March 4, 2021 · C.E. Carter
“What you believe about the future determines how you will work in the present.” ~ Gary DeMar
This sentiment expressed by Gary DeMar of American Vision is the reason I have come to make eschatology such a big part of my ministry on this blog. Both DeMar and I argue for a postmillennial view of the end times, a view which I personally more or less staggered and fell into. The usual American Evangelical eschatology found at a church near you is most likely pessimistic, because it forecasts that things will go from bad to worse before they get a whole lot better. A good summary of this view was recently broadcast by Pastor John MacArthur in a sermon containing a scathing critique of postmillennialism. MacArthur called it a version of the “prosperity gospel” which claims the church will just “waltz into the kingdom” over the course of history, a criticism which he cemented with the counterpoint, “We don’t win down here. We lose. You got that?”. As much as I admire John MacArthur, this is a fundamental misrepresentation of postmillennialism as an eschatological position. Of course postmillennialism is optimistic about the overall trajectory of the gospel in history, since it emphasizes the nature of the Christ’s kingdom and reign as it is recorded throughout the whole Bible, and the Bible testifies that Christ is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, reigning on earth through the church, and that His reign will eventually proliferate the gospel throughout the whole world. MacArthur has misconstrued this victory as an easy one. On the contrary, postmillennialism simultaneously necessitates both profound optimism and profound responsibility. On one hand, we look forward to the future victory of Christ’s kingdom over Christ’s enemies, and on the other, we know that we play an integral role in those victories as instruments of conquest. We are told to “therefore, go and make disciples” because “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to the One we belong to. With a view to what kind of victory will be won, we are strengthened to fight for that victory, knowing that it will be a real fight, with real casualties, real losses, real triumphs, and real glory. We are in a war, and the enemy is there, occupying those strategic points, he must be attacked lest the name of Christ continue to be profaned. How you plan the strategy and ferocity of your attack will depend on whether you believe you can overpower him or not. The position that “we lose” assumes the enemy is strong, and necessarily thinks that gospel preaching and discipleship are necessary and valiant efforts, but that the war will only be won when our Lord airlifts us all into heaven and calls in an air strike. The postmillennial position, by contrast, is a ground war. Our enemies are cornered, have already suffered massive casualties, are low on ammunition, and their supply lines have been cut. What remains to be done is to overrun them, one by one, until they bow the knee to Christ, just as we ourselves were once overrun at the time of our conversion. This is why I smile a bit and thank God for John MacArthur and men like him whenever I listen to one of his sermons. I know that his ministry has done more to advance the kingdom of God on earth than mine ever will, and I am confident that his work will continue to have an impact on countless generations far after even I am gone, even if he doesn’t think so. His commitment to faithfully preaching the holy scriptures is one of the reasons why young war horses like me are ready to take the next ridge.
C.R. Wiley, in his book The Household and the War for the Cosmos, wrote something about modern people viewing themselves as points, instead of as part of a line. This is a little glimpse into how we should think about taking that ridge. The whole book is about piety, a word which comes from an old Roman word pietas, meaning “duty to the gods, to Rome, and to the family”. Piety, in a general sense, is a recognition that you are responsible for much more than yourself. You are responsible for the things that God has put in your life for you to steward, which includes your salvation, your house, your wife, your kids, your business, your dog, and anything else that you have some measure of influence over. On a deeper level, however, Christian piety is the means by which real reformation is actualized. Entire societies are shaped by how ordinary men steward what is theirs, and in the Christian worldview, much more is at stake than just our society. The great war that we were born into is a war against powers and principalities in the spiritual realm, and is thus a war which is fought in a plane which transcends and upholds every society. The whole show, the powers, principalities, governments, and households, is part of the cosmos. A pious Christian’s job is to reform the cosmos itself, the macrocosm, by ordaining reformation in his own life and household, the microcosm. Nothing about his daily activities is ordinary, and this means, necessarily, that everything that he does matters. He is not an individual, in the sense that individuals are singular points which have no context. Singular points are not connected to anything. They have no past, no future, no culture, and no accountability. “Just let me do me fam” isn’t something a pious man would ever say, because he has too much else to do to just be doing himself. His job is to hold the line, by recognizing that he is part of a line. There was history before him, comprised of fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, and theologians, and politicians, and mathematicians, and all the rest, and in the same manner there will be history after him composed of disciples, and children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, some of whom will be theologians, and politicians, and mathematicians, and various other things. The former things do not depend on him, but the latter things do; this is the essence of piety.
Real piety is spiritual war-making that looks a lot more ordinary than we would expect. We must not be zealous and impatient postmillennialists, seeking to immanentize the eschaton by inciting revolutions and usurping civil governments. Our nation has enough violent revolutionaries already, and we don’t need a counterrevolution inciting a civil war to drain the swamp and install a Christian theocracy. The shed blood of sinners does not reconcile anything, and only the shed blood of Christ can produce the kind of reform that all creation is groaning for. We should not seek to accomplish in one decade what Christ will accomplish in one hundred decades. The effects of bloody revolution are hard to calculate, and the costs are difficult to add up, but even the most optimistic estimations of the benefits of these short-term victories are insignificant when compared to the effects of faithful Christian living over one hundred decades, household after household, generation after generation. What we need in these uncertain times are men and women who are willing to be dutifully pious, with thick skin, tender hearts, flint foreheads, and enough faith to do what needs to be done today.