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Posts Tagged ‘amillennialism’


I know, I’ve been derelict in my duty. I have more important matters to attend to. But I have some spare time, so it is time to look at the second approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation: idealism. Often this is called the Spiritual view. I’m not wild about that term since it wrongly implies spiritualization, which is a problematic way of interpreting the Scriptures.  Spiritualization treats the Scriptures as if they have special meaning that isn’t on the surface of the text. Typology, for instance, recognizes the historical events of the text, but says they also point to Christ and His work. Spiritualization does not recognize the historical events. I hope that makes sense. This view is NOT spiritualization.

The idealist view does a few things. First, it recognizes that The Revelation is filled with symbolism. To interpret it literally means to recognize the symbolism. Second, idealism recognizes progressive parallelism throughout the text in keeping with apocalyptic writings like we find in the prophets. The Revelation contains a series of visions about the same events from different angles, with increasing intensity. Therefore, the Book is not to be read chronologically (again, try to do that with the prophets and you’ll become very confused). Often, these different visions are indicated by “I saw heaven opened” (this is the title of Michael Wilcock’s commentary.) The third main feature of the position is that these visions represent patterns throughout history that culminate in the consummation at Christ’s return.

Most idealists hold to the amillennial position. This means that chapter 20 is a symbol representing the present age instead of chronologically following this age. This means that the battle at the end of chapter 20 is the same battle as we find in chapter 19. Christ returns at this end of this age to defeat His enemies, deliver His saints and restore creation. The amillennialist says that we are currently in the millennium. It is technically a post-millennial position.

As an idealist with some preterist leanings, I was not impressed with Sam Hamstra Jr.’s presentation. Commentaries that hold to this view, that are quite good, include Hendriksen’s More than Conquerors, Poythress’ The Returning King, Dennis Johson’s The Triumph of the Lamb and Derek Thomas’ Let’s Study Revelation. One thing that I found troublesome in Hamstra’s presentation, as opposed to the others, is that Revelation essentially becomes a book without a historical context (“They may have no historic connection with any particular event”). The book was intended to provide comfort to the original audience, and to us when we suffer in similar ways. We are not the original audience, but it applies to us too.

The letters to the seven churches are to the whole church, at that time. Here he recognizes the historical context. John is addressing their needs and trials. They do not represent 7 successive periods in the life of the church, as some people teach.

The big picture is the prominence of the throne of God. What plays out is a result of God’s plan and purposes for the world. History is under the direction of God, and the preservation of the saints and destruction of his enemies are a part of that. But we see rivals to God arising. The dragon, Beast and False Prophet comprise a counterfeit trinity and the Harlot is a counterfeit church (Poythress in particular is very helpful here). While they may prevail in the short-term, Jesus wins long-term, and His people preserve through the blood of the Lamb. He is a Lamb to us, and a Lion to His enemies. The Revelation is a revelation from Christ about Christ.

In the present, we see the power of the Beast in persecution, the False Prophet in deception (cults), and the Harlot in seduction. All three work in the power of the dragon, who is Satan as John tells us in Revelation 12. At any particular point in time, a church will experience one or two of those strategies. Here in America we are subject to seduction (consumerism) and deception (cults and secular humanism). At some point, we may experience persecution like many Christians around the world currently do.

This frees us from thinking the book is for our generation, though it applies to our generation. It frees us from thinking the books it for some far off generation, because it applies to our generation. This frees us from all the erroneous speculation that we see in dispensational teaching (Walvoord, Lindsey, LeHaye etc.). The point is not to generate fear- but for us to trust (rely upon) Christ who will prevail. We need to be vigilant about our lives, not obsessing about the European Union and bar codes.

The idealist position functions more as a theology of history than a chronology for the end of the world. As Hamstra notes, it is idea rather than event oriented. As a result, it helps us to apply the Revelation to any generation awaiting the return of Christ.

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In preparation for my SS class on the Revelation, I’m reading lots of books. One of them is Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate who is also a contributor to the book. The first view presented in the Preterist view, written by Kenneth Gentry. Gentry represents a moderate or partial preterist view, not a full preterist view which is (in my opinion) a view outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

Gentry, who has written a few tomes on Revelation, is more than capable of writing on this subject. He was well chosen. He is thorough, knowledgeable and not prone to attacking those who disagree in the course of his presentation. One of the issues often raised against preterists, and particularly the post-millennial ones, is the ways they use excessive sarcasm in showing the weaknesses and faults of other systems (this is not a problem particular to them, however). Gentry does not fall into this trap. He makes a great spokesman so the case is evaluated on its own merits instead of excesses in presentation.

In looking at the structure of The Revelation, Gentry notes the progressive parallelism that is present. This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature, as the same events are viewed from different angles with increasing intensity. This is very different from the chronological approach which sees the different visions as referring to different events. In this aspect, Gentry’s argument is similar to that proposed by the Idealist perspective which will be examined next.

As apocalyptic literature, we must be careful not to approach it with straight forward literalism. He notes that in the Gospel of John, people often erred by taking Jesus too literally when he was using figures of speech. We see this problem in nearly every chapter of the Gospel.

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We pick up my dialogue with Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope.

Cavman: I guess this is where my defensiveness arises, to a degree.  I see spiritual change as real change.  If someone is really regenerate then they are being sanctified and having a positive influence in their family and community.  As the church in a region or nation grows, there are material benefits that overflow into the region and nation.  Many of these things may be common grace benefits, but are still an outflowing of the work of Christ.
For instance, where Christianity has become the dominant religion, there is usually an increase in material prosperity, health care, technological development and moral standards.  There also seems to be a decrease in things like political corruption.  As I ponder the influence of Islam on cultures, I see very advanced cultures being suffocated, increases in poverty etc.  It was Christians, for instance that put an end to slavery in the Western world.  Hopefully Christians will put an end to it in other parts of the world.

I don’t see this as making me postmillennialist.  Like Gary DeMarr, I suspect we think things are worse now because we know more about other parts of the world.  Worse things happened before, but people didn’t know about them and most things didn’t make the history books.

I get the impression that there is a similarity in the hermeneutics of premillennialism and postmillennialism toward literalism.  Many of the prophecies are in poetic sections of the prophets.  I don’t think I’m trying to spiritualize the texts away, but understand them properly rather then think they must be fulfilled in a particular way like the Pharisees did, thereby missing Messiah, and some premillennialists do.  “All the nations” for instance.  I believe all nations will be represented among the elect (thinking temporally), but I don’t think this means there has to be a worldwide revival so that all the nations are coming at the same time.  I’d love to see a worldwide revival, and the conversion of most Jews- but I don’t see Scripture necessitating that.

I’d better think of a question, huh?  Sorry about the digressions.  You mentioned theonomy.  Perhaps some are uncomfortable with postmillennialism due to its connection with theonomy.  Not all postmillennialists are theonomists, but all theonomists are postmillennialists.  You’ve spent more time studying this than me, and have more relationships with theonomists than I do.  What is the bridge from your understanding of postmillennialism and yours?

KM: I don’t think there’s any need for defensiveness since I’m not arguing against what seems to be your main point here.  I heartily agree that spiritual change is real change.  The contrast I am drawing is not between spiritual and real.  That’s a false contrast that assumes or implies that the spiritual is not real.  Instead, I’m drawing a contrast between visible and invisible.  As I mentioned in the previous response: “What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.”  The words “entirely” and “confined” and “no” are key.  There are aspects to the growth of Christ’s kingdom that are invisible, that occur in the spiritual dimension of existence.  These are very real.  Regeneration is invisible but very real.  My point is that the effects of the growth of Christ’s kingdom should not be confined to only the invisible spiritual dimension of reality.  The effects of sin, of Satan’s kingdom, are not thus confined, and neither are the effects of redemption and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.

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Here is the first part of my internet dialogue with Dr. Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatatology of Hope.  Keith and I worked together at the RTS Orlando Bookstore, and then at Ligonier Ministries.  After graduating from RTS, he received his Ph.D. from Whitefield Seminary.  He is the author of numerous books, including Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which he wrote while in seminary.  I did such a great job proofing the book that I haven’t worked on one since.

KM:  Thanks for reviewing the book.  I saw it yesterday.  You didn’t say anything about the most persuasive part of the book – the yellow cover.  What’s up with that?!?

Cavman: It is a fine cover.  Kudos to the art department.  I only bought the book for the cover.  Okay …. At times the amillennialism you describe doesn’t seem to be the amillenialism I hold to.  Part of that may be because you were interchangeable arguing against both forms of premillennialism and amillennialism.  I put your book down thinking our differences are more about a matter of degree: how much the gospel will prosper as it covers the earth and converts the nations.  What would you say is the main distinction between these sibling eschatologies?

KM: I think you are correct to observe that at least some of the differences are a matter of degree.  I see the various expositions of amillennialism and postmillennialism lying along a spectrum.  There are extremely spiritualized and pessimistic forms of amillennialism that would be at one end and very this-worldly, perhaps naively optimistic forms of postmillennialism at the other end.  Closer to the middle would be more balanced (i.e. biblical) forms of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  I think, for example, that Cornelis Venema’s expression of amillennialism is closer to some forms of postmillennialism than the amillennialism of someone like David Engelsma.  And my expression of postmillennialism is closer to some forms of amillennialism than the postmillennialism of someone like Loraine Boettner.  I think things get a bit fuzzier the closer you get to the middle of the spectrum.

Unlike some older postmillennialists, who believed that the millennium would be the last 1000 or so years of the present age, I believe the millennium represents the entire present age between the first and second coming of Jesus.  So there’s no disagreement there.  Both amillennialists and postmillennialists say they believe that Christ’s kingdom is growing during this present age.  I think the main difference between the views boils down to how confident we are that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will manifest itself in some visible, tangible ways during this age and what it might look like.  In short, is this kingdom growth more or less behind the scenes?  I’m slightly more optimistic than most amillennialists I’ve read that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will have visible manifestations.  Unlike some theonomic postmillennialists, however, I am less confident about saying exactly what they might look like.

I also believe that the growth/advance of Christ’s kingdom will involve a bloody, difficult battle for the people of God.  Going back to the old D-Day/V-Day analogy, the decisive battle has been won, but the progress will not be easy.  It will involve awful, street to street fighting all the way to the final day.  But the victory is assured.

Cavman: As I read the book, a few things came to mind for me.  On a continuum (Pratt would be proud) I see premillennialism and postmillennial as the 2 extremes.  One pessimistic and under-realized, and the other overly optimistic and over-realized.  The dispensational premillennial position was born in persecution and pessimism, and puts some of the “already” into the “not yet”.  The posmillennial position, I think, sticks too much of the “not yet” into the already.  Obviously I’m biased toward amillennialism as having the best balance.  I have a point here, really.  “Visible manifestations” is a phrase that you used.  I think I see such things now.  Please, spell out what you mean a little bit.  What “visible manifestations” do you have in mind?

KM: I see postmillennialism and amillennialism existing on a continuum because they share similar features.  Premillennialism seems to me to be in a separate category altogether.  Regarding “visible manifestations,” like I said, I’m hesitant to offer specifics.  When Scripture speaks of the growth of the kingdom it tends to use figurative language.  What specifically in the real world corresponds to the permeation of a lump of dough by leaven?  Or to the growth of a mustard seed?  The first type of growth is not particularly visible.  The second is.  In short, it isn’t as simple or as cut-and-dried as some would say.  We can’t, for example, measure the growth of the kingdom of Christ by watching the fortunes of our favorite political party or our own nation.  The kingdom of Christ is bigger than that.

What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.  That idea implies that there was nothing noticeably different about the world after the Fall.  Satan’s kingdom, however, has had clearly visible manifestations in the world throughout history beginning with the Fall.  Why would the redemptive kingdom of Christ not have any visible manifestations?  It involves the same world that was cursed as a result of our sin.  Sin did not affect merely the spiritual realm.  It affected the visible and physical as well.  Redemption also affects both.  What might it look like?  I think we have a fairly good idea of what the visible manifestations of Satan’s kingdom look like.  I expect that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will look a lot like the opposite of that.

more to come….

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Books on postmillennialism are rare these days, because postmillennialists are relatively rare (though the number is growing).  200 years ago, a very large number of Christians were postmillennial.  I have friends who are postmillennialists, one of whom wrote a book.  I’ve finally read that book.  Keith Mathison wrote Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope because many people misunderstand this view, and he wants to persuade more Christians that this is the biblical eschatology.

Disclaimer: I probably should get my eschatalogical journey out on the table since this can often color how we view this subject.  As a young Christian, I read lots of books by Dispensationalists on eschatology (because, sadly, they seem to be the ones inundating the market with books).  So, from 1986-1990 or so I was a dispensational premillennialist. But I was finding that Scripture was disabusing me of this view.  By the time I went to seminary in 1991, I was an historic premillennialist without realizing what my view was called.  I was initially suspicious of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  By the time I left seminary I was an amillennialist, and have remained so for 15 years.

Hermeneutical Considerations This is where Keith starts, and for good reason.  He lays out some Presuppositions and Definitions.  He lays out his presuppositions about the existance of God, His willingness to communicate, the authority of His Word, our being made as image bearers and ability to receive that Word before hitting interpretive considerations.  He concisely lays out the necessity of faith, the need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the role of community and tradition in intrepreting Scripture.  It is only after this that Keith defines the 4 most common eschatalogical views (quiz, I’ve named them all already- what are they?).

“The thesis of this book is simple: Postmillennialism is the system of eschatology that is most consistent with the relevant texts of Scripture, a covenantal approach to Scripture, and the nondisputed doctrines of Reformation theology.”

He just dropped a term he hadn’t mentioned: Covenant Theology.  In the second chapter he distinguishes between Covenant and Dispensational Theology.  He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary before he went off the theological reservation and I met him at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a SHORT chapter, but he concisely defines & critiques Dispensational Theology and then explains Covenant Theology since most American Christians are essentially unfamiliar with Covenent Theology.

Historical Considerations What the church has believed on this issue is important.  It is not definitive or authoritative.  It is also a mixed bag as various theologies came into being and were clarified over time.  The last of these to come into being is Dispensational Premillennialism (though there have been premillennialists for quite some time).  He shows that the historical claims some have made for their positions just don’t hold water.  Postmillennialism was the main position during the time of the Puritans and into the early 20th century, however.

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With no apologies to Rev. MacArthur by the way.  I promised myself I’d tackle this baby, but made sure I didn’t just jot something down while I was still annoyed.  One of those little things you learn as a pastor- don’t respond immediately because you tend to make things worse. 

Here is an excerpt from THE Live-Blogging Machine that is Tim Challies:

“MacArthur made the point that those who most celebrate the sovereign grace of election regarding the church and its place in God’s purpose and those who defend the truth of promise and fulfillment and believe in election being divine, unashamedly deny the same for elect Israel. This is a strange division. “It’s too late for Calvin,” he said,” but it’s not too late for the rest of you. If Calvin were here he would join our movement.”

“The thrust of the message was simple: Of all people to be pre-millennialist it should be the Calvinist–those who believe in sovereign election. A-millennialism is ideal for Arminians because according to their theology God elects nobody and preserves nobody. A-millennialism is consistent with Arminianism. Yet it is inconsistent with Reformed theology and its emphasis on God’s electing grace.

“For those who “get it” that God is sovereign and the only one who can determine who will be saved and when they will be saved and is the only one who can save them, A-millennialism makes no sense because it says that Israel, on their own, forfeited the promises. The central argument went like this: If you get Israel right, you will get eschatology right. If you don’t get Israel right, you will never get eschatology right and you’ll drift forever from view-to-view. You get Israel right when you get the Old Testament promises and covenants right and you get these when you get the interpretation right which you get right when you use a proper hermeneutic (Did you get all that?). Essentially, you move from a proper hermeneutic to a proper interpretation to a proper view of the covenant and Old Testament promises and then you get Israel right. And then, of course, your eschatology is right. If you go wrong at the base, and set aside proper methods of hermeneutics, you have no chance to get anything else right.”

Okay…. I will make some comments about the summary and then spend some time in Romans 9-11 to flesh some of this issue out.  I guess I’m stumbling over the question of “elect Israel”.  As a nation, they were chosen for some specific tasks.  As individuals, many were chosen for salvation.  But the nation as a whole was not chosen for salvation, for salvation has always been by grace thru faith.  As a Calvinist and biblicist, I recognize BOTH types of election in Scripture (unlike some Arminians who only recognize the former, and John who seems to have forgotten the former).  To say God has some as yet unfulfilled promises to the nation of Israel is a function of his dispensational hermeneutic- one which was initially devised in the 1800’s by John Nelson Darby which has some serious issues in dealing with biblical data (IMO).  So, John MacArthur is confusing/conflating the 2 types of election but says we are inconsistent regarding election unto salvation.  That is not a sound premise.

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