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The Covenantal Kingdom

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith


My interest in eschatology began almost as soon as I became a Christian in the summer of 1971, after graduating from college. A graduate student in psychology at the time, I started attending a small Bible class taught by a dispensational pastor. I still remember the "dispensational charts" the pastor used to explain Biblical prophecy. I enthusiastically accepted dispensational thinking.

After being called to the ministry, I quit my psychology studies and made plans to attend seminary. The Vietnam War was still going on and my number had come up for the draft, so I had to spend two years in the Navy before going on to seminary. During Naval training in San Diego, California, I attended Campus Crusade meetings and heard sermons on prophecy. I will never forget the sermon that explained the Biblical timing of the rapture in terms of the Jews' return to Israel. Within one generation, forty years from 1948, all the prophecies were to be fulfilled (cf. Mt. 24:34). According to the preacher, the millennium could begin no later than 1988. This meant that the latest possible date for the rapture would be 1981 -- an exciting sermon in 1972!

I went to Grace Theological Seminary in January of 1974. In the Navy I had already read Lewis Sperry Chafer's multi-volume Systematic Theology and numerous other dispensational works. At Grace my dispensational faith was deepened, especially my zeal for premillennialism and the pretribulation rapture. I never imagined then that I would or could be converted to postmillennialism.

Moving to Japan in the year of the rapture, 1981, led to various changes in my life. First, the daily confrontation with pagan civilization provoked me to think about the cultural significance of Christian faith in a way that I had never before considered. I studied Cornelius Van Til's works on Christian apologetics and epistemology. Since I was looking for a Christian approach to culture, I eventually turned to R. J. Rushdoony's The Institutes of Biblical Law, a book I had bought earlier for my Old Testament studies but had forgotten about.

Even though I found Rushdoony helpful, I never thought I would accept the postmillennial side of his theology. The Scriptures were too clear, in my opinion. For that reason, I was not afraid to read the postmillennialist literature -- I felt I should at least see what they had to say. To my surprise, postmillennialism not only had a logical appeal on the basis of the Biblical idea of the covenant, it was more faithful to the Scriptures than premillennialism. Postmillennialism even treated the book of Revelation in a more "literal" fashion -- that is, more in accord with the normal rules of grammatical and historical interpretation.

In short, I have been convinced that what is called postmillennialism is the teaching of the Bible -- which is why I have written this short introduction to postmillennialism. The reader may disagree with me, but I hope he will read and seriously think about what I have said. If he finds it persuasive, fine. If not, then I hope he will try to Biblically refute what is written here. The process of theological argumentation is tedious, but if we pursue it in a right spirit, the aim is that the whole Church of Jesus Christ may "come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13) -- a goal, by the way, that the postmillennialist is certain will someday be achieved.

Four points in the eschatological debate seem especially important to me. I have written a chapter about each one. First, in an article in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Greg Bahnsen defines the fundamental theological and Biblical questions better than anything I have read. Chapter one, based upon Bahnsen's essay, attempts to clarify the theological issues and prompt the reader to rethink his eschatology.

The second chapter is devoted to the question of interpretation. I have relied especially on James Jordan's insightful discussions of Biblical interpretation and David Chilton's introduction to eschatology, Paradise Restored. Jordan's approach to interpretation, which Chilton follows, opened up the eschatological debate for me. As a dispensationalist, I had been convinced of what is referred to as "literal interpretation." James Jordan has demonstrated the fallacy of the dispensationalist's so-called "literal interpretation" and shown the way to a more truly literal and Biblical approach to interpretation.

Chapter three deals with the broader Biblical issue of the great conflict of history. Every Christian knows that the Bible presents history as a conflict between God and Satan. All Christians believe that God wins this conflict at the Day of Judgment. But who wins within history? Does Satan win only to be overwhelmed by Omnipotence in the end? Or is it God's purpose to be victorious in history? If so, we also need to ask, what are God's methods of fighting this temporal battle? I argue that from Genesis to Revelation God's method of fighting Satan is consistent. I also argue that God will win in history as well as at the Last Day. The final destruction of Satan is based upon the judgment of the Cross and the subsequent total defeat of Satanism in history.

The final chapter is in some ways the most important. I deal with the Biblical teaching of the covenant and its implications for eschatology. Although traditional Reformed theology and modern Biblical scholarship have both emphasized the centrality of the covenant idea in the Bible, the eschatology debate has largely ignored it. Chapter four is based upon the work of Ray Sutton whose contributions to the doctrine of the covenant enable us to develop the eschatological implications of the covenant with clarity.

Eschatology is not an abstract subject with little relevance for our Christian witness and labor in this world. How we view eschatology not only determines our view of history, it also determines our view of everyday life in the present age. What are we living for? What kinds of goals ought we as Christians to pursue? What is the ultimate meaning of our labor in history? To be specific, should we invest our time, money and labor in projects that may take over 100 years to complete, that require sophisticated knowledge and technical ability, and that "preach the Gospel" in a far less direct manner than passing out tracts? Is the ultimate meaning of our historical labor simply found in the number of people that we win to Christ, or does educational, scientific, artistic, political, and industrial work have ultimate meaning for a Christian also?

These and many other questions that touch our daily life find their answers in our eschatological beliefs. It is this connection with everyday life which makes the eschatological debate inescapable -- for without answers to future questions, we cannot know how we ought to serve God in the present, like politicians without a program or a plan who daily change national policy according to the results of the polls. It is not God's will that we, like them, be "tossed to and fro with every wind." In His word He has revealed all that we need to know so that we may live "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," beginning now.

Soli Deo Gloria

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