Volume 14, Issue 2: Eschaton
Jack Van Deventer
Several years ago I came across an article on the Web by Kim Riddlebarger that, among other things, touched on the
history of amillennialism. What struck me was Riddlebarger's difficulty in tracing amillennialism's history. That was odd, I
thought, since amillennialists often claim their position traces back to the early church. Why would it be that difficult? Indeed,
after checking several church history books at the university library, I found a noticeable absence between "Allegorization"
and "Anabaptist." Amillennialism is nowhere to be found. Riddlebarger wrote, "[T]he term amillennialism, as we will see, was
not used in the nineteenth century, and the origin of the term is shrouded in mystery. Accordingly, Gaffin asks the
poignant question in this regard, `Who coined the term
amillennial?'"1 Gaffin continues, "What prompted the invention of the
word amillennial?"2 Since the word
postmillennial was already in common use before the word
amillennial, it's safe to assume that amillennialism represented a departure from postmillennialism. And, it was a recent departure.
Amillennialists agree that the term amillennialism is of recent
origin.3 Strimple wrote, "The term amillennialism has
been widely current since sometime in the 1930s, although when it was first used remains a
mystery."4 O.T. Allis referenced
a 1943 article by amillennialist Albertus Pieters stating that Abraham Kuyper coined the term. (Kuyper died in 1920.) Allis
was unsure whether or not Pieter's claim was
true.5 Peiter's 1937 book was less specific, "Recently, those who take this view
have begun to call themselves, or to be called
`amillennialists.'"6 No attribution to Kuyper was made and it remained unclear
who originated the term, amillennialists or their opponents.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(ISBE) had no reference for the word amillennialism in its 1915 and
1929/1930 editions. However, a premillennial document in 1915 made reference to postmillennialists and
1921 pamphlet entitled Non-millennialism vs.
Pre-Millennialism stated that "Post-millennialists [were] rapidly changing to
Non-millennialists," where the non-millennialist position was certainly the doctrine that would later be called
amillennialism.8 Erickson wrote that large numbers of postmillennialists changed their positions to
amillennialism.9 This shift was large enough to prompt a book by dispensationalist Charles Feinberg called
Premillennialism or Amillennialism? in 1936. This is
the earliest use of the term I've found so
far.10 Amillennialist Louis Berkhof was defensive when the position's historicity was questioned. He wrote (apparently in
1938 or earlier), "Some Premillenarians have spoken of
Amillennialism as a new view and as one of the most recent novelties, but
this is certainly not in accord with the testimony of history. The name is new indeed, but the view to which it is applied is as old
as Christianity."11 Adams, with similar hyperbole, wrote, "Augustine strongly advocated amillennialism, and it was the
exclusive view of all the
Reformers."12 Since several amillennialists claim Augustine as one of theirs, it's important to quote R.
Bradley Jones refutation of his amillennial colleagues: "Some writers speak of Augustine as an Amillennialist. This is hardly
accurate. He can more correctly be classified as a
Postmillennialist."13 Moreover, Bahnsen's historical survey of leading
reformers demonstrates the amillennial claims above to be groundless; rather the reformers were predominantly
postmillennial.14 J. Marcellus Kik believed amillennialism began with the writings of Geerhardus Vos who wrote extensively on
eschatology from 1911 to 1930 and later. Kik wrote, "It was not till the advent of Geerhardus Vos that the
amil position was introduced. I am personally sorry that the remarkable talents of Vos were diverted from the historic Princeton
position."15 Kik lamented that the postmillennial heritage of Princeton, represented by theological greats such as Archibald Alexander, Joseph
A. Alexander, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield, had eroded. Vos' doctrines were a departure
from postmillennialism such that the new theological perspective warranted a new term for identifying it. The terms
anti-millennialism and non-millennialism were used until the word amillennialism eventually stuck.
Returning to Gaffin's question regarding the invention of the word
amillennial, one is left wondering what prompted
the development of the doctrine behind the invention. Clearly pessimism had permeated the Church from 1880 to
1920. Premillennial pessimism with its emphasis on Armageddon, Antichrist, ruin, and rapture had become the buzz of the
day. Postmillennialism was viewed as unrealistic given the increased apostasy, liberalism, wars, etc. that were viewed by many as
the signs of the nearness of Christ's coming. Having become convinced of history's downward spiral, yet having
rejected dispensationalism as unbiblical, presbyterian, and Reformed people were in need of their own theological rationale
for pessimism. Not wanting to be left
behind, they apparently believed they needed a theological basis for abandoning their
traditional postmillennial doctrines of gospel success, historical optimism, and conversion of the nations to Christ. The
amillennial solution was to reassign the biblical victory passages to the heavenly or spiritual realm. The kingdom of God was
allegorized, spiritualized, and explained away as other-worldly, another spiritual dimension, a land beyond time and beyond our grasp.
The prophecies of doom and destruction, of course, were retained and applied to the earthly realm. In other words, keep the
curses, discard the blessings. Although a younger doctrine than dispensation-alism, amillennialism met the same need and fit
the mood of the day.