A humble postmillennialism

Joel recently mused a bit about the theological implications of space travel and settlement.  In his post, he linked to an article written by James Jordan in 1989: “An Antidote to Yuppie Postmillennialism.”  Postmillennialism interprets the Bible’s end-times teaching to say that Christ will come back at the end of the millennium after the nations have been baptized and discipled on a large scale.  Historically, this interpretation had been influential among Protestants after the Reformation and into the 19th century.  Two famous examples of American postmillenialists were Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield.

Before I started blogging, I thought that postmillennialism had died out with the Civil War or World War I as the hope for transforming society in this way had been dealt convincing blows.  But through Rick and Joel, I encountered Peter Leithart, Doug Wilson, and James Jordan as contemporary champions of postmillennialism, and of course there are others arguing for this eschatological interpretation too.  If this is a topic that interests you, here is a list of posts where I have discussed eschatological issues.

Jordan’s article addresses some important points about postmillennialism:

First, what practical hope do Christians have if Christ may not come for thousands of years?  Jordan says that we look for 1) the final renewal of all things (what he calls “cosmic consciousness,” not a New Age mindset but a faith that God will make all things new),  2) joining Christ after our death, and 3) Christ dining with us each week at the Lord’s Supper.

Second, will people still struggle with sin as the coming of Christ returns?  Of course, Jordan says.

I believe that the closer men draw to God, the more aware they become of their own weakness before His strength, of their own sinfulness before His holiness, of their own wretchedness before His majesty, and of their own poverty before His largesse. If the latter day glory is a time when men live nearer to God than ever before, it will be a time when men wrestle with personal sin more than ever before. It will be a time when men appreciate the privilege of serving Christ as never before, because they will feel more inadequate than ever before.

Their wrestling will seldom be with outward, gross sin, of course. The discipline of society will be such as to drive gross sin and crime into the closets, dark corners, and back alleys where it belongs. A cleansed society will not present the kinds of temptations and wicked opportunities we face today.

No, it is not outward, gross sin that men will wrestle with, but petty meannesses, lusts, and inward depravity. These things will not go away from the depths of the human heart until the resurrection of the whole man, for which all believers yearn.

I believe that Christians during the latter day glory will be less proud and vain than they are today. They will be less self-confident, and more God-dependent. They will be less sure of their motives, and more open to the corrections of the Spirit.

He uses the example of Paul in Romans 7 to illustrate the greater maturity that he believes Christians will have in the future:

In conclusion, Paul gives us an idea of the piety that Christians will have during the “millennium.” Yes, the nations will obey the Law of Christ. Yes, there will be prosperity and progress. Yes, the “cultural mandate” will be fulfilled. But it will not be fulfilled by self-confident, proud, fleshly, “positive thinking,” yuppie, “triumphalistic” believers. It will be fulfilled by men and women who do not trust themselves for anything, but lean wholly on their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jordan also writes that a biblical postmillennialism recognizes the reality of suffering and death, and sees God’s plan as bringing His people through these things in order to accomplish his purposes for his people and the world.  It balances the logical world of Proverbs and the confusing world of Ecclesiastes, rather than expecting a suffering-free, “positive-thinking” triumph that Jordan pegs as so common in American Christianity.

I’m not a postmillennialist (although I sometimes say that I want to be) because I haven’t committed to any one understanding of the end times, but I found this article to be really helpful in helping me to understand postmillennialism better.

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