Chris Gordon: The Postmilllennialist Use Of 1 Corinthians 15:25 Is “Sloppy Exegesis”

Postmillennialism has, as of recent, become the rage in online discourse and in popular books like Stephen Wolfe’s Christian Nationalism. This has been curious to me as a pastor in the Reformed tradition due to the fact that most Christians recognize that we have come to the end of Christendom in America.

If we were witnessing widespread repentance in America and people falling at the feet of Jesus, then I might be able to take the current popularity of postmillennialism more seriously, but it strikes me as odd that in the midst of the sweeping moral revolution that characterizes our time, all of the sudden the idea of a golden age breaking into America is finding great approbation in certain quarters of the American church. What gives? Championing postmillennialism and dominion victory at a moment in history when the church is on the brink of serious persecution feels more like a desperation cry and a last-ditch effort to save an incompatible eschatology with life in America.

Whatever the case, what interests me is something that was emphasized at the recent Bahnsen conference that was held out as a problem for all other views of the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Both Jeff Durbin and Doug Wilson presented a particular verse in 1 Corinthians 15 as the verse that makes postmillennialism an insurmountable conclusion in the face of other eschatologies. That verse is 1 Corinthians 15:25: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

This verse was championed as the verse that convinced both Durbin and Wilson of their postmillennial position. Durbin accused all other views of “leaving out Christ’s total victory in this age” claiming that Christians today are slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken on this point. The defeatists of our age, said Durbin, are “missing the big-ticket items” of what Christ will do to his enemies before the Parousia. I Cor. 15:25, Durbin assures us, provides a timeline of what to expect before the resurrection. He will visibly put all rulers and authorities under his feet in great dominion for all to see.

Wilson similarly expressed, after reading David Chilton, that when he came across 1 Cor. 15:25, something snapped in his head and his postmillennial view began to assemble. This was the great verse that taunted him to become a postmillennial. On a personal note, I had no idea that 1 Cor. 15:25 is the verse that postmillennials are hanging their hat upon to prove their position. This was surprising to me, not only because I warn everyone to be cautious of building a doctrine on a single verse but, more importantly, no careful attention was given to what the apostle is actually doing in 1 Corinthians 15 as a whole. Read more»

Chris Gordon | The Postmillennial Problem | January 12, 2023


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24 comments

  1. This article makes several excellent points, but I’m frequently frustrated by my fellow reformers’ lack of precision in their speech. The classic premillennial perspective had been horribly damaged by dispensationalism but it’s not gaiter to chaise classic premillennial views under the broad brush. Likewise classic postmillennial views have been badly damaged by reconstructionism and theonomy.

    While I would concede that there likely aren’t that many classic premillennials around (at least by percentage) I know quite a few postmillennial folks who are horrified by this perspective and realize that it violates basic hermeneutics in support of reconstructionism. The lack of precision here is just not helpful to this debate.

    • Mitch,

      You’re entitled to disagree with Chris and me but your complaint is unpersuasive.

      1) It’s essentially a version of “no true Scotsman.”
      2) There are distinctions between older versions of postmillennialism and theonomic postmillennialism but for the last 40 years the theonomists have, for all practical purposes, been the face of postmillennialism.
      3) In some ways, theonomists have improved postmillennialism insofar as they agree with the Amils that the millennium was inaugurated with Christ’s ascension (so they aren’t waiting for it to kick in some later phase of history)
      4) According to a series of fairly reasonably critics of postmillennialism both the older version of postmillennialism and the newer, theonomic version, are not substantially different from chiliasm insofar as they all look forward to an earthly glory age.

      I’ve been documenting these critiques in the Heidelcast series contra postmillennialism:

      Heidelminicast Series: Contra Postmillennialism

  2. I really appreciate this reply to Mitch, Scott. Isn’t the very point that Wilson and Durbin are claiming to be postmillennials and are using 1 Cor. 15:25 in the same, historic manner as older postmills in support of an earthly glory age? What would not be precise is to make a separation of their views here when they have the same goal in their millennial position/application of the verse.

  3. I suppose trying to make a comment on my phone right after I wake up isn’t the best approach.
    Your point is well taken and I realize after rereading that the thrust of your argument is around the poor exegesis used regarding 1 Cor 15:25; I absolutely agree with that.

    I suspect the frustration inherent in my response is that I find that my own views don’t fit neatly into any of the “millennial” views (classic or modern). In my view the greater issue is that the exegesis around the phrase “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is similarly problematic; I’m no exegetical or biblical scholar (I’m a mostly self-trained elder in the PCA with a passion for hermeneutics) but it seems to me that the focus of that language is better understood in terms of “a time of God’s choosing” unbound from literalistic applications. Considering that the O.T use of this phrasing is rather poetic in form (Ps 90:4/Eccl 6:6) and the only N.T. use outside Rev 20 is 2 Peter 3:8 (and he’s arguably quoting Ps 90), none of which allow for a literalistic “defined period of time view”.

    In my own view the point of most millennial framing ends up being a discussion about what is going to happen when, yet the focus of apocalyptic literature in scripture seems to always be focused on the encouragement of God’s people under persecution. I take this in the theme of Hab 1:5 “Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told”.

    I’m personally discouraged by the mess that is the contemporary framing of postmillennialism and certainly premillennialism; so while I consider myself closer to the amillennial camp (I don’t at all believe scripture points to a future glory age of the church except in terms of eternity), I think there are things to be learned from the partial preterist perspective, and I also think that there’s a fatalism that creeps into contemporary amillennialism (I fight this in myself) such that the tension of already/not-yet that is core to its view of history and future trends toward “oh well, it’s just going to get worse from here” (at least in our culture) and has low expectations of revival and blessing for the remnant of God’s people – at least until there’s some level of complete socio-cultural collapse which in some ways is a messy opposite pole to post-mil while leaving recovering dispensationalists confused.

    A few weeks ago I was chatting with our pastor on a topic related to this and he commented “so…you’re a partial-preterist-optimistic-amillenialist”. Humor aside, do you see my point? How can any lay person understand this if the church is so fragmented in it’s framing of these issues? Why is the whole point of this genre of literature so rarely in the forefront of the debate?

    I recognize that the debate must be had, but it seems like the framing of the debate is ceded to that of the greatest error. The emphasis of God’s sovereignty in the face of persecution and the general sorrows of life as shown in apocalyptic texts of scripture is sadly rare, leaving dispensationalism far more accessible/tempting/overwhelming/default for many believers.

    Too many lay church members find the debate just too difficult and depressing to engage, and too many pastors just avoid the text because it’s scary; and when they do it’s full of so many debated details that the robust declaration of God’s love and providence for His people regardless of our circumstances gets missed. I’m absolutely indebted to Sam Storms for beating that theme into my head in Kingdom Come – but that is hardly an introductory book itself!

    So, the reality is that I read your post and responded with frustration about the whole mess that I encounter whenever this comes up with your average church member rather than acknowledging your very valid criticism of a particular point in this overall debate, and I apologize for that.

    Oh, and you are absolutely correct in your comment about “there is no one true Scotsman”. I’ll have to go beat myself over the head again with D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. I shouldn’t have fallen for that in the first place 🙂

    • Oh…and a further note…On my phone it wasn’t evident that this entire article on the blog was just the first few paragraphs of Chris’ much longer article. I appreciate the emphasis that Chris puts in the entirety of the article…I just hadn’t seen the whole thing the first time around.

  4. It’s really quite odd how in one regard you refer to Mr. Wilson as analogous to David Koresh, but yet ya’ll still continue to be captivated by him. Y’all just can’t stop talking and writing about him. What gives? Why do y’all constantly talk and write about Mr. Wilson?

    • Joh,

      Were David Koresh still alive and recruiting people to move to Waco, I would be warning against it too. We can only pray that the Lord spares the people of Moscow, ID another Münster or Waco.

      It’s not an obsession. It’s care for Christ’s lambs.

    • Dr. Clark, thanks for this response. But, if I may, here’s my concern: No officers that I’m aware of in NAPRC had any fondness for Mr. Koresh, and there are plenty within NAPARC that find Mr. Wilson’s theology appealing. Plenty. He has his followers in NAPRC. But not a single NAPARC church has come out and formally documented the need to distance one’s self from the “heretical” teachings of Mr. Wilson. Not even your URCNA has done this. Sure, they had the FV committee, but Mr. Wilson was hardly mentioned. So, these posts still leave me baffled. Do you and Chris Gordon speak for the whole of NAPRC? For every officer in your own denomination?

      • John,

        I agree that there are far too many who attracted to Mr W, who favor his culture-war rhetoric etc, who ignore what even the CREC has said about his pastoral abuses (thoroughly documented here), his plagiarism (which he blames on others, who have fallen on their swords for him), and his gross theological errors.

        I agree with you that the URCNA report was not critical enough re Mr W. As I’ve said many times, the RCUS report is the only one that did anything like a thorough critique of W’s theology. The weakness of the other reports on this score may be attributed the fact that they were surveys of the issues generally and not focused on one figure.

        Of course no extra-ecclesiastical magazine speaks for the URCNA. Neither Chris nor I pretend to speak for the URCs. As ministers, however, we do have a right to express our opinions and it we have a right even to try to teach and persuade others to see the dangers inherent in various theologies whatever their source.

        The resurgence of theonomy/reconstructionism/FV etc rests on a postmillennial foundation. It is my project, speaking for myself, to expose the weakness of that foundation and to seek to persuade as many possible to avoid that theological chuckhole,

        I think it would fair and just for the URCs to call the FV heretical. I hope that Synod will do that some day.

        It’s hard for me to understand why you’re baffled. I’ve been opposing this stuff for twenty five years and for the entire existence of this publication. I’ve published books and articles against it and I’ll continue to do so as long as the Lord allows.

        Resources On The Federal Vision Theology

        Resources On Theonomy And Reconstructionism

        Resources on Eschatology

        Heidelminicast Series: Contra Postmillennialism

        Why am I relentless? Because I read Gary North and he said, “If you criticize us, we will respond overwhelmingly” (or something like that). It’s the Nikita Kruschev approach. Fine. Let’s dance. As Captain America says, “I can do this all day.”

  5. I first should say that I appreciate Pastor Gordon’s article regarding the clear emphasis on looking to the coming of Christ, as well as the reminder that we are indeed pilgrims and sojourners in this world, having lives often filled with many sufferings. I would, however, like to register one particular area of disagreement with Pastor Gordon’s article. (Just for some background, I am a minister in the RPCNA, and would fall under the historicist/postmillennial interpretation of Revelation.)

    Pastor Gordon writes, “Let us be realistic about the sufferings of this present age so that we live in hope for the age to come. This matters so that we do not become sidetracked in our mission of preaching the cross in the pursuit of saving America. The problem with postmillennialism in American today is just that, it’s just too American.”

    The issue I have with this is that, as a postmillennialist, I am not obligated to believe that our nation will continue to exist until the return of Christ, which I grant could be imminent (in which case I would happily become an amillenialist, having my eschatology accordingly perfected). We could very well go the way of other empires which have come and gone, and the Church as the Kingdom of Christ will continue on until the end of the age. As minister, my duty is to proclaim the Law and the Gospel, to pray, and then leave the results to the Lord. I believe the Lord is able to bring revival, and I believe it is reasonable to believe, based on the Scriptures, that the nations will one day be converted; but if so, it will come in the same way as any ordinary conversion: the hearing of the Word of God.

    I am, admittedly, a bit perplexed at the voluminous disapprobation against those who believe that the Gospel will prevail throughout every nation. We can quibble all day on whether or not Christians can expect to see significant growth before Christ’s return, and this is perhaps the comments section of an article is not a good place for such. But responsible postmillennialists (if you would grant the term) – I mean, post-mil ministers and elders found in NAPARC churches – are more responsible than to have an American-centered eschatology. There are more meaty and historic versions of postmillennialism, rooted in reformed/confessional exegesis, than the bumper-sticker variety of straw men dealt with here. It might even be interesting and helpful to see a kind of tete-a-tete interaction (whether written or verbal) between such views.

    • Drew,

      Not sure why you’re surprised. The Reformed have been warning against the core doctrine and the chief attraction of postmillennialism (and chiliasm, which, as several Amillennial writers have noted, are not really that different): a future earthly golden age. It’s not a question of what the gospel or the Spirit could do (de potentia Dei) but what God has promised.

      Consider the Swiss Reformed rejection of a future, earthly golden age:

      We therefore condemn all who deny a real resurrection of the flesh (II Tim. 2:18), or who with John of Jerusalem, against whom Jerome wrote, do not have a correct view of the glorification of bodies. We also condemn those who thought that the devil and all the ungodly would at some time be saved, and that there would be an end to punishments. For the Lord has plainly declared: “Their fire is not quenched, and their worm does not die” (Mark 9:44). We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different.

      —Heinrich Bullinger, Second Helvetic Confession (1561/1566), chapter 11.

      As to criticisms of postmillennialism, for your convenience, I’ve recorded all the major, modern, English language critiques of postmillennialism here.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    If by “the Reformed,” you refer more narrowly to the continental tradition and its descendants, then I grant your point. But if you are meaning to include the British reformation and its descendants (particularly the ones who carry around blue face-paint with them just in case), then “The Reformed” have not been unanimously warning against postmillennialism.

    As to confessional documents, I would commend Larger Catechism 191 (to which I have subscribed). What do we pray for in the Second Petition? “. . . The gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countanenced and maintained by the civil magistrate . . .” That petition is as certain as “hallowed be Thy Name” and “give us this day our daily bread”.

    Your response, however, does not address the actual dissent I raised in my reply (see “one particular area of disagreement” and following). I concede that I perhaps added too much before and after, which continues to show that if you’re win-some you lose-some. I recognize and respect the disparity of our positions, both of which are permitted within our confessional boundaries, which is why I only wanted to narrow in on the one quotation. Namely, I disagreed that Postmillennialism is (as Pastor Gordon states) inherently and narrowly “too American” – by claiming that to the contrary that the vocation of the post-mil pastor, as with every pastor, is not to be “saving America,” but to be preaching Christ. The blessed hope for every Christian (including Postmillennialists – at least last I checked) is the return of Christ and resurrection of the body at the Last Day. If it is said otherwise, or assumed otherwise, that is the fault of the theologian, not the theology.

    • Drew,

      I’m not saying that postmillennialism is beyond the confessional pale, though were a postmil candidate present himself in our classis I would challenge him quite pointedly about how he got to his conclusions—what sort of hermeneutic is he using?—and about his conclusions. I doubt it’s entirely consonant with the Belgic Confession.

      All I’m doing is to provide evidence and witness to the objections against postmillennialism lodged by Hoekema, Riddlebarger, Venema, Berkhof, Strimple etc.

      See Venema’s extensive critique of postmillennialism.

      Those criticisms are compelling. I’m committed to doing what I can to dissuade people from adopting it.

  7. Thank you for this, I am finding this amazing, it’s exactly what I escaped from leaving the charismatic movment and becoming reformed. 7 Mountain mandate, Joel’s Army, Latter Day Reign.
    Alan

    • Alan,

      There is a connection. Back in the 70s & 80s Rushdoony et al connected with Pentecostals in the American South and transmitted their eschatology to them. At bottom they are both versions of a theology of glory.

  8. It’s strange, but from what I’ve seen online, postmillennialists spin “the sweeping moral revolution that characterizes our time” as an argument for postmillennialism. They say our culture is in the position its in because non-postmils don’t believe in the success of the gospel, therefore we don’t evangelize like we should, and we don’t engage the culture like we should because of our two kingdoms theology, etc. So in their view, our culture is suffering from an impotent non-postmillenial church, and postmillennialism is the cure.

    I think the explanation offered by Carl Trueman in his recent works for how our culture got here is far more persuasive.

  9. A postmillennial position centered on American glory? Borderline heretical. A postmillennial position centered on the idea that through the preaching of the Gospel, at the second coming of Christ, the number of the elect will outnumber the reprobate? At the very least, Biblically defensible. The history of the reformed tradition demonstrates that postmillennial eschatology was considered confessional and Biblically supported. It saddens me how much is written about how “unbiblical” is a position that finds Gospel assurance in a net positive growth of Christ’s kingdom.

    • Hi Preston,

      The fact that good men have believed and taught a bad thing does not make that bad thing immune from criticism. As I’ve said to another respondent already, it is true that the Presbyterians permit a variety of eschatological views (including chiliasm) but neither does that fact make those errors (chiliasm and postmillennialism) immune from criticism. Again, were a candidate for ministry to appear before our classis and advocate postmillennialism, he would face rigorous questioning about not only his conclusions but also, and perhaps more importantly, the hermeneutic whereby he reached those conclusions.

      I am impressed by how little postmillennialists seem to be aware of legitimate and even profound criticisms have been leveled against that view since 1530 by Reformation Protestants (Lutheran and Reformed).

      I’ve been compiling some of them here:

      Resources on Eschatology

      and specifically here:

      Against Postmillennialism

      In that series I’ve done the work for the listener. All one need do is listen.

      • Dr. Clark,

        I think, in the interest of fairness, it may be more reasonable to say that while postmillennialists of the historic, reformed persuasion are indeed aware of the legitimate and profound criticisms offered by other good and wise men; they just don’t consider them as compelling. Certainly, the distinctive Reformed position on Christian liberty would permit sound Christians to reject the amillennial argument in favor of postmillennialism.

        Would you be willing to say that there are legitimate and profound criticisms that may be leveled at amillennialism? Do you think that anyone who espouses a postmillennial eschatology necessarily has a faulty hermeneutic, or may some persuade you they are hermeneutically sound but have simply come to a different, though Biblically defensible, view on eschatology?

        • Preston,

          Well, I’m happy to see intelligent criticisms of Amillennialism but from a historical perspective, chiliasm and postmillennialism (of whatever sort) are the outliers here. There is ecclesiastical condemnation of the idea of a future earthly glory age (which effectively covers both chiliasm and postmillennialism). There is no such thing re Amillennialism because the 16th century Protestants were all what we would today call Amillennialists.

          THE SECTS. We therefore condemn all who deny a real resurrection of the flesh (II Tim. 2:18), or who with John of Jerusalem, against whom Jerome wrote, do not have a correct view of the glorification of bodies. We also condemn those who thought that the devil and all the ungodly would at some time be saved, and that there would be an end to punishments. For the Lord has plainly declared: “Their fire is not quenched, and their worm does not die” (Mark 9:44). We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different.

          —Second Helvetic Confession (1561/1566), chapter 11.

          Have you read Hoekema, Venema (who has made the most extensive modern critique), Riddlebarger, Strimple, & Berkhof on postmillennialism? I’ve met very few postmils who have wrestled with their criticisms. What typically happens is that a chiliast (of some sort) becomes predestinarian and then carts into his Reformed faith the same hermeneutic and becomes postmil–they are essentially the same thing. That’s the consistent judgment of the Amil critics of the postmil position.

          Yes, there will be a day of glory, in which all the nations of the earth will bow the knee to King Jesus but that day will not occur before his return. It’s not a question of whether Jesus has conquered or whether he reigns but how and how that is manifested. Unlike many Postmils, we Amils say that Christ is reigning now. He was reigning and conquering when Pliny ordered the beating of the Christian servant girls in AD 114 and when the Christians were being thrown to the lions in AD 250. He was reigning when the Huguenots were being martyred in 1572 and he was conquering his enemies through the gospel. The problem is that the Postmillennialists don’t see that as conquering. It’s the difference between a theologian of the cross and a theologian of glory.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I have read Riddlebarger’s objections and I’m familiar with Berkhof’s. I know less of Venema and Hoekema, though I enjoy the latter on common grace. My convictions are not a result of a dismissal of their critiques and concerns; rather, I simply find the responses of Boettner, Warfield, Sandlin, and Gentry, among others, to be more compelling.

      The postmillennialism you’ve identified is also a form I, too, would reject. In espousing a postmillennial eschatology, I reject any claims of universalism, perfectionism, or sanctificationism. And I fully agree that Christ IS reigning now and that all His enemies have been made His footstool. Still, there is that already/not-yet distinction that I think is relevant here. Though Christ has defeated death through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, man still experiences death. Thus, while that enemy has been defeated, there is still a sense in which the final enemy must be defeated. I also reject any idea that we operate on a fixed timeline. We agree, when the Huguenots were being martyred, Christ was reigning. If every single Christian on earth died tomorrow sans the redeemed population on the island of St. Helena, I would still believe that Christ is reigning and that His kingdom would advance until the fullness of the Gentiles is brought in and the Jews are grafted back in. I just believe, as I believe Scripture asserts, that that number will exceed the number of the reprobate. As I like to simplify, the confessional postmillennialist has assurance of what the confessional amillennialist hopes for. I don’t think, historically or confessionally, the views are so far apart as the frequent arguing suggests.

      In any event, thanks for your time and responses.

      • Preston,

        You should read Venema. His critique is quite thorough. I’m podcasting Strimple’s critique of Gentry right now.

        The problem with virtually (as Venema shows) every form of postmillennialism is that it postpones Christ’s reign until conditions change. There’s a formal acknowledgment that Christ is reigning but a suggestion that he will really be reigning when…

        There is a great distance between any eschatology that has an earthly glory age before Christ returns or before the judgment (in the case of chiliasm).

        It’s over-realized.

        The point that Chris makes in his essay and that Strimple makes in his response to Gentry is also compelling: the exegetical basis for all forms of postmillennialism is wanting.

        You should listen to Strimple’s critique of Gentry.

  10. There are necessary conditions that must change before Christ returns though. For example, the Jews must be grafted back in. The doctrine of an imminent return is, in my opinion, one of the prime examples of dispensationalism coming into otherwise solid churches.

    • Preston,

      A mass conversion of the Jews is a view held by orthodox Reformed folk but it’s not confessed in the Belgic or in any other Reformed confession is it?

      I don’t know about the “imminent” return of Christ. The Amillennialists hold that when all the elect are called, Christ will return. The Belgic Confession is not Dispensational.

      If you’re hanging out intellectually with Gentry et al., you might be cautious about tossing the D word around. Have you read David Chilton’s commentary on the Revelation? Dallas Seminary c. 1950 called and they want their hermeneutic back. 🤣

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