Last week I introduced the topic of eschatology (the study of “last things”) and explained why it matters. Readers may want to go back and re-read last Theology Thursday’s post just to get a sense of where we left off and where we’re headed. This time I will introduce the three orthodox (historical, bible-based, well-founded, in keeping with Church teaching for many centuries) schools of eschatology, and list some un-biblical, heterodox (un-orthodox) and absolutely heretical perversions of them.
Over the next two or three weeks we’ll explore the history of each system, the main features of each, and how each system deals with issues and interprets certain Scripture portions. There are three historic and orthodox schools of eschatology, each with solid footing in Scripture and history, which are either embraced or tolerated as orthodox by most Reformed churches (Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, others). Each has one or two “mongrel” forms which are not orthodox at all, unbiblical, Scripturally unsupportable, and/or downright heretical, damnable lies. I’ll mention and describe these “mongrel” forms, but I’ll try to avoid going off on a tangent about them. That might be hard for me with my background in Charismania, but I’ll try.
Three Schools of Eschatology: Two are “millennial,” one is not.
Today I’ll just briefly summarize all three, and go more in-depth with each in later Theology Thursdays.
Postmillennialism is confessional and orthodox in it’s historic form, but in our day there are two “mongrel” forms of it that have come to shape the policies and actions of certain groups, both on the fringes of orthodoxy and “off the deep end” as well. Let’s look at the major features of Postmillennialism. Orthodox postmillennialism relies on historical-grammatical hermeneutics, include context and genre as interpretive considerations (genre referring to the type of literature among the 66 books of the bible – poetry and song, narrative, instructional, prophetic / apocalyptic, etc), context determines whether a passage is literal or figurative, and “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” To orthodox postmillennialists, the Book of Revelation is mostly figurative and mostly fulfilled in the year 70 AD (“partial” pretorism).
It’s general teaching is a gradual triumph of the gospel, as it spreads and changes lives, to become the dominant force on Earth, influencing law and culture, bringing in a “golden age” in which the Church has subdued the Earth to Christ, and the Lord Jesus returns to a triumphant Church which has conquered the culture, fulfilling God’s charge to Adam, “subdue the Earth.” This “golden age” resulting from the power of the gospel transforming the whole culture of the world is not a literal 1,000 year period, but is happening even now. The Second Coming of Christ occurs after this “millennium” in which the gospel has conquered the Earth. The Lord’s Second Coming initiates the general resurrection, judgement, and eternal state.
Unbiblical “mongrel” forms of Postmillennialism take the form of Charismatic “Dominion theology” in which the world is conquered by naming-it-and-claiming-it, speaking it into being by the word of faith, etc. The other mongrel form of Postmillennialism is so-called “Reformed” theonomy in which even the civil laws of ancient Israel are reinstated, and Church and State become one.
Amillennialism relies on the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. Context and genre are interpretive considerations, Scripture interprets Scripture, Old Testament interpreted by the New Testament. Some amillennialists see Progressive Parallelism in the Book of Revelation; Earth’s history repeated seven times. Most amillennialists are pretorist; either orthodox (“partial”) pretorist or hyper (“full”) pretorist, teaching that either most (“partial,” orthodox) or all (“full” or hyper-pretorist) prophecy in Revelation is already fulfilled by 70 AD. Hyper-pretorism, or “full” pretorism is absolutely heretical! The Second Coming, resurrection, judgment, and recreation have certainly NOT already taken place! “Partial,” or orthodox pretorism, however, as found in historic Postmillennialism and Amillennialism, is within the bounds of historical orthodoxy.
Like Postmillennialists, Amillennialists teach that we are in “the millennium” now; that it is not a literal period of 365,000 24-hour days, but that the “thousand years of peace” described in Revelation is figurative, meaning only “a really long time.” Amillennialism is better named “Non-millennialism.” The prefix “A” means “not,” as in “asymmetrical” (not symmetrical) or “asymptomatic” (having no symptoms).
Despite the power of the gospel to change the lives of those who believe it, Amillennialism teaches that the great majority of humanity will reject the gospel, and the Lord will return to rescue a persecuted remnant rather than a triumphant, world-conquering Church which dominates the planet-wide, “Christianized” human culture. It is often called pessimistic eschatology, but that is a misnomer. Optimism or pessimism depends on one’s point of view. The remnant does indeed overcome the world, but not in the form of a “golden age” where the whole world is majority-Christian and truly living in the power of Spirit-filled holiness. The Scriptures are replete with Remnant types and narratives, from the fist family to the tiny surviving remnant of those who fled from Egypt, those emerging from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, etc. Amillennialism teaches that the Lord returns to rescue a persecuted remnant, and that the Second Coming initiates the resurrection, judgment, and final state of humanity.
Premillennialism takes three forms in our day. Historic, Dispensational, and Progressive. Only Historic premillennialism is orthodox! Dispensational Premillennialism is heterodox at best, but usually heretical in that it offers two different plans of salvation – one for Jews and another for Gentiles), wrongly dividing the people of God. The little Epistle to the Ephesians is the antidote for such foolishness. The Progressive form of premillennialism, first appearing in the 1980’s, teaches that the meaning of Scripture changes over time, and that Scripture means “whatever it means to me, at the time I read it.” This is a complete departure from the historical-grammatical process, which understands that the meaning of any portion of Scripture is whatever the author and the Holy Spirit intended when it was penned. This is “liberal theology” run amok. “Progressive Dispensationalism” will get no further consideration in this series, but it bears mentioning since it has found a place in some “Emergent” churches.
Historic Premillennialism relies on the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, context and genre are interpretive considerations, and Scripture interprets Scripture. In a “natural reading” of Revelation, context determines whether it is to be interpreted literally or figuratively, and the Old Testament is interpreted by the New. In Historic Premillenialism the literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on Earth is to be seen as Christ-centered rather than focused on mankind and it’s destiny.
Dispensational Premillennialism’s hermeneutic has a strong inclination towards literalism. Scripture and history are divided into 7 dispensations, prophecy is interpreted literally, and the Old Testament is interpreted by the New. The whole bible is divided into 7 time periods (dispensations) in which God acts in different ways toward men, and whenever possible, Scripture is to be interpreted literally.
Historic Premillennialism goes waaaaaay back to the late first century. Premillennialism, as it’s name suggests, teaches that the Second Coming of Christ initiates a literal 1,000 year period of unprecedented peace on Earth, under the physical and political reign of King Jesus from Jerusalem, capitol city of planet Earth, followed by a rebellion, Armageddon, judgment, the destruction and re-creation of Earth and it’s inheritance by those who were saved in this present world. In Historic Premillennialism, the Second Coming is not separated from the “secret rapture” described in Dispensational Premillennialism by years of time (3-1/2 or 7 depending on one’s “pre, mid, or post-tribulation” persuasion). In all three orthodox schools of eschatology, the catching-away of the Church to meet the Lord in the air is not a separate event from the Second Coming, but simultaneous with His coming to Earth in judgment. Only in Dispensational Premillennialism are the two distinguished from one another, occurring as separate events with some period of time between the two.
In Historic Premillennialism, the chapters in Revelation appear in chronological order, the enthroned saints are on Earth, there are two physical resurrections (the just and the unjust are resurrected separately); Christ returns before the millennium but after the tribulation period. The Second Coming ushers in a literal 1,000-year period of planet-wide transformation.
That’s a kinda-sorta summary of the three basic forms of orthodox eschatology, with brief notes on un-orthodox variations of each. This is a lot of information in just a few paragraphs! It could easily become very confusing… so,
Next Week: A Chart to make this a little easier to keep all these different schools of thought organized in summary form.