In 1999, my book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope was published. Over the last ten years or so, I’ve begun to wonder more and more whether the term “postmillennialism” is a useful theological category any longer. If I were ever to produce a second edition of that book, I’m not entirely sure, I would retain the main title. I might simply use the sub-title.
If you study the history of millennialism, one of the fascinating things you observe is that the millennium moves around a lot. What I mean is that for a long time, beginning around the time of the Reformation, there were those who located the thousand years of Revelation 20 in the past history of the church. They identified different starting and ending points, but it was entirely in the past.
Eventually, many commentators and theologians begin to suggest that the millennium is a wholly future time period. Among those who believed it was entirely future, debates ensued regarding whether it would begin catastrophically or gradually. Those who believed it would begin catastrophically held what would today be termed “premillennialism.” Those who believed it would begin gradually held to a view that developed into “postmillennialism.”
The most well-known twentieth century proponent of postmillennialism was Loraine Boettner. His book The Millennium was published in 1957. He also contributed the chapter on postmillennialism to a book edited by Robert Clouse, which had the distinction (until the cover was updated) of having some of the strangest cover art in the history of Christian publishing. Boettner taught that the millennium was still to come and that it would be introduced gradually. It was to be a “golden age” when the earth would be almost entirely Christianized. He did not insist that this “golden age” would be exactly one thousand years, but it was a period very distinct and different from the present time. At the end of the future millennium, Christ would return to judge mankind.
In the later twentieth century, some postmillennialists moved the millennium again. At this time, we begin to find some proponents of postmillennialism arguing that the millennium of Revelation 20 is a symbol of Christ’s kingdom, a kingdom He established at His first advent. In other words, the millennium is not wholly future. Its starting point is in our past, and its end point is in our future. It is the entire inter-advent period of time. With this development, postmillennialism begins to overlap with amillennialism regarding the time of the millennium. Differences between amillennialists and postmillennialists on the nature of the millennium remain, but even there, we see some movement toward more and more overlap. This is why I’m not entirely sure the term “postmillennialism” is a useful theological category any longer.
I was introduced to postmillennialism by some of these late twentieth-century postmillennialists. I never believed a “golden age” version of postmillennialism as found in authors such as Boettner. I have argued for decades that the millennium of Revelation 20 is symbolic of the period of time inaugurated by the Son of Man at His First Advent at the point when He came up to the Ancient of Days to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom - when He received all authority in heaven and on earth. It concludes at His Second Advent. My understanding of the time of the millennium overlaps, therefore, with the understanding of many amillennialists. Some differences remain regarding the nature of the millennium, but on this point I also differ with some of my contemporary postmillennialist friends. I’m not as certain as some of them are about what the gradual growth of the kingdom during the present age will look like “on the ground.” In other words, I've never been a theonomic postmillennialist.
I’m not terribly concerned about the labels anymore. The various views have morphed over the last five hundred years, and they continue to do so today. The encouraging thing is that there seems to be a developing consensus (among Reformed theologians at least) regarding the time of the millennium. If we can come to agreement on that question, we’ve made some progress. We can then devote more time to the careful work of exegesis needed to come to a clearer understanding of the nature of the millennium. Perhaps, we can come to a greater consensus there too. Of course, our premillennialist friends will argue that we wouldn’t have so many problems if we would simply move the millennium to the other side of Christ’s Second Coming.
Regardless of our specific interpretation of Revelation 20, however, we believe that Christ is coming again. Whatever our millennial view is, we all agree that Jesus is ultimately victorious over all of His enemies. All of us, therefore, can confess an eschatology of hope.