By Shane Kastler
Not many theological issues are more divisive than eschatology (the study of end times) and not many aspects of eschatology are more divisive than the nature and extent of the “Millennial kingdom”-- that thousand year reign of Christ spoke of in Revelation 20:3.
In Victory In Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism, the late Greg Bahnsen makes a defense of the eschatalogical system of Postmillennialism. He lays out the basic tenets of the three major millennialism positions: Premillennialism, the belief that Christ returns before the Millennium then sets up an earthly reign. This view is by far the most popular (and in my opinion least biblically defensible), Amillennialism (the belief that the Millennial kingdom is symbolic of the extended period between the first and second comings of Christ); and Postmillennialism which is similar to Amillennialism in terms of the timing of the Millennium (between the first and second advent) and to Premillennialism in a belief of gospel dominance in this present world.
This book gives a good basic overview of the various positions and a good layout of the Postmillennial case from Scripture. And while Postmillennialism is much more plausible than Premillennialism; some of the texts Bahnsen uses seem to be a bit forced at best.
For example, when Jesus speaks of the wheat and the tares growing together; then the tares being separated at the end. (Matt. 13) Banhsen points out that it is a wheat field, not a tare field, which is to say that there will be more actual wheat (believers) in the world than tares (unbelievers). Aside from the fact that Bahnsen might be pushing an analogy way too far; Jesus' main point was that in the end God knows those who are genuinely his and will save and judge in proper fashion.
Another sketchy proof text that Bahnsen uses is the great commission's charge to “make disciples of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19) Of course this passage is also translated “go into all the nations and make disciples” which would have a much different potential application. Is Jesus saying that all the nations will be effectively “Christianized” in this present world? Or is he saying that ultimately God has elect that he will save from “every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) The latter seems to be a more natural reading of the texts at hand. Especially when you factor in verses such as Matthew 7:14 where Jesus said, “Narrow is the road that leads to life and few there be that find it. But broad is the road that leads to destruction and many find it.” The idea of God saving SOME from every nation fits in well; but the idea of the majority of this world becoming Christians would seem to be hard to reconcile with Christ's words.
Bahnsen devotes a large chapter to the Postmillennial views of various leaders in church history; primarily from the Reformation on. This particular section is interesting and helpful in giving a background but does little to convince a person of Postmillennial validity. After all, most people would say that just because John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards believed it doesn't make it true. While these are eminent theologians, the case must be made from a Scriptural perspective for it to hold water.
The final section of the book deals with the work of Satan on the earth. What is he doing and how successful will his diabolical goals be in light of Scriptural teaching and God's sovereignty. Bahnsen implies that anything other than Postmillennialism gives Satan more power than he deserves and implies more success for Satan than is warranted. But this simply isn't the case; given the fact that both Premillennialism and Amillennialism have many adherents who hold to the sovereignty of God over all things. Satan will be allowed a certain amount of success in this sin cursed world where he is referred to in Scripture as the “god of this world” and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2). This doesn't mean he is more powerful than God; nor more successful than God. It does mean God has given him a certain amount of influence; and at many times and in many places; a lot of influence.
Bahnsen does an excellent job of decimating Premillennialism throughout the book by pointing out, for example, that death is defeated at the return of Christ in 1 Cor. 15, so death cannot come back as people live and die during the Millennium. Furthermore, a division of the rapture and the 2nd coming is near impossible to defend Scripturally unless massive surmises are made by the interpreter.
He also attempts to critique Amillennialism as being too focused on the eternal state rather than seeing gospel success in the hear and now. But again, Bahnsen's arguments rise or fall based on an interpretation that is questionable. When Isaiah wrote of a future time when the earth would be “full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”; does that mean worldwide acceptance of Christianity? Or does it mean representatives from all nations? When Jesus said, ““This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) He didn't say the majority of the hearers would believe; but that every nation would hear; and based on Revelation 5:9 some from every nation would be saved.
The defense Bahnsen gives for seeing the Millennial kingdom as existing between the first and second advents of Christ was admirable and I found myself agreeing with much of it. But to expect a “golden age” of Christianity in this present world was something I found hard to accept exegetically and practically. When I would read such statements by Bahsen I seemed to repeatedly hear the words of Jesus “my kingdom is not of this world” popping into my head.
In conclusion; I would recommend this book as a good overview of Postmillennialism; though I suspect there are better overviews out there. It should be noted that Bahnsen did not set out to write this book but rather this book is a compilation of sermons he preached on the subject. Sometimes this can be seen in a choppy sentence structure that is rarely seen in Bahsen's other written works. His writing, typically being, very coherent and lucid. I would have also liked to see a full orbed defense of the date Revelation was written since a Pre-70 A.D. date is utterly vital to most forms of Premillennial eschatology. But all in all, it was a good book that gives ample information on a topic that most people find confusing. I did not come away convinced of the Postmillennial position. But I did know more of what they believe and what Scriptures they use to defend it. The book definitely gives you food for intellectual thought as you try to sort out the things that “are to come.”