In writing a series of posts about the rapture and dispensationalism, I wanted to be sure to focus most on how to live in light of the rapture, not how to attack anyone who doesn’t believe like I do. I would hope that you would approach life the same way. Besides, I truly believe that bigger issues face the church today than the idea of a premillennial rapture, but having said that, I do think an apology should be prepared for those who would argue against our position. I've spent a good deal of time defending the rapture, and now I turn to presenting a few arguments against non-dispensational belief systems.
My argument against non-dispensationalists is on two counts. One is philosophically, and the other scripturally. Neither is a full and dedicated critique. My only hope is to present a primer for your research on the subject and a conversation starter on this blog.
Let us start with the philosophical argument. In essence, the postmillennial theology rests on the idea that Christ will return after a millennium of ever-advancing Christianizing of the world. What that means is that the church will usher in more and more of Christ’s kingdom over a theoretical and allegorical “millennium” so as to bring about the reign of Christ. There will be no 1000 year reign on earth, as the dispensationalists believe, because when Christ comes back it will be to establish eternity. The church will slowly (I’m sure they’d like to think they could do it quickly) establish more and more of Christ’s presence in the world through their efforts.
I’m going to make the argument that this is flawed because it doesn’t require God to do anything, but instead relies on man’s power. The problem this ideology presents should be obvious: We know that it is God who will decide when the end comes, whatever that end eventually looks like. The idea that the church, with all of its flawed humans in charge, can usher in Christ’s reign is foolhardy at best. It requires people to be good at their heart, which the Bible (and everyday experience) teaches as not the case. The ready answer to this argument is most likely that Christ is empowering the church, therefore it is He who is bringing about the kingdom, not mankind. This is semantics, and not theology, but it is a response just the same. I understand their position on this and of course the Holy Spirit does empower us to do great things for God. However, we should realize the difference between doing great things for God and God making up his own mind about something.
It also requires a general betterment of society as the church’s influence grows steadily throughout the world. However, the only expanding influence in the world is Islam. Despite the best efforts of the church, it is a counterfeit religion that is spreading like wildfire, not Christianity.[i] Every major denomination is in decline, while Islam is on the move. Surely not even the postmillennialist will suggest that Islam will lead to the kingdom of Christ. Thus, the idea that the church will somehow better the world to the point that it is ready for Christ’s return is simply not born out in real life. This doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t do good things (remember balance is best!), but it does mean that we do them because God has told us to, not because it will lead to his kingdom.
Amillennialism, in contrast, suggests that Christ is currently reigning from heaven through the church. Instead of the church moving the figurative millennium on toward Christ’s return, Christ is already in charge and on the throne of David. This throne is a spiritual throne of course. The scriptural arguments against amillennialism and postmillennialism are basically the same, and will be noted below. As for the philosophical argument against amillennialism, I suggest that amillennialists review their idea of a kingdom.
If Christ were reigning on the throne of David now, would it be as problematic as the world is today? I would submit that, if Christ is currently reigning, he is not doing a very good job. Before you level a charge of heresy at me, understand that I used some tongue in cheek in that last sentence. The fact is that I believe Christ will reign perfectly when he does do so. However, Christ’s kingdom, if it is currently in power, looks even worse that David’s administration. Sin still abounds in Christ’s current kingdom, to the point that the world is losing more faith in him. If President Obama’s ratings look low, how much lower would Christ’s look in a worldwide poll? While Revelation 20:1-6 doesn’t directly suggest that Christ’s reign will be perfect, are we to expect what we currently have? Furthermore, no one, not a single soul, is reigning with Christ at this moment. How could they be? Christ doesn’t have control of this supposed kingdom…how could anyone else? Philosophically, the amillennial reign of Christ breaks down very quickly.
Scripturally, the argument starts at Revelation 20 and goes from there, particularly against amillennialism, but also postmillennialism. Naturally, I would suggest a review of the Triangle method as it does present a premillennial rapture, but then look carefully at Revelation 20. In the first verse of that chapter, Satan is bound, something that premillennialists believe will happen after the rapture and tribulation. For the amillennial theology to be correct, Satan must be bound because the millennium is currently happening. This conflicts with I Peter 5:8, which suggests that Satan is currently on the loose. Christians are also told to resist the devil, and he will flee (James 4:7). How can Satan be bound and hunting believers at the same time, or why would we need to confront the devil if he were bound?
Satan is most certainly on the loose and his hoard must be dealt with daily. This is both the scripturally accurate depiction of our enemy and the real life understanding. Take a look around you or listen to any news broadcast. Tell me how this isn’t still a fallen world with a powerful adversary ready to tear us apart. No, the amillennial idea of Satan simply cannot be accurate. It puts the entire interpretation of Revelation 20 in jeopardy. Even allowing for the non-literal interpretation of the passage, an amillennial view of the end times puts itself at odds with many other passages of scripture, using the example of Satan alone.
Postmillennialism fares little better regarding Revelation 20:1-6. Instead of Satan already being bound, the postmillennial theology suggests that he will be bound as the church brings the earth closer to the millennial reign. At some point, the church will weaken Satan’s power so much that he the reign will commence. How God will make this decision is impossible to know, however, and probably isn’t going to be any time soon. Why? Because the world is getting worse, not better, and people are becoming less “Christian,” not more. And I don’t mean the traditional western idea of “Christian.” I mean that the world is getting more Islamic or atheistic. The only way to read Revelation 20:1-6 is through the lens of premillenialism.
I do not believe that postmillennialists or amillennialists are heretics or misguided believers, just as I hope those groups don't think so ill of me. I believe that they are simply interpreting the scriptures differently than I am (and more importantly than me, the theologians that go before me and come after me). I believe that the end times is an academic discussion as long as it doesn’t detract from the mission of preparing souls for eternity. Unfortunately, some postmillennialists would rather help the poor on earth than help them in eternity, and that is a major concern. I write this post, then, not to provide you the debate material for an academic discussion, but rather for a primer to talk about what matters in reaching out to the world around us.
You have not defended dispensationalism, but you have defended pre-millennial eschatology. They are not the same thing. All dispensationalists are pre-millennial, but not all pre-millennialists are dispensationalists. The terms are not synonyms. Dispensationalism is a system of interpretation.
Your portrayal of post-millennialists as man-powered is wrong. They believe in and depend upon the Holy Spirit as much as anyone else. They believe that they are fulfilling the Great Commission. You describe their position as "foolhardy at best" because they think that complete what God has given them to do. Is this any more foolhardy that thinking that men can fulfill dispensational view of the Great Commission? You vitiate your argument a few sentences later when you admit that "the Holy Spirit can empower us to do great things for God." The post-millennialists take a very long-term view of the their mission. They are not discouraged by setbacks. They are confident that the gospel will win. Marcellus Kik even named his book The Eschatology of Victory. This is also why the post-millennialists deprecate pre-millennialism (and dispensationalism) as the eschatology of defeat. You have also failed to address the preterist interpretation that is the foundation of post-millennialism.
The amillennialists do believe that Christ reigns now. That the way Christ is now reigning displeases you is irrelevant. Does it please Him? How could it not? How could He fail to reign as He wished when He has been given all power in heaven and earth? It is also irrelevant that you "believe Christ will reign perfectly when He does." You are establishing a personal opinion as a rule of hermeneutics.
You again debase your argument when you admit that "Revelation 20:1-6 doesn't directly suggest that Christ's reign will be perfect...." What does Rev. 20 say about the kingdom? It is striking how little Rev. 20 does say about the kingdom. It limits the groups that reign with Him. It describes the binding of Satan as qualified. How does this qualification compare to the Great Commission? No one is now reigning with Christ? Rev. 3:21 says that they who overcome will sit with Him as He now sits on His throne. What an encouragement! Has He not made us a "kingdom and priests", and is He not "ruler of the kings of the earth," Rev.1:5-6?
You cite 1 Pet. 5:8 as if this overturns the amillennial position. How would it? This verse also is qualified. The devil will flee: Victory! The amillennialists are well aware of these, and other, verses. What is their response?
You claim the world is getting worse; therefore, post-millennialism is false. Is the world worse now than the day Luther nailed his theses to the chapel door? Who in 1945 predicted that today Korea would be 25% Christian. Who predicted the growth of the underground church in China? South America used to be solidly in Rome's hands. Your (and my) view is myopic. We cannot know what will happen tomorrow. But what if the world is worse? Is the direction ineluctable? What will happen 200 years after your death? The USSR was the future. It fell without a shot being fired. Who in Naval Intelligence predicted this. (This is not a career-enhancing question.)
I propose that you post a two-verse a week exposition of Rev. 20. I think that we would find it an iron-sharpening experience. You could begin by explaining the Triangle method. I can't find anything on it.
"How can Satan be bound and hunting believers at the same time, or why would we need to confront the devil if he were bound?
Satan is most certainly on the loose and his hoard must be dealt with daily."
The question is, what does "bound" mean? Should this be understood literally or in metaphorical and spiritual terms?
As the book of Revelation is a prophetic book, full of symbolism, the context indicates a non-literal interpretation.
But consider for a moment the case of one who is literally bound -- they are not powerless but they are restrained.
Just as a criminal locked up and confined to a jail is no longer fully at liberty to pursue their crimes, the earthly criminal may still have the abilities, influence, and power to conduct crimes in the world outside and continue to manager their empire of crime from within their jail cell.
Therefore amillenialists understood that the current binding of Satan means that he is no longer fully at freedom as he once was in nations bound in ignorance and paganims prior to the arrival of the gospel but that Satan is restrained in his actions and influence.
As it is written in Matthew Chapter 12 Verse 29 --
"How can one enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods, except he first Bind the strong man and then he will spoil his house."
the gospel of redemption and the completion of the canon of scripture of God's revealed word are the chains restraining Satan and provide the means to free sinners from Satan's kingdom through the preaching of Christ's atoning work because of the relative liberty that is present today under the New Covenant.
The pre and post millenial interpretations of this aspect of Revelation give little or no relevance to the spiritual comfort and guidance for Christians today but are time limited to the future period in which they are interpreted to occur.
BF: Can you tell me what groups believe in the premillennial rapture but not dispensationalism? My upbringing prevents me from really know much about that sort of thing.
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