Editor's note: This interview with Dr. Kenneth Gentry is part of a two-part series looking at the dominant end-time views on the last millenium
To Evangelicals, ''the millennium'' refers to the thousand-year period of Christ's rule as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. While most Evangelicals agree the millenium will certainly come, they differ in their understanding of Christ's return.
Premillenialists believe Christ will come before the millenium while post-millenialists believe He will come after the 1,000-years.
The following is the interview with Dr. Kenneth Gentry, a prominent postmillennialist, on the issue of millennium and the postmillennialist view of the end-times.
What are the evangelical positions on the return of Christ and the millennium?
Premillennialism is a very basic view, which teaches that Christ is now in heaven and he will return before he establishes the millennium. During that time, he will see his Kingdom on the earth for a thousand year period.
Among the variations of premillenialism scheme is dispensational premillennialism, which teaches not only that Christ will return before the millennium, but they go a several steps further and believe that Christ will return to rebuild a temple, to reinstate a sacrificial system of worship. They believe that the millennium period will be a time of Jewish domination in the world where Israel will be exalted above all nations and Gentile nations who live in the millennium period will be subjects of the Jews.
Amillennialists believe the millennium spoken of by John the Apostle in the Book of Revelation is simply a symbolic figure. They believe that Christ came in the first century to establish the Kingdom of God, to promote and preach the Gospel in the world, and redeem the sinners from their sin and therefore, Kingdom is a spiritual reality, rather than a political reality.
Postmillennialists believe that the Kingdom of Christ was established in the first century and hes ruling over his church and the world until he comes again to end the history. They believe Gospel is the power of God and salvation and God has designed it so that it will go out into the world and effectively draw men and nations to Christ to such a degree that before Christ returns we will experience in earth and in history a time of a great revival.
It will be a great time of domination of Christianity, not in an oppressive sense, but in a gracious sense that the world, education, politics, news media, and everything else will be working and operating on the basis of Christian principle. So the postmillennialist is considered to be an optimist. He views history as ultimately issuing forth in a time of great Gospel prosperity and blessing.
Amillenialism and Postmillennialism seem quite similar. What is the major difference between them?
They are closely related, just like premillennialism and dispensationalism are. However, theyre not identical. The primary, fundamental difference lies in this fact: Postmillennialism says there comes a time in earth history before Jesus returns where Christianity will dominate in the affairs of the world. Gospel will have won the majority of mankind to salvation and there will be a time of prosperity and righteousness in the earth.
Amillennialists, however, believe Jesus is going to take a remnant, a small church, out of the world, which means there will never come a time in history when Christianity will be a dominating righteous influence among all the nations. Amillennialism is historically pessimistic in expecting victory in history wheras postmillennialism is optimistic. But in most of the aspects, we agree as to when the kingdom was established and the nature of it as redemptive rather than a political reality
When did these views arise in history?
The premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism all gradually arose in history, developing over time. In the early church, eschatology or the view of prophesies tends to be more general and less detailed. In fact, if youre familiar with the Apostles Creed, it simply says hes coming again and doesnt tell us much about it. So that generally was the earliest churchs description of eschatology.
However, we find in the early church the basic concept of postmillennialism, which is the victory of Gospel in the history. We found the basic concept in the church father Athanasius, who lived in A.D. 350 and Augustine, who lived in A.D. 400. Im not saying they were full blown postmillennialists for postmillennialist is a modern term, but that characteristic and fundamental issue involved in postmillennialism is the victory of Gospel in history and we find that theme in both of them and in other early church fathers.
Postmillennialism began to really flower in the medieval Reformation period. It actually arose to a place of near predominance in the 1600s through the 1800s and the Puritans and reformed theology was very strong.
Dispensationalism arose in the year 1830, formulated by John Nelson Derby. Its probably the latest blooming of the four evangelical views. The earliest one was premillennialism, which is found already in the second century, gradually developed maybe about 100 years before postmillennialism itself had developed.
What Bible passages lead you to adopt a postmillennial perspective?
In Mark 1:15 he goes out preaching and says the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom is at hand, so repent and believe the Gospel. In Matthew 12:28, he says if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, kingdom of God has come upon you. Then in Matthew 13, he begins to define the kingdom so the people would know what hes speaking about. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is a very small seed, but it grows up to be a great plant or he says it is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. At the end of his ministry, he gives the Great Commission after hes resurrected from the dead.
How does postmillennialism differ from social gospel?
Social gospel arose in the 1800s, mimicking Christianity. Its a form of liberal Christianity where its theologians preached a social gospel wherein they took principles of Christianity about Jesus concern for the poor and the Old Testament laws of reaching out to help the poor. The liberals said thats really all we need of Christianity and they preached social gospel. Were not going to worry about whether Ch is God whether he died for our sins. What were interested in is the mission of Christ. They view that CH came to help the downtrodden.
Social gospel picked up the optimism of postmillennial viewpoint and used that to energize its own movement. The advocates of social gospel and liberal Christians in general do not believe in Christs return. You cant really have a liberal postmillennialism because liberalism does not allow for Christ to return. Social gospel mimics Christianity and picks up some of the postmillennial principles, but divorces those principles from the overarching context of beliefs in full inspiration of scriptures, the deity of Christ.
Any additional comments?
Postmillennialism is probably the easiest to misunderstand. Some people think with postmillennialism, you believe everyday the world is getting better and better and they look around and it doesnt seem that way. But, remember, the postmillennial view is for the long term. We believe that before Jesus returns in the future, it will have gotten better. We dont necessarily say that everything is as it should be right now.
Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry is a pastor, educator, author, publisher, and conference speaker. He graduated from Tennessee Temple College and obtained M.Div., Th.M., and Th.D. from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).
An ordained minister in Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), he is currently serving the Fairview Presbyterian church (PCA) in Fountain Inn, SC. A frequent contributor to Tabletalk and The Chalcedon Report, he has published numerous periodicals and books over the years. He is a research professor of theology at Christ College, Lynchburg, VA., where he also serves as a chancellor.