"He Shall Have Dominion" by Dr. Kenneth Gentry.
Download free eBook
The Cultural Implications of Eschatology
As will become evident in the following chapters, eschatology has a tremendous effect on the Christian’s worldview and, consequently, on his practical, daily living. In this book, I will especially highlight one particular eschatological theme that is quite dominant in the entire prophetic Scriptures and that is most influential in promoting a full-orbed Christian witness and Bible-based social activism: the gospel victory theme.
The omission of the gospel victory theme in much of modern eschatology should be lamented. Its replacement with a defeatist scheme for Christian enterprise has paralyzed the Christian cultural enterprise, emptied the Christian worldview of practical significance, and given Christians a sinful “comfort in lethargy,” because it tends “to justify social irresponsibility.” (52) It has left the earth (which is the Lord’s, Psa. 24:1 (53) to a conquered foe and the enemy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This paralysis is all the more lamentable because it has caused the forfeiture of great gains made by the tireless and costly labors of our Christian forefathers, particularly from the Reformation era through the early 1900s.
Three of the four major evangelical eschatological systems (54) may be categorized as “pessimistic,” whereas the view to be set forth in the present work may be seen as “optimistic.” In categorizing them as pessimistic, I am speaking of the following issues:
(1) As systems of gospel proclamation each teaches the gospel of Christ will not exercise any major influence in the world before Christ’s return;
(2) As systems of historical understanding each holds that the Bible teaches that there are prophetically determined, irresistible trends downward toward chaos in the outworking and development of history; and therefore
(3) As systems for the promotion of Christian discipleship, each dissuades the Church from anticipating and laboring for wide-scale success in influencing the world for Christ during this age.
The pessimism/optimism question has very much to do with the practical endeavors of Christians in the world today. (55) All evangelical Christians are optimistic in the ultimate sense that God will miraculously win the war against sin and Satan at the end of history by direct, supernatural intervention, either in an earthly millennial kingdom introduced by Jesus at the Second Coming (56) or at the final judgment, which introduces the New Heavens and New Earth. (57)
The Dispensationalist urges believers to accept the view that “the church age will end in apostasy, not revival” because it is so destined (although they rarely say predestined)
by God. (58) Furthermore, believers today are taught by this view that “this current world is headed toward judgment. After that judgment, Christ will take control of the world and rule it.
But until that happens, the message and activities for believers should be, ‘Flee the wrath to come by finding safety in Jesus Christ.’ (59)
“We are witnessing in this twentieth century the collapse of civilization. It is obvious that we are advancing toward the end of the age. . . .
I can see no bright prospects, through the efforts of man, for the earth and its inhabitants.” (60)
As this book was going to press, another sample of pessimism crossed my desk: “This present world is rapidly coming to an end. It is on an irreversible collision course with destiny.” (61)
This is the language of predestination.
Because of this, dispensationalists dogmatically teach their followers: “Christians have no immediate solution to the problems of our day.” (62)
In fact, they aver that “to attempt to establish a long term change of institutions before Christ returns will only result in the leaven of humanism permeating orthodox Christianity” (63)
and “that our main business should be to rescue people out of the mess and not try to improve it or preserve its good characteristics.” (64)
Dispensationalists are prone to lament: “Without the hope of our Lord’s return . . . what future do any of us have?” (65)
I am not taking these statements out of context. They are quite conventional. The language of social and political disengagement is basic to the dispensational outlook.
Hal Lindsey states the situation about as strongly as can be: “Christ died for us in order to rescue us from this present evil age.
These verses show what our focus, motivation, and hope should be in this present age. We are to live with the constant expectation of the any moment appearing of our LORD to this earth.” (67)
In fact, he writes, “the world will progressively harden its heart against the Gospel and plunge itself into destruction.” (68) His call to Christians is: “We should be living
like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.” (69) As R. A. Torrey put it: “The darker the night gets; the lighter my heart gets.” (70)
Christianity has no future in this view for “we are in the time of the end.” (7l)
Dispensationalists have no practical, long-range hope for the Christian in the here and now.
“It would appear the great Judge is poised on the threshold of a new age just ready to usher in the next major movement in His plan for the world(James 5:9). . . .
[E]very saint should be standing on tiptoe in anticipation.” (72) Charles C. Ryrie (73) denies any optimistic gospel victory, when he teaches that
“defection and apostasy, among other things, will characterize [the] entire period” of Church history. (74)
Dave Hunt (75) argues that “only a small percentage of mankind is willing . . . to come to Christ in repentance and be born again by the Spirit of God” and
that “the vast majority of people will continue to reject Christ in the future just as they have in the past.” (76)
The dispensationalist is alarmed at the thought of Christian cultural transformation. In his view, to attempt such “is to err so grievously as to lead one into a program that is
hopeless; it calls necessarily for the adopting of means that are unauthorized, and the setting of a goal that is unattainable as it is unscriptural. Herein lies the great mistake of
the ‘kingdom builders’ (their tribe decreases) who have as their goal a vision of Christianizing the world.”
Historic premillennialists would join in the denial of the gospel victory theme. J. Barton Payne believes that “evil is present in our world as predicted in the Holy Books”
(of the Bible). This evil must occur because it is a forecast of Christ’s imminent return. (78) Robert H. Mounce laments that “it is difficult to see from history alone any cause for optimism.”
He is certain that it will be a “persecuted church [that] will witness the victorious return of Christ” (79) rather than a world-conquering Church.
George Eldon Ladd concurs: “In spite of the fact that God had invaded history in Christ, and in spite of the fact that it was to be the mission of Jesus’ disciples to
evangelize the entire world (Matt. 24:14), the world would remain an evil place. False christs would arise who would lead many astray.
Wars, strife, and persecution would continue. Wickedness would abound so as to chill the love of many.” (80)
Among amillennialists we discover the same sort of despair. William Hendriksen comments that “the majority will ever be on the side of the evil one.” (81)
Cornelius Vanderwaal writes that “I do not believe in inevitable progress toward a much better world in this dispensation” and
God’s “church has no right to take an optimistic, triumphalistic attitude.” (82) H. de Jongste and J. M. van Krimpen are forthright in their declaration that
“there is no room for optimism: towards the end, in the camps of the satanic and the anti-Christ, culture will sicken, and the Church will yearn to be delivered from its distress.” (83)
Van Riessen writes that “Babylon will be the city of the end.” (84) Amillennialist Donald Guthrie, according to dispensationalist
John F. Walvoord, “readily agrees that the biblical point of view is pessimistic, that is, the world as it is now constituted will not be revived and improved, but instead,
will be destroyed and replaced.” (85) Hendrikus Berkhof notes the effect of such thinking on the average Christian: “The average Christian does not expect to see
any positive signs of Christ’s reign in the world. He believes that the world only becomes worse and races in the direction of the antichrist.” (86)
Dale H. Kuiper blasts postmillennialists because “they are fiercely opposed to speaking of a parallel development of good and evil, of God’s kingdom
and Satan’s kingdom, of the world becoming progressively worse and falling away, of the church’s tribulation increasing and the end of the world finding the church lonely and
sorely beset.” (87)
Hanko insists that “we must indeed expect an age when the powers of darkness shall rule in the earth.” Consequently “there is nothing optimistic here or
filled with hope for the future.” (88) An entire issue of The Standard Bearer of the amillennial Protestant Reformed Church is dogmatic in its despair. “The hope of the
Reformed Christian is not in any kingdom in this sorry world. Why, after all, would he want to place it there? For, what is the Taj Mahal, even . . . compared to the mansion
prepared for him in heaven. . . . Another decade has ended. We are a step closer [to the end]. We do well to meditate on that.” (89) “In all his or her ‘sorrows and
persecutions,’ the child of God living in January, A.D. 1990 longs for one thing, and one thing only: the coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead, by which he and all
Christ’s chosen ones shall be translated to Christ. . . . All other hopes are miserable delusions and pipe dreams.”(90)
The woe continues: The “world [is] filled with sin and getting worse, a hopeless situation beyond repair and impossible to salvage” is before us.
Thus, the postmillennial hope of the growth of the true Christian faith to dominance “holds before us an illusory hope. . . . It is a mirage, therefore, a false hope.. . .
It is a mirage because the kingdom which the Postmillennialist described is, in fact, the kingdom of Antichrist. . . .
The hope of the believer, and for this I am profoundly grateful, is not on any kingdom in this sorry world, but is fastened with eagerness, with longing and with great optimism,
on the everlasting kingdom of righteousness which shall be realized only in the new heavens and in the new earth where sin shall be no more.“ (91)
“Because of God’s curse,
man lies in the midst of death with no escape. Man goes in a circle, a vicious circle. He has made progress, but his progress consists only in that he runs his
miserable circle at a faster pace. The best of man’s earthly life is labor and sorrow (Psalm 90:10). Nothing is free from becoming dust.“ (92)
“Apostasy grows worse and worse as time goes on. We live in the last days and we know that our Lord prophesied that in our days there would be few in the world that believe.” (93)
Few things have been more destructive to the implementation of a well-rounded, biblically grounded Christian world view than an incorrect perspective on the end times.
A classic, though inadvertent, illustration of this is available in a 1977 interview with evangelist Billy Graham:
Q. If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?
A. "One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. . . . "
Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three year she would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up. (94)
A similar problem is admitted by Tim LaHaye. Many Christians are committed to the approaching end of the age, with all of its horror (according to their dispensational view):
"Most knowledgeable Christians are looking for the Second Coming of Christ and the tribulation period that He predicted would come before the end of the age. Because present world conditions are so similar to those the Bible prophesies for the last days. . . . they conclude that a takeover of our culture by the forces of evil is inevitable; so they do nothing to resist it."(95)
Such an outlook is not conducive to the promotion of a full orbed Christian worldview. A book review in Christianity Today further illustrates this mindset. There we read that “Myers calls us ‘not to change the world, but to understand it.’ “The review also notes that author Myers writes: “If we cannot expect our culture to be a holy enterprise, we can at least try to avoid participating in its profanities.”(96)
It is not unusual for the defenders and extenders of pessimistic eschatologies to speak of suffering and sorrow as the lot of Christians throughout the Christian history, with no hope of a let up. Writes amillennialist professor Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary “Over the interadvental period in its entirety, from beginning to end, a fundamental aspect of the church’s existence is (to be) ‘suffering with Christ’; nothing, the New Testament teaches, is more basic to its identity than that.”(97) “The normal situation for the community of Jesus is not to be influential and prosperous but poor and oppressed.“(98) “The church is called to suffer in this world.”(99) “Such tolerance as [Christians] receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than in the later, stage of history.”(100)
The study of eschatology is a worthy Christian endeavor. Its significance to the Christian worldview is evident in the large role it plays in Scripture, which holds priority in the developing of a truly Christian worldview. It is also crucial to the development of a distinctively Christian philosophy of history, which is fundamental to the Christian understanding of the here and now. In addition, eschatology significantly impacts the Christian’s cultural endeavors because it sets before the Christian the fore ordained pattern of the future. If that pattern is one of pessimism, it will tend to discourage and thwart the Christian social enterprise.” (101)
In this work, I will set forth a biblical eschatology that gives prominence to the gospel victory theme. The optimistic eschatological perspective from which I write is that of postmillennialism - a postmillennialism generated neither by a contemporary Reagan-era optimism nor by a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, but by a careful exegetical and theological study of the eschatological data of Scripture.
I believe, with Roderick Campbell, that “the church today needs this kind of vision – the vision of her reigning Lord with all the resources of heaven and earth under His command
for the help and protection of His church and the ingathering of His elect.”(102)
In the Forward to that book, O. T. Allis wrote:"[M]y own studies in this and related fields have convinced me that the most serious error in much of the current ‘prophetic’ teaching of today is the claim that the future of Christendom is to be read not in terms of Revival and
Victory, but of growing impotence and apostasy, and that the only hope of the world is that the Lord will by His visible coming and reign complete the task which He has so plainly
entrusted to the church. This claim. . . is pessimistic and defeatist. I hold it to be unscriptural. The language of the Great Commission is world-embracing; and it has back of it the authority
and power of One who said: “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The duty of the church is to address herself to the achieving of this task in anticipation of the Lord’s
coming, and not to expect Him to call her away to glory before her task is accomplished."(108)
52. Ted Peters, Mums: Human and Divine (Atlanta John Knox, 1978), pp. 29,28..
53. Exe. 9:29; 19:5; Lev. 25:23; Deut. 10:14; 1 Sam. 2:8; 1 Chron. 29:11, 14; 2Chron. 29:11, 14; Job 41:11; Psa. 24:1; 50:12; 89:11; Psa. 115:16; 1 Cor. 10:26, 28.
54. See Chapters 3 and 4 for a study of the four major evangelical eschatological systems.
55. Gary North has stated that Christians who are either premillennial or amillennial tend to become operational postmillennialists when they begin to get involved in social action projects, whether or not these are political activities. North, “Ghetto Eschatologies”, Biblical Economics Today 14:3 (April-May 1992) 3-4, 6. He points out that dispensational activists in the United States after 1975 ceased discussing in public the details of their eschatology (p. 3).
56. For example “The Bible expects the world to be conquered not by Christianity but only by the second coming of Christ.” John E Walvoord, “Review of House Divided: Bibliotheca Sacra (July/Sept. 1990) 372. “The premillennialist sees Christ intervening catastrophically in a moment of history, resulting in an establishment of his mediatorial rule.” H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice, Dominion Today: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), p. 140.
57. Hoekema has written: “Old Testament prophecies interpreted by postmillennialists as referring to a future millennia1 golden age picture the final state of the redeemed community… [in] a new heaven and a new earth.” Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapid Eerdmans, 1979), p. 177. Cf. Vos, Pauline Eschatology, p. 33.
58. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, pp. 390, 378.
59. Ibid., p. 356.
60. Lehman Strauss, “Our Only Hope,” Bibliotheca Sacra 120 (April June 1963)154.
61. Jack Van Impe, “There Is Hope!” (Troy, MI: Jack Van Impe Ministries International, December, 1991), p. 1.
62. John F. Walvoord, “Why Are the Nations in Turmoil?” Prophecy and the Seventies, Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 212. Walvoord continues: “A solution to this unrest and turmoil is provided in the Bible, and there is no other. That solution is that Jesus Christ Himself is coming back to bring peace and rest to the world.” Ibid., p. 210.
63. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, p. 340.
64. George H. Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1973), p. 278.
65. Salem Kirban, Your Last Goodbye (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1969), p. 252.
66. Lindsey is best known for his 35-million best-seller, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids Zondervan, 1970), the largest-selling book of the 1970s. Consequently his ideas exercise a great influence over untold numbers of Christians.
67. Hal Lindsey, The Road to Holocaust (New York Bantarn, 1989), p. 279.
68. Ibid., p. 36.
69. Lindsey, Late, Great, p. 145.
70. Cited from Dwight L. Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Tyler, TX Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 37. The implication of the theological necessity of cultural withdrawal cannot easily be evaded, and American dispensationalists until the mid-1970’s did not seek to evade it. From the mid-1970s on, this language of cultural retreat created a problem for dispensational activists. In 1982, Gary North warned that this would create a major crisis in dispensationalism: North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right,” Christianity and Civilization 1 (Spring 1982) 1-40.
71. Feinberg, Millennialism, p. 31.
72. Herman Hoyt, The End Times (Chicago Moody Press, 1969), p. 13.
73. Ryrie is perhaps the most influential dispensationalist theologian alive today. He is a former Dallas Theological Seminary professor, who has trained hundreds of evangelical pastors. His best-selling Ryrie Study Bible alone gives him an influence well beyond other dispensationalist theologians.
74. Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986), p. 461.
75. Hunt is a best-selling author whose books are found in virtually every Christian bookstore in America.
76. Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR, Harvest House, 1988), pp. 178, 274.
77. Charles E. Stevens, “The Church of Christ and the Kingdom of Christ in Contrast: Prophecy and the Seventies, p. 101.
78. J. Barton Payne, Biblical Prophecy for Today, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), p.10.
79. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Neto International Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 47; cf. p. 44.
80. George Eldon Ladd, The Last Things: An Eschatology for Laymen (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 58.
81. William Hendnksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids Baker, 1967), p. 228.
82. Cornelius Vanderwaal, Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy (St. Catherine’s, Ontario: Paideia, 1978), pp. 44,45.
83. H. de Jongste and J. M. van Knmpen, The Bible and the Life of the Christian (Philadelphia Presbyterian & Reformed, 1968), p. 27.
84. Hendrik van Riessen, The Society of the Future (Philadelphia Presbyterian & Reformed, 1957), p. 233. See a similar sentiment in Raymond O. Zorn, Church and Kingdom (Philadelphia Presbyterian & Reformed, 1962), pp. 182-184.
85. John F. Walvoord, “Review of Donald Guthrie, The Relevance of John’s Apocalypse”, Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (April/June 1990) 251.
86. Berkhof, Christ the Meaning of History, p. 174.
87. Dale H. Kuiper, “What Constitutes Victory? An Analysis of the Postmillennialism Espoused by Chalcedon, Especially in Rushdoony’s God’s Plan for Victory” (unpublished conference paper South Holland, IL: South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, 1978), pp. 51-52.
88. Herman Hanko, “An Exegetical Refutation of Postmillennialism” (unpublished conference paper South Holland, IL: South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, 1978), pp. 22, 23.
89. Don Doezema, “In This Issue. . .”, Standard Bearer 66:7 (Jan. 1, 1990) 146.
90. David J. Engelsma, “The Reformed Faith - Theology of Hope: ibid. 149. This dramatic overstatement reduces all Christian hope to one event: the Second Advent. It effectively undermines the missionary and evangelistic hope of bringing others to Christ - as well as other such hopes – in that “all other hopes are delusions.”
91. Herman Hanko, “The Illusory Hope of Postmillennialism: ibid., 159, 160.
92. Ronald Van Overloop, “The Hope of Every Believer Regarding His Future Earthly Life,” ibid. 162.
93. Arie den Hartog, “Hope and the Protestant Reformed Churches’ Mission Calling; ibid. 165.
94. “Taking the World’s Temperature” (interview), Christianity Today (Sept. 23, 1977) 19.
95. Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1980), p. 217.
96. Steve Rabey, “Review of Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture?” Christianity Today 34:12 (Sept. 10, 1990) 43.
97. Richard B. Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism”, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 210-211 (emphasis mine).
98. Van Riessen, Society of the Future, p. 234.
99. John R. Muether, “The Era of Common Grace: Living Between the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’“, RTS Ministry 9 (Summer 1990) 18. This magazine is published by Reformed Theological Seminary.
100. Cornelius Van Till, Common Grace and the Gospel (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1972), p. 85.
101. See: North, Is the World Running Down? and James B. Jordan, ed., Christianity and Civilization 1 (Spring 1982): “The Failure of American Baptist Culture.”
102. Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant, p. 79.
103. Allis, “Foreword” in ibid., p. ix.