An Open Letter to Gary North (Part 1)

Dear Dr. North,



In your "I.C.E. Position Paper" of July 1995 (Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX 75711), you respond to my editorial, "Jewish Dreams," in the January 15, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer.

As an ardent proponent of postmillennialism, you are sharply critical of my defense of classic, creedal, Reformed amillennialism. You say, "Such a view paralyzes Christians, making them short-run planners who are on the defensive."

There are elements in your "position paper" — important elements — that I appreciate.

Taking Eschatology Seriously

You take eschatology seriously. You have no time for the foolish notion that it does not matter to the faith, to the church, and to the Christian life whether one is amillennial, premillennial, or postmillennial. Believing postmillennialism to be biblical, you are intolerant of both premillennialism and amillennialism. Rightly so! In fact, in an editorial subsequent to the one against which you inveigh, I quote you at length to this effect (see the Standard Bearer, April 1, 1995, "A Defense of [Reformed] Amillennialism"). 

I also appreciate that with a scholar's knowledge and honesty you acknowledge the truth of one of the main assertions in the editorial, namely, that "sixteenth-century confessions had been amillennial." You are critical of the "Continental Protestant churches" for refusing to revise these creeds in the area of eschatology, that is, for refusing to repudiate their amillennialism for postmillennialism.

You must keep in mind, however, that these sixteenth-century confessions, with the early seventeenth-century Canons of Dordt which neither abrogated nor modified the amillennialism of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession, are the binding creeds of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC). They are also the creeds of many other Reformed churches everywhere in the world. As long as these creeds are not revised in favor of postmillennialism, all these churches and every officebearer in them must teach and defend amillennialism. They must also condemn and reject postmillennialism and premillennialism. This is a matter of simple honesty. This is a matter of keeping the solemn vow by which the churches and officebearers have bound themselves to the doctrines taught in the creeds, including the doctrine of the last things.

It has long troubled me that the Reformed churches and their theologians have fallen silent on eschatology. Even those who speak out half-heartedly against the theonomic aspect of your Christian Reconstruction movement say nothing about eschatology. I cannot recall having read a vigorous defense of amillennialism in the last twenty years, even though you, R. J. Rushdoony, and others of your cohorts have been merciless, at times savage, in your criticism of amil-lennialism.

It is also commendable in your critique of "Jewish Dreams" that you not only clearly indicate the radical differences of postmillennialism from amillennialism but also accurately, though roughly, describe amillennial eschatology. Postmil-lennialism, you state, holds that Antichrist and "mass persecution" are past: "The beast of Revelation is behind us: Nero." The earthly future of the church is physical victory: "worldwide conversion and ... transformation of society as a result of such a conversion."

You are correct when, in contrast, you analyze amillennialism as teaching that "the Church will remain a besieged outpost in the midst of an apostate civilization," although "outpost" does not do justice to the fact that the church is at the center of apostate civilization.

There are also elements — important elements — in your paper that are erroneous. As a scholar and a Reformed Christian, you ought to reconsider these matters.

Amillennialism and Augustine

First, it is unworthy of a Reformed scholar to attempt to "poison the wells" regarding amil-lennialism by alleging that the origin of this doctrine is the Roman Catholic Church: "The Reformed churches on the European Continent adopted the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on the millennium." This is the tactic by which the enemies of infant baptism and the covenant think to destroy the practice of infant baptism: "The Reformed churches adopted the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on infant baptism." If you cannot find the origin of amillennialism in Jesus and the apostles, ascribe it to Augustine, who was influential in Protestant eschatology as in so many other doctrines. This has quite a different ring to it: "The Reformed churches on the European Continent adopted Augustine's teaching on the millennium."

Augustine set forth his understanding of the thousand years of Revelation in his The City of God. With other "spiritual" people he rejected the "millenarians"' explanation of the thousand years as a future, literal period in history during which the saints will enjoy "a holy leisure." Augustine added this devastating indictment of the view of the millennium of Revelation 20 that sees it as a carnal kingdom of earthly peace and plenty:

This opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God.... But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal.

Augustine's explanation was that the apostle John "used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time." The reign of the saints with Christ during the thousand years must likewise be understood "of the time of His (Christ's) first coming." The church is Christ's kingdom exactly because "His saints (are) even now reigning with Him." Augustine then described the nature of the saints' reign with Christ in a way that conflicts with the earthly dominion proposed by you and the other postmillennial Christian Reconstructionists:

Therefore the Church even now is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, even now His saints reign with Him, though otherwise than as they shall reign hereafter (that is, as Augustine had made plain earlier, in the new creation where there will be no tares among the wheat — DJE).... For they reign with Him who do what the apostle says, "If ye be risen with Christ, mind the things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Seek those things which are above, not the things which are on the earth" (The City of God, 20.7-9; see also J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 4th ed., London: Adam & Charles Black, 1968, pp. 479, 480).

The Victory of the Gospel

Second, you misrepresent amillennialism when you charge it with holding that "there is no earthly possibility of the widespread success of the gospel of Jesus Christ." Amillennialism believes that the gospel is now, will be, and always has been "successful" (we prefer to say, "victorious") on earth. Its triumph on earth is its accomplishment of the purposes of the risen Christ with the gospel. These purposes are the gathering of the elect out of all nations and thus the saving of the nations in them; the preservation of the elect in faith and holiness; the empowering of the elect believers and their children to live obedient lives to the Lord Christ in all spheres of earthly life; the building of the church; and the hardening of the reprobate. This victory is worldwide. 

What you should have said is that amillennialism denies the possibility of widespread earthly success of the gospel in a carnal kingdom very much like that which the Jews of John 6 desired.

Amillennialism and Calvin

Third, you err when, however weakly, you suggest that Calvin was postmillennial. John Calvin was not a postmillennialist in eschatology. John Calvin did not think that history will end with a splendid earthly triumph of the church. Calvin did not think that the great persecution of the church was past. He did not think that the kingdom of Christ in the world is a carnal kingdom. He did not interpret the prophecies in the Old Testament of the future glories of the Messianic kingdom as being fulfilled in a literal, physical manner. 

With all the Reformers, Calvin explicitly repudiated the millennial dream of an earthly kingdom in which the saints exercise political power. In his thorough study of Calvin's eschatology, Heinrich Quistorp states that Calvin "decidedly rejects the chiliasm (millen-nialism — DJE) of the fanatics which would make of the kingdom of Christ a purely temporal and transient one." Calvin judged the notion of a literal, earthly kingdom of a thousand years "a childish fantasy which hardly deserves the credit of refuting." Calvin saw the dream of a millennium as "an impoverishment, not to say a destruction, of the Christian hope." For those who preach a millennium to the people of God "make the Christian hope into a hope that is merely relative to this world and thereby dissolve the true hope which is directed to the eternal future of the Lord and His coming kingdom."

For Calvin, "the kingdom of a thousand years (of Rev. 20 — DJE) is then the spiritual rule of Christ over individual souls in their earthly life until the completion of their course in death and the general resurrection." That Calvin taught that the rule of Christ in present history is solely spiritual through the gospel, Quistorp proves by a citation from Calvin's commentary on Romans 14:11:

Now the Lord reigns in the world only through the gospel and we give honour to His majesty only where faith recognizes it in the word ... thus we see that at present prophecy is only beginning to be fulfilled. It will be completely fulfilled only on the day of the general resurrection when all the enemies of Christ will be under the sole of His feet. That this might come to pass, the Lord must first execute His judgment (Calvin's Doctrine of the Last Things, London: Lutterworth Press, 1955, pp. 158-162).

(to be concluded) 

— DJE