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How did We get Here? - An Introduction


Surely, we shall not wish to measure the saving work of God by what has already been accomplished in these unripe days in which our lot is cast. The sands of time have not yet run out. And before us stretch, not merely the reaches of the ages, but the infinitely resourceful reaches of the promise of God. Are not the saints to inherit the earth? Is not the recreated earth theirs? Are not the kingdoms of the world to become the kingdom of God? Is not the knowledge of the glory of God to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? Shall not the day dawn when no man need say to his neighbor, ‘know the Lord’, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest. O raise your eyes, raise your eyes, I beseech you, to the far horizon: let them rest nowhere short of the extreme limit of the divine purpose of grace. And tell me what you see there. Is it not the supreme, the glorious, issue of that love of God which loved, not one here and there only in the world, but the world in its organic completeness; and gave His Son, not to judge the world, but that the world through Him should be saved. [1] B.B. Warfield


Here at the Rebel Alliance, we are unashamedly and consciously postmillennial in our eschatology. Many of us are former Dispensationalists and often engage with Christians from that perspective. Though there is a large Reformed/Covenantal Theology resurgence, Dispensationalism still holds a large foothold in a large section of evangelicalism and continues be the eschatology of many in the Church. But, do you ever wonder why the church landscape is the way it is? Do you ever wonder why the majority of the evangelical church would rather read Left Behind than theology? Has the dominant eschatology always been Dispensational Premillennialism? Has it always been this way?

No.

One of the sad realities of modern church members is their ignorance of Church history. This series of articles will briefly sketch some recent Church history and outline how the Protestant theological landscape has changed from a broadly Calvinistic and Postmillennial position[2] to the modern majority view of Dispensational Premillennialism (DP). This series is not to disparage our DP brothers and sisters, but to inform and give historical context. In fact, one of the motivations to write this series are the many people who still tell us that they have never heard of a different eschatology than DP. This is why Pastor Nate has done his eschatology series and the Rebels are so passionate about this subject. If there is one thing I have noticed since leaving the DP system is that many in that camp tend to be misinformed when it comes to their own history and repeat the same falsehoods about other systems.

For example: I recently browsed a DP periodical and (in frustration) noticed some of the same, lame, and refuted arguments against non-DP theology and utterly ridiculous simplifications of historic theology.[3] This author portrayed in his “historic overview” that there has been a “big retreat” from DP orthodoxy as a result of attacks from such recent doctrines as “realized eschatology”, “preterism”, “kingdom-now theology”, “inaugurated eschatology”, and ironically enough, “Progressive Dispensationalism”. All scary words to a dispensationalist, usually used to theologically tar and feather their opponents. The glossary holds another interesting tidbit as it defines Postmillennialism as “a 19th-century teaching.”[4] I am sure that Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, and Athanasius will find that somewhat curious. All that was left was for the author to begin demonizing “Dominionism” and perpetuate the false DP claim that Postmillennialism began with Daniel Whitby (which would have contradicted the already absurd claim in the glossary). To more Classical Dispensationalists like this author, anything less than total discontinuity in regard to the Kingdom of God is dangerous. He says that these teachings have infected classical DP with “the confusing … ‘already/not yet’ and ‘both/and’ eschatology.”[5] Now, it certainly is true that there is a “big retreat” from classical DP into other theological systems. But our aim will be to discover how DP became so popular in the first place; how a novel system largely invented in the 1830’s came to dominate the theological landscape.

Unfortunately, the above are common DP arguments. Ironically, the exact opposite is true. DP was the position that arose in the 19th century and eventually eclipsed the old Puritan eschatology developed out of the Reformation. In other words, in contrast with this author’s presuppositions, DP was once the new system on the eschatological block and the “big retreat” was a move back to Chiliasm.[6] Iain Murray convincingly argues in his The Puritan Hope that Post-Reformation England and Scotland developed a positive outlook view of the Gospel and the Kingdom which eventually led to the vast Puritan missionary efforts of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Great Awakening revivals, and the expectation of the ultimate success of the great commission (including the conversion of the Jewish nation) which would lead to a glorious age of growth of the church (read Postmillennialism).[7] In fact, though some Puritans held to a historic premillennial view during the mid-seventeenth century, the view had “practically disappeared from the mainstream of evangelical thought in the century which followed.”[8]

But I digress. We shall touch on some of these issues in our second article on the rise of millennialism. Also, we are not looking at history to see whose eschatology has a better vintage. I do, however, encourage all my DP brethren to do some historical research on the topic. The biggest mistake Dispensationalists make when doing historic theology is equating their system with Historic Premillennialism. The latter view is historic and indeed was held by some early church fathers. DP’s unique system, including a Pre-Tribulation rapture, a separation of Israel and the church, a dispensational view of history as opposed to a covenantal view, and Darby’s ecclesiology, to name a few, were not present in the early church. While the two views may share a view on the Millennium, they are vastly different in most other ways.[9] The question of vintage, of course, does not prove the truthfulness of the theology; exegesis of the scriptures does that. These articles will not delve into said exegesis. We are going to study the fact that DP has not always been the majority, and more, how it came to gain dominance in the evangelical world. So as not to not bore everyone to death I have narrowed down the series to the top 5 factors:

1) The Rise of Premillennialism

2) The Rise of Liberalism/Higher Criticism

3) The Niagara Bible conferences

4) Dispensational Literature

5) The Bible School Movement

Enjoy!

[1] B.B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World, 129. Quoted in J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory, (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971), 5.

[2] Postmillennialism and amillennialism were historically very close positions. In fact, amennialism and postmillennialism were essentially the same position with slightly different outlooks until the early 20th century when some began calling themselves amillennialists: Kenneth L. Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (Draper, VA: ApologeticsGroup Media, 2009), 67.

[3] Randall Price, "The Changing Face of Dispensationalism," Israel My Glory March/April (2018):16.

[4] Ibid, 19.

[5] Ibid, 16.

[6] The historic word for the belief in a premillennial return of Christ followed by a literal reign of Christ on earth for one thousand years. From the Greek word for one thousand

[7] Iain Hamish Murray, The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009).

[8] Ibid, 197.

[9] See Gentry 85-88. Gentry cites a Dispensationalist, Alan Patrick Boyd, who in his Master’s Thesis at Dallas Seminary, “A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers”, refutes the common DP argument that Premillennialism is the historic doctrine of the church. Rather humorously, upon finding no signs of DP in the early church, he does not reconsider his position but concludes that “the Church rapidly fell from New Testament truth, and this is very evident in the realm of eschatology. Only in modern times has New Testament eschatological truth been recovered.” Cited in Gentry, 86.

#Eschatology #Howdidwegethere #Postmillenialism