Millennial Views-Part 10

By: Dr. Renald Showers; ©2003
Dr. Showers deals with liberal Postmillennialism in this issue, explaining how it differs from conservative postmillennialism and how liberal postmillennialists distort or reinterpret several key doctrines.

Contents

The previous article noted that two major kinds of Postmillennialism developed. It described the first kind, conservative Postmillennialism, that began in the seventeenth century.

The second kind of Postmillennialism that developed could be called liberal Postmillennialism. It was very prevalent during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In common with conservative Postmillennialism, it shared great optimism concerning the upward progress of history. It too was convinced that a future golden age (the Kingdom of God) would be established on earth.[1]

In spite of this common bond, liberal Postmillennialism differed radically from conservative Postmillennialism in several areas. It rejected the idea of the sinfulness of mankind and as­serted that mankind is inherently good (not perfect, but good). It was convinced that mankind is perfectible and that human perfection will be attained through proper education, the improve­ment of mankind’s environment, and the natural process of evolution. Liberal Postmillennialism had total confidence in the ability of mankind and science to correct all problems through the course of time.

This form of Postmillennialism rejected the deity of Jesus Christ. It declared that He was the greatest human being who ever lived, perhaps even the first perfect man, but certainly not God incarnated in human flesh. According to liberalism, Jesus was the example which all humans should follow in their move toward perfection.

Liberal Postmillennialism rejected the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Based on its assumption that mankind is not sinful by nature, it concluded that mankind does not need a substitute to pay its penalty for sin. According to this view, instead of Jesus being a Savior from sin, He was the greatest teacher and example of ethics who ever lived.

Because liberalism rejected the substitutionary atonement of Christ, it also rejected the gos­pel of personal redemption from sin. In place of this gospel, which is revealed in the Bible, it substituted another message which it called the social gospel.[2] According to this message, personal redemption from sin has nothing to do with the establishment of the Millennium. The social gospel declared that the total mission of the Church is the redemption of society from all of its social evils (such as war, poverty, racism, injustice, disease, inequality, etc.). The Church is to do this by bringing society into conformity with the ethical teachings of Christ by teaching the universal Fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of mankind and by cooperating with science and the governmental, educational, charitable, labor, and other institutions of mankind.

Contrary to conservative Postmillennialism, which taught that society will be transformed primarily through the efforts of the Church spreading the gospel of personal redemption from sin in the power of the Holy Spirit, liberal Postmillennialism asserted that the Kingdom of God will be established on earth through the Church and other human institutions using totally natural, humanly devised means.[3]

Prominent advocates of the liberal postmillennial view in America were Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), a German Baptist minister who served as Professor of New Testament and Professor of Church History at Rochester Theological Seminary and wrote such books as Christianizing the Social Order and The Theology for the Social Gospel, and Shirley Jackson Case (1872-1947), an American Baptist theologian who held the positions of Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Professor of History of Early Christianity, and Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and authored such books as The Millennial Hope and The Christian Philosophy of History.[4]

The gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1886 was, in essence, an expression of liberal Postmillennialism. The men of the Third Republic of France who conceived, designed, built, and presented the statue were liberal in their political outlook. They were convinced of several things: that the monarchies of Europe had oppressed their peoples for many centuries, that the American and French Revolutions were indicators that this oppressive yoke was about to be thrown off by the peoples of many nations, that personal liberty through governments of democracy was the wave of the future, and that America in particular was leading the rest of the world toward the future golden age of liberty through democracy. The fact that they were con­vinced that personal liberty was the wave of the future is indicated by the full title which they assigned to the statue: Liberty Enlightening The World. The fact that they determined to give the statue to the United States is evidence that they considered America to be the leader of the rest of the world toward the age of liberty through democracy.[5]

The next article will examine the popularity and decline of Postmillennialism.

NOTES

  1. John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, 1959), p. 23.
  2. Ernest R. Sandeen, “Millennialism,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1974), pp. 12, 203.
  3. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 23.
  4. Ibid., p. 24; Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through The Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), p. 463; Elgin Moyer and Earle E. Cairns, Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982), p. 79.
  5. “Our Fair Lady: The Statue of Liberty,” Reader’s Digest, July, 1986, pp. 53, 193-194, 197, 203.

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