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Practicing Postmillennialism, Part 1

This series of articles addresses a vital, yet often overlooked topic: the ethics of eschatology. Stated simply, the pertinent question posed is this: If theonomic postmillennialism is true — and it certainly is true1 — then what differences — here and now— should this conviction make in the lives of Christians and their churches. What should be the character, and what should be the conduct of a professing postmillennialist?

  • Jeffery J. Ventrella, JD,
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This series of articles addresses a vital, yet often overlooked topic: the ethics of eschatology. Stated simply, the pertinent question posed is this: If theonomic postmillennialism is true — and it certainly is true1 — then what differences — here and now— should this conviction make in the lives of Christians and their churches. What should be the character, and what should be the conduct of a professing postmillennialist?

The answer to this question is multi-faceted. At least five ethical implications flow from postmillennial convictions. Theonomic postmillennialism — rightly conceived and practiced — demands that one:

  • Promote the primacy of the gospel
  • Demonstrate evangelistic and missiological zeal
  • Cultivate Christendomic consciousness
  • Practice courageous, strategic, and principled cultural engagement; and
  • Habituate humility

Promoting the Primacy of the Gospel

Paul addressed the church at Corinth with a focused singularity of purpose: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” {1 Cor. 2:2)[2]. The foundation for Paul’s instruction, exhortation, and admonition to these believers was the Cross, the gospel of Christ. It is in this context that Paul could then present a victorious eschatology to these Christians: “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25), Does a connection exist between these pronouncements, that is, the Cross, and eschatological victory? Most certainly.

Paul expressed confidence eschatologically precisely because he held the gospel as primary. This is because he rightly acknowledged that the gospel is transformational in the nature of the case: Indeed, the gospel of Christ “is the power of God to salvation...” (Rom. 1:15). Therefore, according to Scripture, societal transformation must, by definition, be a consequence — not a cause. The cause of transformation is the gospel — not political or familial reconstruction.

While it is certainly true that theonomic postmillennialism has been maligned and even slandered as being some form of the social gospel or humanistic “Jewish dreams,” it is also quite true that the expositors and defenders of optimistic eschatology have ardently underscored the gospel’s predominance in advancing God’s postmillennial victory. Indeed, the gospel’s predominance in postmillennial eschatology has been set forth with utter and unmistakable clarity3:

  • Dr. Gentry: “That theonomists speak of God’s kingdom as a civilization does not mean that they do not see this civilization as grounded in spiritual regeneration.”4
  • Dr. Gentry: “This era of dominion will produce the worldwide transformation of society through the preaching of the gospel and individuals’ widespread positive response to the message of redemption — a continuity of dominion.”5
  • Dr. Gentry: “This is not accomplished by political imposition, but spiritual transformation.”6
  • Dr. Gentry: “Postmillennialists believe that evangelism is the absolute precondition to worldwide, postmillennial, theocratic success,... Thus, postmillennialism seeks the Christianization of the world by the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelism has priority in Christianization.”7
  • Dr. Bahnsen: “Postmillennialism maintains that the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom in this world will take place in terms of the present peaceful and spiritual power of the gospel....”8
  •  Dr. Bahnsen: “Postmillennialism believes in the gradual growth and success of the kingdom of God by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Church’s preaching of the gospel.”9

As these excerpts make plain, to hold postmillennial convictions necessitates that the gospel occupy preeminence. And, just as plainly, these excerpts make plain that those who would malign postmillennialism either are uninformed, or willfully refuse to accurately characterize the position.

Nevertheless: It is one thing to accurately profess postmillennialism; it is quite another to practice it, that is, to function in terms of its implications. To rightly practice postmillennialism requires that one promote the primacy of the gospel. The gospel is not to be treated as a “spare tire.” That is, the gospel is not to be simply annexed to the SUV’s of our lives and then hastily grasped only during dire emergencies.10

Changing the metaphor, the gospel is not simply the “door” to a new home, something quickly forgotten as one proceeds to the living room or the bedroom. Rather, the gospel is life itself and it is something that needs to be preached to oneself, even (especially) after one “gets saved.”11

Far too often, those holding theonomic and postmillennial convictions have expended time and effort on society’s transformation, but have neglected the cause and foundation for that transformation: the gospel. They have focused on the desired effect, rather than cultivating the necessary cause.12

It is no coincidence that John Owen, the craftsman of the explicitly postmillennial Savoy Declaration, rightly warned: “He who has small thoughts of sin never has had great thoughts of God.” The gospel matters. Only a great God can transform a fallen society, a society overrun with sinful men. Yet, the Lord has chosen to do just that — by the gospel. The gospel must therefore be primary.

The Lord, in this day, has graciously rekindled the vision and hope of optimistic eschatology. This generation’s postmillennialists must therefore grasp the heart of that eschatology, the transformational gospel of Christ. It is the power of God, and accordingly, by God’s grace, to be serious about theonomic postmillennialism, one must promote the primacy of the gospel. Absent that emphasis, priority, and passion, one is not a true postmillennialist in any sense; rather, he is simply a vain moralistic pretender.

  1. The articles comprising this series are not designed to demonstrate the truth of theonomic postmillennialism; rather, the truth of those convictions forms the context for discussing the ethical implications that flow from those convictions.
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all cited Scripture is taken from the NKJV translation.
  3. Aside from the theological “drive by shootings” of certain dispenstational writers such as Hal Lindsay, similar less than scholarly efforts have been directed by Reformed writers as well. One of the most egregiously confused analysis of Christian social theory appears in the short booklet by Hanko, The Christian’s Social Calling and the Second Coming of Christ. Professor Hanko’s colleague. Professor David J. Englemsa, writing editorially in The Standard Bearer, periodically presents an equally inept, though equally misleading, treatment of optimistic eschatology. Professor Englesma, of the Protestant Reformed Churches, has characterized postmillennialism as “doctrinal error” bent on promoting “Jewish dreams” and “false teachings.” See, e.g.. The Standard Bearer, Vol. 77, No. 20, p. 461 (September 1, 2001). Despite regularly displaying this rhetorical bravado. Professor Engelsma has, perhaps prudently, refused to publicly debate this author regarding theonomic ethics and/or eschatology despite having received numerous invitations to do so over the years.
  4. He Shall Have Dominion, 224, n. 30 (emphasis added).
  5. Ibid, p. 232 (emphasis added)
  6. Ibid, p. 245 (emphasis added)
  7. Ibid, pp. 259, 60 (emphasis added)
  8. Victory in Jesus, p. 42 (emphasis added)
  9. Ibid, p. 43 (emphasis added)
  10. This metaphor derives from comments made by Dr. Roger Wagner, Dean of Bahnsen Theological Seminary, during a worldview conference conducted in August 2000 with the author.
  11. Nineteenth century revivalistic philosophy continues to influence American Christianity; this is especially noticeable in two areas: the disregard or even absence of ecclesiastical authority; and, more pertinent here, the reduction and limitation of “salvation” to personal conversion or “fire insurance,” rather than conceiving of salvation Biblically: a comprehensive way of life lived under Christ’s redeeming Kingship. For helpful insight concerning the notion of “preaching the Gospel to yourself,” see, Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (1994).
  12. Query whether the Reformed have simply aped evangelicalism’s “how to” mentality by issuing paperback after paperback trumpeting the family, family government, courtship, child rearing, particular educational paradigms, “traditional” or “medieval” liturgical preferences, etc. Certainly these issues comprise important topics, but when does ones infatuation and “band-wagoning” with them transmogrify Christianity into nothing more than a form of idolatrous monotheistic Mormonism? In short, where’s the gospel in the Christian life?! (cf., Gal. 3:3). The gospel must be primary.

  • Jeffery J. Ventrella, JD
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