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Eschatologies Have Consequences
Why is the church weak, emaciated, and defeated? She expects to be weak, emaciated, and defeated.
Dear friends and supporters:
About thirty years ago I read Richard Weaver’s conservative classic Ideas have Consequences, written just after World War II. In it, Weaver lays out his case for paleo-conservatism (including anti-television!). He wrote at the historical high tide of old-time liberalism, and many of his warnings of its dangers have proven prophetic. The title itself has become a nearly self-evident aphorism or meme. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences. And bad theological ideas have the worst consequences of all.
Some of the worst theological ideas are eschatological ideas (eschatology means the study of last or final things). Yet as the cultural theologian R. J. Rushdoony once wrote, eschatology involves not just last things, but also first things. In theological vocabulary, eschatology presupposes protology. (Protology means “first things.”) What we believe about first things molds what we believe about last things. This is why a creational worldview is so important. (Read about it here.)
The failure of today’s church is largely a failure of its eschatological (and protological) expectations. The church is confused in its eschatology, and it’s weighed down with unbelief toward the massive promises of the word of God.
The most obvious victorious eschatology is called postmillennialism. I’m an unashamed postmillennialist, but I’ve come to believe that this might not be the best term to describe a victorious eschatology.
“Millennial” refers to the 1000 years mentioned in Revelation chapter 20. This almost certainly is not a literal 1000 years, but is symbolic for a very long time. We postmillennialists believe that Christ will return (his second advent), after the millennium (thus, “post”), a great period of gospel expansion and peace and prosperity by gospel preaching and Holy Spirit power — and not humanistic Christian exertion, as is sometimes charged.
Premillennialists believe that Christ will come physically to the earth and establish an earthly kingdom, and this will be the millennium. Therefore the “pre”: Christ comes before the earthly millennium.
Amillennialism holds that the millennium is occurring right now, but within the church. “A-” means no or not, but this is misleading. Amillennialists do believe in a millennium, just not an extensive one like post- and premills do. This is a typical Roman Catholic viewpoint, though many Protestants also hold it. Some amills are postmillennial in their expectation, though they don’t use postmillennial language. I have no problem with that. The important thing is not the description, but the belief.
The eschatological agnosticism of “pan-millennialism”
Yet there is a weakness with the term postmillennial. It rivets our attention on Revelation 20. But the fact is, the Bible would teach a victorious eschatology even if Revelation 20 weren’t in the Bible. Victorious eschatology doesn’t rest with a particular interpretation of Revelation 20, but on the entire Bible.
Many people seem not to believe this. They live in the twilight zone of eschatological agnosticism. In other words, their view is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about eschatology, as long as you believe in the generic second coming.
Perhaps you’ve heard some people say during an argument over eschatology: “Oh, I’m just a pan-millennialist. I believe everything will pan out in the end.”
That answer is clever, but it’s dead wrong.
If eschatology presupposes protology; if eschatology is about first things and not just last things, it will mold our entire outlook on life.
If you believe that the world is destined to grow more depraved and that the church and the kingdom will grow weaker and weaker, but that Jesus will rapture us away before a great antichrist or beast comes to persecute the world, your view on your current responsibilities will be radically different than if you don’t believe these things. Here are three examples.
This short book shows that due to the promises of the Bible in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, Christians must not be pessimistic about either individual or cultural evil, which God is progressively crushing.
An eschatology of investment
Recently I was talking to a friend in Kansas. He’s a trust officer at a local bank. We were discussing eschatology, and he was making this very point. He noted that his clients who hold to this gloom-and-doom eschatology invest their money differently from those who don’t hold it. They don’t invest in long-term projects; they think about how their money can benefit them in the shortest period of time. If they have a very narrow eschatologically expectation, they live very narrow investment lives.
If you believe that your faithful great-grandchildren will inherit the earth, you’ll invest in them. If you believe you’ll be swept away in the rapture before breakfast next Tuesday, your investment strategy will be one of instant gratification.
Marriage shaped by a false eschatology
Here’s a more bizarre example. I knew a Christian couple many years ago. It seemed they were very poorly suited for one another. We’ve all met marriages just like this. We ask ourselves: how in the world did this man and woman ever get together?
Later, the wife told me the backstory. They were both in their early 20s during the early 70s Jesus Moment. This movement was rife with rapture obsession: Jesus was coming soon to rapture the saints away to heaven and the world would be under the sway of an antichrist and then a “seven-year tribulation period.”
Their pastor or youth leader at the time was certain that the rapture was happening within the next six months. So he told these young adults: “You need to find some Christian person to marry pretty quickly if you ever want to enjoy sex.” No, I’m not kidding.
This couple listened to that counsel, and got married, despite the fact that there was no good reason for them to get married. That marriage has suffered strains and difficulties all these years. I’m glad they’ve maintained their covenant, but they got married for all the wrong reasons. And that wrong reason was based in a particular eschatology.
I mentioned this final example in my article “The Church’s Cultural Failure Is an Eschatological Failure”:
Many years ago in Ohio I was delivering a lunch speech to a group of pastors. I was urging them to take a stand against and turn back the evils of abortion and homosexuality and pornography and socialism.
Afterwards a pastor engaged me and said: “You know, I agree. We pastors all need to do more because there is so much evil in the world: aborted children and rising homosexuality and pornography, and I know that’s bad. But if you think about it, this is all good, because it means Jesus is coming soon.”
If that idea sounds perverted to you, that’s because it is.
If you long to see the Lord (and that’s a holy desire), but if you also believe that the world is destined to get worse just before his second coming (that is an erroneous belief), you might be led to such depraved thinking. Your eschatology is shaping how you live and act.
Of course, not all practical effects of our eschatology are so pronounced or bizarre. But there are always practical effects, make no mistake about it.
Practical effects of a victorious eschatology
How about the practical effects of an optimistic eschatology? How different they are!
If you believe that the cross and the resurrection established Christ’s earthly kingdom; if you believe that it will roll forward despite great opposition, in the salvation of multitudes of souls and create Christian culture wherever it goes; if you believe that while there are crests and dips in that kingdom throughout history, eventually it will win everywhere in the earth — I say, you believe all this, you will live a radically different life. You’ll wake up in the morning with a heart full of joy and hope and enthusiasm. You’ll pray big prayers, expecting God to answer (see Prayer Changes Things: Curing Timid Piety). You’ll expect the gospel to be effective if God’s people will only trust his promises.
You’ll work to influence those around you to operate in terms of the law of God. Whether you’re a software engineer or a school teacher or a homeschool mom or an auto repairman or a bricklayer or roofer or nurse or other medical professional, man or woman, rich or poor or middle class — you will work to extend the kingdom of God. And you will expect that God will bless your efforts.
You’ll know that one day you’ll likely die, but your kingdom work will continue in your family and church. You’ll invest in churches and ministries that preach the gospel of eschatological hope.
You’ll be disappointed and even angered when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected, but you won’t throw in the towel. You’ll stand up and speak with greater boldness, and act in greater obedience, knowing that God will one day tear them down.
You won’t engage in flight from this world, but will engage in a fight for this world. You will enjoy God’s good creation and all that he’s given to us.
You will be an optimist, not a pessimist (see “Pessimism Is Not a Strategy”). This doesn’t mean that you will always be happy. It means that your outlook will always be one of hope and expectation about what God is doing and will do.
Someone might argue, “But Andrew, I’m just naturally a pessimist.”
Then you’re wrong, naturally. You need to change. Christians aren’t pessimistic people. When we act pessimistically, we’re not acting as Christians. Paul the apostle was jailed and beaten and shipwrecked and slandered, worse than any of us likely ever will be, and yet he was full of optimism. In the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15 he cries:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Would you like to know one of the principal reasons the church is so weak, emaciated, and defeated today? Because she expects to be weak, emaciated, and defeated. The church revels in an eschatology of defeat. This is because the church revels in a protology of defeat. Right from the beginning, the church sees defeat.
I urge you to stand on the promises of the word of God. Live in victory. We’re soldiers of the cross and the resurrection. Satan’s victory is not predestined before the second advent.
Christ’s victory is predestined before the second advent (1 Cor. 15:20–27). We’re called to faithfulness and zeal and expectation, even in the face of hardship, persecution, martyrdom, and death. Yes, we might end up dying for the Faith, but the Faith will not die. The Faith will grow and grow — the small stone flung by the sovereign God at the kingdoms of this world is becoming a mountain that fills the entire earth (Dan. 2:31–45).
The wicked are not the inheritors of God’s good world. We are the inheritors.
I’m sometimes asked my verdict on the spiritual state of conservative Christianity. I usually respond: “There’s been a wholesale collapse of biblical faith before the rapacity of statist Covid lockdowns, the racism of Black Lives Matter, and the cancel culture of tyrannical Leftism.” But that’s not the whole story. An entire cadre of God-drenched culture warriors is hurtling themselves into the battle, and they’re a stout encouragement to my heart. Sharon and I just returned from Minnesota (yes, that Minnesota) where I addressed the spring Common Slaves Conference led by Pastors Eric Anderson and Joe Reed, as well as the fledgling Christ Bible Church, pastored by Levi Secord. These are fearless men of God. I met many scores of other devout, thoughtful, impassioned soldiers for the King. My heart is buoyed. Pray big. Expect big. Prayer changes things.
I finally hope next week to address “Capitalist Marxism.”
Thank you humbly for your friendship and support.
Yours for fearless, godly warfare,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
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