GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–“Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond,” a book in Zondervan’s popular Counterpoints series, provides a useful dialogue on the major millennial positions of Christian eschatology.
Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary edited the decade-old book, which features proponents of postmillennialism, amillennialism and premillennialism by Kenneth Gentry, Robert Strimple and Craig Blaising with each offering an apologetic for their position followed by responses from the remaining two authors.
The reader would do well to keep a Bible handy along with the book. In his preface, Bock writes that eschatology for some means “‘future things’ only, but all of these authors note that we already live in an era of initial fulfillment of promises concerning the Messiah Jesus. We are in a world where eschatology is at work.”
Gentry begins his case for postmillennialism by admitting that early creedal formulations were minimalist on eschatological questions, with affirmations in the Apostles’ Creed of the second coming, judgment of the “quick and the dead,” bodily resurrection and “life everlasting.” No ancient creed took a millennial position.
Gentry argues that the millennial schemes were gradual developments in the church (though Blaising notes later in the book that Irenaeus and Tertullian were among those in the patristic period who espoused premillennialism).
Beginning with Eusebius and Origen, postmillennialism — the belief that the Kingdom of God is slowly blooming, ushering in a golden age of Christian evangelistic success on the present earth as the vast majority of the world is converted and Kingdom ideals of the social order are finally realized — became the dominant millennial position up through much of the Reformation.
The theological foundations of postmillennialism, it is argued, begin in Genesis 1 with God’s “purposeful creative power” and His love for the created order, which was “very good” before sin. The postmillennial hope, therefore, is in a restored order within history as we know it and bound to occur in a progressive line beginning with the first redemptive foreshadowing in Genesis.
Also, God’s sovereign power and evangelistic mandate will be realized in time because “[w]e have confidence that the resurrection of Christ is more powerful than the fall of Adam,” Gentry writes.
Just as Adam’s fall is in history, Christ’s ultimate victory will also play out in time and space “because God does not abandon history,” he reasons.
Gentry covers the progression of biblical covenants as supporting the postmillennial position, arguing for a “gradualistic conversion” of the nations rather than a “catastrophic imposition (as in premillennialism) or apocalyptic conclusion (as in amillennialism).”
Psalm 22:27 anticipates a coming evangelistic crescendo, Gentry argues, when “all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nation will bow down before him.”
To support this position, he also cites passages such as Psalm 2, Isaiah 2:2-4, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 and Revelation 20 (Gentry argues that Revelation 20 “plays too prominent a role in the eschatological debate, overshadowing much clearer passages …”).
Strimple’s treatment of amillennialism argues that Christ is the theme of Old Testament prophecy and that He is the “true Israel of God, the one in whom Israel’s history is recapitulated and God’s purposes for Israel come to fulfillment.”
Thus, by virtue of being in Christ, “we Christians are the Israel of God, Abraham’s seed, and the heirs of the promises….”
Amillennialism, as the name implies, expects no literal 1,000-year reign of Christ, but rather sees the church age — from Christ’s redemptive victory at His first coming until His return — as the symbolic millennium with Christ reigning over His Kingdom and the church under His spiritual rule as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
The second coming, the resurrection of the saved and the lost, and the judgment all occur in one period.
The land of promise in the Old Testament, Strimple argues, is a typology looking forward to “the whole world, heaven and earth, renewed and restored in righteousness (2 Peter 3:13) as the home of God’s new race of men and women in Christ Jesus, the second Adam.”
Jerusalem and Zion in Old Testament prophecy are also a type, Strimple states, for the eschatological promise of the Kingdom and the throne of God, to which all believers in Christ have access.
Strimple argues that “Scripture has to be forced into artificial interpretations in order to fit in a millennial period after Christ’s return.”
Additionally, Strimple argues that Romans 11 — contrary to some other views — does not teach a future mass conversion for national Israel because the true Israel is the elect.
As for Revelation 20 — which pictures a millennial Kingdom — Strimple agrees with premillennialist George Ladd that “if a truth is taught with unmistakable clarity in Scripture, it is to be believed — even if it is taught in just one verse.”
However, Strimple makes clear he believes Scripture not only doesn’t teach an earthly millennial Kingdom, but “rules out” such a notion.
Blaising, who serves as executive vice president and provost and professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, begins his treatment of premillennialism with a historical overview followed by explanations of the varied premillennial perspectives, most prominently dispensationalism (in its several forms) and historic premillennialism.
As implied, premillennialists believe Revelation 20 speaks of Christ returning to earth and literally ruling for 1,000 years.
Early in the section, Blaising helpfully explains differences among those who hold to a pre-, mid- or post-tribulation rapture of the church. He then sketches a history of two competing positions about the eternal state of believers — the spiritual vision model versus the new creation model. Blaising affirms the latter, as do most other premillennialists today.
For much of church history, the spiritual vision model was the dominant view. It stresses the spiritual, non-material aspect of being in God’s presence and the full knowledge of God in a changeless eternity. Early Christian thinkers such as Origen, influenced by neo-Platonic conceptions, helped perpetuate it.
The new creation model, drawing on biblical texts speaking of a future, everlasting Kingdom, sees the spiritual bodies of 1 Corinthians 15 as material resurrection bodies “indwelt by and glorified by the Holy Spirit.”
Blaising said premillennialism’s return to prominence was fueled by the failure of Western Christendom to deliver the postmillennial hope, which led to new eschatological thinking, and by a recovery of a literal reading of Revelation 20.
Premillennialism’s rise, Blaising argues, took place within “the hermeneutical struggle between a traditional spiritual vision eschatology and literary-grammatically derived new creation eschatology.”
Blaising traces the movement from classic dispensationalism and its belief in dual eternal states for Jewish and Gentile believers to a course correction known as progressive dispensationalism, which preserved dispensationalism’s core but without eternal segregation of Jew and Gentile.
He also summarizes the beliefs of premillennialists such as Ladd, who “sought to distinguish themselves from classical dispensationalism by using the label historic premillennialism.”
Blaising closes with a defense of “holistic, consistent premillennialism,” arguing that the millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20 is part of the coming eschatological Kingdom foretold in Daniel, Isaiah, Amos, Micah and other Old Testament books.
As Blaising notes, all students of eschatology approach the biblical text with some “preunderstandings” that affect their interpretative approach. Therefore, “the biblical authority we commonly confess requires all of us to submit our views for testing, reconfirmation, or reformulation if need be.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, on the Web at texanonline.net.