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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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Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope

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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