A Question for Postmillennialists:

According to postmillennialism, the gospel will continue to advance with great success, and most of the world’s population will be regenerate by the end of the present age. As postmillennialist Loraine Boettner explains:

Postmillennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals, that the world eventually is to be Christianized and that the return of Christ is to occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the millennium.

In a similar way, postmillennialist Kenneth Gentry writes:

Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind.

So my question is this: Since postmillennialists view the thousand-year millennial kingdom of Revelation 20 as coming to an end at the conclusion of the present age—to then be followed by the second coming of Christ—how do they explain the rebellion in Revelation 20:7-9?

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them (Rev 20:7-9).

Do you see the problem? If postmillennialists believe that the world will be “Christianized” in such a way that “a vast majority of human beings” will be saved by the end of the thousand years, how do they account for this massive rebellion prior to the return of Christ? How is it possible that a mass of unbelievers numbering like the sand of the seashore could arise in a world that is almost entirely regenerate?

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32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Pixley on June 16, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Is it just me, or is the silence deafening?

  2. Posted by Jerry Wragg on June 17, 2009 at 6:00 am

    I hear crickets…

  3. Ehhh… I don’t think any postmillers read this blog, or at least don’t have the desire to engage the question. I think someone needs to shoot this link to Scott Hill of Fide-O. If I am reading recent comments made by him on their blog, he may be coming to embracing postmillennialism.

  4. I think Fred’s probably right about postmillennialists not reading this blog. Frankly, I’m just glad to see that Chris Pixley and Jerry Wragg are reading it again. Rumor has it that they actually used to write for Expository Thoughts. Paul Lamey claims there is proof of this somewhere, but I have yet to see it.

    Jerry, you’re hearing crickets because you live in Florida. You can’t hear them here in SoCal because the traffic is too loud.

  5. Perhaps I’m the only Postmillennialist who reads ET, but here’s a quick answer: There is a period of time between the end of the “millennium” and the second coming. Even though the world will be Christian, once Satan is released, it would not take long (perhaps one generation) for him to deceive the children of believers.

  6. Eric,

    Thanks for weighing in—your answer is very intriguing. Just to clarify, are you saying that the short period of time referred to in Rev 20:3 (“a short time”) and described in Rev 20:7-9 (deception/battle/defeat) is actually many years—and perhaps even an entire generation—in length? I would love to read a postmillennialist who expounds on this. Do you have a recommendation?

    By the way, does this mean that postmillennialists are optimistic right up until the end of the millennium, and then they become pessimistic like the rest of us? :-)

    Thanks again for your answer. It’s good to hear from you.

    Matt

  7. Matt, the “short time” of Revelation 20:3 could be several years or even a generation. This is short compared to the “millennium.” However, even this is not necessarily mandatory. It is plausible that there would be enough unbelievers already living on the earth to constitute the satanic rebellion right away. Either way, this passage does not conflict with postmillennialism.

    I don’t have access to my books right now, but you might check Mathison’s books on eschatology (Postmillennialism or his new one, Age to Age) or James Jordan’s lectures on Revelation (available at wordmp3.com).

    Yes, I’m still an eschatological optimist, satanic rebellion notwithstanding. :-)

  8. Eric,

    Thanks again for the interaction. I checked Mathison’s “Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope” (as well as Gentry and Davis) before I wrote this post, but he only gives it a passing mention. His new book is on my wish list, but it’s still in the “not yet” category in terms of an actual purchase. I’m looking forward to reading it. Maybe my kids are reading this and I’ll get it for Father’s Day!

    I do think your original answer above (“short time” in v. 3 = an entire generation, which then allows time for a full-scale unbelieving rebellion to develop) is your better option as a solution to this dilemma. To say that “there would be enough unbelievers already living on the earth to constitute the satanic rebellion right away”—as you did in your subsequent comment—appears to be quite a stretch. After all, the apostle John describes the mass of unbelievers in verse 8 as numbering “like the sand of the seashore,” which seems impossible to reconcile with the postmillennial view that “the vast majority of human beings” will be regenerate. That is, unless you’d like to tone down your optimism a bit and say that everyone on earth will be saved except for that mass of people over there whose number is like the sand on the seashore! :-)

    As you know, no view is without its weaknesses. I find it helpful to try to determine which views have weaknesses that are insurmountable and which view is able to withstand the scrutiny of those who reject it. Thanks for helping me in this process, and please let me know if you come across a substantial postmillennial discussion of this issue. And I’ll do the same for you.

    Blessings,

    Matt

  9. Hey Eric,
    Can you give me a good list of lay level resources defending postmillennialism? I am compiling a list of material for some forth coming articles for my blog. I am particular interested internet accessible articles that lay out the main talking points of the eschatology.

    Fred

  10. Eric,

    What is your opinion of Mathison’s book “Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?” I read it when it came out in 1995 and thought if this guy represents postmillennialism then they have nothing to be “hopeful” about. While it’s not a defense of postmill in toto it is a theological hack job of the worst kind. I hate to sound so negative but it’s really hard to read a guy who so grossly mischaracterizes those he disagrees with. Do you find more balance in his recent work?

    Thanks for stopping by, I hope ministry is going well.

    • Paul, I did read “Rightly Dividing the People of God?” several years ago, just after I became reformed/postmill.

      First, the title of the book is unnecessarily offensive. Although a play on one of the slogans of early dispensationalism, I am sure that the title only tends to inflame, not inform. That is unfortunate.

      Second, if I recall, a good chunk of the book is an attack on DTS anti-lordship salvation. Thus, much of the book is not directly applicable to dispensationalism, per se.

      Third, I do not recall the book being “a theological hack job of the worst kind.” I could be “mis-remembering,” but I do not have the book with me. I’m actually in Disneyworld at the PCA General Assembly.

      While I would hesitate to defend everything Mathison writes, I do find him to be a fair scholar. What was particularly troubling to you?

      • Eric,

        Thanks for your insights. My list of what’s wrong with the book is long, detailed and not a trail I want to run down at the moment. In short, Mathison extends many of the myths that Vlach addresses in his little booklet. Here’s a few things one learns from Mathison’s book:

        1) the most distinctive and best-known feature of dispensationalism is the rapture, 2) all dispensationalists are anitnomians, 3) literal means wooden in interpretation and ignorance of literary forms, 4) the no-Lordship position is a determinative area for dispensationalism, 5) Though his book was published in 1995 he writes as if no one has addressed his critiques since the prime of Ryrie’s career in the 1960-70’s, 6) he ignores dispensational teaching on the multiple seeds of Abraham, 7) the church has nothing to do with the New Covenant.

        I guess I disagree with R. C. Sproul who writes on the cover, ” . . . a valuable tool for the lay person.” Nope, not even close.

  11. I skimmed through the above comments, and I mostly flirt with postmillennialism, rather than being committed to it in any way, but… really? You can’t think of any way that “a mass of unbelievers numbering like the sand of the seashore could arise in a world that is almost entirely regenerate”? Do you need examples from church history? And as you have heard that a millennium shall come, even now are there many millennia; whereby we know that it is the last time.

    From a Calvinist perspective, at least, it’s a pretty simple thing: The Spirit blows where it wills, and whenever it has blown in the same place for long enough, something like a postmillennialist utopia arises in miniature form. And once that spirit lifts, is it even a generation before the whole culture falls away? Regardless of how scriptural the concept is, it can’t be very hard to see that kind of ebb happening on a universal scale.

  12. I don’t think there are too many postmillennialists left–but why shouldn’t we be optimistic about the power of the Gospel? Why do we assume the devil is more powerful?

    It doesn’t make any more sense to think Satan could deceive masses of believers to whom Christ is spiritually present than to think he could deceive masses when Christ is physically ruling from his throne on earth. I don’t think you can build a whole case on one verse from the book of Revelation.

    How about Acts 3:20? Doesn’t that verse teach that God will send Christ after Israel repents and turns to him?

    I just left a comment on an old post, where I expressed an openness to some form of premillenial eschatology, but not to popular dispensationalism.

    The book of Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted in the Canon. Its general meaning is clear enough–the victory belongs to the Lord and his faithful saints–but the detailed meaning of particular passages is often difficult to discern. Revelation does not necessarily follow a linear plot. There are cycles of opposition to God and his people, but his people continue to praise him and trust him knowing his triumph is assured. Revelation does not provide a detailed timetable of events that are going to happen before the return of Christ.

    I don’t doubt that God the Father knows the details of the future, but for us the future is open and it is irresponsible to act as though history is following a predetermined plot.

  13. Kyle,

    The problem with your proposed solution to the postmillennial dilemma is that somehow you have to force a significant gap of time (somewhere around 30 years?) between Satan’s release from the abyss and his deception of the nations. According to Revelation 20:7-8a: “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth.” The infinitive “to deceive” expresses the purpose of Satan’s departure from the abyss, which implies that the people he is coming out to deceive are already present in the four corners of the earth. To say that Satan will be released for the purpose of deceiving people who have not yet been born appears to strain the language of the text.

  14. Matt, I would be the first to protest any “forcing a significant gap of time” into Scripture, whether it is Revelation 20 or, ahem, Daniel 9. :-)

    However, no one is “forcing a significant gap of time” between Satan’s release and his deception of the nations. Satan will be released for “a short time,” and his deception begins immediately and continues during the entire duration of the “short time,” which relative to the “millennium” could last several years. There is nothing in the text that demands an instantaneous deception. Like all eschatological views, postmillennialism does have “problems,” but this is not one of them.

  15. Eric,

    Yes, the irony most certainly occurred to me! But still, the question remains: How does Satan depart from the abyss and immediately begin to deceive the unbelieving nations which are in the four corners of the earth when postmillennialism teaches that the nations in the four corners of the earth will be regenerate when he is released?

  16. Eric,

    In retrospect, I realize that my last comment puts you in the awkward position of having to simply restate what you’ve already said. I want to assure you that I do understand your answer to the question, but I think it fails to recognize that Rev 20:7-8 presents a world in which the unbelieving nations are already in the four corners of the earth when Satan is released, and that Satan departs from the abyss for the specific purpose of deceiving those nations. At best, all that the postmillennialist can say is that Satan departs from the abyss and immediately goes out to deceive Joe and Sally and Abdul and Carlos—and a smattering of other individuals in the world who are unregenerate—but then he has to wait 30 years or so to start doing what the passage itself says he will do when he is released: deceive the nations.

    • Matt, your assertion that Revelation 20:7-8 “presents a world in which the unbelieving nations are already in the four corners of the earth when Satan is released” is counterintuitive. Unbelieving nations are already deceived. Satan is released to deceive a world that is mostly Christian.

      Also, your last sentence misrepresents my comments on this post. As I stated previously, when Satan is released, he begins to deceive the nations immediately and continues to deceive them during the entire duration of the “short time,” culminating in the gathering together for war against the saints (Rev. 20:8-9). I have never said or intimated that Satan is “waiting.” He is deceiving the nations. I view this deception as a process, not an instantaneous event.

      Here’s a purely hypothetical scenario (don’t hold me to these numbers), suppose there are ten billion people on the earth when the “millennium” ends. One billion are adult unbelievers; another billion are children of believers who are not yet believers. When Satan is released, he goes to work on these two billion. Five years later, there are another billion children that are capable of being deceived, and Satan captures their hearts. Five years later, he’s got another billion kids to deceive. This continues until Satan has enough to lead a war against the saints. Thus, Satan is actively deceiving for the entire “short time,” however long this period of time is.

  17. Matt,

    Not sure exactly what you’re saying. If the nations are already unbelieving, why does Satan have to go out to deceive them? The nations would have to start out predominantly christianized, otherwise Satan’s deception would be unremarkable because it would be no change from the status quo.

  18. Eric,

    Sorry for the delay. Life gets busy leading up to Sunday, and even now on Monday I’m more than a bit under the pile. I’ll see what I can do later in the week, or perhaps I’ll let this dialogue stand as is and let our readers come to their own conclusions regarding whether Rev 20:7-9 is compatible with the postmillennial view that the nations of the world will be regenerate at the end of the thousand years. Either way, thanks for the gracious and insightful interaction. Blessings.

  19. Paul, I know you don’t want to engage in a full-scale debate over Mathison’s book, but I just skimmed it and found that a number of your complaints do not correspond with the content of his book. Here’s a brief summary:

    1) “the most distinctive and best-known feature of dispensationalism is the rapture” – You left out a key word. Mathison writes that the rapture is “the most distinctive and best-known feature of dispensational ESCHATOLOGY.” His point is hardly arguable.

    2) “all dispensationalists are antinomians” – Mathison rightly identifies Hodges and Ryrie as antinomian, but he also rightly identifies John MacArthur as dispensational and non-antinomian.

    3) “literal means wooden in interpretation and ignorance of literary forms” – Mathison spends two pages discussing literal interpretation but never comes close to saying anything like this.

    4) “the no-Lordship position is a determinative area for dispensationalism” – Mathison specifically cites John MacArthur as a dispensationalist who teaches Lordship salvation.

    5) “Though his book was published in 1995 he writes as if no one has addressed his critiques since the prime of Ryrie’s career in the 1960-70’s” – There is some truth to this complaint, but remember, Mathison was writing to laymen. In 1995, most dispensational churches were still teaching some form of Classical/Revised Dispensationalism. That said, Mathison does include a chapter on Progressive Dispensationalism, in which he does address some of the advances of dispensationalists; so your complaint is inaccurate, at best.

    6) “he ignores dispensational teaching on the multiple seeds of Abraham” – You are probably correct about this. What dispensational works addressed this topic prior to 1995?

    7) “the church has nothing to do with the New Covenant” – Mathison never says this. He does critique the view that the church does not fulfill the New Covenant.

    I’m not suggesting that Mathison’s book is without error. I have already registered my disapproval of the title, to which I would add that his equating dispensationalism with Arminianism is an egregious error. Perhaps this is one of the myths that you meant to identify.

    I would also agree, that since the book is primarily a critique of Classical/Revised Dispensationalism, it is now in need of a thorough revision. However, calling the book a “theological hack job of the worst kind” and then listing seven reasons (five of which are categorically false) is irresponsible to your readers.

    Paul, if you have not read any of Mathison’s other works (Premillennialism, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Given for You, From Age to Age), then you are missing out. Even if you do not agree with what he says, I think you will find him a fair-minded writer who gives his opponents a sympathetic ear.

  20. Eric,

    You’re right, I do not wish to engage in a debate about Matthison’s work in question. I stand by what I said earlier even though you see this as “irresponsible.” A few thoughts:

    RE: #1 I will offer one concession, I looked up the specific quote in regard to point #1 and YES he includes the word “eschatology” but then gives a too brief examination of how dispensationalists have connected the teaching on the rapture with the doctrine of the church. So which is it?

    I really despise getting into hand-to-hand combat with folks about so-called dispensational eschatology. For one I am not the guardian of the title or the movement but more importantly I see very few willing to get down to the exegetical level and work it out in the text. So for me, as I’ve stated and shown numerous times here at ET, my eschatology doesn’t begin in Revelation or even Daniel for that matter. It begins in Genesis. Nevertheless the construct of dispensationalism doesn’t stand or fall with a particular view of the rapture. I’m well aware this is taught in popular reformed circles but it’s ignorant.

    In regards to #2 I read quotes like, “Though dispensationalists deny that there are any legitimate functions of the law today traditionally theologians have recognized a threefold use of the law”(pg. 92) I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. His first statement is wrong on so many levels. I plan to post about this subject next week. Stay tuned, if you think Mattison is good on this then I can assure you you will loathe what I will write.

    RE: #3 You might want to read those two pages again. This is exactly the implication on page 7-8 in regards to interpretation. After dumbing down the discussion of “literal” vs. not he concludes using the example of Ezek 40-48 that “Dispensationalists cannot be consistently literal in their interpretation of this passage” (pg. 8). His reasoning in his own words, “Jesus did not come as a literal lamb with four legs and wool, and neither will a future millennium come with literal bloody sacrifices” (Ibid.). Sorry but this one of many reasons why I view this book as a hack job.

    RE: #4 Why even have a chapter about the no-Lordship position in this book when as was my point, that there is no soteriological position unique to dispensationalism? Could it be he wants to make them look as bad as possible? Just asking?

    RE: # 6 How about the excellent “Continuity and Discontinuity” ed. by Feinberg?

    RE: #7 He writes, “Dispensationalists have consistently taught that the church CANNOT fulfill the new covenant of Jeremiah 31” (pg. 28). Eric, could you point me to the standard dispensational view of the New Covenant? For that matter could you point me to the one that all Reformed theologians agree on as well?

    I’m not the Mathison scholar but for the record I did read his chapter on “Sola Scriptura” in After Darkness Light and as you can probably guess I had major issues with it too but that’s for another day.

    If I can offer one bit of unsolicited advice. Try to refrain from making disagreements personal. I was critiquing a well-publicized writing because you asked me to. You are more than welcome to disagree with me here but let’s not charge each other with being “irresponsible” when simply disagreeing is all that is necessary. I appreciate your feedback and comments here. That’s all I have to say on this particular subject.

    Blessings,
    PSL

    • I’m guessing that you don’t plan to join the facebook group, “Fans of Keith Mathison.” :-)

      Paul, I enjoy reading your blog. I think you all have some good things to say, and I appreciate your desire to be Biblical and deal with the text rather than the abstract. I also appreciate your desire for precise and irenic language.

      Your initial statement about the book was far from irenic, and your initial seven-point critique was imprecise. Calling these statements irresponsible was not a personal attack. If you find this offensive, would you rather I said that your critique was “a theological hack job of the worst kind”? :-)

      For the record, I do think that you are a responsible blogger, but these two comments were not consistent with the usual quality of this blog. Peace to you.

  21. 4) “the no-Lordship position is a determinative area for dispensationalism” – Mathison specifically cites John MacArthur as a dispensationalist who teaches Lordship salvation.

    Just one point. Yes, Mathison does mention John as being a dispensationalist who teaches Lordship salvation, but he does so begrudgingly, and paints John as being a one of a kind anomaly. He overlooks such men as Charles Feinberg, John Feinberg, S. Lewis Johnson, Donald Grey Barnhouse, and the whole host of original dispensational premillennialists from the 1800s who were pretty much all 5 point Calvinist Presbyterians. Honestly, the no-lordship position has its historical background in the fundamentalist evangelism that took its methods from Finney and his followers. Those fundamentalists who promoted and easy “believism” are certainly dispensational in their overall conviction, but such does not mean no-lordship is a logical conclusion from dispensationalism itself.

  22. Matt,

    Look at the last couple lines of this… So much for together for the gospel.

    “Volume One of The Late Great Planet Church: The Rise of Dispensationalism is the first documentary of its kind. It exposes this erroneous system of thought as breaking continuity with history — and even the very Word of God. In this first volume we will examine the beginnings, beliefs, and motivations of this innovative movement by focusing on its relatively recent development, stormy history and its most influential proponents.

    Hosted by Jerry Johnson, President of NiceneCouncil.com and The Apologetics Group, this documentary features pastors, theologians, and historians, who at one time were strongly committed dispensationalists. Several of these men even trained at dispensational academic institutions before abandoning the system. They have since rejected this system as thoroughly unbiblical, viewing it as a stumbling block to the Church and a distraction from the Great Commission.”

  23. There sure is a lot of private interpretation going on here.

    May I suggest putting pride aside, leaning not on your own understanding and becoming amillennialist?

    :-)

    http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/eschatology/amillennial.shtml

  24. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on April 17, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Please follow the blog rules and use your first and last name Compugor. :) Thanks

  25. oops, sorry. compugor = Gordon Graham

  26. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on April 18, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks brother.

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