The Social Gospel and
By Thomas Ice
Postmillennialism has often demonstrated a potential to synthesis with the culture around it. We believe that an example of this can be seen in the Social Gospel movement (about 1850-1940).
The problem is this: Since the Bible does not teach Postmillen-nialism, then their approach to Christianity and the world is misguid-ed. Their optimism often has them working with unbelievers and believers who are less than orthodox in a premature way. They often become entangled with other movements which seek to change the world, and after a few years find out that they are not gaining the control over the particular movement which they had envisioned. Then, with Christianity's aid, the movement often goes beyond that which a Biblical Christian could support. One of those situations has been the Postmillennial involvement in the rise and development of the Social Gospel movement last century.
While most Premillennialists have recognized that there are conservative and liberal wings of Postmillennialism, Reconstruct-ionists need to admit that this has been the case historically. Many liberal, Social Gospelers were indeed postmillennial. Gary Scott Smith has recently shown that a large segment of the Social Gospel movement was given its direction and impetus by evangelicals, as well as liberals. Notice some of his remarks:
I will attempt to show, contrary to the views of many historians, that religious ideologies and groups helped inspire the Progressive Movement of the first two decades of the twentieth century. . . . During the one hundred years prior to the development of this movement [the Social Gospel] in the 1870s and 1880s, however, many evangelicals labored vigorously to improve social conditions. . . . evangelical Christians provided the example, inspiration, and principles for much of the Social Gospel. . . . the evangelical ideology of the millennium merged without a break into what came to be called the social gospel in the years after 1870.
Premillennialists are not saying that evangelical Postmillennialists wanted the movement to end up producing the secular humanism of today, but that their social action did contribute to, even though this was not the evangelical intent, and often merged into the Social Gospel. They often held similar views on issues and thus joined forces and movements to try to influence society in a common direction.
As is often the case, many today would be horrified at what has grown out of the seeds of good intent. This historical lesson needs to be kept in mind today as Christian social and political organizations are intermingling with Mormans and Moonies, to name just a few. Where will some of these good intentions lead in the years to come?
Much of the New Deal and the Great Society of liberalism the last 60 years have had the corrupted goal of establishing a manmade Messianic kingdom. This certainly does not flow out of a Premillen-nial, or even an Amillennial view of the Kingdom; but it is consistent with a general Postmillennial vision.
That there is a Postmillennial impetus within liberal humanism is one of the main points that Rushdoony has noted in his work The Messianic Character of American Education: Studies in the History of the Philosophy of Education. He points out mistakes the early Puritans made in establishing public education, how it was later corrupted, and then used by the Unitarians and now the Progressives to bring in the Messianic socialist state. The Premillennial viewpoint would never have produced such a corruption.
In addition, there are Social Gospelers who claim to be Postmillennial. An example can be seen in the case of Shirley Jackson Case. Case was Professor of Early Church History and New Testament Interpre-tation in the University of Chicago and he published a book in 1918 called The Millennial Hope: A Phase of WarTime Thinking. Professor Case wrote the book as a polemic against the rising tide of Premillennialism during the first World War and identified himself as a Postmillennialist. He described his view as follows:
The latter [Postmillennialists] do not look for early relief through the sudden coming of Christ. On the contrary, they expect a gradual and increasing success of Christianity in the present world until ideal conditions are finally realized. Then will follow the millennium. At its close a brief period of apostasy will set in. . . . After the brief period of final tribulation is past, Christ will come in glory, a general resurrection will occur, judgment will be enacted, the old world will be destroyed by fire, the wicked will be consigned to torment, and the righteous will enter upon an eternal life of bliss.
This certainly sounds like Postmillennialism, and Case was most assuredly a Social Gospeler.
The Social Gospel and Christian Reconstruction
Notice the similarities between Reconstructionist Postmillenialism and anti-social Gospeler Greg Bahnsen when compared with Case's statement above. Bahnsen sees his view including:
(1)Christ will return subsequent to the millennium, which (2) represents a period which will see growth and maturation of righteousness, peace, and prosperity for Christ's kingdom on earth. . . .
(7)Over the long range the world will experience a period of extraordinary righteousness and prosperity as the church triumphs in the preaching of the gospel and discipling the nations through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit; however, the release of Satan at the very end of the age will bring apostasy from these blessed conditions.
In addition to the similarities between the two Postmillennial sys-tems, we should also note a major difference. Bahnsen clearly believes God will accomplish the matter, while Case looks only to man.
Even though there are differences, there are enough similarities to create a false view of optimism in a culture which is often manipulated for evil. David Chilton is forced to own up to some of the less desirable branches within the Postmillennial family tree.
Examples of the Postmillenarian heresy would be easy to name as well: the Munster Revolt of 1534, Nazism, and Marxism (whether "Christian" or otherwise).
Things like Nazism and Marxism are undesirable movements, as movements go in history. Why will Chilton own up to those but not the "Social Gospel" movement? It may be that we are seeing a similar wedding between certain errant Charismatic theologies and the current Reconstruction movement, as we saw over 100 years ago when Puritan Postmillennialism broke down into the Social Gospel movement. If this is indeed happening, then we will expect to see the spread of optimistic eschatology at the expense of historic orthodoxy. And, once again, the tendency of Postmillennialism to raise false hope will have occurred. The bad theology of some of the Charismatics will, if they continue to intermingle will overpower and conquer the orthodoxy of the well intentioned Reconstructionists. This pessimistic result could very well contribute to the apostasy which the Bible warns the Church against.
So, will the new, improved version of Postmillennialism which is being generated today be able to avoid this traditional pit fall? It does not appear to be the case, since a synthesis between many of the "positive confession/manifest sons of God" Charismatics and Reconstructionists is already taking place.
Distributed by www.worldviewweekend.com
Walvoord, Millennial Kingdom, p.23. "two types of post-millennialism. . . . (1) a Biblical type. . . . (2) the evolutionary or liberal theological type which bases its proof on confidence in man to achieve progress through natural means."
Gary Scott Smith, "The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911-12" Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. XLIX, No. 1, Spring 1987, pp. 92-3.
R.J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education: Studies in the History of the Philosophy of Education (Nutley: The Craig Press, 1963).
Shirley Jackson Case, The Millennial Hope: A Phase of War-Time Thinking, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918), p. 209.
Greg Bahnsen, "The Prima Facie Acceptability of Post-millennialism", The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No. 2 (Winter, 1976-77), p. 63.
David Chilton, "Orthodox Christianity and the Millenarian Heresy", (No. 19, June, 1985), p. 3.
Chilton writes, "The dominion outlook is equated with the liberal "Social Gospel" movement in the early 1900's. Such an identification is utterly absurd, devoid of any foundation whatsoever. The leaders of the Social Gospel movement were evolutionary humanists and socialists, and were openly hostile toward Biblical Christianity. It is true that they borrowed certain terms and concepts from Christianity, in order to pervert them for their own uses. Thus they talked about the "Kingdom of God," but what they meant was far removed from the traditional Christian faith." Paradise Restored, p. 228. Why would someone like Shirley Jackson Case (a Social Gospeler) write a whole book defining what he called Postmillennialism (p. 209), against the pessimistic premillennialism of his day, if he did not view himself as an optimistic postmillennialist? The Millennial Hope (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1918).
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