A reflection on some millennial positions

Criswell college did a decent job on these debates.  I know it is fashionable and good form to make fun of traditional dispensationalism, but I sometimes wonder if that intellectual sip has already sailed.   Some of the older dispensational arguments against “spiritualized” amillennialism were actually quite good (e.g., Payne, others).   Recently, when I’ve listened to classical dispensationalists debate, as seen in the above link, they almost appear tired and jaded.   Wayne House at no point appeared interested in offering a cogent position.

Further, given the modifications in dispensationalism, few premillennialists seem to defend it today (which is a point many Reformed scholars need to come to grips with and update their arguments accordingly).  When I first started interacting with progressive dispensationalism, there wasn’t much to refute at first (yes, there was the occasional Israel-worship and other problems).  What should a Reformed response be:  initially, we should encourage them.   They are starting to incorporate Covenant theology into their eschatology.  Do problems arise?  Of course, but still.  We should be encouraged that they are making progressive instead of our laughing at them and telling them how stupid they are.

For most of the past seven years, I was historic premil.  From an exegetical perspective it is the strongest case.  There are some difficulties, but those are more of a theological reflection and not an exegetical bending of texts.  Sam Storms listed what he thinks are problems with premillennialism.  First, it should be noted that none of these are actually logical refutations.  They are simply difficulties with which a premillennialist must deal.   At the end of the day, it must be admitted that “difficulty” does not equal exegetical refutation.  Secondly, I think it is safe to say that most Evangelical scholars in North America today are some form of historic premil and/or Progressive Dispensationalism.  Number counts do not equal truth, granted,

I should also encourage Reformed folks to interact more with historicist readings in church history.  There are few modern works that appear to defend historicism from a magisterial Protestant position.   There are some decent sermon audio series on the topic, but I hesitate to recommend them because of their neo-Steelite leanings.  Now to give a surface-level evaluation of some points:

Amillennialism

The pros of amillennialism:  it is the simplest and neatest of the systems.

Cons: notwithstanding its protests against dispensationalists, Amillennialism does spiritualize most of the OT texts.  It is one thing to claim and demonstrate that the apostles used some OT texts in a non-literalist manner.  It is quite another thing to spiritualize ALL other OT prophetic texts with the end result being whatever you want it to be.  Secondly, I haven’t found amillennial exegesis of Revelation 19-20 to be all that compelling.   As a good friend of mine pointed out, amillennialists essentially take a red crayon and write “JESUS” and “CHURCH” over many OT prophetic texts.

Postmillennialism

Pros:  While holding this position might get you barred from Reformed seminaries, and there are some difficulties with post., it does do justice to a number of passages.  When postmillennialists point to OT texts that illustrate the glorious future, they are on the right track.  The passages really do talk like that.

Cons:  When one reads the New Testament one does not get the impression that there is going to be coming golden age for the church.  If anything, the NT texts speak of a coming darkening of culture.   A postmillennialist could respond by means of the partial-preterist route, I suppose.

Premillennialism

Pros:  It is the most exegetically straightforward reading of the texts.  Further, it does have the merit of being how the post-apostolic church read the Bible.   Even better, as Donald Fairbairn notes, this view fell out of favor when the church adopted the gnosticizing tendencies of Augustine and Origen.   However, the early church held to a historicist historic premillennialism, whereas modern historic premillennialists hold to a futurist reading.  So when the modern historic premillennialist says, “We read the Bible the way the early church read it,” it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Cons: Modern premillennialism needs to continue divorcing itself from zionism and American activism.   More seriously, some texts which offer a literalistic reading (Ezk. 40-48; Rev. 20) also offer some strange difficulties (rebuilt temple; sacrifices; death in the millennium).   The only serious problem of these is the continuing sacrifices.  But the same God who wrote Ezk. 40-48 also wrote  Revelation 20.  I plead ignorance beyond a certain point.

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6 comments on “A reflection on some millennial positions

  1. Thanks for this. I actually picked up the book you linked above.

    Someone needs to write a modern book on Postmillennialism from a historicist point of view. The only ones really available on the Postmill position (outside of Keith Mathison’s which is partial-preterist) are hundreds of years old.

  2. “A postmillennialist could respond by means of the partial-preterist route, I suppose.”

    Alternatively, he could argue that this was fulfilled by the rise and progress of the man of sin (the Papacy). So, from the point of view of those who wrote the NT, the immediate and short-term future was pretty bleak; this does not, however, preclude a future golden-age.

  3. Isaiah 65 and 66 (among others) are the passages that convinced me of a Postmill eschatology.

    • Angela Wittman says:

      Amen! Me too, as well as the Psalms… I don’t see how one can get away from it or at least I can’t. 🙂

  4. Andrew says:

    When you say amils spiritualise do you mean crayoning in ‘Jesus’ and ‘Church’ over the OT texts?

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