In his “I.C.E. Position Paper” of July 1995, Dr. Gary North responded to the editorial “Jewish Dreams” in the January 15, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer. Here I conclude my response to this leading Christian Recon-structionist postmillennialist by way of an open letter begun in the March 1, 1996 issue of the Standard Bearer.)
In my response to your colleague Gary DeMar in the March 15, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer, you will discover your fourth mistake. You claim that “the prayer in Answer 191 (of the Westminster Larger Catechism — DJE) is clearly a postmillennial prayer.” This claim, with the implications that you draw from it, is the heart of your piece against my “Jewish Dreams.” But, as I demonstrated to Gary DeMar, who also appealed to Question and Answer 191 of the Westminster Larger Catechism in support of postmillennialism in creedal Pres-byterianism, Question 191 does not teach postmillennialism. The Westminster divines did not explain the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer as a postmillennial prayer. Since I have already explained Question 191 in my response to DeMar, I may be permitted here merely to quote what I wrote earlier. In order that the body of this letter not become overly long, I will add this explanation of Question 191 as a postscript.
Be assured, contrary to your assertion that “Engelsma does not believe that Christians should pray the prayer of Answer 191,” we Reformed amillennialists do think that Christians should pray the petition of Question and Answer 191 of the Westminster Larger Catechism. We pray it fervently. We pray it with the confidence that God will grant it. But the granting is not, and will not be, an earthly kingdom and physical dominion. Nor may any Presbyterian have this hope in mind when he prays. If he does, he prays contrary to the revealed will of God and angers God with his self-willed petition.
Fifth, you are evidently unfamiliar with the Standard Bearer, particularly with the editorials in the magazine. At one point you express suspicion of the editorial “Jewish Dreams” as “masquerading as a serious theological essay.” At another point you are disgusted because of “brief, unfootnoted essays critical of Christian Reconstruction.” Here, taking off the gloves, you compare me unfavorably with Hal Lindsey because Lindsey at least has footnotes (though inaccurate) in his writing against the theonomists: “Academically speaking, … Engelsma is trailing Hal Lindsey on this issue.”
The Standard Bearer is not a theological journal. It is written for believers, not for scholars and theologians. I trust that the editorials are researched and accurate. But as a rule you will look in vain for footnotes. This does not mean, however, that there is no interaction in the Standard Bearer with theologians and scholars of a contrary mind.
This is your sixth mistake. You are aggrieved that I do not respond to, or even mention, the works on postmillennialism by leading Christian Reconstruction writers: “A serious Calvinist theologian who is doing his best to inform his readers about what lies ahead for the church would mention the existence of such books.”
Did you not notice the quotation from David Chilton’s Paradise Restored, giving publisher, date, and pages, in the editorial that you criticize? Apart from this, your judgment is hasty. For I have been following up on “Jewish Dreams” both with responses to letters and with a series of editorials, “A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism.” In these subsequent articles I have been, and will be, referring to, quoting from, and responding to the postmillennialists whom you mention, as well as others.
I would have thought that you received the Standard Bearer regularly. Apparently this is not the case. To ensure that this material is available to you, I am sending you all of the articles on eschatology that follow “Jewish Dreams.”
Those Insulated PR’s
Last, you display ignorance of the membership of the PRC when you describe us as “people who are very insulated culturally and ecclesiastically, and who have not been exposed to the larger world of Calvinism.” I get the impression that you Christian Reconstructionists solemnly pass this nonsense around among yourselves. Some time ago another of your men publicly dismissed us as “rural and isolationist.” I suspect that the source is the Christian Reformed Church’s longstanding charge against us of being “anabaptists” on account of our denial of common grace and our insistence on a spiritual antithesis between the believing church and the ungodly world.
It is high time that serious, fair, Reformed thinkers put this bit of polemical cheap-shot aside and got down to brass tacks with the real issues at stake in the Protestant Reformed denial of common grace and affirmation of the antithesis. Nominally Reformed and Presbyterian people are going to hell today exactly because they are conforming to the world in keeping with the tenets of common grace. In teachings and conduct, Reformed and Presbyterian churches are being swallowed up by the world, because they have convinced themselves that the world outside of Christ is full of goodness and wisdom by virtue of the common grace operations of the Holy Spirit.
There is nothing that Reformed churches and people need more urgently today than powerful preaching and teaching of the antithesis as the antithesis is still unashamedly confessed in the PRC.
This has absolutely nothing to do with world-flight, isolation, and insulation. It never did.
Look into our doctrine of the antithesis a little. Judge our position, not by the caricatures of our enemies but by our own confession. Was Paul an anabaptist because he exhorted, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” (II Cor. 6:17)? Was John trying to form a people who would be “very insulated culturally and ecclesiastically” when he warned, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4)? Was the Holy Spirit an advocate of world-flight when He inspired, “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28)?
Visit a PR church, any PR church. Talk with a PR minister, any PR minister. If ever you are in Grand Rapids, give me the opportunity to introduce you to the typical PR church-member, male or female — knowledgeable of and interested in everything Calvinistic. Meet the farmers, businessmen, doctors, dentists, lawyers, registered nurses, teachers, bankers, engineers, and other members of the trades and professions. Let me take you through our Christian schools, so that you can see that for a long time (much longer than Reconstructionists have been advocating Christian education) Protestant Reformed parents have taken their baptism vows seriously and have been training their children to serve the Lord Christ, in obedience to His will in Holy Scripture, in every sphere of human life in the world.
“In the world, but not of the world” — this, and not isolation, is our calling, our purpose, and, imperfectly, our life.
The Coming of the Kingdom through the PRC
Indeed, if someone, foolishly, were of a mind to make the comparison, it would be evident that the PRC have done, and are now doing, far more, by the grace of God, to extend the kingdom of Christ than all of Christian Reconstructionism. There is a denomination of sound, Reformed churches across all of North America bearing witness to King Jesus; there are missions both at home and abroad; there is contact with and help of likeminded churches in foreign lands; there is an extensive system of Reformed, Christian schools in which thousands of boys and girls have been reared to honor the sovereign, triune God; there are the godly lives of thousands in every ordinance and sphere of human life; there is the oversight, admonition, and discipline exercised through bodies of elders; there has been the giving of hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the poor through active diaconates; there are innumerable books, pamphlets, and other writings.
We are doing only that which is our duty to do, so that we are unprofitable servants. But what the PRC are doing on behalf of the coming of Christ’s kingdom does not suffer by comparison with the efforts of the whole of Christian Reconstruction.
In fact, if the Holy Spirit should have in mind (which He does not) to bring about your millennium, everything is in place in the PRC, and in other faithful Reformed and Presbyterian churches, for the lightning to strike. I cannot think of anything that we have left undone, except, perhaps, to pray, “Lord, send revival,” with the proper, practiced pathos in our throats. But even in this respect, we are not completely unfit instruments for the arrival of the millennium, for we do earnestly pray the petition that Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come.”
You end with a challenge:
Someday, a theologian in the Protestant Reformed Church ought to write a detailed book on eschatology. Then he should follow this with a detailed academic critique of theonomic postmil-lennialism. I do not expect either challenge to be accepted.
Do not give up on us too quickly. For one thing, Herman Hoeksema has done significant work in eschatology. Have you read the section on eschatology in his Reformed Dogmatics? Have you read his masterful commentary on the book of Revelation, Behold, He Cometh?
Besides, more may be forthcoming.
It is possible that the eschatology of Christian Reconstruction will indeed be examined in the light of the Reformed faith, especially since no one else is doing this.
There may even be some footnotes.
Hal Lindsey, indeed!
You appeal to Question 191 of the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) as a confessionally Presbyterian teaching of postmillennialism.
The prayer in Answer 191 is clearly a postmillennial prayer. It was made mandatory by the Westminster Assembly. It calls for the visible establishment of the kingdom of God in history…. Engelsma owed it to his readers to point out that the Savoy Declaration’s statement (an Independent confession — DJE) was lifted from the Larger Catechism. But to have admitted this would have undermined the force of his statement in the previous paragraph that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not teach postmillennialism.
Since our largely Reformed readership may not be familiar with this question and answer of the WLC, I quote it here:
Q. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come), acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.
This is basically the same explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer that is given in Lord’s Day 48 of our own Heidelberg Catechism, with the exception of the maintenance of the church by the civil magistrate.
Neither the Presbyterian nor the Reformed explanation is postmil-lennial.
I made this clear in my response to your fellow postmillennialist Gary DeMar, who had also objected to my editorial with an appeal to Question 191 of the WLC, as though this were Presbyterian postmil-lennialism. What follows is my response to DeMar in the March 15, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The four quotations by DeMar from the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms prove absolutely nothing for a postmillennial interpretation of the Westminster documents. No amillennialist has any difficulty with these expressions whatsoever. All of these statements square perfectly with “Engel-sma’s notion that ‘the church in the endtime will be a persecuted church, not a triumphalist church.'” Christ has been restraining and subduing His and our enemies by His sovereign power since His ascension into heaven (Eph. 2:20-23). The fulfillment of this sovereign restraint and subduing in history does not require the “Christianizing of the world” and a kingdom of earthly power and glory. The risen Christ restrains and subdues His enemies by His secret providence, and He governs and exalts His church by His grace.
The right understanding of the Larger Catechism’s explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, in Question 191, an explanation that is virtually identical with the explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism in Question 123, will serve to make clear the meaning of all of DeMar’s quotations from the Westminster Catechisms.
In the second petition, the Catechism explains, believers pray that God in Christ will destroy the kingdom of Satan and build up the kingdom of Christ, which is the church. DeMar thinks that this refers to some future time before the coming of Christ. Also, he supposes that the destruction of Satan’s kingdom and the victory of Christ’s kingdom in this future time are earthly, that is, physical, political, social, and visible to the bodily eye. The saints will have dominion: the carnal kingdom.
He is mistaken on both counts. Christ has been destroying the kingdom of Satan and building up His own kingdom, the church, ever since He ascended into heaven. The nature of the defeat of Satan’s kingdom and of the victory of Christ’s kingdom is spiritual. It consists of the gathering out of Satan’s kingdom of the elect; of the sanctification of the elect to serve the Lord in every sphere of life; and of the preservation of the church in truth and holiness against the onslaughts of the devil. The perfect answer to the second petition will be granted in the Day of Christ.
How does the Larger Catechism itself sum up its explanation of the second petition? “… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him for ever.”
There is not so much as a hint of postmillennialism in Question 191 of the Larger Catechism or in the other quotations adduced by Gary DeMar. One finds postmillennialism in these confessional statements only if he has decided beforehand to understand “restrain,” “subdue,” “defend,” and “conquer” in the earthly sense they had for Old Testament Israel in the day of shadows.
The answer to Question 191 of the Larger Catechism is by no means “almost identical to that of The Savoy Declaration (26.5).” Chapter 26.5 of the Congregational Savoy Declaration (which I quoted in the editorial “Jewish Dreams”) differs radically from Question 191 of the Presbyterian Larger Catechism. The Savoy Declaration posits “enlarged” churches enjoying “a more quiet, peaceable, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed” “in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed … and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken” and “in this world.”
Take note: “in this world.”
The Independents who drew up the Savoy Declaration, dissatisfied with Presbyterian Westminster’s refusal to do so, gave clear expression to the postmillennial dream of an earthly kingdom. Their churches are taught to look forward to earthly peace, earthly prosperity, and earthly power!
Christian Reconstruction has no basis in any Reformed or Presbyterian creed for its dream of a carnal kingdom in history.