debate at Cairn

I’ve said in the past that I find the optimistic triumphalism of postmillennialism refreshing . . . at least in small doses. As time goes on and the more I study and wrestle with Scripture, the more I’d say it’s the triumphalism that gets old after a while (especially if it’s the obnoxious political variety), not so much the postmillennial view itself.

I’m intrigued and have been influenced by the theology (including the eschatology) of Walter Rauschenbusch. Anybody who writes influential theology after spending 20 years as a pastor in Hell’s Kitchen is somebody I consider worth giving my ear. Rauschenbusch was no stranger to pain and suffering, cruelty and injustice; yet, he was a postmillennialist, believing that the Kingdom of God is one that may make its inroads ever so slowly — but nevertheless surely. He believed that, however harsh and gloomy may be the battle, the church of Christ is on the advance against the kingdom of hell; and the gates of hell will not prevail (but, rather, the unremitting progression of Christ’s mission will. . . .)

Rauschenbusch listened carefully to the premillennialist arguments of his day — which careful, level-headed listening is rare enough in itself in the eschatology debates to get my notice. He was even willing to grant that premillennialism may in the end be right [!]; here’s what he said as a concluding assessment:

“It is true, Jesus tells us himself that good and evil will remain side by side to the end, that there will be affliction and opposition to the last, and that he is blessed who perseveres to the end. It may be true too that a great final struggle will take place, and that the old serpent will coil itself for a last spring. But for all that, we cannot cease to believe that Christianity is gaining inch by inch and that there is Scripture for that too.”

— Walter Rauschenbusch, “The Brotherhood of the Kingdom: Our Attitude Toward Millenarianism

I don’t know that a summary of biblical teaching in regard to the age-old debates around eschatology gets any better than that. It MIGHT be true that history will end on a sour note, and the Christ’s return will represent something like a pulling-the-fat-out-of-the-fire rescue venture. It may be true that what Jesus brings when He returns is not actually the “Golden Age” of the eternal state, but merely a “Silver Age,” a period that is considerably better than the state of affairs we know now — where lion lays next to lamb, and a child can place his hand in a snake’s den and not be injured — but in which death and curse, birth and aging still occur (cf. Isa. 11:4-9; 65:17-25).

premillennialism is right...

It may be that premillennialism is right about all that. Even still, postmillennialists are still, definitely right about the Kingdom being, not a cataclysmic event that Jesus brings with a single thunderclap of trumpet sound upon His descent, but is something that Jesus brought with His FIRST coming, that starts — that startED — small, but that incrementally grows and gradually pervades successfully through the whole earth (which is why the postmillennialists account for the parables of Matthew 13 better than anybody).

postmillennialists are right too...

The postmillennialists are definitely right, too, about Jesus’ reign having started; that His authority is not just in heaven, and is not just partial now; or that will be given to Jesus only in the future. But rather, ALL authority, in heaven AND ON EARTH, HAS BEEN GIVEN to Jesus already; as was accomplished by His life, death, and resurrection (as Matthew 28:18 makes clear).

It is the postmillennialists who therefore get right the most practical aspects of the whole puzzling picture of eschatology that we’re confronted with in Scripture. Are we in the Kingdom? Are we “in the last days,” when “perilous times” should be expected (2 Tim. 3:1)? No matter. In the meantime, we’re called to be faithful servants, awaiting the homeowner’s return. In the meantime, God is on a mission, and we are privileged to be a part of it, whether we put armies to flight by our participation, or are flogged and beaten, tortured, beheaded or sawed in two (much like Hebrews 11:32-40 describes).

On this point, the postmillennialists are definitely right — and the confidence and optimism and hope they urge is only appropriate. About this, they are definitely right. Am I right?

Don't forget that I participated in a recent debate at Cairn University. Below is the audio from that fantastic debate.

About the Author

Todd Mangum

Dr. R. Todd Mangum

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and co-author (with Dr. Paul Pettit of the Howard Hendricks Leadership Center in Dallas, TX) of the just-released book, Blessed are the Balanced: Following Jesus into the Academy (Kregel), and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.

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