Early in the short life of this blog, I observed that George W. Bush acts upon a sort of postmillennial theology, a belief that the power of God working now in history will usher in an age of peace (millennium) prior to the return of Christ. This observation led to other posts that have explained and defended postmillennialism and amillenialism and their relation to politics through our attitudes toward the future. For the previous posts, see here and follow the links.

For background, I recycle some material from previous posts:

Premillennial: believing that when Jesus Christ returns he will usher in a long period of peace and justice (the millennium). In other words, there is a radical discontinuity [the return of Jesus] between present human history and the evident reign of God on earth in human history (Shalom). After the millennium comes the fulfillment.

Amillennial: believing that Jesus will return and then usher in the fulfillment, without a period of God’s evident reign within human history. In other words, hope for Shalom will be met only beyond human history.

Postmillennial: believing that the return of Jesus will be preceded by a period of peace and justice in which God’s reign on earth will be seen. Then comes the return of Jesus and the fulfillment. In other words, there will be a continuity between present human history and the establishment of Shalom.

All Christians are optimistic in an ultimate sense: we believe that Jesus will return and triumph over his foes, and ours, including death and suffering. But is there reason for optimism before the End? In other words, do Christians expect there to be any real, overall progress within human history? The answer given to this question will vary between Christians holding differing millennial views.

Answering “No,” are amillennialists and premillennialists. While there may be material progress within human history in areas such as technology, there is no actual human progress in a moral sense. All technological advances, for example, simply will allow us to kill one another in greater numbers. The amillennialists expect that the human history will continue a mixed-up mess of sin with some virtue, without real progress, until Jesus comes again. The premillennialists, most of them, expect that human history will continue a downward course getting worse and worse, a retrogress in effect, at least near the end of time. On the contrary, answering “Yes,” are the postmillennialists. The history of the human race, through the work of the Holy Spirit, does and will show moral progress as the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads over the world.

One’s attitude toward the progress, or lack of progress, within human history will affect political attitudes. (Wondering out loud: Reagan was postmillennial down to his bones, Carter?)

The American attitude, traditionally, has been optimistic regarding the future: we have thought of history in terms of progress. One of the roots of this optimism has been the influence of Christian postmillennial thought, the understanding of the majority of American evangelical Christians until some time in the twentieth century. Even today, though, I would venture to say that most Americans reject the idea that evil can triumph within human history until the End. In other words, I would say that most Americans reject the idea that God would allow a Hitler or a Stalin to envelope the world in a horror of tyrannical evil for centuries or millennia until Jesus comes again. We Americans seem to have a postmillennial heart, whatever doctrine is in our heads.

Below is a brief survey of Premillenialism and its relation to politics.

Premillenial belief comes in two forms: Classic Premillenialism and Dispensationalist Premillenialism. Both believe that human history will remain a sinful mess, indeed getting worse before Christ's Return. This view is based on Scriptures such as 2 Timothy 3:1, "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, etc." And 2 Timothy 3:12-13, "Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived." When Christ returns he will reign on earth for a literal 1000 years, demonstrating God's Justice and establishing God's Peace. This belief is said to reflect a literal reading of Revelation 20 and 21. Therefore there is no reason for optimism regarding any actions in the realm of politics or culture.

The two forms of Premillennialism, Classic and Dispensationalist, differ in several ways, but the most significant difference relates to the role of the nation of Israel. According to Dispensationalist Premillennialism, God has had two peoples since the time of Christ, the Church and the Jews. God's promises to Abraham must be fulfilled in order for God to be faithful, therefore a literal physical nation of Israel must be established in the Holy Land. And, God's Law, including ceremonials, must be maintained in perpetuity since in the Old Testament the Law was given forever. Therefore, there must be a physical Temple with physical sacrifices. During the millennium the Temple will be rebuilt and the sacrifices restored under proper priestly leadership. Dispensationalists have tended, therefore, to be strong supporters of the nation of Israel. (Support for Israel, of course, may be found among all millenial types, but is an article of faith among Dispensationalists.) Classic Premillennialism has tended to understand that God now has one people since Christ, the Church which is spiritual Israel. Therefore there will not be a rebuilding of a literal Temple etc.

Addendum: the teaching that there will be a Rapture, a withdrawal of believers before a period of Tribulation prior to Christ's return, may or may not be found among both kinds of Premillennialists. The doctrine of a Rapture is a relatively recent teaching in the Christian Church, going back only to the 19th century.