And the gates of Rome will burn

I am not a Postmillennialist, but historicists come close to making me one. In any case, I’ve always wondered about constructing a historic premil eschatology around the basis of historicism. Here is a stirring quote from Richard Cameron,

“LET CHRIST REIGN.” Let us study to have it set up amongst us. It is hard to tell where it shall be first erected, but our Lord is to set up a standard; and oh, that it may be carried to Scotland? When it is set up it shall be carried through the nations, and it shall go to Rome, and the gates of Rome shall be burned with fire. It is a standard that shall overthrow the throne of Britain, and all the thrones in Europe, that will not “kiss the Son lest he be angry; and in his anger they perish from the way.” “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.”

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 46:10′ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), pp 457-8.

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.

Eschatological Presuppositions: Historicism

While Turretin’s argument that Jesus is the Messiah may not convince many Jews, he does have an interesting discussion of prophetic day = year theory.  As such, he is within the Reformed spectrum and ably presents the foundations for a Reformed eschatology (279ff). The background is Daniel 9.

Ezekiel 4:6 ( I have appointed thee a day for a year, even a day for a year.) notes the connection between day and year.  Some could object that this is pertinent only to Ezekiel’s prophecy, but a better case can be made that this is prophetic calculation (otherwise, the statement is manifestly false, which is impossible).  It cannot read literally, since seventy weeks do not quite make a year and a half, and as Turretin notes, it “little suits so illustrious a prophecy.”  (see also Rev. 12:6’ 13:5)

Amillennial Historicism

I read the entry for antichristus in Richard Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Sources.  He gives the basic summary of the historicist position.  So here is how I look at it:  per timing and structure, I accept the Reformed position that the papacy is the antichrist.  I also accept the basic amillennial timeline (millennium is now).  The historicist narrative would seem to give it a “postmillennial” flavor to it, given the destruction of Antichrist, etc.  If so, so be it.  I really don’t care about labels.  I have no desire to defend either “postmillennialism” or “random ethic common grace amillennialism.”  I admit a sort of tension follows.  That’s fine.  I’ve come to accept the dictum of “Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty,” so I have no problem in saying that this system isn’t as neat and tidy as one could make it. In fact, I would be worried if it were.

Retractare After Seven Years

My friend Daniel Ritchie has offered his own version of retractare in the past.  I want to do mine.  These are in no particular order.

The Theonomy People

I’ve listed problems with theonomy before.  They are to be commended for influencing Reformed scholars to go back to careful study of the Old Testament (Poythress said he wouldn’t have written his work if it weren’t for Rushdoony).  They are to be commended for their critique of absolute statism, but there are problems.  The post-theonomy (for lack of a better word, this would be the third generation theonomists) are probably guilty of violating the 9th commandment.  Their unceasing attacks on men like Michael Horton and others at Westminster Seminary California are uncalled for.  I disagree with Horton and Co.’s  social ethic, but the man is a minister in Christ’s church and Horton has probably done as much as anybody in spreading the Reformed faith.  I admit; it’s sometimes funny to watch D.G. Hart get riled up, but the falsely so-called “R2K” guys have majored on the majors:  The doctrine of worship and the church.  Modern American Theonomy, by contrast, has largely failed in this area.

  1. As for my own position, I believe the Old Testament law can be used today when necessary.
  2. This does not preclude natural law, but presupposes it (more below)
  3. Theonomy is not the position of the Reformers; natural law is.  Yes, Bucer used the Mosaic judicials, but only because he saw them as part of his natural law heritage.  We should do likewise.
  4. This is where I am different from most natural law amillennarians:  I do not believe common grace is sufficient as an ethical category for government.  It merely describes how unbelievers are not as bad as they could be.  I remain unconvinced that it has ethical content.

Van Til

I’ve gone back and forth on Van Til for some time now.  I think when it comes to Roman Catholicism and explaining what Reformed theology is, Van Til is as fine as anybody.  His lectures on “chain-of-being” theology are quite good.  His apologetic method, though, is completely indefensible.  I think Reformed people are better served by a mix of Reformed scholasticism and Common Sense Realism.

  1. As for my own position, I think the TAG method is an open-door to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.   It explicitly attacks the foundations of knowledge and inadvertently relativises truth-claims.  No longer having a clear revelation from God, one has Tradition (as interpreted by a certain community).
  2. As for a positive apologetic, I don’t really care.  I think Anselm is interesting and his ontological argument has some subordinate value.

Eschatology

This is a difficult one.  I think the Reformers (and quite frankly, the entire church) were wise never to use the “millennial” terms in explaining what they believe.  More often than not, modern Reformed eschatological questions are more political than anything else.  Saying, “I am postmil” or “common grace amil” implies more than the timing of Christ’s return.

  1. As for my own position, I am certainly a Reformed historicist.  This is the Reformed position.
  2. I appreciate a lot of what Kim Riddlebarger has to say on Covenant and New Testament eschatology.  I’ve always liked Vos and Ridderbos.
  3. Historic premillennialism, while having a respectful pedigree, simply entails too many difficulties.  Further, I have found that the deeper I dig into historic premillennialism, the harder it is to be Reformed.
  4. I think it is more important to be clear on eschatological hermeneutics than on identifying a millennial position.

Politics

For around five years I’ve been a fairly staunch defender of limited monarchy.  That’s still the case.  My only difference now is that I do not see the Bible requiring it (or any specific mode of government).  Each style of government has its strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Monarchists (like myself) need to admit that 1 Samuel 8 does place some restrictive parameters on the glory of monarchy.
  2. Republicans (small “r”) need to admit that the Torah did provide (and I think expected) a monarchy.   If that’s not the case, then why is Deuteronomy 17 in the Bible?  Nelson Kloosterman has made a fairly convincing case that there existed a possibility that Israel could have had a king and not sinned in asking so.  Here is how I think it would have worked:  the end of the book of Judges essentially begs for a monarchy.  Deuteronomy 17 had already provided for a shepherd-king (the Christological overtones are deliberate).  Had Israel wanted a shepherd to guide them, I believe God would have praised their request.  Further, biblical eschatology moves in the direction of monarchy, not republicanism.
  3. I am an adherent of an Althusian-style natural law theory.  The problem many theonomists had was that their critics (and the theonomists themselves) had said, “Natural law OR God’s law.”  But this is where theonomists and their critics were wrong.  Natural law is God’s law, provided natural law is defined as creation ordinances.  The problem here is the inferences people drew from that phrase.   I won’t go into that now.  More to the point, Reformed natural law theorists could gladly appeal (and did!) to the Mosaic judicials.   Modern Calvinism’s embarrassment over Moses doesn’t help.   God’s law is morally just and should be consulted.  Theonomists, by contrast, never provided satisfactory accounts of the New Testament’s modification of the Mosaic law.
  4. I have no problem with the two kingdoms doctrine, provided the difference between the two kingdoms is in administration, not ethical norms.