Those who know me know I have avoided, assiduously, conflict over the topic of eschatology. Raised dispensational pre-millennial, I was taught in the circles of my youth that this was a definitional issue, and that divergence from that narrow viewpoint was a sign of significant theological error. In Bible college I encountered other views, and while at first repelled, I soon realized that there was a history to the topic, one that was not nearly as neat and tidy as I had been led to believe. Soon I realized that the hermeneutics I used in that area differed, markedly, from those I used in far more central areas, and for a while I simply laid the issue aside, recognizing that for most, it was a matter of tradition and fierce emotional commitment and loyalty rather than the result of comparison and fair, even-handed study.
Years later I listened to a study on the issue of “this age and the age to come” and felt it sufficiently established an amillennial position. But even then I did not compare various forms of amillennialism to postmillennialism or other perspectives. Every time I have felt the need to do so I have not found the corresponding drive to do the necessary reading. The sheer volume of books and papers is daunting, to be sure, but it has just never drawn my attention like so many other areas of theological study.
Then the world began to change, deeply, fundamentally, radically. I was warned about the coming tsunami, but could not fathom how quickly it would come upon us. During this same time period the Lord moved me from the comfortable, long-time position I had held in an older Reformed Baptist congregation to the energetic, forward-looking, theonomic and postmillennial context of Apologia Church. As a result, I am now facing the deepest, most direct challenges to the Christian faith in my lifetime, seeking to answer questions that require necessary foundations in looking to the ultimate purposes of God in this world.
I have not been able to read all I wish I could on these issues. I know very few who have, to be honest. But I am finding that no matter how hard you try, you cannot avoid certain definitional issues when seeking to answer hard-hitting, direct questions about how Christians are to respond to the challenge of a murderous secular system, such as that seen in China, which will (unless the Lord intervenes in sovereign mercy) soon be global in its power.
As I seek to navigate the many questions that face us about the future, I am repeatedly struck by the reality that how you answer will depend on whether you have an escapist, or endurantist, view. The terms are meant to be descriptive. If you believe the end of time is imminent in the sense of temporally close, you will not be thinking long-term, as in, “What do I need to be doing to prepare myself, my spouse, my children, my grandchildren, my church, to endure persecution such as that being endured by Christians in China and North Korea today?” You will be thinking short-term, strategies to “just get by until the trumpet calls me home.”
But if you have a long-term view all those questions become determinative. “How do I pass on the faith in a form that will not only survive the coming conflagration but will help those in the future to build the church ever stronger, ever more pleasing to God?” That does not make the questions easier to answer, but it surely changes the context in which answers are to be sought.
I do not wish to debate one’s positions here, whether pre-, a-, or post-, etc. Right now this is my controlling thought: if the last enemy to be placed under Jesus’ feet is death, then there are still a lot of enemies to be defeated. If so, I am called to be faithful, even unto death in whatever context I am placed by His providence. To this guiding thought I join a fact that is derived from my lifelong study of church history: there have been many, many times in the past when the future looked impenetrably dark. If I had lived at the onset of many great events of the past I could easily have concluded that the promises of Christ were going to be impossible to fulfill. And I would have been wrong to give up hope then. Sometimes the periods of darkness, for those under its reign, were longer than a lifetime. Many never saw the light shine again. Should they have given up? Did they give up?
Our eschatology should be able to survive the darkest, longest trials. Any eschatology that derives most of its guidance from the front page of our favorite news website (notice I did not say newspaper—I am trying to update myself!) will assuredly lead us astray. And any eschatology that diminishes our drive to faithfully communicate God’s truth to the next generations is likewise suspect.
[N.B.: at this present time, then, it seems to me that optimistic amillennialists and realistic postmillenialists can both be on the same page as far as the priorities we must have of digging deep in being prepared for the onslaught. If postmilllenialists are wrong about the subjugation of all enemies under the feet of Jesus prior to the consummation of all things, and Christ returns in glory tomorrow, none of them will complain or weep, that is for certain. And if time will continue on for centuries or even millennia in the future, and if that sovereign plan includes more long and deep periods of darkness (leading to the subjugation of Christ’s enemies in the end), the amillennialists will rejoice in God’s self-glorification through it all. The issue is whether we are escapist in our outlook, or endurantist (yes, I made that up, but I think it’s a good term). I can see both amillennialists and postmillenialists having a consistent, forward looking endurantist view that always emphasizes faithful proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus over all things.]
[N.N.B.: When I refer to “realistic postmillenialists,” I am really repeating myself. It is common to misrepresent at least believing, biblically faithful postmillennialism as a straight line upward Christianization of the nations from the resurrection to the consummation. That is not the reality. God judges nations and brings down kingdoms. It is not a straight line upward, and in fact, we learn a great deal from His dealings with mankind in the past, even in the periods of judgment and seeming reversal. So a realistic postmillenialist is simply one who recognizes the final goals and accomplishments of the kingdom while fully accepting the necessary periods of judgment and, yes, even darkness that accompanies such periods.]