I’m an historical premillenialist, which is an overwrought but technically precise way of saying that I believe that Christ will return and defeat His enemies in the future. One alternative to this view is postmillenialism, another overwrought technical term referring to Christ having already established His Kingdom, a Kingdom which will conquer the entire world. This conquest is often called “dominion theology” or “theonomy”.
Now, I’m a premillenialist because I think the return of Christ hasn’t happened yet, the tribulation is real, and there will be great apostasy at the end; these are all predictions in Scripture that don’t seem to have happened yet. At the same time, I don’t believe the strategy Christians ought to take is surrender, retreat, cowardice, and laziness. These are vices often justified by premillenial assumptions.
Postmillenial Christians will often frame this by suggesting it’s a question of whether the church will fulfill the Great Commission and win, or if it will fail and lose. Obviously, we don’t want to say the church will lose. However, this raises the question of what the church is for, and what the Christian life is all about, and whether or not this is a fair characterization of what victory looks like.
I think the Scriptures that speak about eschatology are clearly premillenial. However, I think the texts that speak about the role of the church and the Great Commission clearly teach a sort of expanding Kingdom and a need to take dominion. I also think it’s clear from history that there’s no such thing as a truly neutral culture or state. With those things in mind…
The case against postmillenial theology, I think, is fairly easy to make from Scripture. But the case against dominion theology is not. For example, Got Questions – a great website I highly recommend – has a disappointingly weak response to this theology (bold mine):
Those who hold these views believe that it is the duty of Christians to create a worldwide kingdom patterned after the Mosaic Law. They believe that Christ will not return to earth until such a kingdom has been established. The principal goal, then, of dominion theology and Christian reconstructionism is political and religious domination of the world through the implementation of the moral laws, and subsequent punishments, of the Old Testament (the sacrificial and ceremonial laws having been fulfilled in the New Testament). This is not a government system ruled by the church, but rather a government conformed to the Law of God.
Dominion theology / Christian reconstructionism is largely based upon a post-millennial view of covenantalism. Post-millennialism is the belief that Christ will return to earth after the thousand-year reign of God’s kingdom, and covenantalism refers to the belief that biblical history is divided into three major covenants supposedly described in Scripture—of redemption, of works, and of grace. Adherents believe that we currently exist under the covenant of grace, that the church and Israel are the same, and we are now in the millennial Kingdom of God. Man, under the covenant of grace, is responsible to rule the world, to hold dominion over it in obedience to the laws of God.
We believe that the Bible teaches a premillennial view of the Kingdom of God (Zechariah 14:4–9; Matthew 25:31–34) and that Israel and the Church are distinct throughout biblical history and prophecy. We don’t see that God ever commanded the Church to take charge of and revamp society. Instead, we see the command for believers to preach the gospel as in Matthew 28:19–20. God intends to implement worldwide social reform Himself (Revelation 19:11 — 20:4).
First, I don’t think “the principal goal of dominion theology … is political and religious domination of the world through the implementation of OT law”. The fact is that some law will rule, some moral framework will be the foundation, some worldview will undergird everything. If not Christianity, than something false. But Christianity isn’t a religion of compelled belief and free speech and religious liberty are natural outworkings of Christian civilization.
Second, you don’t have to believe that Israel and the church are the same or that we live in the millennium to understand anything that I just wrote. Again, there will always be an official religion. The question is: which?
Third, we do see God commanding the church to take charge and revamp culture. Culture is just religion externalized, as one theologian put it. Unless the church utterly fails, there will be a Christian culture by necessity. Even in the passage cited (Matthew 28:19-20), Christians are commanded to “teach all nations to observe all that I have commanded you”. God does indeed intent to reform the whole world; I agree with the premillennial position. And yet we’re commanded to make disciples of all nations. Christ has the ultimate victory, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t to fight the war until then.
There was also an article written for the wretched Gospel Coalition blog which also condemns what seems to be a caricature and espouses a sort of antinomianism – that because we’ll never reach heavenly perfection, there’s no reason to try to just make things better than they are. It also fails to address the fact that, again, some religion is going to be the official religion and if it isn’t Christianity, it’s a false one. There is an assumption of neutrality or secularism that is totally unjustified.
To restate my beliefs on this:
- I believe Jesus hasn’t returned yet to rule His Kingdom and take full dominion of the whole earth.
- I believe we are called to bring the Gospel to the whole world, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe everything we’ve been commanded.
- Some religion will be the official religion underlying every law, custom, norm, and institution and we should want it to be the true religion.
As an initial attempt to bring all of these together, here’s my proposal:
- We should await Christ’s return with hope, knowing the world will eventually get very dark after the harvest.
- We should not expect to win the whole world to Christ, but we should fight like we can. Optimism rather than triumphalism.
- We should win what we can and build what we can.
- We should take the transformation of culture toward godliness as the clearest sign that the Gospel really has gone out and been received, and we should take the opposite as a sign that we are failing in our charge.
- We should reject secularism and neutrality. They are myths that come from a confused understanding of history. Christianity provided freedom of conscience. We should embrace true liberty because it flows out of Christianity.
- We should reject antinomianism as a heresy. We should expect Christians to grow in the faith.
- We should see Christianity applying to all aspects of life. Sharing our faith is the bedrock, not the totality. Reducing the faith to “sharing the Gospel” is a shallow, anemic religion.
- We should reject Gnosticism. Material blessing and mundane work is good and holy, and not merely because we can “share our faith” with our coworkers. Building things and taking dominion is very good. It’s what we were made for.
I think we need a pre-mil dominion theology. A sort of “mere dominion”. Something that I think makes better sense of the text of Scripture than either postmillenial dominion/theonomy and premillenial cowardice and retreat.
To answer the titular question: I think the church will win. I just think the victory will be in the harvest, not the complete conquest of the earth. But the work to accomplish both of those things looks very similar.
I don’t think there’s as much disagreement between premillenial theology and taking dominion as it might seem at first glace, and I’d like to further develop this idea.
Thank you SO much for this. I entirely agree. I love that you have thought it through when I just assumed it but didn’t express it. I will be pointing folks this way.
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Thank you, I appreciate it.