Easter and Eschatology: Is Premillennialism Different from Amillennialism?

12 April 2009

In the last post, I quoted Jim Jordan to the effect that amillennialism is racist, and pre- and postmillennialism have more in common with each other than they do with amillennialism.  I then noted that the ecclesiastical, organizational and confessional lines tend to be drawn the other way, lumping amillennialism and postmillennialism together on one side of the fence, with premillenniallism on the other.

Some people — I know a number — have fled to the premillennial side of the fence precisely because they were unable to make their peace with amillennialism.  Usually the point of serious discontent is the way amillennialism spiritualizes away the promise of kingdom victory over the evils of this world.

However, it has to be said that a great number have fled the other way, from premillennialism to postmillennialism, for very similar reasons.

Premillennial thought understands that Messiah’s kingdom only comes about when Messiah Himself is personally present to set it up.  Until then, human sinfulness presents an upper boundary to the world’s maturation.  That thought, taken by itself, lends itself to a story in which the world descends into the abyss until Messiah appears to save the day and set up His kingdom, and thence to a lifestyle not unlike the amillennial mentality Jordan skewered in last week’s post.  Hence the great number of dispensational premil folks who are “just hanging on until the Rapture.”  They don’t get involved in cultural endeavor because that’s “polishing the brass on a sinking ship.”

This breeds a defeatism, a sense that the gospel cannot have meaningful impact on a whole culture.  The depressive Christianity that comes of this drives people from the premillennial camp to postmillennialism, because they can’t believe that the gospel could be so ineffective.

They’re right to be repulsed; defeatist Christianity is biblically false, historically unsustainable, intellectually stultifying, morally bankrupt, and just plain nauseating.  You’d have to be a gnostic to find any encouragement in it at all…and hey! Guess what?  Most conservative American Protestants are closet gnostics, so there you go.

If the only choices were culturally vibrant postmillennial Christianity and defeatist premillennial gnosticism, I’d be a postmillennialist too.

But these are not the only choices.

Consider the mentality that gives rise to premillennial defeatism: “We’re not going to bring about the kingdom in any case, and Jesus will do it when He comes no matter what, so why invest in culture now?”  Suppose a Christian were to approach his personal sanctification the same way: “I’m not going to become perfect in this life anyway, and Jesus will make me perfect in the next in any case, so why struggle against sin now?”  The biblical answer, of course, is that we are supposed to anticipate and image the life to come in our lives now — and that answer applies at a cultural level as well as an individual level.

But is that compatible with premillennialism?

Sure — just as a sanctified life is.  Premillennial eschatology sees that Jesus’ presence on earth as king is necessary to setting up His earthly kingdom, and nothing less will suffice.  But it’s a far cry from that to saying that obedience to the dominion mandate now is worthless.  Jesus is Lord, and He knows far better than I what value my cultural contributions may have, so simple obedience is sufficient as a motive.  But beyond that, consider: what has been the impact of Christianity on Western culture?  Is Western culture measurably better than those cultures that have never had the benefit of 1500 years of Christian cultural hegemony?

It is.

Cultural endeavor is not polishing brass on a sinking ship after all; it’s continuing repair and improvement of a ship that will always need bilge pumps until the Lord returns.  Sometimes she floats pretty well; other times, she’s listing to starboard and the water line is two feet above the deck.

Presently, the ship of Western Christendom is a shattered ruin, and even what remains is slowly falling apart.  But Christendom gave us the neonatal respiratory ventilator, modern science, and an outpouring of philanthropy unparalleled in the history of the world.  God is pleased when those made in His image snatch the helpless from the jaws of death.  God is pleased when we cultivate the earth as He commanded.  God is pleased when we care for the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden.

But what if it all disappears?  What if the whole culture sinks beneath the chaotic sea as if it had never been? I mean, isn’t that what premillennial eschatology tells us?  I’m not certain that it is, necessarily, but let’s consider it as a worst-case scenario: Christendom 1.0 disappears as if it had never been, and “round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”  Then what?  What was the point?

Then we will know that the words Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes are true, that all our labor under the sun really is shepherding wind.

By the same token, we will know that to fear God and keep His commandments is man’s all, and we will be glad to have done it.

So let us labor as Solomon labored to build the temple, now long destroyed.  If it was worth doing then, it’s worth doing now.  We are the church of Jesus Christ; we believe in resurrection from the dead.  We live in light of eternity, and can afford to wait and see how God will resurrect all that has died to a brighter and yet more glorious future.

He is Risen!


Election, Racism, and Millennial Views

29 March 2009

In the next three posts, I’d like to address two accusations of racism that crop up when discussing different views of the millennium.  One of these accusations is common; the other less so.  One is legitimate; the other not.  Together, they form an interesting contrast, and a useful point of departure for considering what’s really important in eschatology — and what is not so important.

The common accusation is leveled against premillennialists, based on their view that Israel has a privileged place in the kingdom.  The argument goes that God has made all one in Christ, and since there is no more Jew and Gentile in the Church, neither can there be any such distinction in the Kingdom.  To maintain such a distinction is therefore racist.

The irony is that the people who accuse premillennialists of racism are nearly always covenantal, Reformed theologians.  They are Calvinists.  They have accepted already that God chooses who goes to heaven (and, at least implicitly, who does not).  They are quite all right with this, and indeed will get very indignant on God’s behalf if someone dares to challenge God’s right to have mercy on whom He wills.

So, adding it all up, it’s perfectly all right to maintain that God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, but it’s racist to maintain that God chooses who has a position of prominence in the kingdom.

Come again?

“Well, come on,” they will want to say, “The one choice is for God’s sovereign ends, and the other is just based on familial descent.”  To which one could reply with a hearty “So what?”  If God has mercy on whom He wills, and He wills to have mercy on the seed of Abraham — not exactly a novel concept — then who are we to gainsay His choice?  Does not the potter have power over the clay?

Of course, there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the church, in a certain sense.  But then, in exactly that same sense (and taken from the same sentence in Galatians 3:28), there is neither male nor female either.  Yet God reaffirms gender distinctions and distinct roles for the genders in the Church now, and — since Jesus remained a “he” after the resurrection, and not an androgyne — God will maintain different genders in eternity.  We will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but we will be male and female.  So where’s the problem with being, in a similar sense, Jew and Gentile? And come to think of it, where’s the fulfillment of passages like Deuteronomy 32:43 or Revelation 22:2 unless there are identifiable Gentiles?

This is not racism, it’s the biblical doctrine of election worked out in the history of the nations.