PRACTICING POSTMILLENNIALISM (5)

PMT 2017-044 by Jeffery J. Ventrella

This is our final installment in our five-part series on the practical implementation of postmillennialism. In this article I will consider:

Habituating Christian Humility

Thus far I have explored the ethical implications that should flow from consistently holding to theonomic postmillennialism. In doing so the doctrine (orthodoxy) of this eschatological position has been assumed in order to focus on the conduct (orthopraxis) that the teaching implies: Promoting the primacy of the Gospel; demonstrating evangelistic and missiological zeal; cultivating Christendomic consciousness; and practicing courageous, strategic, and principled cultural engagement.

However, this entire study would be incomplete without including a discussion of another perspective, one that could be called orthopathos—the proper motive and character of a consistent postmillennialist: humility. Theonomic postmillennialism, properly conceived, should habituate humility. To live the Christian life is to embrace change: personally and culturally. (Rom. 12:1, 2). Postmillennialism—at its essence—extols gracious positive change. Change is intrinsic to postmillennial optimism—and so is humility. Postmillennialism demands humility because the change it promotes and advocates stems from God’s grace.

How does change occur? To be sure, doctrinal precision is certainly an agent of change, for the truth sanctifies: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17 (ESV). Correct doctrinal belief (orthodoxy), therefore, is foundational to change. Yet, Scripture also makes it clear that mere mental assent to a set of correct propositions is insufficient for leading a God-glorifying life. As James demands, doctrine must be applied:

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:17-26 ESV).

But, there is more. Nevertheless, because it is written on the hearts of the regenerate (Jer. 31:34; Deut. 6:1, 6-9), God’s Law requires more. The Christian life must be lived from the heart, that is, with the right motive and affections. As Jesus noted with a penetrating comment: “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”’” (Mark 7:6 ESV).


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Here Jesus rebukes those known for doctrinal precision (orthodoxy) and rigorous “works of righteousness” (Cf. Matt. 5:20). However, these religious persons lacked a heart for worship. In short, they lacked orthopathos. This crucial perspective [Note 1] is frequently ignored—often in inverse proportion to one’s doctrinal acumen and enthusiasm. Those greatly concerned for correct doctrinal formulation sometimes deem heart issues to be irrelevant. And yet, this orthopathos is critical to a full-orbed Christian ethic, including postmillennial eschatology. Again, what is the essence of postmillennialism? The essence is that the gospel of grace defeats all God’s enemies in history. Postmillennialism’s optimism, properly understood, rests solely on the grace of the covenant Lord:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Note well: it is the Lord who accomplishes the unrelenting increase of the Son’s conquering righteous rule. Similarly, it is Christ who builds his Church which shall topple the gates of Hell (Matt. 16:18). It is Christ who reigns until he destroys all his enemies and puts them under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). And he does these things for his own glory, which he shares with no one. This is why Paul could so emphatically direct the Christian’s boasting to the Lord—not man, not even a theonomic postmillennialist (e.g, 1 Cor. 1:31; 3:20; 2 Cor. 10:17; 11:30; 12:5, et al.). Postmillennialism demands humility by the nature of the case.

Put bluntly, God is not impressed that someone has become an “epistemologically self-conscious theonomic postmillennialist.” One is not “doing God a favor” by holding postmillennial convictions.
Rarely are such thoughts so crassly articulated, of course. But in the heart, they do arise, even if they are carefully camouflaged. To live consistently with this eschatology, Christians must stop flattering themselves—they must reject ungodly pride. No Christian possesses anything that he has not first received, by grace, from God— including his optimistic eschatology: “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7 ESV). Humility is not optional; it is inherent to a Spirit-filled life. Christians, especially postmillennialists, must be humble.

As Reformed and postmillennial believers, we reject semi-Pelegianism, and instead cheer and affirm the necessity of monergistic regeneration: “You must be born again” (John 3:7 ESV). And as Reformed and postmillennial believers, we reject the feel good, simplistic worship experience so commonly practiced today. Instead we guard our worship, understanding that those who come to God “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 ESV). But, we tend to ignore another, yet critical, “must” from our Savior’s lips: “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35 ESV).

Scripture informs us that serving others is a function of humility, as a Pauline directive exhorts:
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 ESV). Pride is antithetical to a biblical life, but it is especially noxious to an optimistic eschatology. One cannot with credibility proclaim the Gospel’s gracious transformational power while simultaneously walking in prideful arrogance and contempt. Postmillennialism’s banner could rightly be the Reformation’s Soli Deo Gloria—because the culture’s transformation is solely attributable to the sovereign God and his profiting of the Gospel through his Son by his Spirit. Pride’s slogan, in contrast however, could be Soli ME-o Gloria. [Note 2] Man seeking to be appreciated, taking credit for events and cultural changes. Ironically, it is the prideful postmillennialist, absent repentance, who may be the one “left behind.”

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Truly embracing the orthodoxy of theonomic postmillennialism means deeply understanding and freshly marveling at the gracious sovereignty of God whose zeal alone will accomplish these things. This in turn necessarily means apprehending how pride is an enemy and an offense to a Holy God—the antithesis to faithful postmillennial conviction. A postmillennialist should be habituating humility if he truly embraces optimistic eschatology—not congratulating himself for his having adopted brilliant and unimpeachable eschatological formulations. Here is why.

First, God hates pride:

The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Prov. 8:13 ESV)
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Prov. 11:2 ESV)
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Prov. 16:5 ESV)
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18 ESV)

Make no mistake: God is provoked by a man’s pride, which leads to a second point:

Pride is serious:

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6 ESV). “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet. 5:5 ESV). “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 ESV).

Third, pride is deceptive:

“The horror you inspire has deceived you, and the pride of your heart,
you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s, I will bring you down from there, declares the Lord” (Jer. 49:16 ESV). “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit” (Prov.16:2 ESV).

In short, pride is serious, deceptive, and the object of God’s hatred. But, unfortunately, it gets worse. Pride is never static; it always produces fruit—very bad fruit. And this fruit often ripens in those possessing a doctrinaire bent—those who seek to honor God by having their lips eloquently articulate the most precise doctrinal formulations, but whose lives, relationships, and hearts, are actually far from Him.

Where pride exists, God is not only distant, but He becomes the prideful man’s opponent. The Scripture does not teach dispensationalism, but God is not opposed to the humble dispensationalist. (Cf., 2 Tim. 2:24-25). On the other hand, Scripture does teach postmillennialism, but God is opposed to the postmillennialist who is arrogant and haughty. This reality should be sobering and should cause us to flee to the Cross of Grace.

The prideful reader would probably declare a hearty “Amen!” to these conclusions, and that is exactly the trap. Being orthodox—that is, assenting to truthful propositions—in insufficient. Orthodoxy cannot stand alone in the Christian life; real orthodoxy is a perspective on the truth and will be accompanied by right conduct (ethics: orthopraxis) practiced with the proper motivation and passion (heartfelt orthopathos). In some cases, changes must be effected; and this must begin in the heart as repentance from pride. God does not want to hurt your pride; He wants to kill it.

The remaining portion of this study will seek to provoke Cross-centered honest assessment of one’s orthopathos, especially as it relates to pride. Again, theonomic postmillennialism, properly conceived, should draw its adherents to habituate humility. Humility is intrinsic to this eschatological position, and therefore its proponents should increasingly manifest this evidence of grace in their lives.

I call upon the reader to ponder the following descriptions; they are extended because the serious problem of pride runs deep and it is deceptive. Consider whether the root of pride may be producing ungodly fruit in your life. Question whether your life belies your “theologically correct” eschatological confessions. And remember: God stands opposed to the proud, and there is no exemption for the postmillennialist.

As Brent Detweiler notes, the fruits of pride may take the following forms: [Note 3]

1. I tend to be self-sufficient in the way I live. I do not live in a constant awareness that my every breath is dependent upon the will of God. I tend to think that I possess sufficient strength, ability and wisdom to live and manage my life.

2. I am anxious about life and the future. My trust in God vacillates and I rarely experience his abiding and transcendent peace.

3. I am overly self-conscious. I tend to replay how I did, what I did, what I said, how others perceive me, etc. I am concerned about what people think about me.

4. I fear man more than God. I am concerned about how people will react to my words, my conduct and me. I seek the approval of man and not of God.

5. I feel insecure. I tend not to try new things or participate in uncomfortable situations due to a fear of failure or the possibility of looking foolish.

6. I regularly compare myself to others. I am performance oriented, and I feel “more accepted” by God when I do well.

7. I am self-critical. I tend to be a perfectionist. Even when little things go awry, it is difficult to forget them because they reflect poorly on me.

8. I desire to receive credit and recognition for what I do. I like people to see what I do and let me know that they noticed—and I feel offended when they do not. I am overly concerned with my reputation
and hate being misunderstood.

9. I want people to be impressed with me, and to make my accomplishments known.

10. I tend to be deceptive regarding myself. I find myself lying to preserve or enhance my reputation.

11. I am selfishly ambitious. I want to get ahead, and enjoy have a position or title of import and significance.

12. I am overly competitive. I always desire to win and it bothers me when I do not.

13. I enjoy being the center of attention and will conduct myself to draw attention to me.

14. I like to talk, especially about myself. I would rather speak than listen, and find it difficult to be succinct.

15. I am self-serving. When asked to participate or do something, I find myself asking, “How will doing this help me, or will I be inconvenienced?”

16. I am not excited about seeing other successful or making others successful. I tend to be envious, and/or critical towards those who are doing well or being honored.

17. I feel superior because of what I have or do: my house, my job, my physical giftings, my intellectual giftings, my education and intellect, my spiritual or theological prowess.

18. I think highly of myself. In relation to others, I view myself a more mature an more gifted. I have more to offer others than they have to offer me.

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Lecture presentations and some classroom interaction.
Very helpful definition, presentation, and defense of postmillennialism.
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19. I tend to give myself credit for who I am and what I accomplish.

20. I tend to be self-righteous. I think that I have something to offer to God, that He needs me in order to fulfill His plan. I regularly focus on the sins of others, and seldom credit God for any degree of holiness in my life.

21. I feel deserving. I think that I deserve what I have, and often believe that I should have more because of how I have lived and in light of what I have done.

22. I often express ingratitude. I tend to grumble about God’s providence as applied to my life.

23. I find myself wallowing in self-pity. I often lament and complain about how I am being treated by God and others. I tend to feel mistreated and misunderstood.

24. I can be envious of others’ abilities, possessions, positions or accomplishments. I find it difficult to rejoice with others when they are blessed and I am not.

25. I am inattention to others. I find difficulty in expressing compassion to others.

26. I have a know-it-all attitude. I am impressed with my own knowledge. I believe that I cannot learn much from others.

27. I find it difficult to listen to ordinary people. I listen better to those I respect or people with whom I want to leave a good impression

28. I like to reveal my own mind. I have an answer to every conversation and feel that I must provide balance to every context.

29. I interrupt people regularly.

30. I feel compelled to stop people if they begin to share something with me that I already know.

31. I find it hard to admit that I do not know something.

32. I rarely “get much” from public teaching. I tend to evaluate the speaker rather than my own life. I grumble in my heart about hearing something a second (or third) time.

33. I listen to exhortative or corrective teaching with other people in mind. I constantly apply such teaching to others.

34. I am not open to input, let alone correction, in my life. I tend to be unteachable and slow to repent, and I certainly do not pursue correction in my life. I view correction for my life negatively, and tend to resent it when people probe hearts issues or my motivations.

35. I find it difficult to admit error. I tend to cover or excuse my sins, and it is hard for me to confess sin and seek forgiveness.

36. I view correction as an intrusion into my privacy rather than as an instrument of the sovereign God for my welfare.

37. I resent people who try to correct me. I do not respond with gratefulness and appreciation for their concern. I tend to become bitter and withdraw.

38. When corrected, I become contentious and quarrelsome. I explain away their points or their method.

39. I am easily provoked, angered, or offended. I am bother when others disagree with me or disregard my thinking.

40. I have “personality conflicts” with others.

41. I have self-willed and stubborn. Cooperation is difficult and I prefer doing things my own way.

42. I am independent and uncommitted. I am really not persuaded that I need other people and I regularly view meetings as a waste of time.

43. I am unaccountable. I do not ask others to hold me accountable, and I do not believe that should be accountable to others for my word and actions.

44. I am unsubmissive. I do not like being under authority, and I do not view submission as something from God as a good and necessary provision for my life. It is difficulty for me to serve those in authority over me; what is important is that my voice be heard.

45. I lack respect for other people. I do not view other highly and I find it difficult to encourage and honor others.

46. I am a slanderer. I find myself giving or receiving evil reports of others

47. I am divisive. I tend to resist or resent authority. I tend to disregard and disavow people giving me orders or direction.

48. I tend to demean others. It is the “other guy” who needs correction, humility and to be put in place.

49. I tend to be critical of others. I find it far easier to evaluate, rather than encourage, some one else.

50. I view myself as being humble, a perfect mixture of orthodoxy, orthopraxis, and orthopathos.

God’s Word has been given to sanctify, that is, to change the fallen creation. That change begins in the heart of sinful man and then—and only then—does it transform the culture. Certainly, what one believes matters, as well as what one does. But without humility spawned by the Gospel, all the right credenda and all the right agenda will ultimately only serve the flesh—to man’s, not God’s.

To hold an optimistic eschatology, however, should enervate fleshly pride because postmillennialism is not simply about the future; it is about the present. The certainty of God’s future transformation of fallen creation should precipitate a present ethic and a present pathos comporting with that telos.

Theonomic postmillennialism demands, not merely a declaration, but a heartfelt intentional demonstration of the Gospel’s fruit: Promoting the primacy of the Gospel; demonstrating evangelistic and missiological zeal; cultivating Christendomic consciousness; and practicing courageous, strategic, and principled cultural engagement. And, habituating humility. Only by having pride be left behind will “the earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Postmillennialism and the Gospel demand no less.

Notes

1. In rehearsing these perspectives, one is reminded of Frame’s perspectivalsim: normative (orthodoxy), situational (orthopraxis), and existential (orthopathos). See generally, John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R, 1987), perspectivally dealing with epistemological questions. Compare, Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, Tex.: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), perspectivally dealing with ethical questions. Frame and Bahnsen are effectively rehearsing the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith (see: WCF 15:7).

2. Credit is due to Alan E. Sears, President and General Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund for crafting this clever, but effective turn of phrase.

3. This entire list stems from a paper delivered by Brent Detweiler, http://www.pdinet.org. It has been largely quoted and Detweiler’s text has only been slightly altered from the original.

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