Isaiah (Part 75): Problems with Postmillennialism – 2 (Eschatology intro to Chs 60-66, Part 4)
We continue our discussion about postmillennialism after talking about two of its problems last time. In this summary we discuss five others.
Problem #3 –
The gospel is the proclamation that God has provided rescue through Christ for his image bearers to restore the three God-given relationships. Therefore, gospel success is realized through transformation of each individual faith responder.
Say only the two words “gospel success” to a postmillennialist (PostM), and likely the person will immediately think and say that gospel success is realized as the gospel impacts and changes the world to a Christianized society of righteousness and peace prior to Christ’s second advent. This is precisely why PostMs call themselves optimists while declaring that all other views harbor pessimists. They are the only ones, they say, that believe the gospel will actually triumph in the world. I think there are a couple of mistakes in this outlook.
The first mistake regards perspective. In Romans 1:16 Paul tells us that the power of the gospel is in salvation—and he means the capability of saving not the number being saved. Further, Luke 4:18 shows gospel impact to the poor of Jesus’ day for their own sakes, not as a stepping-stone to gospel impact in a future Christianized world. Luke 15:7 tells us that actual joy is experienced in heaven in the immediate context of salvation of a single person. And I think it is true that if I would confront a PostM, telling that person that having heard the gospel, I gave my life to Christ, believed in him as Lord and Savior, and received his gift of everlasting life, and then asked whether this does not mean that the gospel was successful in my regard, the PostM would say, “Well, sure. It was successful for you.” I would then reiterate my point that gospel success is not the extent of world coverage at any one point in history. Gospel success is realized through transformation of each individual faith responder.
I’m sure the PostM would counter, “Well, of course, the gospel is effective and successful for the transformation of each individual, but I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about success in the extent of the gospel’s influence.”
But this too, I think, is a mistake. If both the PostM and I consider God’s knowledge in eternity past, we will both (assuming neither of us are extreme Open Theists) admit that God already knew before creation began the total number and, in fact, all the particular people that would come to him in salvation throughout history from the fall until the new heavens and new earth. Therefore when that number is fulfilled and those people all come to God through Christ, the gospel has succeeded in all that God saw it would ever do. The PostM believes that, and I believe that. Why then does the PostM claim optimism simply because he or she believes more of that same number will happen to be living on earth at the same time? The PostM does not see so much as one single person extra saved from those whom I see saved. With equal results, how can the PostM understand his/her position to be more optimistic in the extent of the gospel’s influence?
Now, the thinking PostM would probably complain to me that I’m not taking my own definition seriously. “Look,” the PostM would say, “you are equating gospel success with only the repair of relationship between image bearer and God. But your gospel definition highlights repair of all the God-given relationships. Therefore, we PostMs look at the repair of relationships among humans and see success there only when conversion has actually succeeded in the vast majority of human beings saved.” But, of course, I think the PostM would again be wrong in this claim.
We have to return to the point made under problem #1. Yes, the gospel proclaims rescue for all three relationships, but repair of the first relationship—God with image bearers—is necessary for the other two to be realized, and so certainly we highlight that one. But how and when are the other relationships restored? Certainly, we attempt to make right the relationships among Christians. But even in Christianized churches (microcosms of the PostM-expected Christianized world) those relationships break down, and corrupted flesh impacts those relationships so that we, at times, fail. Thus, corrupted flesh (or its removal) still must be a significant factor for full realization of gospel success in the righting of all three relationships. And we’ve already discussed that the righting of relationship #3 cannot occur until the resurrection. Thus, immediate gospel success is seen in the transformation of the individual. The extent of gospel success is realized when all whom God knows will be saved are redeemed. And ultimate gospel success is achieved upon Christ’s return to finalize restoration of all three essential relationships.
Problem #4 – The kingdom is complete when physical death is defeated.
Most PostMs do not even realize this statement is a problem for them. In fact, they agree with it and argue that this, in fact, supports their view. Let’s look at I Corinthians 15:25-26 and 53-54 to align our facts. First, Paul explains that Christ “must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet” and the “last enemy to be abolished is death.” And so, the PostM will argue that, yes, other sinful enemies, like suffering, pain, and strife, are defeated through the gospel in the golden period of this age. And then afterwards death itself, the last enemy, will be defeated at Christ’s return. And, in fact, that’s what we see in verses 53-54 in which Paul says that death will be defeated when our corruptible state shuffles off its mortal coil and embraces incorruptibility and immortality at the resurrection.
But let’s consider the lessons learned so far. What does the defeat of death mean? We found in problem #1, that the defeat of death means that at that point suffering ends. Thus, the PostM’s cause-effect series sees suffering end and then death ending, whereas the Bible’s implication (or, rather, direct statement) is that the defeat of death is what ends suffering. By saying that death is the final enemy, Scripture’s point is that death’s demise will end all enemies.
Why is that true? Consider what death is. Death is the curse for breaking covenant. Death is the result of evil. The end of death means the end of evil. But conversely without evil, there is no death. Evil does not end (and therefore death does not end) during the PostMs’ highlighted golden era of the millennial kingdom.
Consider this. When we talk about Christ’s kingdom that was set up at the end of his first advent, what do we mean? Well, a king is a sovereign ruler, right? But God has always been sovereign ruler, right? So, if God has always been sovereign ruler, why do we say the kingdom begins at Christ’s first advent? The kingdom—Christ’s kingdom—begins at Christ’s first advent triumph because it is at that point that the means by which relationship with God may be restored is accomplished. So, what is Christ’s kingdom? One idea that helps toward this answer is to understand that Christ’s kingdom will be different from normal earthly kingdoms. We see that in the OT as the rock that grows to a mountain differs from the other kingdoms in Daniel 3, and we see it in the NT as Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). How is Christ’s kingdom different? He will be a sovereign king just as kings of the earth are sovereign kings over their domains. He will be king over a people just as kings of the earth are kings over their people. He will be king over the land as kings of the earth are kings over their lands. He will administrate his kingdom according to his law just as the kings of the earth administer their kingdoms according to their laws. So, what does Christ mean that his kingdom is not of this world—is different? Christ’s kingdom will be a cleansed kingdom with the eradication of sin from all its relationships. Through Christ’s victory, he became the covenant caregiver in our relationship with God. We, the followers of our king trust in Christ for that care. And Christ will return to cleanse all creation. Thus, this kingdom is not of this world of sin but is a cleansed kingdom. And this cleansed, perfect kingdom, Christ will present to God at the end when sin is eradicated and death is defeated. (I Cor 15:25-28).
Problem #5 – Ultimate kingdom victory is eradication—not mere suppression—of sin.
This point continues from the last one with a slight shift in focus. The last point understands the glory of the kingdom as being without death. This point understands the glory of the kingdom as without sin. As discussed, Christ’s kingdom is about relationship in caregiving. Christ is our head—our caregiver. He is not king simply because he is the divine landowner. He is not king simply because he can enforce submissive obedience from everyone else. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. He is king because he is caregiver, and that is his role in the New Covenant relationship.
This kingdom over which Christ is king is one that, because of Christ, has no blemish to impede relationship with God. Christ washes with his blood the spirits of every image bearer that comes to him in faith. Yet, those same faithful image bearers are enshrouded in bodies of death, bodies of sin, bodies of corruption. Christ has a second advent planned. He will come for the expressed purpose of resurrecting (washing clean in rebirth) our material flesh. His whole mission is to transform his people—his church—into a perfect, pure, cleansed body “without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27). He came in his first advent to accomplish rescue by making us eternally spiritually alive. He will come in his second advent to make us eternally physically alive. And that is our hope. Our hope is not in the suppression of sin so that it has no major impact on us although it always lies just below the surface. Our hope is in cleansing, in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us and to cleanse us for Himself (Titus 2:13-14). And cleansing doesn’t mean mere suppression of sin. Cleansing is the eradication of sin. That hope, the Bible tells us, comes when Christ returns.
Problem #6 – If kingdom success is defined as a Christianized world, PostMs must see the kingdom in defeat.
Well, sure, we have never had a time yet in 2000 years of kingdom success if that success is defined as a Christianized world. The kingdom has just not been successful. But wait, the PostMs argue, we are progressing toward success. The kingdom will realize success in the future.
Here is another strike against the PostM’s presumed optimism. Aside from Benjamin Warfield and Loraine Boetner, you will find few PostMs who do not assume a “falling away” period at the end of the golden age. From Charles Hodge to Ken Gentry, PostMs believe that toward the end of the golden era, and before Christ returns, a time of major apostasy will take place in this age in this world that will, through Satanic inspiration, challenge Christ. This opposition will be, according to general PostM theory, destroyed by Christ at his coming.
But what does this signify? The PostMs have unceasingly argued that they are optimists because they believe in the power of the gospel and its Holy Spirit impelling to transform the world. And yet, PostMs believe that this gospel and its Christianized world stand so precariously that Satan’s release could sweep over it and knock out its moorings in short order. Where is the optimism of gospel power??! We find that PostMs end up as much in the pessimistic mindset as their eschatological opponents. Actually, PostMs are pessimistically worse off because they defined success as worldly dominance only to see it lost.
Problem #7 – The Bible ties both the kingdom and the millennium to the current age.
Amos 9:11-15 says that in the golden age, God will restore the throne of David to majesty. This section is understood to be of millennial description—the golden era of peace and joy and fullness of life that the PostM says will occur prior to Christ’s return.
And yet, James, in Acts 15, upon hearing of the experiences of Paul and Barnabas, relates this very passage of millennial bliss to their current time—this current age.
Thus, PreMs believe the kingdom is still to come.
PreMs believe the millennium is still to come.
PostMs believe the millennium (golden age) is still to come.
But all are in conflict with James’s interpretation in Acts 15. Only Amillennialists believe the kingdom and the millennium are in this age -- are here now!—according to the Word of God.