Drunk on Postmillennialism

Peter Leithart thinks Pentecost has lots of relevance for social order:

The Bible does not permit us to confine the work of the Spirit to the inner man or to private experience. Through Isaiah (44:3), the Lord promised to pour out water on the land of Israel and his Spirit upon Israel’s seed. When the Spirit is poured out like water, he turns desolate places to fruitfulness, transforms the dry land into a grove, transfigures the withered leaf into a green (Isa. 32:15; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:29; Zech. 12:10; Acts 2:17¯18, 33; 10:45). Restoration of nature symbolizes cultural flourishing. When the Spirit is poured out on Israel, the Lord promises, the nation will be renewed.

At the first Christian Pentecost, the apostles filled with the Spirit proclaimed the gospel in multiple languages, and by the end of the day a community of believers had been established, drawn from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). The miracle of languages that took place at Pentecost reversed the curse on languages at Babel; the divided nations are reunited by the Spirit. For the Bible, international peace is a Pentecostal reality.

That’s one way of reading the Bible. But what does Leithart do with these?

scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,a not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3)

Or?

For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

9“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24)

Or?

2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (I Thessalonians 5)

I get it if you want to avoid dispensational premillennialism’s bleak (never mind the flannel graphs) picture of human history, though I hear Leithart has a Lutheran past. But if you are going to try to turn Pentecost into a banner for socio-economic progress and world peace, don’t you need to keep an eye on other parts of the biblical narrative? How about postmillennialism meets nuclear winter? After millennia of human flourishing, suffering takes over the world and runs things until Jesus returns.

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Could You Write this after 9-11?

David Koyzis tries to turn B. B. Warfield into a Kuyperian and quotes this:

For there shall be a new heaven, we are told, and a new earth. Under these new heavens, in this new earth, shall gather redeemed humanity, in the perfection of its idea, and in perfect harmony with its perfected environment. In the perfection of physical vigour: for what is sown in corruption shall have been raised in incorruption, what is sown in dishonour shall have been raised in glory, what is sown in weakness shall have been raised in power, what is sown in selfishness shall have been raised in spirituality. In the perfection of social organization and intercourse: for there shall be none to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain, and all the people of the Lord shall have learned righteousness. In the perfection of spiritual communion with God: for then it is that the Lord shall make Himself known to His people and shall dwell with them, and they shall need no Temple to which men should require to repair in order to meet the Lord, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple thereof, and the grace of the Lord shall flow down the streets in a river of the water of Life washing into every nook and corner.

Such is the picture the Scriptures draw for us of the salvation of our God. And let us not fail to note that it is a picture of a saved world. As no sphere of human life is left untouched by it; as on its touch, every sphere of human life is transformed; so the completeness and the profundity of its renovation of man is matched by the wideness of its extension over man. It is the renewed heavens and the renewed earth that we are bidden to contemplate; and dwelling in them in endless bliss renewed humanity.

Hard not to think that with the British Empire chugging along, the Ottomans still in charge of an unruly part of the world, the Austro-Hungarians doing their part to keep order in the Balkans, and western dominance spreading around the globe, the world was getting better and that Christians (of a kind) had a large hand in that betterment. This quotation comes from a book published in 1913.

But when the world looks less stable and life less predictable, can any Reformed Protestant still be post-millennial? (And doesn’t Koyzis have a duty to protect Warfield’s good name?)

Why Neo-Calvinism Sounds Novel

I understand Dr. K. is trying to give 2k theology another try and for this Matthew Tuininga deserves much of the credit. I would have thought this an instance of “if you’re not Dutch you’re not much.” But since VanDrunen is a Dutch name — at least — and since Dr. K. has not begun to take back his 13-part take down of Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, factors other than ethnicity are at play.

But before anti-2k aggreessors lie down with 2k innocents, we need to keep our wits and check the fine print. In a recent post Dr. K., again in a mood of generosity toward Tuininga’s 2k, wondered if 2kers and neo-Calvinists might have more in common than he thought. The occasion for the piece was the recent decision of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Colorado Springs not to serve communion to Vice President Biden because of the latter’s support for abortion rights. This controversy led to considerations about when Roman Catholic politicians violate church teaching and are guilty of sin, as well as whether Roman Catholic church members are also guilty of sin for voting for candidates that don’t follow church teaching. Since Tuininga applauded Rome’s consistent opposition to an “evil so grave,” Dr. K. thought he saw an opening for further 2k and neo-Calvinist agreement.

This encouragement should be applauded because eliminating this evil is also required by “the principle of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised.” We would be troubled if our applause for the church-as-institute were permitted by our NL2K friends to be one-sided—applauding the church’s opposition toward intolerable evil, but not the church’s promotion of the good over against that evil.

Dr. K.’s point about the church as institute supporting opposition to evil seems to break down in Tuininga’s case since he is hardly the church as institute — he was merely one Christian opining about the Roman Catholic Church.

My concern is not with the Kuyperian distinction between church as institute or as organism but with the Calvinistic notion of evil. Dr. K. used the phrase “eliminating evil” or “eliminate evil” at least three times in his piece.

Eliminate? Really?

Can any good Calvinist, who takes Total Depravity seriously, ever entertain the idea that evil will be eradicated this side of the new heavens and new earth? Is not the notion of eradicating evil utopian and radical, sort of like the breathless idealism of Charles Finney’s perfectionism? For instance, in strictly legal terms, we have laws against murder. Have those laws stopped murder? So does Dr. K. actually believe that the criminalization of abortion will actually eliminate this evil?

But outside the ephemeral and fleeting world of law and the courts, does Dr. K. actually think that people who don’t murder are not guilty of murder? Has he not heard what Christ said about hate being an instance of murder? The reason evil cannot be eliminated this side of glory is that wickedness pervades the human heart — even the hearts of the regenerate.

And if Dr. K. followed the teachings of historic Calvinism (not to mention if he were a political conservative) he would never use the words “eliminate” and “evil” together. Of course, his word choice could be simply a slip of the word processor. But my suspicion is that Dr. K.’s mistake is actually an expression of the postmillennial tranformationalism that generally follows from taking “every square” inch captive. And this difference — whether the kingdom comes here and now in affairs outside the church or whether the renewal of all things awaits the return of Christ — is what keeps 2k lambs on the watch for anti-2k lions.