Monday, April 16, 2007

DO POSTMILLENNIALISM AND THEONOMY LOGICALLY REQUIRE EACH OTHER?

I have heard it asserted by some friends of mine (some theonomic and some not) that postmillennialism and theonomy require each other. Some have even told me that I am inconsistent in affirming postmillennialism, while yet denying theonomy. One of my theonomic friends, however, I believe correctly pointed out that they do NOT logically require each other.

I thought that a good way to settle this notion was to demonstrate in Greg Bahnsen's reasoning that they indeed do NOT require each other. As many of you readers know, Greg Bahnsen was both theonomic and postmillennial, yet the following article will give some logical demonstration as to why the two positions do not logically require one another.

In other words, indeed it is NOT inconsistent to hold to postmillennialism, but to reject theonomy. Let us listen to Greg Bahnsen himself on this matter.
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Dr.Bahnsen's reply in his 1978 reply to the Editor of the PresbyterianJournal: "Distinguishing What Will from What Ought to Happen" (section from his article entitled "God's Law and Gospel Prosperity: A Reply to the Editor of the Presbyterian Journal")

"The second mistake in the editor's description of theonomic ethicsand postmillennial eschatology is his assertion that the twoperspectives require each other. According to him theonomy andpostmillennialism go "hand in hand" (9-6, p. 3a) and are "indispensable to each other" (9-6, p. 14b). Of course, if both positions are scriptural, then they would naturally complement and strengthen each other as part of a unified system of truth (just as do, for instance, the doctrines of sin and redemption). However such a harmony between the two positions does not mean that people must choose them in tandem or reject them as a pair. Logically there is a distinction to be drawn between what will in fact happen and what ought to happen. Let me illustrate. Someone can readily believe that Congress will increase the Social Security Tax, and yet not at all believe that Congress ought to do so. On the other hand, someone could believe that the church ought to develop a deaconal system for relieving the poor, and still not believe that the church will actually do it. What will happen, and what should happen are (unhappily) very often quite contrary to each other. Accordingly the editor has committed a logical lapse in saying that postmillennialism and theonomic ethics are indispensable to each other.

"Postmillennialism says that the nations of the world will be converted and come to enact God's law in their societies, while theonomic ethics maintains (among other things) that nations ought to enact God's law in their societies. One can believe one totally without the other. Someone might believe that nations ought to enforce God's law, but never will do so. Someone else might believe that nations will enforce God's law, but ought not to do so.Therefore, the two positions of theonomic ethics and postmillennial eschatology are logically separate from each other. They are also psychologically separate from each other, for as a matter of fact some postmillennialists are not theonomic in their ethical outlook -–just as some theonomists are not postmillenial in their eschatological outlook. Many people come to these positions separately, as did myself, without the one suggesting or influencing the other. Again, I feel that there is a beautiful harmony between the two positions, for I believe that they are both the teaching of God's word. But logically and psychologically a person can surely hold to one without the other."

"Another passing indication that postmillennialism and theonomic ethics do not require each other is the existence of varying schools of postmillennial eschatology. Roughly speaking I can delineate at least four distinct options proposed through history which might be (with greater or lesser accuracy) designated "postmillennialism." (1) Some have held that the gospel will prosper throughout the world, bringing widespread revival so that the large majority of people are believers; such gospel prosperity, with Christian nurture over time, is bound to have public consequences (cf. "Ye are the salt of the earth . . .. Ye are the light of the world"). Thus revival will eventuate in Christ's commandments being obeyed in all walks of life. This is, I believe, the classic Reformed version of postmillennialism (as evidenced in my article in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No. 2). (2) Others have maintained that the coming of Christ's kingdom is to be identified with social progress, public reform, and better relations among all men; such goals will be accomplished through humanistic but peacefulmeans of persuasion and reform movements. Here we have the typical "social gospel" version of postmillennialism – a secularization and truncating of the Reformed perspective. (3) Still others have laid their stress on social reformation, but have advocated the means of violent revolt, overt warfare, and external imposition of new social conditions. This might be deemed a kind of Anabaptist version of postmillennialism, sometimes expressed in the Reformation period and condemned by many Calvinists as "seditious"or "stupid." (4) Finally we can mention the view that many people around the world will come to believe the gospel so that our churches will be overwhelmingly filled with Christians and the nations of the world will worship God aright; however (amazingly) this gospel prosperity will not have distinctive and positive consequences for social and political righteousness. It is hard to find a fair, descriptive label for this position since it seems to me to truncate the Reformed view, to represent a retreat from a scriptural world-and-life-view, and to be biblically implausible; thus to label it pietistic postmillennialism or "purely revivalistic" postmillennialism simply reflects an adverse personal evaluation -–and does despite to the full-orbed Reformed position by suggesting that it might be disinterested in piety or that genuine biblical revival could be restricted to internal matters of the heart and at best the church. So recognizing the inherent problem in choosing a fair designation, I will be content to call this fourth option 'ecclesiastical postmillennialism.'"

"Thus it is manifest that for the editor to make theonomic ethics and postmillennialism indispensable to each other is unfair to those versions of postmillenialism which -– in contrast to the Puritans, who were vitally interested in missions and the social use of God's law -–are indifferent to the public consequences of Christian belief (ecclesiastical postmillennialism), are indifferent to the revivalistic foundation of social reform (the social gospel), or are interested in altering social conditions in an antinomian fashion (Anabaptist postmillennialism). Not all postmillennialists would want to be affiliated with the position of theonomic ethics. This is not the place to critique such versions of postmillennialism (which I find biblically and theologically weak or inconsistent), but simply to make the relevant observational point. Therefore, on logical, psychological, and dogmatical grounds we must separate our consideration of theonomic ethics from that of postmillennial eschatology."

1 comment:

Chang said...

This is great!