Volume 7, Issue 5: Eschaton
A Case Against Postmillennialism
Jack Van Deventer
In this installment, I'll attempt a concise but limited overview of the case against
postmillennialism. In the next issue I'll investigate the case against premillennialism.
Postmillennialism "holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the
world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit,
that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ
will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly
called the Millennium." Note that (1) the expansion of the kingdom is a work
of God, not of man, (2) the kingdom is spread by way of gospel preaching, not
politics or any other humanistic effort, and (3) so-called human evolution and
"the inherent goodness" of man is excluded.
Four main criticisms of postmillennialism appear to recur: (1) appeals to the
decline of history, (2) linkage of postmillennialism to heretical groups, (3)
passages that seem to indicate a catastrophic end of the world, and (4) passages
that suggest few will be saved.
First, the chief (and often the sole) argument used against postmillennialism
involves the presumed irreversible decline of human history. Cox appeals to
the "general unrest and hatred in the world." 
Adams claims the prospects for
gospel success are "highly unrealistic" because we live "in a day in which the world
nervously anticipates momentary destruction by nuclear warfare."  Hoyt believes
trends "point to the disintegration and demoralization of society." 
For justification, these and other critics of postmillennialism point to WWI,
WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, tension in the Middle East, the Great
Depression, the ecological crisis, the world food shortage, the energy crisis,
overpopulation, the rise of Communism, and global warming. Noticeably absent
in this line of reasoning is an appeal to Scripture, although it should be noted
that postmillennialists who argue their position on the basis of technical, cultural,
and spiritual advancements suffer the same weakness. Certainly, it is tenuous
to deduce God's plan in human history on the basis of current events rather than
on sound biblical exegesis.
Second, critics charge that postmillennialism represents incipient liberalism
and claim it tends to lead to heretical views. Representative of this perspective
is Lightner's claim that the postmillennial approach to prophecy makes it "almost
impossible to stem the tide toward liberal theology. The nonliteral method of
prophetic interpretation . . . leaves the door wide open, hermeneutically at
least, for the same kind of interpretation to be applied to other biblical matters,
such as the deity of Christ, and the authority of the Bible."  Critics have
sought to link postmillennialism to a liberal social gospel, marxism, messianic
socialists, unitarians, "positive confession" charismatics, liberation theology,
and the heretical Manifest Sons of God cult. 
Postmillennialists have even been compared with the radical and militant Fifth Monarchists of the seventeenth
which is ironic because the Fifth Monarchists
were premillennial. 
As above, appeals to discredit a doctrine apart from Scripture are ineffective.
Identifying parallels, even if accurate, is not the same as identifying cause
and effect. Indeed, such arguments go both ways: premillennialism could be
accused of undermining orthodoxy as "evidenced" by premillennial cults such as
the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Third, critics of postmillennialism deny that the world will become more peaceful.
Rather, they point to Scriptures they claim indicate a catastrophic end of the
world. Berkhof, for example, refers to passages such as Matt. 24, II Thes. 2:3-12,
Rev. 13, etc. to demonstrate a future "time of great apostasy, of tribulation
and persecution."  Similarly, Hoekema states "The New Testament gives indications
of the continuing strength of that 'kingdom of evil' until the end of the world
when it speaks about the great tribulation, the final apostasy, and the appearance
of a personal antichrist."  In response, postmillennialists would argue that
their critics err by viewing the destructive prophecies futuristically, because
the prophecies called for a "near" and "soon" fulfillment (Rev. 1:1,3), within a
"generation" of the time the prophecies were made (Matt. 24:34) as in the destruction
of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Fourth, critics charge that the Great Commission will end in failure and they
reject the idea that the nations will be transformed by the gospel. They cite
passages such as Luke 18:8: "when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith
on the earth?," and presume a negative response to the question. Critics also
point to Matthew 7:14: "narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads
to life, and there are few who find it." In the classic essay "Are they few that
be saved?"  B.B. Warfield counters that such interpretations largely ignore
the passages' contexts which focus on Israel's hardness at that time (Matt. 22:11-14)
or seek to stress the difficulty of the Christian life (Lk. 13:23ff.; Matt. 7:15ff).
"Fewness" interpretations must also be reconciled with passages indicating that
those in heaven are "many" (Matt. 18:11; 13:24ff.), "a great multitude which no
one could number" (Rev. 7:9).
The revival of postmillennialism in the last decades has surprised its critics,
not a few of whom claimed it was a dead system.  However, even before the
resurgence, those who analyzed the decline of postmillennialism from the 1860's
to the 1980's admitted, like premillennialist Erickson, that the reason for the
decline was "more psychological than logical." 
Back to top
Back to Table of Contents
Copyright © 2012 Credenda/Agenda. All rights reserved.