Postmillennialism and Theonomy
If you are looking to understand postmillennialism, the Dictionary of Christianity in America offers a typical definition: postmillennialism is “the belief that the return of Christ will take place after the millennium, which may be a literal period of peace and prosperity or else a symbolic representation of the final triumph of the gospel.” This definition is accurate, as far as it goes, but an optimistic amillennial (like myself) could generally affirm everything contained in this definition. I also essentially agree with everything contained in the definition Keith Mathison provides in his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope?
According to postmillennialism, in the present age, the Holy Spirit will draw unprecedented multitudes to Christ through the faithful preaching of the gospel. Among the multitudes who will be converted are the ethnic Israelites who have thus far rejected the Messiah. At the end of the present age, Christ will return, there will be a general resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final judgment will take place.
Nor do I balk at the six ways Mathison defines Postmillennialism elsewhere in the same book. Let me form his points into questions.
- “The kingdom of Christ has been inaugurated”? Check. Christ is reigning on high, and all things in creation have been put under his feet (Eph. 1:22–23).
- “The kingdom is redemptive”? Check. Christ the Lord actively saves and judges the world today (Acts 10:42–43).
- “The growth of the kingdom is progressive”? Check. The kingdom of God is currently leavening the world (Matt. 13:31–33), even as the weeds and the wheat are growing up together (Matt. 13:36–43).
- “The kingdom grows supernaturally”? Check. Christ’s kingdom comes through his Spirit and Word (Acts 1:6–8).
- “This growth will lead to worldwide conversion”? Check. In the end, the number of the redeemed will be a vast multitude, greater (I believe) than the damned (see Revelation 7).
- “The kingdom will be perfectly consummated only at the second coming”? Check. What amillennial doesn’t believe that?
Long story short, I write this appraisal of postmillennialism as someone who deeply appreciates the postmillennialists I’ve read, watched, and listened to. This list includes theologians like R.C. Sproul, historians like Iain Murray, apologists like Greg Bahnsen, biblical scholars like Peter Leithart, and pastors like Douglas Wilson. I have benefited from each of these men, and so I begin with three appreciations that help introduce the appeal of postmillennialism. After that, I will turn to seven reservations that make me ultimately reject postmillennialism.
My appreciation for postmillennialism goes back twenty years to when I read Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope. In that Banner of Truth paperback, Murray outlines how postmillennialism fueled missions among the Puritans. Yet, it wasn’t only missions the Puritans pursued; they also established their homes, lives, and politics around a biblical form of Christendom. In my reading of Murray, I was not convinced exegetically, but I was rebuked by the Puritan commitment to the gospel and its power. Truly, those who believe Jesus is Lord should live with absolute assurance that everything has been placed under his feet.
Twenty years later, amid great cultural strife, it is no surprise that postmillennialism has gained a new hearing. Postmillennialists live with a deep sense of optimism in the power of God through the gospel. By contrast, premillennials, who expect the Lord’s return to follow the world’s ruin, are generally more pessimistic. Meanwhile, amillennials live somewhere in between. In general terms, this is a fair assessment of the attitudes that various eschatological views produce, and it leads to the first of my three appreciations.
First, the message of postmillennialism is bold.
Somewhere between the grip of government lockdowns and the virtue of vaccine mandates, many American Christians began to look for a way to respond to a government that looked more like 1984 rather than 1789, the year America ratified the Constitution. For instance, James White embraced postmillennialism during COVID, when in response to the “secular technocratic totalitarianism,” he read Joe Boot’s book, The Mission of God and was captivated by its message. Around the same time, I saw many other Christians beginning to consider postmillennialism, many lamenting the silence of evangelical leaders on matters related to church and state.
By contrast, postmillennialists were outspoken against government-imposed regulations. For example, Wilson spoke with a boldness that was equally repellant and attractive. Now, independent of your assessment of Wilson, it is beyond dispute that his ministry attracted a wide following. And critically, his bravado arises from a deep-seated conviction in postmillennialism. After all, in his view, Christ is currently putting enemy nations under his feet, so Christians should seek to spread his rule into all the earth.
Indeed, when the world was shaking, and evangelicals were social distancing, Wilson led his church to sing Psalms in public, some getting arrested in the process. Likewise, he continued to publish, podcast, and push against government overreach in ways that stem from his theological conviction that Christ is Lord. Question his tact, reject his language, lament his controversial takes, but you cannot deny his willingness to step into the fray. Admittedly, this type of pugilism may foster unhealthy tendencies in some young pastors, but his boldness is related to why others have adopted his theology and eschatology.
Second, the source of postmillennialism is biblical.
While some might think of postmillennialism as a utopian dream or a tenet of the Social Gospel, there is another form of postmillennialism that seeks to deal honestly with the Bible. The soundness of this dealing is another question, but when we read the Puritans—ancient or modern—we find that postmillennialism is derived from a serious reading of the Bible. Even more, it considers and depends heavily on the history of the first century. That is to say, postmillennialism requires, among other things, a (partial) preterist reading of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) and the book of Revelation.
Such a reading of the Bible does not deny Scripture’s authority, as the postmillennialism of Walter Rauschenbusch did. Instead, it necessitates digging deeper into the text. In fact, postmillennialism boasts a strong bench of biblical scholars. This list includes all those above and many others today making biblical arguments for postmillennialism. Ultimately, one may reject postmillennialism, but it must be based on biblical interpretation, not a priori assumptions.
Third, the vision of postmillennialism is big.
In an age when the influence of Christianity is shrinking, postmillennialism has a big vision of the world and everything in it. Indeed, whereas rapture-ready eschatologies are left looking to leave earth, and other Pre- and Amillennialists adopt various positions between heaven and earth, postmillennialists uniformly see Christ’s Lordship as a command to establish God’s kingship on earth. To be sure, all Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9–10), but postmillennialists see it as their responsibility to extend Christ’s rule by means of discipling the nations (Matt. 28:19).
Exegetically, postmillennials apply Psalm 2, Psalm 72, Psalm 110, and Daniel 7:13–14 to Christ’s rule on earth today. As counterintuitive as it may sound, postmillennialism has appealed to many today because the world appears to be getting worse. Yet, behind the rise of this darkness is the sure promise that Christ will soon stamp out his enemies (Ps. 110:1).
Indeed, if Psalm 110 was fulfilled in Christ’s ascension, which I have argued elsewhere, then it follows that Christ is today saving his elect (vv. 2–3) and defeating his enemies (vv. 5–7). As Lord over all, Jesus is even now putting enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25) until the last day when he will put death to death (v. 26). That will happen at the second coming. Therefore, postmillennialists have a big vision of the church’s mission from the presupposition of Christ’s Lordship. This big vision of the church’s mission extends beyond merely making disciples; it includes seeing those disciples bring transformational change to all the nations of the earth.
One may protest at this point, saying that Dispensationalists like Jerry Falwell, Sr., of Moral Majority fame, or historic premillennial, Francis Schaeffer, author of A Christian Manifesto, did just as much to engage culture as any postmillennialist. That’s a fair point, but one that invites further investigation. For, behind Falwell and Schaeffer, as well as the Religious Right, and the more recent homeschooling movement, stands the same postmillennialist: Rousas J. Rushdoony.
In his book, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, Michael McVicar shows how Rushdoony influenced a generation of conservative thinkers and Moral Majority leaders. He was personally involved with Falwell’s turn towards the public, and his theology underwrote much of Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto. While Rushdoony’s acerbic character pushed Rushdoony outside the public eye, his postmillennial ideas influenced a generation of non-postmillennials.
Add to this, Rushdoony’s impact on theonomists like Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and Douglas Wilson, and the way his dominionist theology shaped the New Apostolic Reformation, and you begin to see how wide-ranging postmillennialism is. Today, some of the most ardent advocates for retaking America for Christ are premillennial in eschatology but postmillennial in political engagement. Through cross-pollination, the impact of postmillennialism is not contained to Moscow, Idaho; it has also landed in places like Lynchburg, Virginia and countless home school curricula.
So, postmillennialism is big in the sense that it has had a larger impact than most people recognize. But my appreciation for its “bigness” is not its effectiveness to impact the masses. Such an appreciation for all things “huge” would be American, not Christian. No, my appreciation for postmillennialism is in the way it takes seriously the call to let Scripture inform every area of life—from the hearth of the cottage to the halls of congress. This does not deny a wide vision for cultural engagement from other eschatologies, but this is still different from postmillennialism, which engages culture as its raison d’êtrè.
All this being the case, if cultural engagement is a strength, it can also be a weakness. Whenever a theology or church over-promises (think: the prosperity gospel), it will of necessity under-deliver. And when it under-delivers, and the nations are still not Christian, it can erode faith. As Proverbs 13:12 states, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” And thus, if a theology of hope (as in postmillennialism) makes claims that go beyond the promises of Scripture, then it not only misses the mark biblically, but it also threatens the soul, practically. To this point, I now offer seven reservations.
SEVEN CRITICAL RESERVATIONS
I have benefited immensely from postmillennials, and I think others may as well. But this is much like how I have been helped by Presbyterians—namely, at a distance and without becoming one of them. I enjoy the big, bold, biblical vision of postmillennialism, but covenantally and confessionally, I am a Baptist. And this means postmillennialism, especially of a theonomic variety, does not square with my Baptist ecclesiology or my progressive covenantal understanding of the Bible. So, for that reason, let me offer seven critiques of postmillennialism that call us back to Scripture.
First, postmillennials treat the Mosaic Covenant as a universal principle for all nations instead of a forward-looking promise that brings us to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1 Timothy 1:8–11, Paul says that Moses’s Law must be read lawfully. Among other things, this means we must see how the gospel preached beforehand (Gal. 3:8) brings us to Jesus Christ. For as Paul puts it elsewhere, all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” in him (2 Cor. 1:20). In this way, we should recognize how the Law of Moses—i.e., the Law-Covenant—was given to the people of Israel and applied to them at a particular time and place. As Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 10:1 indicate, the Law-Covenant presented God’s truth in type and shadow, not in ageless principles. Yet, postmillennialism treats every part of the Law-Covenant (e.g., the Sabbath, penal codes, blessings and curses pertaining to the land, etc.) as a timeless revelation that is equally applicable to every other nation.
Indeed, the Word of God has application to all people at all times (see Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16–17), but it must be understood on its own terms and through the development of covenant history. In my estimation, progressive covenantalism best explains the framework of redemptive history. And this framework means that God’s plan of redemption does not come through a singular covenant of grace with multiple administrations, as is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Instead, the new covenant, as explicated in Jeremiah 31:31–34 and especially Isaiah 53–55, is the covenant whereby the nations will come into the kingdom of God—hence, kingdom through covenant.
Space does not permit a full explanation of the biblical covenants. Still, it is critical to note that postmillennialism works with a view of the covenants, especially the Davidic covenant, that sees Christ’s reign as granting the church a regal authority on par with, if not over, the nations. I believe this approach fails to read the Old Testament’s typological structures through the new covenant’s sum and substance. A postmillennial reading of the covenants rightly assigns Christ absolute dominion over the nations but wrongly grants that same authority to the church. I will get to this below, but for now, I am observing that the way postmillennialism applies the Mosaic and Davidic covenants is mistaken.
Second, postmillennials read the Messianic Psalms without the aid of the New Testament.
By this, I mean they take passages like Psalm 2, 72, and 110 and apply them to Christ without relying on the apostles to explain how they should be applied. Instead of recognizing how the new covenant fulfills Old Testament prophecy, they draw a direct connection between David’s son reigning over nations and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Of course, this is true—Jesus is David’s greater son (2 Sam. 7:14; Matt. 22:41–46), he does possess the keys to David’s kingdom (Isa. 22:22–25; Rev. 3:7; cf. Matt. 16:18), he does sit on Mount Zion (Ps. 2:6; Heb. 12:22–24), and all things have been put under his feet (Ps. 110:1; Eph. 1:22–23). But the New Testament also explains how these things have happened.
Ironically, there is a parallel hermeneutic between premillennialism and postmillennialism. In the former, Christ will return to reign on the earth over a literal kingdom. In the latter, Christ is already reigning over a literal, earthly kingdom; only this kingdom is brought about by the gospel and the church’s mission.
In my estimation, postmillennialism is better than premillennialism, because Christ is at this very moment ruling over all things, just as Paul declares in Ephesians 1:22–23. But what is missed in postmillennialism is the way that Paul and other apostles explain how Christ is bringing every nation into submission (see the rest of Ephesians). The church’s mission is not to make nations Christian. Instead, its mission is to make one new nation—namely, one royal assembly created by the Spirit, gathered from all the nations of the earth. More on that below.
For now, I want to point out that postmillennialism, like premillennialism, suffers from a reading of the Old Testament that does not let the New Testament sufficiently explain how Christ fulfills the messianic Psalms and other prophecies. Accordingly, they treat God’s mission in national terms. This is another piece of evidence that affirms my first reservation and applies equally here—postmillennials misapply the Old Testament.
They argue by simple analogy: As God dealt with Israel as a nation, so now he deals with all nations in the same way. This logic opens the door to theonomy, general equity or otherwise, and a view of the world where God deals with nations as nations. Yet, the question becomes: Is this how the New Testament understands God’s work in the world? I think not.
Third, postmillennials understand the Great Commission in terms of nations, more than churches.
If we boil this debate down to one verse and one question, it might be Matthew 28:19 and the meaning of the church’s mission. Is the mission of the church to “disciples the nations” or to “makes disciples of the nations.” Do you see the difference?
The former rendering of Matthew 28:19 renders a more literal translation of the imperative (mathēteuō), indicating that the disciples of Christ are to take aim at the nations and disciple them. That is, the church is to instruct the kings of the earth to “kiss the Son” and pay homage to the Lord of lords (Ps. 2:10–12). In this approach, the church’s mission does not terminate on individuals but on nations that come to obey the Son (Rom. 1:7). This is not to impugn postmillennialists as denying individual regeneration. But there remains a difference in how they understand the relationship between church and state. Generally speaking, they long to see nations brought to Christ, even if not every member of the nation is converted.
By contrast, the translation, “make disciples of all nations,” is less literal—the word “make” (poieō) is not a word found in the verse—but as I will argue, this rendering is more theologically sensitive. That is to say, the command to make disciples is not only a royal function of Matthew 28:18, fulfilling the words of Daniel 7:13–14, but it is also a priestly function of Matthew 28:18–20. In other words, the call to “make disciples” should be seen in the context of worship (Matt. 28:16–17) and God building a new temple.
How do we see this? It begins by comparing Matthew 28:18–20 to 2 Chronicles 36:23. Notice the parallels outlined in the figure below. In both passages, royal authority is granted to a king by the God of Israel (bold). Likewise, a command to build a temple is given (italics). And then, a promise of help is also offered (underline).
|2 Chronicles 36:22–23||Matthew 28:18–20|
|23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’”
|18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Put together, in 2 Chronicles 36, authority is given to a king, Cyrus, who will build a temple, where the presence of the Lord will continue. By comparison, Matthew 28 ends with a greater king, Jesus Christ, who is given authority to build a temple of all nations. Yes, the word temple is not present in Matthew 28, but when read in the context of Matthew, we have the promise that God is going to build his ekklēsia, which cannot be destroyed by death (Matt. 16:18). Moreover, that church will have the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19–20), which is good for exercising discipline within the church (Matt. 18:15–20). Importantly, the church is not given the keys of the kingdom to discipline the nations as nations. Instead, it is given the keys to exercise discipline within the church itself.
From this reading of the Great Commission, I am persuaded that the command to “make disciples” is not simply a commission to instruct or “disciple” the nations and their rulers. It is, instead, a call to see a new nation formulated by means of a living temple being constructed by the death and resurrection of Christ. To build on my first reservation, the kingdom that Jesus has received is not built by discipling fallen nations to obey Christ outwardly, hoping that some within those kingdoms will obey him from the heart. Rather, the primary ministry of the new covenant is priestly, as it aims to see the heart purified (Jer. 31:31–34) and the conscience cleansed (Heb. 9:14). Through regeneration, not Christianization, God is creating a new kingdom, a new temple, and a new covenant people. In Matthew 28:16–20, all these elements must be read together. And when they are, they lead to a Baptist ecclesiology, which is largely at odds with postmillennialism.
Fourth, postmillennialism is a generally paedobaptistic doctrine.
It would take too long to address the doctrine of baptism comprehensively, but it must be noted that postmillennialism best fits with paedobaptism, not credobaptism. If the church’s goal is to win nations for Christ, then those nations become the patrons and protectors of the church. This is what the Westminster Confession Faith (23.3) declares. It is also what a postmillennial view of Matthew 28:19 requires—nations discipled by the church of Christ, who in turn lead their peoples to be baptized in the name of Christ.
Again, this is where credobaptists should step off. Baptists believe that the new covenant is distinct from the old and that the sign of the new covenant (water baptism) is reserved for those who are born again. Accordingly, a local church (as an embassy of God’s one, holy nation) has the right to baptize believers. Nations, Christian or otherwise, do not. Equally, Baptists oppose state churches, which would be tasked with Christianizing the world. While Baptists should engage the public square and pursue political interests, this should be done in a way that maintains regenerate church membership.
Notably, the postmillennialism of the Puritans arose in countries with state churches. Yes, postmillennialism crossed the Atlantic and funded missionary efforts in other places. For example, Andrew Fuller, influenced profoundly by Jonathan Edwards, was a Baptist and postmillennial. Still, postmillennialism’s natural residence is found in non-Baptistic settings. In fact, Stephen Wolfe makes this very point. He writes, “Paedobaptism is consistent with Christian nationalism because it makes possible a society that is baptized in infancy and thus is subject to Christian demands for all of life.”
He’s exactly right. And he draws the correct conclusion from this observation too. “It is difficult to see how cultural Christianity, as I’ve described it, could operate effectively with that theology.” Today, a growing number of Baptists hold postmillennialism, but at root there is a conflict in passages like Matthew 28:19 and the church’s mission.
Baptist ecclesiology is a view of God’s church that draws people out of the world and establishes a nation that stands against the nations in which they live. This does not deny a role for Baptists in politics or culture-making. However, it does mean that the fundamental division in the world is marked by regeneration, believer’s baptism, and the formation of a new, holy nation.
Fifth, the church is God’s holy nation, which results in regenerate membership, not national Christendom.
Continuing this line of thought, postmillennialism downplays the New Testament defining God’s holy nation as his spiritual house, holy priesthood, and a people created by his Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 2:4–5, 9–10). Indeed, in the New Testament, especially Acts, God does not have chosen tribes, consecrated peoples, or discipled nations. Instead, the New Testament treats Israel as a historical arrangement preparing the way for the church, which is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:28), but a “third race” of men (1 Cor. 10:32), a new nation in Christ (see, e.g., Gal. 6:15–16). Indeed, the New Testament is not silent about who God’s nation is—it is the church of Jesus Christ, comprised of Jews and Gentiles born again from every nation under heaven (cf. Psalm 87).
When postmillennialism locates the work of God in transforming nations, it fails to see how Israel is a type of God’s people, not a mere example. Yes, Christians have a role in bringing salt and light to their nations (Matt. 5:14–16). Regrettably, many Christians have forsaken this calling. Yet, in response to such apathy, many Baptists are now following postmillennial non-Baptists into battle. Without a clear commitment to Baptist ecclesiology (read: biblical ecclesiology), so-called magisterial Baptists are picking up habits of cultural engagement that focus on instructing the nations with God’s law. Yet, without recognizing the way Baptist and Paedobaptist ecclesiologies will result in different political theologies, many postmillennial Baptists are conjoining arguments and approaches from both theological systems. This too needs further assessment.
To speak more succinctly, there is a way God relates to the nations as nations, but this is mediated and explicated through the Noahic covenant. The Old Testament demonstrates multiple ways God judges nations for things revealed more clearly to Israel (see, e.g., Isaiah 13–23; Jeremiah 46–51; Ezekiel 25–32). Yet, this judgment of the nations is based upon the stipulations of the Noahic Covenant (which was universal to all the nations), not on the Law given to Israel (cf. Rom. 2:14–15). Yes, there is a symmetry between God’s judgment on the nations based on the Noahic Covenant and his law given to Moses—after all God is the author of both. But while there is symmetry, there is also a difference.
The Noahic covenant only offered a measure of common grace and preservation; it could not redeem anyone. In a non-saving way, it made a nation or a king “righteous,” as in the case of Abimelech (Genesis 20). And this may also apply to nations today. But as the storyline of Scripture unfolds, redemption comes to the nations through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this gospel is aimed at individuals, who by their regeneration are joined to the one, true, and living God and his one, true, and living nation (the church).
Certainly, when a cluster of individuals are born again, families (Acts 16), churches (Acts 11–15), markets (Acts 19), and nation-states (Acts 20–28) will be changed. But the measure of that change is unknown and not guaranteed. Could such salvation lead to a worldwide golden age? One could hope so. But God has not promised to renovate a fallen world; he has promised “regeneration” for the entire cosmos (Matt. 19:28). Because all nations are under the Lord’s feet, he will gather his sheep from them, and he will build his church. But the church is a “nation” that is guaranteed success, not the renovation of individual nations.
Indeed, across the ages, nations will rise and fall, the weeds will grow with the wheat, and the church of Jesus Christ will be established in the midst of it all. In some places, like America, the church will tremendously influence governors and governments—all three branches no less. In other places, it will not. And while postmillennialism targets nations and their rulers as the object of Christ’s reign, it must restrict the passages about suffering for Christ and worldly hostility to the inter-advental period between Christ’s ascension and his judgment on Jerusalem (A.D. 70). This reading of events in Jerusalem has some textual support, but its approach to suffering in the world is one of postmillennialism’s greatest weaknesses.
Sixth, postmillennialism understands conversion in terms of nations rather than individuals.
Returning to the Great Commission, we find another weakness in postmillennialism, and this weakness relates to the way evangelism and conversion is often understood in national terms. That is to say, when Jesus says to “make disciples of all nations,” postmillennialists are happy to see this in terms of some type of Christendom—a cultural Christianity that sees nations Christianized, even if every citizen is not born again. While I am comfortable with seeing the effects of Christianity impacting culture, I am adamantly convinced that cultural Christianity is a providential byproduct of conversion, not a goal that churches should seek directly.
Here is what I mean: when Jesus speaks in Matthew 28:19, he could be using that word “nation” in one of two ways. He could be using it as a collective singular, such that he’s really referring to the members of all nations. Matthew does this, for instance, when he writes, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him” (3:5). Matthew doesn’t mean the entire city of Jerusalem, or everyone in the region of Judea, was going out to be baptized by John. Rather, a large number of people from the city and the state were seeking baptism. Conversely, Jesus could be treating the word more as a proper singular, as when one says, “Germany declared war on America.” Many postmillennials seem to treat “nation” in the latter way, declaring that the whole country can or should seek baptism. Historically, the church has baptized nations, and in turn, nations have identified themselves with the church, even putting kings over the church (see the King of England), but we must ask: Is this what Jesus means? I think not.
There are three challenges with the postmillennial interpretation of Matthew 28:19, and they all lead to a misunderstanding of conversion. First, the gender of the Greek words change from the neuter “nation” (ethnē) to the masculine “them” (autous). This suggests the “them” is personal, as in, members of the nations. This part-of-the-whole rendering interpretation fits with Revelation 5:9, which refers to a final heavenly people “from” all nations. Moreover, it fits with the way disciples are made in the book of Acts. Individuals, not city-states, are converted—even as city-states are impacted by the gospel.
Second, the postmillennial interpretation gives every nation of this world an eternal status, as if to say “Germany” is a baptized disciple and is eternal; “Kenya” is a baptized disciple and is eternal; and so forth. On balance, C. S. Lewis is closer to the truth when he observes, “It [the collective] is mortal; we shall live forever. There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life, is extinct, and every one of us is still alive.” Postmillennialism, however, sacralizes the temporary nations of this world—in large part because many postmillennialists see nations as intrinsic to creation and not a result of the fall. Space does not permit that discussion here, but suffice it to say, I am less optimistic that nations should derive their origin story from creation. I would place that story in Genesis 3–11, not Genesis 1–2. If God is making one new man (Eph. 2:15), one household of faith (1 Tim. 3:15), one chosen race, and one holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9–10), then it follows that from all the nations (Rev. 5:9) God is creating one eternal people. The new creation restores to nature what was lost by the fall—namely, the unity of humanity.
Third, if the postmillennial reading of “nations” is correct, we would expect to see such “disciples”—i.e., whole nations—showing up in the rest of the New Testament and asking to be baptized. Instead, the book of Acts shows us people from the nations showing up to be baptized. Even more, the book of Acts, that goes to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8), consistently shows this pattern: (1) Spirit-filled churches send out preachers (cf. Rom. 10:13–17), (2) the gospel is preached, (3) individuals are converted, (4) those individuals are baptized, and (5) those baptized individuals form local churches, who in turn (6) send out preachers—repeating the process. Along the way, the gospel turns the world upside down (Acts 17:6); households (Acts 16), academic centers (Acts 17), economies (Acts 19), courtrooms (Acts 21–26), and sinking ships (Acts 27) are just some of the places where Christianity changes culture, but that does not change the fact that individuals are converted, baptized, and added to the church. Brick by brick, the temple of God is being built, as every living stone is quarried from the rubble of fallen humanity. In this way, conversion is unmistakably individualistic, even as every new creation is joined to the people of God.
Finally, postmillennialism elevates the royal metaphor of the church over the motherly metaphor for the church, so that the church is insufficiently maternal and overly political.
Of all the points, this one might be the most important and also the most difficult to see, as it trades on a thick reading of Psalm 45 as a type of the church. Yet, for those who read this royal psalm with the others, the biblical canon presents a vision of the church as the bride of Christ, who is called to raise the sons of God. Let me explain, as this final point helps us see how postmillennialism negatively impacts day-to-day life in the church.
In postmillennialism, the royal psalms play a key part. As noted above, Psalms 2, 72, 110 are applied to Christ and his rule over all the nations. By extension these same passages are applied to the church, because in Christ what is true of our Lord is true of us. Yet, such spiritual application is too imprecise, since it fails to distinguish between Christ and his bride. As the readers of this journal will happily attest, the roles of husband and wife are not the same. And this fact should be accounted for when applying the Psalms to Christ and the church. In fact, it is striking that, while these royal psalms are applied to the church (cp. Ps. 2:9 and Rev. 2:26–27), few permit Psalm 45 to establish a difference between Christ’s rule over the nations and the church’s rule over the nations. And this is what we must consider:
When we read Psalm 45, which portrays the marriage of the king to his bride, we discover that it clearly speaks of the coming king (Ps. 45:1–9), but it also identifies his bride (vv. 10–17), who in time will be identified as the church (see Eph. 5:32). On this basis, I am presenting Psalm 45 as a corrective to the postmillennialist, who conflates the roles of Christ and his bride because he does not give enough attention to the marital metaphor between Christ and the church, as he postulates the mission of the church in the world.
Whereas the bride of Christ may be one with Christ by way of spiritual union, she does not possess the same vocation to subdue nations. We should employ royal imagery for Christ’s church (see e.g., Psalms 2, 72, 110), but we still must not conflate the roles of bridegroom and bride. Nor should we conflate the mission of the church acting collectively with the mission of the church when considered from the viewpoint of the job its individual members and what Christ calls them to do when scattered. Instead, we should let Psalm 45 inform the church’s collective or corporate role:
10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, 11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. 12 The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. 13 All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. 14 In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. 15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. 16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. 17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.
In these verses, we can discern at least three truths for Christ’s bride, which inform the mission of the church (collectively) today. First, the bride of Psalm 45 forgets and forsakes her people and her father’s house (v. 10). Like Ruth, she identifies herself with the king of Israel and his people. No longer does she serve her own nation; instead, she comes and bows before her Lord and pledges her allegiance to him and him alone.
Second, the bride enters the presence of her lover in worship. Instead of being oriented towards the fields (like the King), the bride is oriented towards her husband. In festal garments and accompanied by her bridesmaids, she enters the presence of her king. The church does this every time she gathers to worship (Heb. 12:22–24).
Third, the bride receives the children born in her midst and these offspring will be the ones who will impact the nation.
Put together, the picture of the King’s bride is that of a beautiful helper, and not proxy warrior. As befitting Adam and Eve in the Garden, the church’s collective vocation is different from Christ’s. Whereas Christ has regal and military authority to subdue and rule all nations, the church has the primary calling to be fruitful and multiply, a task that complements Christ’s dominion over the earth, but a mission that is distinct nonetheless. Put differently, while the church is given a rod of iron to rule the nations (Rev. 2:26–27), this ruling authority cannot be understand without translating military might into evangelistic zeal (see Eph. 6:17)—evangelistic zeal which results in children (Ps. 110:2–3), not just corpses (Ps. 110:5–7).
Changing keys in the New Testament, we discover that every child of God must be born again individually, but born in Christ. Accordingly, as Psalm 45:16–17 indicates, the bride’s orientation is towards Zion where her Lord is enthroned; her occupation is not towards the nation of her fathers. This means the bride of Christ is to raise his children, so that they would grow up to be princes in all the earth. Significantly, the individual children, not the gathered church, are then the royal heirs and the ones who will impact the nations. This is a subtle but significant distinction.
Whereas postmillennialists would have the church collectively disciple the nations collectively, Psalm 45 suggests a church distinct from the nation, raising up children who will in turn go out on behalf of God their Father. In short, the role of the church as mother (collectively) is to raise the children of God. As every member of the church is then a royal heir, the church has the responsibility to teach newborn Christians, whether young or old, how to walk as heirs of the kingdom. Thus, the gathered church must disciple kings, judges, and other rulers of this earth. But she must also disciple peasants, poets, and police officers. Collectively, the church is the royal embassy of Christ, but because she is the bride of Christ, not Christ himself, she is not called to go forth into the world conquering. That role is left to the bridegroom. Instead, in keeping with her feminine identity, the bride is to care for, nourish, and instruct the children given to her.
In this way, the church does possess a royal function, but critically Christ’s royal authority leads the bride to teach her children, not coerce her enemies. In other words, the church is a mother nursing her children on the milk of God’s Word, so that these children can go into the world, walking in truth and ruling in the power of the Spirit. While the church is not commissioned to disciple the kings of the earth, she is called to disciple the children of God, some of which will be earthly rulers. Others will be artists, authors, advocates, and architects, to take only a sampling. In each case, the church is responsible for discipling these children of God, so that when they paint, write, adjudicate, or build, they are doing so in ways that reflect the wisdom and righteousness of God.
This is how the church influences the world.
It is less a matter of cooperate coercion, and more a matter of strategic dispersion, that disciples of Christ bring the wisdom and grace of God into all creation. Truly, this conception of the gathered church as Christ’s bride and the scattered church as Christ’s army needs further development, but I close my time with Psalm 45 to say that for all the ways postmillennialism calls the church to Christianize the nations, it missteps unless it considers the nurturing character of the church.
Now, in a day when the church has been feminized, this is a dangerous proposition, and one that is liable to misunderstanding. In our egalitarian age, the church is not suffering so much from want of feminine traits, but masculine. Still, if we are going to rightly divide the word of truth, we need to see how the metaphors of the church work together. And I can think of no better way to put the masculine military images of God’s children together with the feminine motherly images of Christ’s bride, than to look to 2 John 1. In that passage, John identifies the church as the “elect lady,” and the children of God as “her children.” He rejoices in the church gathered and scattered, and our political theology needs to include both aspects.
Today, as many pastors have neglected to train their church members in public theology, postmillennialists offer a masculine vision for advancing the kingdom of God. But this is where they go too far. Instead of appreciating the typology of Mother Zion as applied to the church, they have militarized the church as an instrument of warfare. Again, this metaphor has biblical foundations, and it is a helpful corrective to any church that refuses to equip and send out disciples into the public square. Still, Scripture presents the gathered body as a nurturing community where the Word of God is read, preached, taught, sung, and applied to all areas of life. Accordingly, when the church fulfills its calling to make disciples, it will teach its members everything Christ has commanded. And this includes sending those disciples into the world to wage war against the darkness.
Practically then, the church must maintain its status as bride and mother, even as it remains a military outpost that sends its children to do battle in various places and positions in the world. Postmillennialism, because it does not attend sufficiently to Psalm 45, makes national transformation the one-step plan for evangelistic dominion. But this is the problem. The mission requires two steps.
The first step is preaching the gospel and making disciples who will be nurtured and instructed in the church. This is the mission of the church. Then, and only then, the second step is sending individual disciples out to do good works and declare the good news. The second step is what changes counties, states, and nations. And it is a necessary extension of Christianity, one that is often neglected by those who ignore discipling church members with principles for public theology.
Still, even if churches—postmillennial or otherwise—instructs disciples to bring light into the darkness, this does not guarantee success. Instead, the elect lady and her children will be met with success and opposition. Christ has promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18) and he has promised to return to save her (Heb. 9:28). But he has also promised opposition (John 15:18-25) and many tribulations (Acts 14:22). In the midst of success and suffering, therefore, the church must be a nurturing mother who makes and matures disciples. At the same time, until Christ, the King, comes and establishes his kingdom on the earth, individual Christians must go into the world preaching the good news and doing good works.
In that two-step plan, we can have great optimism, that Christ will be with us until the end of the age, and he will come again to make all things new. Still, until he returns to judge the nations, we do not have the promise that every nation will be converted, discipled, or Christianized. That is not what the bride of Christ is called to do. That is what Christ will do! And until he does it, we are to pray fervently for the kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10), just as we are to cry out for the Lord himself. Marantha! (1 Cor. 16:22).
A FINAL APPRAISAL
All in all, I conclude my reservations with realistic optimism. Christ is reigning, and he will accomplish his purpose on earth as it is in heaven. But that purpose, in my estimation, is best seen in the beautification and building up of the church in the midst of nations, not a final golden era among the nations, where all the nations are made Christian by the church’s influence.
Could I be wrong? Perhaps. Postmillennialism is generally not espoused in church confessions, and as was noted in the introduction, its nomenclature and terms have developed through the centuries. Still, for all the positives that can be seen in postmillennialism, I am not yet convinced from Scripture that postmillennialism is the best reading of Scripture.
I am thankful for the postmillennialists that I know, but I also think they have too much optimism for the renovation of nations so long as the seed of the serpent dwells on the earth. The gospel is powerful and impels us to preach the Word to all nations. But such power needs to be exercised and understood according to the New Testament, and especially in light of the stipulations of the new covenant and the purposes for the bride of Christ.
In my final assessment, postmillennialism rises on the back of a faulty understanding of the biblical covenants. And thus, for those convinced that Baptist ecclesiology and progressive covenantalism are the best interpretations of Scripture, we must ultimately be less than optimistic about postmillennialism, even if we find help from the teachings of faithful postmillennialists.
* * * * *
 Daniel G. Reid et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
 Richard Gaffin sharpens the confusion of terms when he observes that a century ago, scholars like Geerhardus Vos, an amillennialist by today’s nomenclature, spoke only of “premillennialism” and “postmillennialism.” See his “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism,” in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (ed. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 197–202.
 Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1999), 10.
 These six points are found in the section entitled, “What Postmillennialism Is” (ibid., 190–94).
 Jesus’s parable of the weeds and the wheat (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43), in contrast to the parables of the mustard seed and leaven (Matt. 13:31–33), would be one of the places I would go to temper postmillennialism enthusiasm.
 Wilson is a literary pugilist, whose writings have stirred up controversy in many arenas, especially among Baptists. Reflecting on the writing that has done so much to advance postmillennialism, his prose is equal parts piercing and provocative. For those looking for a strong man to follow, they have in Wilson a captain. That said, his language, especially in pre-pandemic days, was sometimes immodest and at other times downright vulgar. Such language invited criticism, to which Wilson responded years ago in his primer on biting language. See his A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003). Personally, I have found his post-2020 material generally helpful and not plagued by his older use of language, but readers should tread carefully. Amidst the honey of his words, there is also barbed wire. Wilson likes it this way, but not everyone has a magnet to extract the steel from the sugar. For that reason, those who read Wilson should exercise care, especially knowing that floating in his amber ale are seeds of theonomy, mere Christendom, Federal Vision, and salty language—to name a few.
 Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope: Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014).
 Joseph Boot is from the UK and recently he has pastored in Canada. He is the founder of the Ezra Institute. His book is entitled, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society (London: Wilberforce Publications, 2016).
 As with every eschatology, extremists ruin the whole batch. Full preterism is a heresy that teaches Christ returned in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the temple. It is a heresy because it denies the future, bodily return of Christ.
 For a clear, biblical summation of the view, see Keith Mathison’s biblical-theological introduction (Postmillennialism, 53–159).
 On this see, Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1993).
 The source of these claims is Michael McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2015), 144–50 (Falwell and the Religious Right), 165–70 (homeschooling), 210–13 (Schaeffer). Cf. Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford, 2021),64–66, who also shows how Rushdoony influenced the leading Dispensational thinkers of the Moral Majority.
 In a shocking diary entry dated December 1, 1981, Rushdoony laments, “Read Francis Schaeffer: A Christian Manifesto, another book using some of my material, with phone calls for citations, with no mention of me: for most writers I am useful but unmentionable!” (cited in McVicar, Christian Reconstruction, 211).
 Ibid., 144–45.
 Ibid., 197–201.
 See, for instance, R. J. Rushdoony, “Theology of the Land.” For a better reading of the Law-Covenant and its ethical application today, see Stephen J. Wellum, “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies (ed. Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker; Nashville: Baker Academic, 2016), 215–33.
 On this approach to reading Scripture, see Peter Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd Ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).
 By this, I do not mean postmillennials deny typology. Rather, I am challenging their interpretive principles. Admittedly, this is a challenge that goes beyond the scope of this article.
 Douglas Wilson describes himself as a General Equity Theonomist.
 For a full discussion of the church and its mission, see Jason S. Sexton and Stanley N. Gundry, Four Views on the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), especially the chapters by Jonathan Leeman and Peter J. Leithart.
 As history shows, there are postmillennials whose focus was evangelizing the nations, yet as postmillennialism is closely associated with theonomy, it is worth noting the national emphasis of many postmillennials.
 The comparison between Jesus and Cyrus is found in Isaiah 45–53, where the first servant restores Israel to Promised Land, but doesn’t provide forgiveness and peace (Isa. 48:22). By contrast, the greater Servant will die for the sins of his people and bring them perfect forgiveness and everlasting peace (Isa. 52:13–54:17).
 Church history does possess examples of Baptist postmillenialists (e.g., Andrew Fuller, A. H. Strong, and B. H. Carroll), but on balance, this combination of Baptist ecclesiology and postmillennial eschatology is covenantally inconsistent.
 Significantly, the Second London Confession (1689) excises this section of Westminster Confession.
 For a political theology with a distinctive Baptist ecclesiology, see Jonathan Leeman, Political Church: The Local Church as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).
 Stephen Wolfe, The Case for Christian Nationalism (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022), 218.
 Even when redemption is promised to the nations in places like Isaiah 13–23, that salvation is mediated through the (gospel) promises made to Israel.
 I concur with Richard Gaffin, when he identifies his most “substantial reservation” with postmillennialism as the presence of suffering in the world (“Theonomy and Eschatology,” 210). He documents the many passages (e.g., Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 3:10) that stress the suffering of the church in the present age (ibid., 210–18), and he concludes that the New Testament does not promise ultimate victory—not before the return of Christ.
 Admittedly, some postmillennialists also put conversion (and revival) as the necessary precursor to Christendom. But where I differ is in the exegetical outworking of Matthew 28:18–20 and the book of Acts.
 Again, some may protest that state churches or Christian nations take time, and that church history proves that when the church inhabits a land long enough, it will produce national change. Perhaps, but such an argument comes from a logical imposition on the book of Acts, not a direct exposition.
 C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” in Fern-Seeds and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity (Fontana, 1975), p. 14.
 On this distinction, see Jonathan Leeman, “Soteriological Mission,” in Four Views of the Church’s Mission, edited by Jason Sexton (Zondervan, 2017); and Jonathan Leeman, What Is the Church’s Mission (Crossway, 2022).
 On the way that “be fruitful and multiply” relates to and enables the command to “subdue and rule,” see Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 29–46. While it may take some work, the relationship between husband and wife in creation serves an important role in understanding the Christ-church relationship in the new creation context of the household of God.
 More completely, the military idea of evangelism in Ephesians 6 harkens back to Isaiah 59–62, where imagery of the Spirit, the armor, priesthood, and marriage are joined together. Cf. David Schrock, Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 91–94.
 To be clear, in the new covenant, it is the Spirit, not the church who gives birth to eternal life (John 3:3–8).
 To say the gathered church has a feminine identity does not for a moment deny qualified male elders or mute the role distinctions between men and women. It is simply acknowledging how the church gathered is receiving from her Lord the blessings of his kingdom; the church is not achieving for him his kingdom.