Volume 8, Issue 4: Eschaton
Jack Van Deventer
My purpose in writing is to communicate the thoughts and circumstances that led to a change in my eschatological perspective on history from what is commonly considered a pessimistic outlook (premillennialism) to one of optimism (postmillennialism). In communicating this migration, my goal is not to provide a biblical defense so much as clarify the path I've taken to get to this point.
At the time I became a Christian in 1972 it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the U.S. and perhaps the whole world was going down the tubes: the Vietnam War was in full swing (we were losing), communism was advancing rapidly with its sights on global domination, campuses were being bombed, morality was declining, the generation gap was widening, two Kennedys and a King had been assassinated, and God was declared dead. In spite of being a "good, moral" young man, I saw no hope for the world or for my personal future.
The Christian literature I read as a new believer confirmed my pessimism with apparent Biblical substantiation that the world was a rotten place that God would soon judge. Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth (which sold 25 million copies) was one of the first books I read. It was obvious the world would end soon. After all, we reasoned, Christ had to come back within a generation (40 years) of 1948, because that's when Israel was declared a nation. So we knew the rapture had to happen by 1988. One could only wait and speculate on the identity of the Antichrist. Most people I knew were convinced it was Henry Kissinger.
Although some limited evangelism took place, any ministry designed to have a lasting Christian influence was considered foolish because as radio commentator J. Vernon Magee was teaching us, "You don't polish brass on a sinking ship." In the 1970s and 1980s I attended churches and a Bible school where I was trained to study the Bible from the dispensational perspective. Nonpremillennialists were not held in high regard. They were liberal spiritualizers, we were told, and did not take the Bible literally.
Imagine my horror when years later (1985) the pastor at the church I was attending announced that after prolonged study of the Scriptures he had become postmillennial! I was shocked and dismayed. To become postmillennial I was convinced one had to spiritualize away so much truth that one might as well throw out the Bible. Over the next several weeks the pastor provided a defense of postmillennialism that was frighteningly biblical. I say "frighteningly" because I had presumed that all postmillennialists were liberal and that liberals were not capable of defending their positions from the Scriptures. The postmillennial position had an impressive biblical basis, but I remained skeptical and unconvinced. If it was that biblical, surely I would have heard of it before. Besides, regardless of possible Bible interpretations, my experience was telling me that the world was getting worse.
For several years I remained premillennial, but was willing to concede that other eschatological views were perhaps not as flaky as I had presumed and, in fact, had some degree of biblical credibility. I began studying the subject of eschatology in depth to see whether the Bible affirmed my pessimistic world view. In addition to studying the Scriptures directly, I began reading every premillennial Bible scholar I could find. I restricted my search to scholarly works and avoided popular writers. My goal was to strengthen the walls of my premillennial assumptions prior to subjecting that view to alternatives.
Over the next three years I studied the Bible and read as many reputable eschatology books as I could find. What soon became apparent in my reading was that dispensationalists and nondispensationalists both had a very high view of the Bible, but approached the Scriptures with very different presuppositions. The differences were more theological in nature than hermeneutical. These theological presuppositions had a strong bearing as to how each group understood the Bible. Although I had been a dispensationalist (rather by default), I became increasingly uncomfortable with that system's view of the discontinuity of the Bible, the forced literalism imposed on so many passages, and the system's controversial historical development.
After contrasting the various eschatological views, I was forced to give in to the arguments that favored optimism. However, as a lifelong pessimist, I conceded this transition intellectually long before I did emotionally. Such a paradigm shift is very unsettling because the ramifications go far beyond prophecy to more important topics such as the sovereignty of God, the course of history, and the nature of Christ's lordship.
In rethinking long familiar passages that before had to be "explained away," I had to come to terms with the large number of Bible passages that indicated Christ's death and resurrection were the beginning of a progressive redemptive victory over the effects of sin. What a concept to think that the fulfillment of the Great Commission was not only possible, but inevitable! I came to reconsider that God's Word would not return void until it had accomplished His every purpose.