According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Kingdom of God as PreMillennial
Premillennialism revisited

by Roger Olson
posted May 9, 2011

This is an addendum to my recent post “The Kingdom of God as critical principle.” Some have asked me to elaborate on the millennial kingdom.

There is no single premillennial view of the details of the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. For the most recent discussion of historic premillennialism that compares and contrasts it with dispensational premillennialism see The Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology edited by Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (Baker Academic).

I grew up premillennial and dispensational. I still have my mother’s Bible which was on her bed when she died at age 32 when I was 2 years old. It is a leather bound Scofield Reference Bible. I sometimes joke that we (my family and church) tended to regard the study notes of that study Bible as equally inspired with the text.

Here are the words to a song we sang at church. I doubt most of you have ever heard it. I don’t think I’ve sung it since I was 10 or so. It’s called Our Lord’s Return to Earth:

I am watching for the coming of the glad millennial day,
When our blessèd Lord shall come and catch His waiting bride away.
Oh! my heart is filled with rapture as I labor, watch, and pray,
For our Lord is coming back to earth again.


Oh, our Lord is coming back to earth again.
Yes, our Lord is coming back to earth again.
Satan will be bound a thousand years; we’ll have no tempter then,
After Jesus shall come back to earth again.

Jesus’ coming back will be the answer to earth’s sorrowing cry,
For the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth and sea and sky.
God shall take away all sickness and the sufferer’s tears will dry,
When our Savior will come back to earth again.

Yes, the ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion then with joy,
And in all His holy mountain nothing hurts or shall destroy.
Perfect peace shall reign in every heart, and love without alloy,
After Jesus shall come back to earth again.

Then the sin and sorrow, pain and death of this dark world shall cease,
In a glorious reign with Jesus of a thousand years of peace.
All the earth is groaning, crying for that day of sweet release,
For our Jesus shall come back to earth again.

I long ago discarded the dispensationalism of my church and family, but I’ve never found good reason to discard the premillennialism (of the faith of my childhood and youth). It seems rooted in Scriptures such as Isaiah 11 and 65 and Revelation 20. Most of the so-called “minor prophets” also make some reference to an earthly millennium during which the messiah will rule and reign over “peaceable kingdom.”

Now, some have tried to argue that Isaiah 65 (for example) is about heaven, not about an earthly messianic kingdom at the end of history. However, that doesn’t work because verse 20 refers to people dying during this time.

Second century church father Irenaeus wrote much about this earthly millennium in Against Heresies, Book V, chapters XXVII-XXXVI. He steadfastly rejected any allegorical interpretation of Revelation 20 or the prophets’ descriptions of the kingdom of God on earth. He clearly distinguishes between the earthly kingdom of God AFTER Christ returns and the “supercelestial” kingdom of the new heaven and new earth after that. Irenaeus traces this teaching about an earthly kingdom of God with Jesus reigning as messiah on earth to John the Apostle through Papias and Polycarp whom he knew personally.

Now, the details of this millennial reign of Christ on earth are sketchy both in Scripture and in the church fathers. Some of the description may very well be figurative. But THAT there will be such an earthly millennium of peace and justice seems clear–both in Scripture and most of the church fathers before Augustine (with the exception of Origen). It was Augustine who overturned premillennialism and influenced the church to adopt what has come to be called amillennialism (no earthly, visible, political rule and reign of Christ except in the church).

Reinhold Niebuhr famously quipped that we should not want to know too much about the “furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.” I would say the same about our knowledge of the millennium. We have to be satisfied with what is given in Scripture and, perhaps, in the earliest church fathers such as Irenaeus. The rest is speculation.

It seems like reverent speculation, however, to suggest that the righteous and unrighteous will both be citizens of that kingdom of God on earth with the unrighteous serving Christ unwillingly.

For me, belief in the millennium serves two purposes. First, it tells me that God’s salvific concern is not just for souls but for society. Second, it gives me what I call the critical principle for deciding what I can be comfortable with now and what I cannot be comfortable with now–in terms of social conditions.

Some have argued in the past that premillennialism encourages quietism and otherworldliness among Christians. I disagree. If understood correctly, premillennialism does just the opposite. IF poverty, injustice, oppression, cruelty, etc., will not be part of Christ’s messianic reign on earth, then my task as a Christian, as a citizen first and foremost of that kingdom, is to do my best to abolish those things here and now in anticipation of that future. Also, if God plans to establish his kingdom on earth, then he cares about the whole world including nature. That gives us motive to be “keepers of the garden” until he comes.

Personally, I cannot see any reasons to discard historic premillennialism, rightly understood, except anti-supernaturalism or otherworldiness. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann has recognized this and the political advantages of premillennialism and adopted a version of it for his own eschatological theology. This is made clear especially in his book The Coming of God.

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