Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, by Keith A. Mathison. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1999. Pp. xii + 287. $14.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]
In no way does this volume on eschatology establish post-millennialism as a doctrine of hope. What it does establish is that the doctrine of the last things condemned by the Second Helvetic Confession as “Jewish dreams” is alive and well among reputedly conservative Presbyterian publishers and theologians. The publisher is P&R. The author is a recent graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary.
In the main, the book is a cursory explanation of carefully selected texts of Scripture that are susceptible to a postmillennial interpretation and the consignment of all contrary passages to A.D. 70.
The handling of Scripture leaves much to be desired. Against the objection to postmillennialism that Romans 8:17ff. teaches the persecution of the church throughout the present age, and thus exposes the postmillennial “hope” of earthly victory as false, Mathison replies that the passage refers only to the Christian’s struggle with sin (p. 184). In fact, Romans 8:35 (“tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword”) clearly teaches the persecution of the New Testament church, just as the Old Testament text quoted in verse 36 taught the persecution of the saints in the time of the old covenant.
Mathison is cavalier in his dismissal of the certainty of persecution: “Suffering by persecution is not a sine qua non of the church. If it is, there are few if any true churches in North America today” (p. 185). He ignoresII Timothy 3:12: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” He ought to take seriously his own standard of judging true churches. The number of true churches in North America may very well be far fewer than comfortable Reformed and Presbyterian church members suppose. If Mathison will investigate, he will discover that there are Reformed churches in North American that are hated, slandered, and mocked for their confession of the truth and for their walk of holiness.
Instead of dismissing persecution, Mathison should be warning the churches in North America of overt persecution that is about to break out against them.
But this author of a work on biblical eschatology is blind to the impending great persecution. The reason is his dream of an earthly victory of the kingdom of Christ in history. To preserve this dream, he explains all the New Testament prophecies of apostasy, tribulation, and Antichrist as having been fulfilled in A.D. 70 in the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew 24, I Thessalonians 5, II Thessalonians, II Timothy 3, and all of Revelation up to chapter 20, among many other passages, refer exclusively to the events of A.D. 70. “The vast majority of [passages that teach a gradual worsening of conditions on earth prior to the Second Coming] refer specifically to first-century conditions at the time of Christ’s coming in judgment upon Jerusalem” (p. 183).
Basic to Mathison’s eschatology is the preterism of J. Marcellus Kik and of Christian Reconstruction. It is no surprise that the book comes highly recommended by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. and R.C. Sproul. With good reason, Mathison finds it necessary to distinguish his own very nearly full preterism from “full preterism” in an appendix.
There is candid acknowledgment of the purpose of the preterist interpretation of all the New Testament warnings of apostasy and persecution.
If these things [foretold by Christ in
] have already occurred in connection with the coming of Christ in judgment on Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then they have no bearing on the repeated promises of victory for the gospel in this age (p. 115).
What Presbyterian defenders of Christian Reconstruction’s theology of carnal dominion must do is demonstrate from Scripture and the Reformed confessions that the Messianic kingdom is earthly in nature and that its victory in history is physical and political. To no purpose do Mathison and his colleagues exert themselves to show, with a great display of accomplishment, that the Bible teaches that Christ has established His kingdom in this world and that His kingdom progressively triumphs. Reformed amillennialism has always confessed this. Christian Reconstruction postmillennialism, incidentally, teaches that Christ and His kingdom have been defeated up to the present. But Reformed amillennialism holds that the kingdom is a heavenly kingdom in this world and that its victory in history is spiritual. The issue is Christ’s spiritual kingdom.
Although most of the book is a restatement of Christian Reconstruction teachings on the golden age and dominion, Mathison adds a new ground for the expectation of a future conversion of a majority of mankind: God’s common grace (pp. 164, 165).
If common grace is understood as Abraham Kuyper intended, Mathison is guilty of a gross logical fallacy. Common grace is to be distinguished from saving grace. Common grace is merely favor in this life. It gives rain and sunshine. From a common grace of God, nothing follows for the salvation of men.
But if common grace is understood as a loving will of God for the salvation of all men without exception, as Mathison and most Reformed and Presbyterian theologians today indeed understand it, the argument from common grace proves too much. Common grace does not merely prove that a majority of humans will be saved in the future. It proves that all without exception will be saved in the future. Indeed, it proves that all who have ever lived will be saved in the future. Does not God love and sincerely desire to save all?
At least one leading Christian Reconstruction postmillennialist has proposed that in the coming millennium every single human will be converted and saved, although his reason for thinking so is not common grace, but the victory of Christ.
What is going on in the most conservative Presbyterian churches and seminaries as regards eschatology? What is going on in the face of the clear, forceful, urgent, abundant warnings of Scripture that in the last days the church of Christ must contend with rampant lawlessness, wholesale apostasy, and fierce persecution? What is going on in the face of the rapid development in North America and the world of these very realities?
The postmillennialism of Christian Reconstruction and Keith Mathison is not an eschatology of hope. It is an eschatology of delusion, of “Jewish dreams.” And it is a grievous threat to the welfare of the church and the saints.