The following is the introduction to two talks I produced for the “A Purchased Victory” online conference that will be available to view December 18–19 at CruciformMinistries.org.
There’s a scene in the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer where Josh Waitzkin, played by Max Pomeranc, is being taught that the complexities of chess require knowing more than where the pieces on the board are at any given moment and what the next move should be. A master chess player should determine “where they will be in one, two, three, and many moves ahead.”
Ben Kingsley’s character, Bruce Pandolfini, wants Josh to learn to see these necessary moves before he commits his tactical approach. So he sets up the pieces on the board for Josh so checkmate can be accomplished in four moves. He tells Josh, “don’t move until you figure it out in your head.” Josh says he can’t do it unless he can physically move the pieces. Pandolfini tells Josh,
Clear the lines of lint in your head, one at a time, and the king will be left standing alone, like a guy on a street corner. Here, I’ll make it easier for you.
He makes it “easier” by sweeping away all the pieces with his arm sending them tumbling to the floor, leaving only the empty board for Josh to contemplate over.
After deliberating over the empty 64 squares for a short time, Josh figures it out and tells Pandolfini his first move.
A similar process needs to be performed when dealing with a topic like eschatology in general and postmillennialism in particular. In a way, we are playing with a chessboard that’s been set up by a group of competitors and pieces that can only move in terms of their rules. This means that before there can be a discussion of postmillennialism, there must be an evaluation of passages that seemingly discount postmillennialism. This means the prophetic board must be swept clean before any of the so-called millennial positions can be discussed.
Postmil critics have the board rigged by gluing down some of the pieces so they can’t be moved. The prophetic chess game must be played around these immovable pieces that from the start seemingly discount postmillennialism.
It’s not only the specific passages; it’s also the critics who put forth extra-biblical arguments. Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen’s article “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” that first appeared in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on the Millennium in 1976–1977, offers a shortlist of what some postmil critics have said about the acceptability of postmillennialism as a biblical doctrine:
Alva J. McClain says of postmillennialism: “This optimistic theory of human progress had much of its own way for the half-century ending in World War I of 1914. After that the foundations were badly shaken; prop after prop went down, until today the whole theory is under attack from every side. Devout Postmillennialism has virtually disappeared.” (“Premillennialism as a Philosophy of History,” in W. Culbertson and H. B. Centz, eds., Understanding the Times (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1956), 22.)
J. Barton Payne’s … Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy mentions postmillennialism only once, and that merely in a footnote which parenthetically declares “two world wars killed this optimism.” (Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 596.) Merrill F. Unger dismisses postmillennialism in short order, declaring: “This theory, largely disproved by the progress of history, is practically a dead issue.” (“Millennium,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1961), 739.)
John F. Walvoord tells us that “In eschatology the trend away from postmillennialism became almost a rout with the advent of World War II” because it forced upon Christians “a realistic appraisal of the decline of the church in power and influence.” (John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), 9.) Hence he says that “In the twentieth century the course of history, progress in Biblical studies, and the changing attitude of philosophy arrested its progress and brought about its apparent discard by all schools of theology. Postmillennialism is not a current issue in millenarianism.” (Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 9.) He accuses it of failing to fit the facts of current history, of being unrealistic, and of being outmoded and out of step. (Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, 18.)
Jay Adams [who was a partial preterist] recognizes postmillennialism as a “dead issue” with conservative scholars, since it predicts a golden age while the world awaits momentary destruction; he agrees with the above authors that the “advent of two World Wars … virtually rang the death knell upon conservative postmillennialism.” (Jay E. Adams, The Time is at Hand (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 2.)
Adams apparently offers his own opinion that [Loraine] Boettner’s long-range postmillennialism “is too difficult to grant when Christians must face the fact of hydrogen bombs in the hands of depraved humanity.” (Adams, The Time is at Hand, 4.)
Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth captures well the attitude of these previous writers, stating that “there used to be” a group called “postmillennialists” who were greatly disheartened by World War I and virtually wiped out by World War II. Lindsey’s (poorly researched) conclusion is this: “No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a ‘postmillennialist.’” (Hal Lindsey (with C. C. Carlson), The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), 176.)
Dr. Bahnsen described these types of criticisms as “newspaper exegesis,” that is, reading the Bible through the lens of current events. First Mussolini and then Hitler was the antichrist. Bar codes and computer chips are the mark of the beast. The locusts in Revelation 9:1–12 are Vietnam-war-era helicopters. The following is from a prophecy book written by Hal Lindsey in 1973:
I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Viet Nam. They’re Cobra helicopters! That may be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the sound of “many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail. (Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1973), 138–139.)
I suspect that over the centuries Bible commentators interpreted much of what we read in Revelation in terms of the news of their own time. For example, John Gill (1697–1771) interpreted the locusts as the competing religions of his day: “And their faces were as the faces of men; which may be expressive of the affable carriage of Mahomet [Muhammad], and his followers, especially to the Christians, and of his great pretensions to holiness and religion, and of the plausible and insinuating ways, and artful methods, used by him, to gain upon men; and being applied to the clergy of the church of Rome, may denote their show of humanity, and their pretended great concern for the welfare of the souls of men, their flatteries, good words, and fair speeches, with which they deceive the simple and unwary.”
The biblical approach is to study how locusts are depicted in the Old Testament and pay attention to the time element in Revelation (1:1–3; 22:10). Sometimes locusts are literal (Ex. 10:4, 12–15) and sometimes symbolic of armies (Judges 6:5; 7:12; Joel 2:4–5).
John Walvoord’s book Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis went through numerous updated editions since it was first published in 1974 with the latest edition’s title changed to Armageddon, Oil, and Terror: What the Bible Says about the Future (2007). Why was the title changed? Because current events changed.
Imagine what newspaper exegesis would have been like in the first century. Peter and others were beaten and thrown in prison (Acts 4:1–3; 5:17–18). Stephen was martyred (7:54–60). Saul ravaged the church in Jerusalem, “entering house after house; and dragging off men and women” and putting “them in prison” (8:3). James the brother of John was executed (12:2–3). Some Jews took an oath to kill Paul (23:12, 30). Paul describes in his second letter to the Corinthians all the anti-postmil things that happened to him nearly 2000 years ago:
Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (11:23–29).
Who could have imagined the impact Christianity would have on the world given the fact that a small band of disciples, most of whom were martyred within 40 years of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and that Christianity would outlast and supplant the Roman Empire whose accomplishments are now tourist attractions?
Apply the historical criticisms of the above postmil critics to 2000 years of history beginning with the first century was persecution (2 Tim. 3:11), tribulation (1 Thess. 1:5–6), and martyrdom (John 21:18–19). World conditions were not very encouraging when it came to the advance of Christianity through the centuries. If the historical logic of postmil critics is sound, there should have been a steady decline of Christianity from day one.
Apologetics 101: Defending the Christian Faith
Apologetics 101 is an in-depth study of defending the Christian faith. Christian Apologetics is the art and act of defending the Christian faith, not a general proof of God in general. The Christian apologist must be ready to answer truth claims about the Bible, not claims about Hinduism, Islam, or any other false religion. The Bible makes the bold claim that Jesus is the ONLY way, and the Christian apologist must set his sights on the Bible alone, not on a defense of arbitrary theism.Buy Now