Postmillennialism and theonomy have garnered renewed interest of late, sometimes (unfairly) lumped in with every discussion of “Christian nationalism.” Some critics and proponents attribute the agitated state of our culture as the reason that Christians are turning to the postmillennial vision. This might be the case for some, but other postmillennialists have held to the position for decades. In any case, it’s not the first time that the larger evangelical church has been forced to respond to postmillennialism and theonomy. One thinks, for example, of Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995) and the responses his work engendered.
About ten years ago I became convinced of theonomic postmillennialism. At the time, most of the proffered rebuttals seemed to have come from the Bahnsen era. Within the past three years, however, there has been a noticeable uptick in articles critiquing postmillennialism and theonomy. Many of them might reference Bahnsen or others in the past, but focus predominantly on modern trends within the church. In my mind, this can only be a good thing. Postmillennialism and theonomy are on the rise, and discussion and debate have followed.
One organization that has risen to the top of the pack in terms of offering critiques of postmillennialism, and especially theonomy, is the Mark Dever-founded, Washington, D.C.-based 9 Marks. Article titles from the past few months include, “Theonomy: Serious Theology, Serious Politics, Seriously Wrong,” “A 1689 Baptist Perspective: Confessionalism and Theonomy,” and “Baptist Covenant Theology: A Pastor’s Best Defense Against Theonomy.”
Another recent 9 Marks article is entitled “Postmillennialism and Theonomy.” In the article, David Schrock, a Baptist, expresses several appreciations for the postmillennial position before giving “seven critical reservations.” Schrock’s article is worthy of consideration, and I especially appreciate his gracious analysis of the impact made by postmillennialists in the past, including R.J. Rushdoony. Schrock also references Bahnsen and others.
I commend Schrock for his willingness to do more than simply dismiss the postmillennial position out of hand. For the sake of space, however, I will limit myself to Schrock’s critiques of the postmillennial position. As a postmillennialist committed to Reformed Baptist theology, I will give special attention to Schrock’s repeated claims that Baptistic theology does not jive with postmillennialism. (As I will mention later, Schrock does not hold to Reformed Baptist theology, but rather “progressive covenantalism.” However, he still contends that Baptistic theology in general is inconsistent with postmillennialism.)
Schrock (as is expected, given the title of his article) freely mixes elements of postmillennialism and theonomy throughout his seven “critical reservations.” But some of these aspects do not necessarily require the other. For example, a vision of the success of the Christian church in history (i.e., postmillennialism) does not require one specific view of the application of God’s Law to the civil realm (e.g., theonomy) – it would simply require that we agree that Christ does have some standard for statecraft and said standard will be applied with great success in the future. (For example, Keith Mathison, author of Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope, said, “I’m not as certain as some [postmillennialists] are about what the gradual growth of the kingdom during the present age will look like ‘on the ground.’ In other words, I’ve never been a theonomic postmillennialist.” To be fair, Schrock does at least acknowledge this point when he writes early in his article that he thinks “postmillennialism, especially of a theonomic variety, does not square” with his Baptist ecclesiology or his progressive covenantal theology.)
Be that as it may, I am thankful for Schrock’s attention to postmillennialism. And I will now respond, as a Baptist, to his Baptist critique of a specifically theonomic postmillennialism.
1. The Mosaic Covenant
In his first reservation, Schrock asserts that postmillennialists “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.” Furthermore, he notes that 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.”
(It should be noted that this reservation is focused on theonomy and has little, if anything, to do with postmillennialism.)
As a Reformed Baptist postmillennialist, I (like Schrock) view the Mosaic (Old) Covenant as “forward-looking” and temporary. The Apostle Paul clearly affirms that the Old Covenant was for a time and, with the coming of Christ, has passed away (Gal. 3:19). God no longer requires circumcision (Gal. 6:15), dietary restrictions (Mark 7:19), or various washings and purification rituals (cf. Lev. 15; Heb. 9:10). The Old Covenant (sometimes referred to as “the law” in Scripture) was indeed a shadow of things to come (cf. Heb. 10:1). However, affirming the shadowy nature of the Old Covenant does not automatically tell us how it applies in the New Testament era – and apply it certainly does, as Schrock himself affirms when he writes that “the Word of God has application to all people at all times.”
I address this issue more fully in my sermon, “The (Parenthetical) Old Covenant,” but will attempt to summarize my thoughts here.
The Old Covenant was given as a “guardian” (or a babysitter, if you will; see Gal. 3:24). It was “added” after the gospel was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:19). However, the moral law of God did not begin with the Old Covenant – it existed (from man’s perspective) for about 2,500 years prior to Moses. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith affirms this view when it says that the “same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments” (19.1, emphasis added).
In other words, the moral law of God was given at creation, and it was reissued with the Old Covenant at Mount Sinai. Given its permanence, one ought to expect the moral law to be an important part of the temporary Old Covenant. That expectation is confirmed in Scripture. Yes, various other regulations (e.g., ceremonial laws) were added, but at the heart of the Old Covenant was the moral law. A good analogy (and one which Paul uses in Galatians 3:19-4:7) is that of a child awaiting maturity. Just as a child has many temporary regulations added to the moral law – brush your teeth this many times, go to bed at this hour, etc. – so too did Israel have many temporary regulations added to the moral law. Once the child reaches maturity, the temporary regulations are rescinded, but the moral law remains. (One example among many will suffice on this point: Isaiah 1:12-17. In that passage, the Lord indicts the people for following temporary ceremonial regulations but neglecting the eternal moral law.)
Given this framework, we would expect to find within the Old Covenant various applications of the eternal, moral law of God. It is this principle that is indeed “universal” and “for all nations.”
The 17th century Swiss theologian Johannes Wollebius noted that when the civil law in the Old Testament “is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.” This aligns with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith’s statement that the “general equity” of the Old Testament judicial laws are still of “moral use.”
(I would add that to limit “moral use” to anything but the civil realm is a stretch. For instance, if the Old Testament laws against theft, and the requirements for restitution, are indeed of “moral use” today, then why should they not be applied to the moral duties of individuals, families, businesses, and civil governments?)
As a Reformed Baptist, I agree with Schrock’s contention 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.” However, this does not automatically mean that the moral law of God applied in the Old Testament (both during the 2,500 years before Moses and the 1,500 years during the Old Covenant) should not be applied to modern society via what is sometimes referred to as “general equity theonomy.” (More on this in point five below.)
2. The Messianic Psalms
Schrock charges postmillennialists with reading “the Messianic Psalms without the aid of the New Testament.” He says postmillennialists apply certain Psalms “without relying on the apostles to explain how they should be applied.” Schrock agrees that Jesus is David’s son reigning over all the nations but insists that postmillennialists are neglecting what the New Testament teaches about how this is happening.
Schrock contends that postmillennialists are correct in asserting that “Christ is at this very moment ruling over all things,” but wrong in asserting that the church’s mission is “to make nations Christian.” This critique will resurface in several of Schrock’s remaining “reservations,” so a limited response will suffice here.
Schrock agrees that “Christ is bringing every nation into submission,” but balks at how postmillennialists think this will happen. He claims that postmillennialists “treat God’s mission in national terms.” However, Schrock himself admits that Christ is, in fact, “bringing every nation into submission” (emphasis added). What’s the problem, then?
Essentially, Schrock views the church’s mission as making “one new nation – namely, one royal assembly created by the Spirit, gathered from all the nations of the earth.” He views the idea of individual societies/nations coming to embrace Christ’s Lordship as extraneous to the church’s mission. Furthermore, he notes that “a view of the world where God deals with nations as nations” is erroneous.
I will address Schrock’s concerns over discipling the nations in the next point, but I simply ask here: If God does not deal with nations “as nations,” then how does he deal with them? Does he deal with them as local Rotary Clubs or homeowners’ associations? We can grant Schrock’s point that in the eternal state our experience of nations will differ from today – but so too will our experience of families differ greatly (Matt. 22:30). Nevertheless, God still deals with families as families prior to the consummation of history (Mal. 4:6; Eph. 5:25-29), even though he is in the process of creating one, eternal family of God. We should expect the same with nations.
3. The Great Commission
Schrock says postmillennialists “understand the Great Commission in terms of nations, more than churches.” At best, this is an anecdotal reservation on Schrock’s part. As a postmillennialist myself, I reject his claim. I understand the Great Commission in terms of all things – individuals, families, churches, businesses, and civil governments. And if I had to start somewhere, it would be with individuals, families, and churches. Most postmillennialists I know take a similar tack and nothing in the postmillennial view would contradict that approach.
Schrock, however, believes this point is central to the entire debate: “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 ‘disciple the nations’ or to ‘make disciples of the nations.’ Do you see the difference?”
Schrock argues for what he calls the “less literal” translation – namely, “make disciples of the nations,” asserting that making disciples should be seen “in the context of worship.”
“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,” Schrock writes. “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.”
Schrock says the postmillennial interpretation of the Great Commission leads postmillennialists to argue that “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).” Schrock seems to agree with this, at least in part, when he says the Great Commission is not “simply” a call to instruct rulers of the nations. At the very least, it seems, Schrock must admit that the Great Commission includes the requirement that civil rulers submit to Christ.
I think Schrock obliquely misrepresents many postmillennialists when he writes: “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.”
Once again, the postmillennialists I know would reject this approach. God demands that all people everywhere repent and follow Christ (Acts 17:30). Therefore, postmillennialists call on all people to “obey him from the heart.” Christ’s kingdom will not be built via nominalism, but with obedience from the heart, brought about by the Spirit’s work of regeneration.
Schrock argues that through “regeneration, not Christianization, God is creating a new kingdom, a new temple, and a new covenant people.” But Reformed postmillennialists agree. Christ’s kingdom spreads via regeneration. Schrock’s use of the term “Christianization” is not well-defined, allowing him to (perhaps inadvertently) use it as a catchall for nominalism and disturbing visions of the church ruling the state.
Would Schrock offer the same critique of Christians who believe the Great Commission includes the need to teach families how to obey Christ? Would the assumption be that these family-minded missionaries are focused on discipling fallen families to obey Christ outwardly, hoping that some within those families will obey him from the heart? Would Schrock not agree that a husband’s regeneration will lead to significant changes within his family (even if his wife remains an unbeliever)? Furthermore, would not Schrock agree that a husband obeying Christ in the home, administering discipline to his (unregenerate) children, will (often) lead to more individuals coming to faith in Christ? Is Christ not interested in his gospel impacting every area of life, including the husband’s family and the magistrate’s nation?
In summary, Schrock’s third reservation rests on a straw man – namely, that the postmillennial view of the Great Commission confuses “church and state” and inevitably aims at nominalism.
4. Paedobaptistic Doctrine
Schrock claims that “postmillennialism best fits with paedobaptism, not credobaptism.” He notes that a postmillennial view of the Great Commission “requires” nations to “become the patrons and protectors of the church” and “lead their peoples to be baptized in the name of Christ.”
“Again, this is where credobaptists should step off,” Schrock elaborates. “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.”
Schrock makes several points in this paragraph. Let’s address them briefly.
He says 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.” As a Reformed Baptist, I agree with the distinctiveness of the New Covenant (as explained above). I also agree that water baptism should be administered based upon a profession of faith, not upon genealogical descent. Furthermore, I agree that churches, not nations, have the right to baptize (I also don’t know any paedobaptists who would argue that nations should be doing the baptizing). None of these things, however, apply directly to the postmillennial (or theonomic) vision.
Schrock says, “Baptists oppose state churches, which would be tasked with Christianizing the world.” Here again Schrock brings in the ambiguous term of “Christianizing.” If by “Christianizing,” Schrock means aiming at nominalism, then “Christianizing” should be rejected. If, however, it means seeking to preach the gospel and apply biblical principles to individuals, families, and communities, what’s wrong with that? Would not even a Baptistic church, opposed to establishmentarianism, want that?
More to the point, postmillennialism does not require state churches. It simply calls for all people – the butcher, the baker, and the “lawmaker” – to obey Christ. Therefore, Baptists need not reject postmillennialism in the name of eschewing establishmentarianism.
Finally, Schrock writes, “Baptists should engage the public square and pursue political interests, [but] this should be done in a way that maintains regenerate church membership.” He later adds that Baptists should also be involved in “politics and culture-making.” That works for me – and every other Baptist postmillennialist besides. Schrock’s call for regenerate church membership – something I adamantly support – does not undermine the postmillennial position in the least bit.
Schrock admits that Baptists in the past, such as Andrew Fuller, have embraced postmillennialism without embracing state churches, but maintains “postmillennialism’s natural residence is found in non-Baptistic settings” – and, I’d add, Schrock aims to keep it that way.
Schrock then quotes Stephen Wolfe – a man who is neither postmillennial nor theonomic – to support his claims: “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.’”
Wolfe’s book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, defends neither postmillennialism nor theonomy, and one wonders why Schrock thinks it relevant to a discussion on those two topics. Wolfe could be categorized as an amillennial natural law philosopher who appreciates theonomy as much as Schrock does, but ultimately rejects the position. But Schrock quotes Wolfe not once, but twice, adding: “[Wolfe’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.’”
Thankfully, despite Schrock’s attempts, postmillennialists are not beholden to an amillennial natural law theorist’s description of “cultural Christianity.”
But a brief word on being “subject to Christian demands for all of life” is in order. The postmillennial position does not require people to be baptized to be “subject to” the demands of Christ. All people everywhere are required to obey Jesus Christ. Full stop.
5. Regenerate Membership, Not National Christendom
At this point, we begin to go over previous territory, but a response is still needed.
Earlier, Schrock said postmillennialists get it wrong when they posit “a view of the world where God deals with nations as nations.” Here, however, Schrock admits that very thing: “there is a way God relates to the nations as nations, but this is mediated and explicated through the Noahic covenant.”
Schrock elaborates: “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.”
Schrock just reaffirmed my point in response to his first reservation – namely, the moral law of God existed prior to Moses (and Noah), was reaffirmed in both the Noahic Covenant and the Old Covenant, and remains a “universal” law for “all the nations.”
Furthermore, he affirms the principle of an abiding moral aspect that can be applied from the Noahic Covenant and the Old Covenant when he says that “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.” Theonomists simply embrace that symmetry, look for the thread of the moral law in the Bible, and seek to apply it to our day.
Welcome to general equity theonomy, Pastor Schrock.
He continues: “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.”
No postmillennialist or theonomist believes the Law of God can redeem anyone, but we do believe the law is a good thing (for the Christian and the unbeliever). Furthermore, we believe that only the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration can bring individuals (who make up nations) to the place where they will submit to Christ, love God’s Law, and love their neighbors by applying it. We believe it is only the supernatural progress of the gospel that will lead to the coastlands one day “wait[ing] for his law” (Isaiah 42:4).
But Schrock continues: “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).”
Is this the substance of Schrock’s remonstration? Namely, that postmillennialists are just a bit too optimistic about the success of the gospel going forth and causing individuals to be born again? Based on his acceptance of universal principles of justice and the undeniable impact that the gospel will have on families, markets, and nation-states, one could be forgiven for thinking that. But Schrock quickly returns to his main problem: the postmillennialist’s insistence that even civil rulers obey Christ, noting, once again, that “postmillennialism targets nations and their rulers as the object of Christ’s reign.”
In postmillennialism, however, “nations and their rulers” are no more the objects of Christ’s reign than children, husbands, taxi drivers, homemakers, pastors, and doctors. Why does Schrock keep focusing on the civil realm? Perhaps it is as my pastor has said: the assertion that “Caesar must answer to Christ” will cause many clergymen to get uncomfortable. Schrock seems to be confirming his suspicions.
6. National Conversion
I am not sure why Schrock made this its own section as it largely repeats arguments from points three and five, but, if nothing else it adds more fodder for the discussion – and another opportunity for Schrock to express his concerns with a Christian focus on the nations.
Schrock says he is “comfortable with seeing the effects of Christianity impacting culture, [but is] adamantly convinced that cultural Christianity is a providential byproduct of conversion, not a goal that churches should seek directly.”
With comments like these, Schrock seems to suggest that postmillennialism’s main problem is a hyper focus on cultural Christianity, and Schrock would prefer the primary focus to be on individual conversion. However, Schrock admits in a footnote that “some postmillennialists also put conversion (and revival) as the necessary precursor to Christendom.” I would say not some but nearly all Reformed postmillennialists put conversion as the necessary precursor to Christendom. If this is true, then little remains of Schrock’s critique on the point of seeking cultural change. (Once again, Wolfe is neither postmillennial nor theonomic, and his comments are not germane to this discussion.)
Schrock returns to a discussion of the word “nation” from Matthew 28:19 and states that many postmillennialists interpret the word “nation” as “a proper singular, as when one says, ‘Germany declared war on America.’”
Importantly, I do not believe postmillennialism rises or falls based on how “nation” is interpreted in Matthew 28:19. Granting Schrock his interpretation of the term as “a large number of people” from a nation, the Great Commission still requires that people of all the nations be taught to obey Jesus, including gardeners and governors. Postmillennialism simply teaches that this will, by the power of the Spirit, happen in history.
Nevertheless, Schrock offers several reasons why the interpretation of “nation” by “many” postmillennialists is a problem. He says that postmillennialism “sacralizes the temporary nations of the world.” If he is consistent, Schrock would also be forced to say that any claim that the Great Commission should lead to families being discipled leads to “sacraliz[ing] the temporary” families of the world.
Schrock also makes the claim that “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, he writes, “the book of Acts shows us people from the nations showing up to be baptized.” I agree that we see people being baptized, not nations. (What would that even look like – a continental flood?) As a Baptist, I also believe that the book of Acts shows us people from the families of the world showing up to be baptized. None of this speaks to the responsibility of the civil ruler to obey Christ – or the level of optimism Christians should have in seeing individuals, families, and nations transformed by the gospel.
Schrock concludes this point by saying that “conversion is unmistakably individualistic.” In one sense, I agree wholeheartedly: no one can repent and believe on behalf of another. Everyone must personally turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Furthermore, as a Baptist, I even agree that an individual profession of faith is required for church membership. However, this does not mean the gospel has no implications beyond the individual. Schrock, of course, agrees: “Christianity changes culture, but that does not change the fact that individuals are converted, baptized, and added to the church.”
Once again, there is nothing in Schrock’s insistence that the primary call of the gospel is to the individual which undermines either postmillennialism or theonomy. Thus, there is little need to say more.
7. The Motherly Metaphor for the Church
Schrock’s final point is worth a bit more consideration, as he brings up arguments against postmillennialism heretofore not mentioned. His main contention in his final point is that “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.”
Even though this point will bring some new angles, the main contention remains at the foundation – namely, the Christian church should not get “overly” involved in the civil/political realm. (Again, one wonders why similar defensive remonstrations are lacking when it comes to calls for the church to help establish godly homes and equip spouses to build strong marriages.)
Schrock highlights the “difference between Christ’s rule over the nations and the church’s rule over the nations.” Schrock charges the postmillennialist with “conflat[ing] 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.”
Christ may be charged with subduing the nations, Schrock argues, but surely the church does not “possess the same vocation to subdue nations.” The church “acting collectively” must not be conflated with “what Christ calls [Christians] to do when scattered.”
Schrock brings up a theme that I have heard numerous times. Namely, the idea that there is a fundamental difference between the collective church’s role in the world and the individual Christian’s role in the world. In my opinion, this argument is often deployed as a conversation-stopper when postmillennialists call on Christians (especially pastors) to engage the culture with the gospel and God’s Law. “Don’t talk about that in church,” someone says. “It’s not the church’s job to call out sin in the public square; you can individually do that, but don’t conflate the role of the church with the individual Christian.”
I am happy to admit that there is a difference between what the gathered church does and what the individual Christian does. For example, the gathered church cannot raise my kids or love my wife on my behalf. The gathered church cannot vote on my behalf. The gathered church cannot help me unload the groceries for my elderly neighbor when she gets home at 9 o’clock in the evening. The gathered church cannot share the gospel with my lost uncle who never goes to a church service. The gathered church cannot look both ways before pulling out of my driveway for me. I must do those things.
Come to think of it, what does the gathered church “acting collectively” do? They gather together to read and learn from Scripture, edify one another, and partake in the Lord’s Supper (which includes excommunication, if necessary). (Baptism might be added to that list, but in the New Testament we actually do not see baptisms taking place during the gathered church’s meetings on the Lord’s Day.) In other words, the church “acting collectively” is very limited in what it does.
But, once again, what does this prove? Would Schrock argue that because the church “acting collectively” is not called to make babies or spank disobedient children, that pastors speaking from the pulpit have nothing to say about procreation and childrearing? Would he argue that because the church “acting collectively” cannot love my wife for me, that the leaders of the church, and Christians in general, have nothing to say about my responsibility to my wife?
Schrock’s view, perhaps inadvertently, eviscerates the preaching ministry of the church – limiting it to one’s duty during a weekly gathering – after all, the church “acting collectively” makes up a tiny minority of our lives. The pastor, as the church official, can only speak to how I should act during the 90 minutes I am sitting in the pew on Sunday. But Schrock knows better. He knows that the godly pastor is called to teach the full counsel of God to God’s people, applying all of God’s Word to all of God’s world (including personal habits that happen outside the church assembly, family matters, business dealings, and civil matters). Postmillennialists have no interest in being “overly” interested in politics – they simply refuse to be silent on the issues that the Bible speaks on (which includes individual responsibilities, family affairs, business matters, civil justice, crime and punishment, and statecraft).
Schrock also says that “individual children” of the maternal church, and not “the gathered church,” are “the ones who will impact the nations.”
“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,” Schrock writes. “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.”
Amen. Preach on, Rev. Schrock.
Once again, Schrock’s vision here works for me. Give me local churches committed to giving (spiritual) birth to children who will be trained to take the gospel and the Law of God into every area of life, including the political realm, and I will be a happy man. This seems to be the best Schrock can do here – remove the job of impacting the nations from the “gathered church” and place it on individual Christians.
Schrock says that “the church is not commissioned to disciple the kings of the earth, [but] she is called to disciple the children of God, some of which will be earthly rulers.”
Read that sentence again.
The church is not commissioned to disciple the kings of the earth, according to Schrock, unless they become Christians.
But what is the church supposed to do with non-Christians (civil rulers or otherwise)? I am confident that Schrock would favor evangelizing them. I am also confident that Schrock would want them to respond positively to said evangelism and become children of God. Ergo, Schrock wants to disciple the kings of the earth.
For clarity, just rework Schrock’s logic with familial terms: “The church is not commissioned to disciple parents, but she is called to disciple the children of God, some of which will be parents.”
In the end, Schrock’s argument presents a distinction without a difference.
I would add that if the job of the “gathered church” – and pastors by implication – at a minimum includes training Christians how to be engaged in the public square, should not pastors be willing to lead by example (cf. 1 Peter 5:3)? Showing Christians how to engage the world with the gospel is a key part of discipleship.
Schrock then sums up his argument with the aid of an amazingly broad brush: “Postmillennialism…makes national transformation the one-step plan for evangelistic dominion. But this is the problem. The mission requires two steps.”
As a dyed-in-the-wool postmillennialist, I agree with Schrock’s words: “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.”
For all the effort Schrock spent in critiquing theonomic postmillennialism – not primarily for its optimism, but mainly for its focus on the civil realm – he here perfectly summarizes the postmillennial battle plan that results in the “necessary” work of changing “counties, states, and nations.”
Schrock even adds that “we can have great optimism” in the two-step plan, even though “we do not have the promise that every nation will be converted, discipled, or Christianized.” (He adds that “Christ will do” it, however. I am unsure what Schrock means here. Is he saying Christ will indeed convert every nation?)
Schrock concludes his article by saying that “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.”
I hope I have demonstrated that a Reformed Baptist view of the covenants and ecclesiology are not irreconcilable with postmillennialism, but rather can co-exist logically and biblically with view that Christ has come to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found. (I do recognize that Schrock’s progressive covenantalism differs from Reformed Baptist covenant theology. However, I have attempted to show that at least one flavor of Baptistic theology is consistent with theonomic postmillennialism.)
It seems Schrock’s critique of postmillennialism is just as much a critique of some form of Christian nationalism being promoted by the likes of Stephen Wolfe – a paedobaptist, amillennial, natural law philosopher. Perhaps Wolfe’s views merit a critique from Schrock, but they have little to do with postmillennialism or theonomy.
In the final analysis, it appears that Schrock’s biggest beef is with postmillennialism’s alleged overemphasis on the political realm. But this is very hard to quantify. How much focus on civil justice is too much? How much focus on family duties is too much? How much focus on ecclesiology is too much? None of those things deal only with the individual as an individual, and thus can be prone to all the same criticisms Schrock brings against postmillennialism’s inclusion of the civil realm in the Great Commission.
Moreover, who is keeping score in terms of how many conversations, sermons, blog posts, outreaches, and exhortations fit into each category? When gathered corporately, the church should be hearing from pastors regarding every area of life. The Bible speaks to all people. Christians (gathered collectively or otherwise) should be about the business of telling others how to obey Jesus in all things. If Christian churches are going to develop mature believers, then they must be equipping them to answer the catechumen who asks, “What does it mean to follow Jesus as a husband?” as well as the one who asks, “What does it mean to follow Jesus as a sheriff?”
R. L. Dabney once wrote that “it is the church’s duty to instruct parents how God would have them rear their children, and enforce the duty by spiritual sanctions; but there its official power ends. It does not usurp the doing of the important task it instructs parents to do.”
Postmillennialists do not call on the church to do the task of the civil rulers, they simply affirm that she ought to instruct the rulers of the earth how Jesus would have them rule in righteousness and justice.
All people, everywhere, must be taught to do all that Jesus commanded. And postmillennialists believe that mission is not doomed to failure.