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Postmillennialism: Inadequate Terminology by Loraine Boettner

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Postmillennialism

One difficulty that we constantly face in this discussion is that of an inadequate terminology. The use of the prefixes ‘pre-‘ and ‘post’, as attached to the word ‘millennial,’ is to some extent unfortunate and misleading. For the distinction involves a great deal more than merely ‘before’ or ‘after.’ The Millennium expected by the Premillennialist is quite a different thing from that expected by the Postmillennialist, not only in regard to the time and manner in which it will be set up but primarily in regard to the nature of the Kingdom and the manner in which Christ exercises His control. The Postmillennialist looks for a golden age that will not be essentially different from our own so far as the basic facts of life are concerned. This age gradually merges into the millennial age as an increasingly larger proportion of the world’s inhabitants are converted to Christianity. Marriage and the home will continue, and new members will enter the human race through the natural process of birth as at present. Sin will not be eliminated but will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual environment of the earth becomes predominantly Christian. Social, economic and educational problems will remain, but with their unpleasant features greatly eliminated and their desirable features heightened. Christian principles of belief and conduct will be the accepted standards. Life during the Millennium will compare with life in the world today in much the same way that life in a Christian community compares with that in a pagan or irreligious community. The Church, much more zealous in her testimony to the truth and much more influential in the lives of the people, will continue to be then as now the outward and visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. And the Millennium will close with the second coming of Christ, the resurrection and final judgment. In short, Postmillennialists set forth a spiritual Kingdom in the hearts of men. On the other hand the Millennium expected by the Premillennialist involves the personal, visible reign of Christ as King in Jerusalem. The Kingdom is to be established not by the conversion of individual souls over a long period of time, but suddenly and by overwhelming power. The Jews are to be converted not as individuals and along with other groups of the population, but suddenly and en masse at the mere sight of Christ, and are to become the chief rulers in the new Kingdom. Nature is to share in the millennial blessings and is to become abundantly productive, and even the ferocious nature of the wild beasts is to be tamed. Evil, however, does not cease to exist, nor is it necessarily decreased in amount, but it is held in check by the rod-of-iron rule of Christ, and at the end of the Millennium it breaks out in a terrible rebellion that all but overwhelms the saints and the holy city. During the Millennium the saints in glorified bodies mingle freely with men who still are in the flesh. This latter element in particular seems to us to present an inconsistency,– a mongrel kingdom, the new earth and glorified sinless humanity mingling with the old earth and sinful humanity, Christ and the saints in immortal resurrection bodies living in a world that still contains much of sin and amid scenes of death and decay. To bring Christ and the saints to live again in the sinful environment of this world would seem to be the equivalent of introducing sin into heaven. As the amillennialist William J. Grier has observed, such a company would indeed be a ‘mixen gatherum.’ Amillennialists, of course, reject both the post- and the pre- millennial conception, and are usually content to say that there will be no Millennium at all in either sense of the word. The terms are, therefore, somewhat inaccurate and misleading. For that reason some theologians hesitate to label themselves either post-, a-, or premillennial. But no more appropriate terms are available. These terms serve at least to distinguish the different schools of thought, and their meaning is generally understood. But while the three schools differ in regard to the meaning, of the word ‘millennium,’ that does not mean that the word itself is meaningless, nor that the distinctions between the systems are imaginary or unimportant. Quite the contrary. Actually these systems represent widely divergent views concerning this very important subject, which, as we shall see, have far-reaching consequences. A broader and perhaps more accurate terminology has been suggested by some — that of Chiliasts and Anti-Chiliasts. Chiliasts would then include both Historic Premillennialists and Dispensationalists, while Anti-Chiliasts would include both Post- and Amillennialists without making it necessary to choose between these. Furthermore, the fact that some who designate themselves Amillennialists hold that the present Church age constitutes the Millennium and that Christ will come at the close of the Church age might seem to make them Postmillennialists. But since the primary tenet of Postmillennialism as generally understood is that the coming of Christ is to follow a golden age of righteousness and peace, those who look upon the entire Church age as the Millennium are not commonly referred to as Postmillenialists.