fall of Adam.

Of course, all of this alone does not prove God wills to win the world through gospel victory. But it should dispel any premature, casual dismissals of postmillennialism as a viable evangelical option, thereby paving the way for re-considering the case for our evangelistic hope. The question now becomes: Is the postmillennial hope rooted in God’s inspired and inerrant Word?


1. For more information on this topic, see my contribution in Darrell L. Bock, ed., Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999).

2. Cp. Exodus 9:29; 19:5; Leviticus 25:23; Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 29:11, 14; Job 41:11; Psalm 50:12; 89:11; 115:16; 1 Corinthians 10:26, 28.

3. John 6:56; 14:16-20, 23; 15:4-5; 17:23, 26; Romans 8:10; Galatians 2:20; 4:19; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 4:4.

4. John 7:39; 14:16-18; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16.

5. John 3:3-8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:11-12, 22.

6. Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; Luke 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 1:15; 2:5.

7. Romans 1:16; 15:19; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 24; 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

8. 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12.

9. Matthew 7:7-11; 21:22; Ephesians 2:18; Philippians 4:6; Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-22; 1 John 3:22; 5:14-15.

10. John 14:13, 14; 15:7, 16; 16:23, 24, 26; 1 John 3:22; 5:14, 15.

11. Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; 16:11; 17:15; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8; 4:3-4; 5:18.


Topics: Theology

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., holds degrees from Tennessee Temple University (B.A.), Reformed Theological Seminary (M. Div.), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th. M.; Th. D).  He also attended Grace Theological Seminary for two years.  He is Research Professor in New Testament (Whitefield Theological Seminary), a theological writer, and conference speaker. He has written numerous books and articles on issues such as theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, theonomy, six-day creation, presuppositionalism, worldview, Christian education, and more.  He also offers a Christian writing correspondence course.  He is the Director of GoodBirth Ministries, a non-profit religious educational ministry committed to sponsoring, subsidizing, and advancing serious Christian scholarship and education.  He is a retired Presbyterian minister holding his ordination vows in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly.

More by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.