The editorial “Jewish Dreams” (Standard Bearer, Jan. 15, 1995) continues to draw response. Some of the response is sharp. This is not surprising. For some time now, as regards the doctrine of the last things, premillennial dispensationalism and postmillennialism have pretty much had the field to themselves. In their controversy with each other, both severely criticize Reformed amillennialism. From the Reformed quarter, little or nothing has been forthcoming in defense of amillennialism, much less a vigorous attack upon both forms of millennial error.
“Jewish Dreams” put the confessional Reformed doctrine of amillennialism into the field of discussion about the last things. The present age, from Christ’s ascension until shortly before His second coming, when Satan shall be loosed from his prison, is the thousand-year period of Revelation 20. The Messianic kingdom in history is not a future carnal kingdom, whether of Jews reigning from Jerusalem or of saints exercising political power from Vallecito, California or Tyler, Texas. It is, rather, Christ’s spiritual reign by His gospel and Spirit in the hearts and lives of the believing elect. The victorious kingdom of Christ is, as it, has ever been, the true, faithful church in the midst of a hostile world.
The editorial took up the challenge to Reformed amillennialism from the postmillennial “Christian Reconstructionists.” For 30 years or so now, these advocates of dominion theology” have violently assailed confessional Reformed amillennialism. A kinder epithet has been “pessimillennialism,” that is, a doctrine of the last things that is pessimistic. Reformed amillennialists are losers.” Although there have been Reformed and Presbyterian theologians who have debated “Christian Reconstruction” in terms of its teaching about Old Testament law (“theonomy”), few have insisted that the movement must be repudiated by Reformed churches because of its postmillennialism. This was the thrust of the editorial “Jewish Dreams.”
Postmillennialists have responded.
Enter now the postmillennial advocate of “Christian Reconstruction” Gary DeMar. DeMar is president of American Vision and a member of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). He is a prolific and influential author. His books include God and Government, 3 vols.; Ruler of the Nations: Biblical Blueprints for Government; Surviving College Successfully: A Complete Manual for the Rigors of Academic Combat; The Reduction of Christianity (with Peter J. Leithart); and Last Days Madness.
What follows is the letter from Gary DeMar responding to my editorial “Jewish Dreams” and my reply to DeMar’s letter.
While I am impressed by the creeds and confessions of the church, they are not equal to Scripture. Prof. Engelsma is fond of quoting confessional statements while giving little regard to biblical exegesis. Have we become Romanists? Yes, Engelsma does reference a few Bible passages, but he only uses them as props to support an already accepted confessional statement. Proof-texting is no substitute for exegesis.
Engelsma calls postmillennialism a “heresy.” Is he willing to include, for example, John Owen the principal author of the postmillennial Savoy Declaration, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and Marcellus Kik as heretics because of their postmillennial beliefs?
It is somewhat curious that Engelsma fails to quote the Westminster Confession and its catechisms and instead quotes Peter Toon’s interpretation of the assembly’s work. Engelsma is selective in the way he presents the confessional statements of the church. He chooses what suits his purpose. In the WC Larger Catechism the kingship of Christ is said to be evidenced to God’s people by Christ’s “overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory” (LC, Q. 45). Thomas Ridgeley (c. 1667-1734), in his massive commentary on the Larger Catechism, published between 1731 and 1733, gives a decidedly post-millennial interpretation of the Assembly’s position:
We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the Church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament, which speak of the latter-day glory!1
The Shorter Catechism is no less postmillennial. “Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies” (SC, Q. 26). The evidence of His exaltation is made visible to His Church when He does “gather and defend his church, and subdue [her] enemies” (LC, Q. 54).
The Larger Catechism in the second petition of the Lords Prayer states, “we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, [and] the fullness of the Gentiles brought in . . . 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” (LC, Q. 191). None of this squares with Engelsma’s notion that “the church in the end-time will be a persecuted church, not a triumphalist [sic] church” (173). By the way, the answer to LC Question 191 is almost identical to that of The Savoy Declaration (26.5), which Engelsma condemns! It seems, therefore, that the Helvetic Confession is out of step with the other great confessional statements of the Reformed churches. This is why Scripture must be the determining factor.
Prof. Engelsma insists that passages like Matthew 24, II Thessalonians 2, and II Timothy 3 address conditions near the time when Jesus returns at the end of history. While this view is popular today, especially among dispensationalists, it cannot survive exegetical scrutiny. There is a great deal of biblical and historical evidence to demonstrate that these passages refer to conditions leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Postmillennialists do not do their work in an exegetical vacuum. I devoted more than 120 pages of detailed exegesis to Matthew 24:1-34 in my book Last Days Madness. More than fifty pages were devoted to 2 Thessalonians 2. I also discussed Titus 213 in great detail. In each case I showed that these passages, and many more like them, refer to events of the first century. Moreover, I was able to demonstrate that numerous Bible commentators agree with me, most of whom are not postmillennial!
Prof. Engelsma claims that the solemn duty of the Protestant Reformed Churches “from the soon-coming Christ [is] to expose the hopes of postmillennialism as ‘Jewish dreams.'” The “soon-coming Christ”? Prof. Engelsma sounds more like Hal Lindsey and Dave Hunt than a Reformed Christian. Dave Hunt, an anti-reformed author, has written How Close Are We: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ. The church has been preaching the “soon-return of Christ” for centuries. This doctrine has been the bane of Reformed theology and the benefit of dispensationalism. How can Christians claim that Jesus is coming soon in light of the time references set forth in the New Testament?
Jesus said that He would return in judgment before the last apostle died (Matt. 16:27-28; cf. John 21:18-23). Jesus promised His disciples that He would return in judgment to destroy the temple before their generation passed away (Matt. 24:24). The Thessalonians knew the identity of the man of lawlessness and the restrainer. In fact, they believed that the “day of the Lord” had already come (II Thess. 2:2). “The mystery of lawlessnesswas already at work,” Paul writes (v. 7). It is quite evident, therefore, that Paul is describing events that the Thessalonians were quite familiar with.
Revelation 1:1 states that the events depicted therein “must shortly take place.” The time is said to be “near” (Rev. 1:3) for those who first read the book. We are told in the last chapter of Revelation that the described events “must shortly take place” (Rev. 22:6). Jesus said that He was coming “quickly” (Rev. 22:7). And to confirm what was said in the first chapter, “the time is near” (Rev. 22:10). Revelation was written nearly two thousand years ago. If words mean anything, then the events of Revelation are now history.
Prof. Engelsma can follow the dispensationalists and claim that these time indicators are fluid and do not necessarily mean what they seem to mean, or he can deal with them honestly and get back to doing exegetical work and quit relying on the confessions to do his thinking for him. Until Prof. Engelsma deals withexegetical issues, the only ones who will listen to him will be those who already agree with him, a number that is steadily declining.
Why not open the campus of the seminary of the Protestant Reformed Church to a debate on the topics of “the last days” and “postmillennialism”? I would be willing to pay my own way to participate in such a debate. How about it, Prof. Engelsma?
Gary DeMar is “impressed” by the creeds. I am bound by them. I have vowed in the Reformed “Formula of Subscription” that I believe “that all the articles and points of doctrine contained (in the ‘Three Forms of Unity’) do fully agree with the Word of God.” I have also promised “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.” Further, I have sworn “not only (to) reject all errors that militate against this doctrine . . . but (also) . . . to refute and contradict these and to exert (myself) in keeping the Church free from such errors.” Included is adherence to the eschatological teaching of the creeds. This fidelity to the confessions is not “Romanist.” It is Reformed. The Reformed faith is confessional.
I never used the word “heresy” to describe postmillennialism. Not once. This was deliberate. The reason was my very high regard for some of the theologians mentioned by DeMar, especially B. B. Warfield, as well as others. Now that DeMar presses me, I call the postmillennialism taught by J. Marcellus Kik in his An Eschatology of Victory and by “Christian Reconstruction” a heresy. By heresy, I mean not only a serious departure from the teaching of the Scriptures but also a grievous corruption of the gospel. The error is that the spiritual kingdom revealed and realized by the gospel is changed into a carnal kingdom, and the spiritual triumph of the exalted Christ in history is changed into an earthly triumph. The evil practical effect of the error is to turn the hope of Christians away from the coming of Christ to the carnal millennial kingdom. This subversion of the Christian hope tends to affect all of the Christian life.
Warfield and some of the Puritans before him were far more restrained in predicting a future earthly “enlargement” of the church than Kik and the “Christian Reconstructionists.” Insofar as Warfield and other earlier Presbyterians shared the error of postmillennialism, this was “stubble” in their work of building upon the foundation. Their stubble must be burned, but they themselves shall be saved (I Cor. 3:10-15).
If DeMar and others are determined to present my attack on the postmillennial doctrine as an attack on the persons of those who held, or hold, this doctrine, so be it. But I vehemently deny this accusation. I yield to no one in regard for, and even love of, Martin Luther. But I call his miserable doctrine of the Lord’s Supper a heresy for all that.
I charged heresy, not against postmillennialism but against the “judaizing” of the “Christian Reconstruction” brand of postmillennialism. As I carefully indicated, this refers to “Christian Reconstruction”‘s imposing upon New Testament Christians “a vast array of Old Testament laws that, according to Article 25 of the Belgic Confession, have been accomplished in Christ, so that the use of them must be abolished among Christians.”‘
This error I not only called “heresy” but also “the fundamental heresy.” To this the church said “no” by the leading of the Spirit in Acts 15. Against this Paul fought in the book of Galatians.
Warfield never taught this.
The Westminster Standards
That I did not quote the Westminster Confession and its catechisms is not at all “curious.” I pointed out why I did not: “I leave to those whose creeds they are to demonstrate that the Westminster Standards rule out the illusory dream of postmillennialism.” The creeds that bind me (and the majority of readers of the SB) are the “Three Forms of Unity.” Therefore, I limited myself to references to them.
I offer my judgment, nevertheless, that 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 “Engelsma’s notion that the church in the end time 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 areearthly, 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!
Even the quotation from Thomas Ridgeley, although obviously originating in a misguided longing for “latter-day glory,” only very cautiously advances the mildest form of postmillennialism: “…greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory . . . the welfare and happiness of his church in a greater degree.” A sleepy amillennialist might let this get past him.
This is worlds apart from the “Christianizing” of America, and then of the world, envisioned and promoted by “Christian Reconstruction” as the real triumph of Christ in history.
“Behold, I Come Slowly”
With DeMar’s remarks on the Bible’s teaching concerning the second coming of the Lord and the condition of the church in the days preceding that coming, I am simply delighted. I knew these things, of course, as do all those who have read in “Reconstruction” literature. But many of the readers of this magazine have not read the “Reconstruction” books. They are largely dependent upon the analyses of others. Now they can read for themselves from a leading, authoritative “Christian Reconstructionist” the main teachings of that movement concerning the end of the world.
The church of the last days will not be persecuted!
All of the prophecy of the New Testament of apostasy, tribulation, and Antichrist in the last days has already been completely fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70! Nothing of all of this sizable and significant portion of New Testament Scripture, as well as Old Testament Scripture, including nearly all of the book of Revelation, applies to the New Testament church of our day and the future!
Most astounding of all, and well nigh incredible, is the flat, bold denial that the coming of Jesus Christ—the second, bodily, visible coming of Jesus Christ—is “soon” and “near”! The Reformed church has been mistaken in her teaching that Jesus’ coming is “near”! Indeed, “this doctrine has been the bane of Reformed theology”! (emphasis mine—DJE)
Postmillennialism denies and opposes, with might and main, that Jesus’ coming is soon, near, and quickly, exactly as I charged against it in “Jewish Dreams.”
This is assault upon the fundamental hope of the church. Nothing less.
I ignore the tactic of blackening Reformed eschatology by linking it with that of premillennial dispensationalism. It is not Reformed amillennialism that agrees with premillennialism in denying future persecution to the church and in affirming an earthly kingdom of Christ.
DeMar may well be right when he says that the number of Reformed and Presbyterian amillennialists “is steadily declining.” The reason, in part, is the great apostasy now fulfilling the apostle’s prophecy in II Thessalonians 2:3. This falling away is due, in part, to the failure of Presbyterian and Reformed churches, ministers, theologians, and editors of religious periodicals vigorously to defend amillennialism and equally vigorously to expose and condemn postmillennialism.
Lest I be guilty of failing to do what little I can to stop the decline from the truth of amillennialism, I intend to devote future, editorials to a biblical, confessional defense of amillennialism against the erroneous doctrine of postmillennialism. These will have the “Christian Reconstruction” movement especially in view.
Gary DeMar throws out an intriguing challenge: a public debate on postmillennialism on the campus of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. My only hesitation is that I must not be responsible for giving a platform to error. I certainly would not want to leave the impression that the Bible is unclear on this important doctrine of the last things, so that amillennialism and postmillennialism are two legitimate options for Reformed and Presbyterian Christians.
But DeMar is the well-known popular theologian. Hewould draw the audience. He would be giving a platform to a defense of amillennialism. There is nothing wrong with this. I am interested.
1 Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, previously titled A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended, Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism (Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Waters Revival Books,  1993), 1:562.