As noted yesterday, some Historic Premillennialists have objected to being “labeled” Dispensationalists—and I would have to add, rightfully so. Let’s be clear, neither I nor Gary has knowingly “labeled” anyone in this way. What I showed yesterday, however, was that sometimes both Historical Premils and Dispensationalists just happen to get swept up in the same critique. On the issue of the Church-Israel distinction for modern times and the special future of ethno-national Israel, I think I provided a very simple and clear demonstration why this can be legitimate.
The same holds true for the issue of social action. Historic Premil and Dispensationalism both logically entail cultural impotence and the expectation of defeat in general before Christ’s physical return. While a good Facebook friend and ally has objected to describing Historic Premil in these terms, I stand by my position—in general.
My friend objects to me saying that “the Christian Right enters the political game expecting to lose.” He responds, “I myself hold to a premillennial view of eschatology, while also believing the Kingdom of God will expand in every realm until the return of Christ.” I have to say this is rather unique as a Premillennial view. While I have heard a few Premils (even Dispensationalists) argue that they personally believe in fighting for social and political issues until Christ returns, no matter what the results, I have never heard any premillennialist—certainly not a representative one—explain their millennial expectation in this way. This, to me, does not sound like Premillennialism, but rather like a someone with conflicting presuppositions. Thus he can continue his response by saying,
Imagine you are guarding a castle, fighting a battle against an evil enemy. You know the king that you serve is coming. You also know for certain you will win. . . . Premillenialism [sic] says that in the fiercest part of the battle, the king will join His people, and strike a death blow against His enemies.
No, Premillennialism does not say any of these things. In either of its most prominent forms, it has never taught that we will win in history, that the kingdom will expand in every area until the return of Christ, that we can be confident that we will win the battles in which we are currently engaged (or any given battle for that matter), or that the King will join us at the fiercest part of this battle and win it for us (with the exception of Armageddon, of course). These are Postmillennial expectations strangely mingled into a Premil framework. On the contrary, Premillennialism has always held that the world will continue getting worse and worse, the church will experience primarily martyrdom or marginalization into the foreseeable future, culture will fall to the corrupt and immoral unbelievers, and the kingdom will explicitly not expand in every area until Christ physically returns to make it happen.
Virtually anytime I write about the logical entailments of the Premil outlook, I get objections from one or maybe a few people who say they don’t believe that and so I should not say Premils believe that. But this is trying to define the logic of the system according to its exceptions. The response to those who say “Premils don’t believe that,” is this: “No, premils do believe that. It is you who does not believe that. Therefore, you are out of step with Historic Premil.”
Now, I do not take my friend here to be representative of Historic Premillennialism in the sense that he is a prominent teacher of it or spokesperson for it. I think his article is worthy of a response because he is both friend and friendly, and more importantly, I believe there are several young men who hold the same conflicting set of presuppositions—i.e., that Historic Premil is true and yet that we must should engage in social action because we expect God’s Kingdom to advance in every area before Christ’s return.
This is simply not representative of Historic Premillennialism. Let me introduce you to someone whose views are both representative and consistent.
Joel Richardson, Historical Premillennialism, and Social Action
Joel Richardson is a fairly-well known prophecy teacher. He also has recently been outspoken against being mistakenly labeled a “Dispensationalist.” He is instead a representative of Historic Premillennialism as it was and is. I take him at his word, and I safely regard his views on social action as representative both systematically and historically of that school of eschatological thought. So what does he say about the Historic Premil view?
He lays out his position in a lecture presented at the “Daniel Training Network” conference in 2013. This Conference is strongly premillennial, and holds my friend’s expression above that we are in the thickest part of the battle—Jesus could return at any moment. The Network’s “About” page asks, “How Close Are We?” and answers, “we are actually living in the last generation of this present evil age, and that Jesus’ bodily return and the ‘restoration of all things’ (Ac. 3:21) is actually at hand. . . . [A]t the very least, many of our children will see Jesus’ return.” So, assuming my friend’s position above, if any Premillennialists should expect Jesus to return to solidify our victory in the battle and the expansion of the kingdom in every area, it should be these representative teachers.
So what does Richardson give us? He gives us, “Some Thoughts On Martyrdom.” Far from any expectation of success or Kingdom advance, Richardson predicts defeat until Christ returns. Ironically, this comes after an outright rejection of Dispensationalism and its insistence that the world will only get worse and worse until Christ returns. But Richardson’s position is no better. What it gives in lip service to social action, it takes away with its own defeatism, and with rhetoric.
Part of this rhetoric is strategic on Richardson’s part. He wants to keep young people (like my friend) yoked by a view of martyrdom and not expecting much. Noting that many young people have acknowledged a biblical mandate to social action, Richardson states, “We should seize upon the popular desire to engage with culture, but help redirect this passion toward a properly aligned perspective on eschatology, engagement and justice.” And just what, exactly, is “properly aligned” for Richardson? It means “a Pilgrim and Martyr identity.”
Now, it takes a little bit before the true colors of this mentality show, but a few lines later we start to get the picture. Will Richardson’s view of proper engagement entail kingdom advance? He finally gets to it: “This present system will only be corrected through destruction, judgment and fire at the Day of the Lord.”
He follows up:
When we understand that this age is utterly wicked, then cultural engagement by necessity must ultimately involve martyrdom. Martyrdom is the ultimate expression of cultural engagement! [Emphasis in original.]
But shouldn’t we at least expect some success in this battle? Richardson takes it away:
We must return to the Kingdom of God orientation-emphasis-longing. All expectation, longing, hope and emphasis is placed on the Day of the Lord and the age to come.
Our job in the Historic Premil view is not to work for Kingdom expansion in every area, but rather to focus everything on the coming Day of the Lord: “Our mandate is to bear witness and point to the looming Day of judgment followed by the glories of the age to come as we identify with the groan for that Day that is presently being experienced by all of creation.”
But shouldn’t we at least exert some of our efforts toward winning our present battles? Richardson says, “As such, everything that we do, whether by work or by deed is aimed at, and points to the Day of the Lord, and the Kingdom to follow.”
In terms of “cultural engagement,” we “fight” only “to deliver some who are slaves now.” This is a very limited, spiritual goal, and frankly is no different than the view of most Dispensationalists.
The opposite view expects to fight and see much broader Kingdom advance. Richardson warns us that this is “very dangerous in that it can empower some with a self-deluding, self-glorifying vision of oneself.” (To this we must respond, “What can’t?”)
Then there’s this:
While we must fight now for justice, it must be done with the understanding that our efforts are merely signs, examples, and foretastes, of the victory that Jesus will accomplish fully when he comes. Its [sic] okay to shoot high, so long as we remain Biblical.
Well doesn’t this discount my slant, then? Now he says we “must” fight. But again the rest takes this away—especially when you consider what he means by “Biblical.” By “Biblical” he really means that expectation of success is ignorant and self-deluded. Strong words, I know, but they’re not mine, they’re his:
The idea that we will, as many Christians declare, “end poverty in this generation”, is either ignorant of Scripture, or self-deluded.
Indeed, to fight expecting success is to jump on “the Kingdom Now Hamster-Wheel” on which “Even the strongest will eventually burn out with disappointment.”
Under Richardson’s “Pilgrim and Martyr” view, however, “we will be content with failures and set-backs.” Indeed, we must not only be content with such but “find satisfaction” in “repeated disappointment” [my emphasis].
Think on that hard, reader. This is exactly what I wrote about in the article which spurred the objections. Indeed, this is the very phrase which was objectionable! “the Christian Right enters the political game expecting to lose.” And while Richardson continues to say we should still be culturally engaged and not abandon the public arena, his actual demand is that “we must have a theology of engagement that allows for, and even finds satisfaction with repeated disappointment and let downs.” This may seem to speak positively of cultural engagement, but it is exactly what I warned about:
The discouraging fact is that this eschatology permeates the Christian Right and dominates the outlook of many Christian political activists. What does it say about their political activism? It says one thing: it says they are in this thing for the express purpose of losing it. Their eschatological outlook can mean nothing else.
This eschatology cannot logically, consistently lead to success in history. It cannot in any way support “Kingdom advance in every area” before Christ returns. Thus Richardson applies it consistently, for example, to foreign policy: “it is hopeless to think that we will ever see comprehensive peace in the [Middle East] before He returns. . . .”
Why not? Is the Gospel broken? Is the Holy Spirit broken? No, but the eschatology forbids it. And Richardson’s eschatology—Historical Premillennialism, not Dispensationalism—demands cultural defeat and Martyrdom until the return of Christ. “Suffering martyrdom is the ultimate expression of bearing witness to, of pointing to the Day of the Lord and the physical resurrection of the body.”
This “ultimate expression” Richardson reminds us “involves great shame, chaos and confusion. It is messy and destructive.” And worse: “martyrdom will likely include being raped.”
For married men, saying yes to martyrdom could include having your wife and perhaps even your daughters raped or seeing your own family tortured. In such a perverse world, today even the men may be raped.
So, young men, Historic Premillennialism means that, sure, we can engage the culture, but we should ultimately expect to watch your wife be raped and then be tortured and raped yourself.
As for the formation of the cultivation of the type of Christian mind which should accompany this version of “cultural engagement,” Richardson says we should even meditate upon loss: “each of us must begin meditating on these things on a regular basis.” “Each of us must begin preparing our hearts for loss.”
Again, this is not the fruit of Dispensationalism, but the thinking of a well-known representative of Historic Premillennialism. This is not the fringe Hagees of the world; this is a representative figure who address the subject of social action and cultural engagement at length. Further, he did so in a setting where any view of kingdom advance or historical success before Christ’s return should have come out.
None did. All hope is placed only on the return of Christ, no expectation of advance before then exists, any thought otherwise is self-delusion and ignorance, and everything we do must have only Christ’s future return in mind. Until then, we should learn to find satisfaction in repeated defeats. Along the way we should meditate upon defeat. We should set our hearts upon loss. We should steel ourselves for the day we witness our wives raped before us.
I do not wish to distract from the true colors of this worldview by presenting my own refutation of it here (but you can start with this). Let the horror of this self-fulfilling descent hang with you for all it’s worth. Let it sink deeply it. Don’t meditate upon loss, as Richardson prescribes. Instead, meditate upon the darkness of this eschatological prescription. What we’ve got here is as pessimistic a view of defeat and loss in history as any Dispensationalist has ever produced. As with the Church-Israel distinction, I am happy to give you whatever label you wish to wear, but the substance will fall under the same criticism either way. And my advice to the young people is to get away before such teachers “redirect” your biblical passion for social change.