Are Millennial Views Essential?

Andy Naselli —  July 14, 2009 — 23 Comments

knowing_the_truthKevin Boling, host of “Knowing the Truth” radio program, contacted me a couple of hours before his hour-long radio program this afternoon and asked me to be his guest to discuss the issue I highlighted in my recent blog post on Schreiner’s and Dever’s positions on millennial views.

Kevin, a gracious host, entitled the program “Are Millennial Views Essential?“ The interview is available from SermonAudio as a 55-minute MP3.

Update: See “Mark Dever on the Function of Statements of Faith.”

23 responses to Are Millennial Views Essential?

  1. Did you say they were, or were you wrong?

    (c;

  2. Dan, you always crack me up.

    I’m kicking myself for a major blooper in the interview: I refer at one point to Gethsemane when I mean Calvary!

  3. Congratulations, Andy, on your guest appearance on Kevin Bolin’s, “Knowing the Truth” radio program. I just finished listening to the program online while painting our hall and stairway this evening. Interestingly enough, I used to listen to Bolin’s program quite regularly while painting my way through seminary in Greenville.

    Thanks for your clear and gracious presentation. Keep up your good work for the cause of Christ! My ministry has benefited from your ministry.

  4. Oh, I KNOW the feeling. I’ve done that exact sort of thing in sermons, interviews. Just kills you, doesn’t it?

    I think the Lord allows us such slips as humilitizers.

  5. Mark Snoeberger July 15, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Andy,

    I just finished listening to the interview and found it very stimulating. I was particularly pleased that you brought the question of eschatology to its logical end in ethics–if these things be so, how then shall we live? I think it is here that the tension reaches its crescendo, and where I have my biggest questions about Dever’s comments.

    I agree that one’s millennial view is not one of first-order significance. However, because of the ethical rammifications of one’s millennial view, I have trouble relegating this issue all the way down to the third-order level in Mohler’s triage schedule. One’s millennial view is not merely about the future, but also about the present. Specific ethical and missional demands on the church vary according to one’s millennial understanding.

    If, for instance, reconstructionist postmillennialism is true, then the church’s mission is expansive, including not only evangelism, but also cultural and political activism with a goal of toppling prevailing secular institutions. For the dispensational premillennialist, on the other hand, the mission of the church includes no such aspirations.

    If one’s millennial position has only to do with the future and has no impact on the present mission of the church, then I agree that it should be regarded a third-order doctrine over which Christians within one church and even within one pastoral team should be able to disagree charitably without any impact on the life of the church. The millennial question would drop in significance to the level of intramural quibbles about the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation 11–does it really matter who they are?

    But since one’s millennial position does influence one’s view of the church’s mission, this question seems to rise to the second level in Mohler’s taxonomy. As a premillennialist I affirm the Christian status of my postmillennial brother, but we would have difficulty planting a church together–we hold to sharply differing views of the church’s mission that would almost certainly derail our mutual effort at church-planting.

    Admittedly, Dever was speaking specifically to common church membership, and I can conceive of a scenario where my postmillennial brother and I could be members of a common church. But it would seem to me that our divergent views of the church’s mission are significant enough to rise to the second-order level in Mohler’s triage.

    What do you think?

    MAS

  6. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mark. I agree that theonomic postmillennialism is an exception. I should have highlighted this sort of scenario in the interview. (I regretted that omission, along with a few other things, after it was over.) I wasn’t focusing on theonomic postmillennialism in my mind probably because almost all of the people I’ve interacted with on this issue are either amillennial or premillennial (some pretribulational and some posttribulational).

  7. I agree with Mark that the ramifications of one’s millennial position are significant to one’s view of the church’s mission, and even to one’s basic approach to hermeneutics (as evidenced by MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference presentation, which though a bit “hot” made valid points, I thought).

    I’m less certain that the same is true regarding one’s tribulational view, however. For example, were a likeminded missionary to change his view on the timing of the rapture from pre to post, I don’t think it would necessarily pose the same ethical and interpretational challenges to daily ministry that a change of mill positions would. His philosophy of ministry could remain essentially unchanged. Even his basic hermeneutics could, I believe.

    Thoughts?

  8. Mark Snoeberger July 15, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Chris,

    How I think the game is going to end affects to some degree how I play the game. I agree that my position on the tribulation is less significant than my position on the Millennium on this score, but I wouldn’t want to say that it is without any significance at all.

    If I were crafting out standards for membership (speaking from the luxury of my ivory tower), I would not make a specific position on the tribulation a condition for church membership. But I certainly wouldn’t tell the pastor who does that he is in sin. I’d try to be more charitable than that.

    MAS

  9. Mark Snoeberger July 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Sorry, for some reason my smiley face failed to appear on that last comment. I was speaking tongue-in-cheek.

    MAS

  10. Thanks for the response, Mark. Helpful, and a bit surprising. :)

    I agree that saying that something like this is “sin” changes the conversation quite a bit! It would probably be wise to make arguments like this sans that sort of accusatory tone, especially since ministry partnerships like I’ve mentioned as an illustration (the support of specific missionaries) aren’t mandatory.

    Much to think about, for sure. Thanks again.

  11. Mark, I would tend to disagree. I don’t think the various views on the church’s mission are so closely tied to one’s millennial position—at least not in most cases.

    1. Not all dispensational premillennialists are so opposed to cultural and political activism, and certainly not all historic premillennialists are.

    2. Not all postmillennialists are as aggressive in cultural and political activism as others.

    3. What about amillennialists? How does their view of the church’s mission differ substantially from premillennialists’?

    You may have a point about substantially different views of the church’s mission affecting fellowship at some level, but tying these differences tightly to millennial positions seems to be questionable.

    I’d suggest that the real difference isn’t necessarily the millennial position; it’s the view of the church’s mission that may or may not connect itself to a particular millennial position.

  12. That makes sense, Phil. So for example, Dever and Doran seem to be very much in agreement on the church’s mission despite their differing mill positions.

  13. Chris, perfect example.

  14. Mark Snoeberger July 16, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Phil,

    You’re right that there are varieties of millennial positions that exceed the basic three–so many that it starts to look more like a spectral continuum than three points. And as a dispensational premillennialist, I’ll concede that I am very near the end of the spectrum.

    I’ll agree also to your specific claim that there are varieties of premillennialism that have broken away from traditional dispensational premillennialism toward the center. Interestingly, though, the two major groups of these (historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism) at their inception both cited the absence of a present form of the kingdom and its attendant suppression of social action as one of the primary reasons for abandoning dispensational premillennialism (read, e.g., Ladd, Henry, Bock).

    So we end up with something like this:

    Postmills are bringing the kingdom about (by various means).
    Amills are in the kingdom.
    Historic Premills are already in the kingdom but not yet.
    Prog Disp. Premills are are already in the kingdom but not yet (but not exactly the same way).
    Trad. Disp. Premills are not yet in the kingdom.

    Standing at the start of the 21st century we are compelled to conclude that the gravitational pull of the realized eschatological center is extremely strong. I’m not convinced, though, that we’ve arrived at a point where we can say that this trend has enveloped us all and normalized the mission for the church. The two poles, fading though they may be, illustrate this. And I for one am not convinced that we’ve come to the place where it just doesn’t matter any more.

    MAS

  15. Why would anyone think they are essential? Are you not saved if you don’t believe in one of them?

  16. Adam, the radio program begins by explaining the title (which leaves one asking “essential for what?”). Kevin primarily wanted to consider whether millennial views are essential for church membership.

  17. Layton Talbert July 20, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Please forgive the long post; I am coming to this belatedly. Mark Snoeberger’s last post brings to the surface what I am inclined to think is a larger issue at stake. Though Mark’s argument makes sense to me theoretically, it seems demonstrable that one’s view of the Church’s mission is not necessarily closely tied to one’s millennial view. Amils and premils, for example, can have very similar ministry philosophies and mission objectives. (By the way, though tribulational views have been acknowledged as less significant in the discussion above, it seems to me that one’s tribulational view probably has even more of an immediate theological/ethical impact than one’s millennial view, since it would seem to hobble our ability to be looking and waiting with genuine expectation for His coming–in any sense–in the potentially immediate future. Having said that, I would agree [as a thoroughly convinced pretribulationalist] that it is more difficult to be dogmatic on a tribulational position because of the nature of the biblical evidence.)

    A millennial view is not simply the tail tacked onto the end of one’s theological donkey. One’s millennial view is important primarily because it is not a neat, self-contained, isolated position. It carries a lot of baggage with it, it branches deeply into other theological areas, and it often becomes the determinative hermeneutical lens through which one views a multiplicity of other Scriptures. It unavoidably influences other major areas of theology and exegesis, not least of which is ecclesiology (not merely the mission of the church but the identity of the church). But it also has a profound impact on hermeneutics and exposition, influencing how we approach, interpret, teach, and ethically apply vast swaths of biblical revelation, both Old and New Testament.

    The argument that the function of eschatology is predominantly ethical seems too often to avoid the issue that we are dealing with revelation—which is, by definition, intended to reveal not to obscure, to be understood not to persuade us that understanding is ultimately impossible. God intended Daniel to understand (9:22,23). Jesus assumed that his hearers should be able to understand what they read in Daniel as well (Mt. 24:15). Even Revelation is filled with references to John to consider, know, and understand what he sees; and John was commissioned “to show it unto His servants” with the same intent (1:1; 22:6-7). None of this is to argue that the ethical ramifications of eschatology are unimportant. I would suggest, however, that the more central function of eschatology is doxological—to magnify the power and wisdom of God who underscores His unique glory by declaring the end from the beginning. Such revelatory declarations are pointless if no one can understand them ahead of time, or if they do not come to pass precisely as He has revealed them.

    As for Mark Dever’s remarks that sparked this whole discussion, I would just observe that hermeneutics and ecclesiology is what confessionalism and denominationalism have historically been about. This is nothing new. The rule Pastor Dever seeks to apply to all other pastors could just as equally be applied to any church that expects its members to adhere to the non-essential distinctives of Presbyterianism, Methodism, Baptists, or any other identifiable confessional entity. (Incidentally, Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s Statement of Faith includes in its articles (1) the priority of regeneration to faith and repentance (VII), (2) baptism by immersion (XIV), and (3) a statement of the second coming that is consistent only with amillennialism or postmillennialism (XVIII).)

    The issue is not separation but definition and self-identification, so that believers can know what to expect of any given ministry and like-minded believers can follow their own Scripturally informed consciences. Given the far-reaching implications of one’s millennial view, eschatological distinctives may be considered legitimate issues for such self-identification. Historically, Christian churches have been free to be as broad or as narrow in their individual statements of faith as they wish, without impugning the integrity or orthodoxy of others. If maintaining any “non-essential” distinctives damages that unity in a sinful way, then all “non-essential” distinctives damage that unity. It would be a courtesy for Pastor Dever to extend to others the charity he expects from others.

  18. Great interview Andy. Maybe I missed it (I tend to listen to programs like this when I’m eating lunch and watching my daughter), but I don’t recall you informing us of your position. Want to share it?

    If you read this, nice to see what you are up to Daniel G.

  19. My position on what? The radio program was specifically about Dever’s comment, and I think I communicated “my position” about that, right?

  20. Last night I heard an MP3 from 2007 in which Mark Dever said this: “So every Christian in the church should believe a lot more than what’s in your statement of faith, but what you’re trying to define in your statement of faith is ‘What do we need to have agreement upon in order to be a church together?’” For more context, see here.

  21. Sorry I wasn’t clear – I meant your millennial position.

  22. I hold to premillennialism.

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