Millennial Views-Part 11
|By: Dr. Renald Showers; ©2003|
|Dr. Showers explores the rise and fall of the postmillennial view of prophecy.|
The Popularity And Decline of Postmillennialism
From the time of its early development in the seventeenth century until the twentieth century, Postmillennialism increased in popularity until it became “one of the most important and influential millennial theories. It was probably the dominant Protestant eschatology of the nineteenth century and was embraced by Unitarian, Arminian, and Calvinist alike.” It seemed to fit the optimistic spirit of the times. The rise of new democracies, the greater abundance of material goods and rising standard of living made possible by the industrial revolution in the west, the major discoveries in the fields of medicine, transportation, and communication, the rise of many new colleges and universities, and the relative peace maintained by Great Britain around the world for almost one hundred years during the nineteenth century all made it appear that man was, indeed, on the verge of entering an unprecedented golden age of history. On the surface it appeared that Postmillennialism was the correct view of eschatology.
The optimism of Postmillennialism was dealt a severe blow, however, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Never before had the world witnessed a war of such magnitude involving so many nations. Science, which was supposed to help man usher in the age of peace and righteousness, now provided him with tools with which to destroy great masses of humanity and thereby demonstrate his depraved nature more vividly than in the past. As a result, some theologians, such as Karl Barth, began to reject the liberal concept of the inherent goodness of mankind which they had been taught by liberal theologians. Barth began to declare that mankind is sinful by nature and that the liberal view does not fit reality.
Postmillennialism recovered somewhat from the blow of World War I by asserting that this conflict would teach mankind an unforgettable lesson concerning the futility of war. Many pastors urged the men of their congregations to fight in this war that would end all wars and thereby play a role in permanently saving Christian civilizations from destruction. In line with this thinking, President Woodrow Wilson worked to enter the United States into this conflict in order “to make the world ‘safe for democracy.’”
After the end of World War I, President Wilson tried to make the postmillennial dream of permanent peace a reality by laboring hard to establish the League of Nations. The purpose of the League was to provide the nations of the world with the means of settling differences peaceably without going to war with each other. This was to be accomplished by the representatives of the nations discussing and settling differences in the League meetings.
In spite of what appeared to be a decent recovery by Postmillennialism from the blow of World War I, further events of the twentieth century proved to be very unkind to that optimistic millennial view. The League of Nations failed to accomplish its purpose and collapsed after a few years. Much of the world suffered a difficult economic depression during the 1930s. Nazi power tried to annihilate an entire nation of people through the practice of genocide. World War II, which proved to be even more horrible and of greater magnitude than World War I, began in the late 1930s. Mankind was catapulted into the atomic age with the development of weapons which had the potential of blowing mankind and all of civilization into oblivion. The outlook on life expressed through western music, art, literature, philosophy, and some theology became increasingly pessimistic in the years after World War I.
For many people the optimistic view of the future, which characterized much of the western world through World War I, did not fit the harsh realities of the world. As a result, most people rejected Postmillennialism, and it almost died. In the years immediately following the end of World War II, almost no people, including students of the Bible, advocated that view of the Millennium. During that time one of the few proponents of the conservative postmillennial view was Loraine Boettner (his postmillennial book, The Millennium, was published in 1958).
- John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company, 1959), p. 18.
- Ernest R. Sandeen, “Millennialism,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1974), pp. 12, 203.
- John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 30.