By Rhett Burns
This year has been a doozy. Australia caught fire for weeks. United States forces killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, stoking tensions with the Islamic regime. A global pandemic hit, causing both a health and economic crisis as the world shut down for several months. Experts and politicians paused that pandemic to allow for anarchists and others to burn and loot American cities, ostensibly in response to corrupt police killings. Locusts are swarming the Middle East, and Japanese murder hornets made it to American soil for the first time (I don’t feel like the murder hornets got enough attention, to be honest). In South Carolina, we had a year’s worth of tornados in five weeks this spring, while other locales have trembled with earthquakes. Joe Biden is giving presidential campaign speeches with a mask dangling from his ear. Jupiter is flinging asteroids at Earth. And, oh yeah, the Super Bowl halftime show was soft-core porn, but that was okay because it celebrated Latin-American culture, or something like that.
We’re only half-way through 2020, by the way.
In light of all these events a running joke has been to ask, “So, is anybody still postmil?”
At the risk of being the guy who answers a joke with an essay, that’s just what I will do. But that’s because not everyone is joking, and many Christians wonder how this year’s crazy events fit into eschatology. Allow me to treat the question seriously, fully aware that most of those asking it on Twitter were just having a little theological fun.
So, is anyone still postmil? Yes. But why?
An Upward Trajectory
First, I dispute the premise that a run of bad events negates the postmillennial hope of the world being discipled and brought into submission to Christ. It is possible to have a series of rises and falls, progression and regression, all on an upward trajectory. Picture a linear graph. Postmillennialism does not see a straight line extending from the midpoint upward and outward, undeterred and uninterrupted forever and ever amen. Rather, history trends upward and outward more like an EKG reading. Up and down, but trending up. This is like what we already see and expect in personal sanctification. It’s not that the Christian submitted to Christ ceases to sin, but that he sins less and experiences steady growth in godliness and maturity. Up and down, but always up. Postmillennialists expect to see this same pattern on the global scale over millennia.
Is the world getting worse?
Second, I dispute the facts that the world is somehow getting worse. Sure, this year feels like the national equivalent to Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But if we turned off Fox News, logged off Twitter, and zoomed out a few hundred years, we would see that the world situation is actually getting better. We are currently living with some of the lowest levels of extreme poverty, disease, infant mortality, illiteracy, starvation, and large-scale wars in history (see here, here, and here). Positively, we are sending people to space on reusable rockets, holding the computing power of a 1970s-era room-sized computer in our pockets, and choosing from dozens of flavors of ice cream at the grocery store. Life ain’t all bad.
Even the two major crises of the year—COVID-19 and race relations—are not historically bad. Past pandemics have hit population centers much worse, executing a much higher death toll. Our health care infrastructure is the best it’s ever been, and thanks to advanced digital technology many have been able to work remotely in order to maintain social distancing and help mitigate the spread of the virus. These advances do not benefit every equally for sure, but in many respects we are in a much better position to withstand a pandemic than our forefathers.
On the question of race, can we at least acknowledge that we have made significant progress over the last 150 years? Race-based chattel slavery was abolished and Jim Crow laws were struck down. These are blights in our national story that we still feel the effects of today, but the situation for minorities in America is arguably as good as it’s ever been (unless you’re an unborn black baby in New York City). Not that we have arrived in some utopia devoid of racial pride, malice, or partiality. Rather, while some real racial problems exist (e.g. use of nonlethal force by police or the phenomenon of getting pulled over for Driving While Black), other media-driven race narratives are false (e.g. black people are not actually being hunted down and killed by the police). These false narratives shape the national imagination, giving the impression that we are living in worse times than we are. As hate-crime hoaxes or the NASCAR noose story illustrate, the demand for racism often exceeds its supply. This is something we should give thanks for, not work against.
I need to qualify the last two paragraphs. I am not saying that America has eradicated racism or that COVID was a big fat nothingburger. Rather, I assert that in historical context we are in a better place regarding pandemic preparedness and American race relations than previous generations. Of course, creation still groans out, eager to be set free from corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Roman 8). Humans are still depraved and will be until Christ returns. Evangelical postmillennialists do not claim otherwise.
For the Bible Told Me So
Third, I dispute the method of crafting eschatological positions out of current events. I am postmillennial because I believe it best represents the Bible’s teaching on the potency and effect of the Gospel in history. I believe Habakkuk when he says that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). I believe Paul when he says that Christ will put all his enemies under his feet, the last enemy being death, and then the end will come (1 Cor 15:24-26). This is the triumph of the Gospel, and nothing I hear on CNN will dissuade me.
And if Jesus will put every enemy under his feet, this must include white supremacists, BLM rioters, tyrannical state governments, and any other rival who would raise his hand against the Lord’s Anointed. This is the postmillennial hope—that Jesus will triumph in history, not by coming to rescue us out of this mess, but by discipling the raging nations until they obey everything he has commanded.
Christ and Him Crucified
The nations will be discipled by the preaching of Christ and him crucified. The success of the Gospel is not primarily seen in the better world conditions noted above, but in vast swaths of people knowing and worshiping God through Jesus Christ. How are we doing there? Well, there are more people currently following Jesus on the planet than at any other point in history. The Gospel is speeding forth and triumphing to the four corners of the globe as missionaries proclaim Christ among unreached peoples and places. Jesus is calling his sheep home and making his enemies his footstool. It is slow, but it is sure.
So, yes, we’re still postmil.
Rhett Burns (@rhett_burns) is an associate pastor and small business owner living in Greenville, SC with his wife and four kids.