Have you been wondering just what the heck is premillennial dispensationalism?
If so, congratulations! Today is the day you find out!
I’m contemplating starting a new series of posts called “Adventures in Postmillennialism.” It will spotlight good things that are happening in the world. It will be sort of sporadic, no posting timetable, just me sharing cool things whenever I happen across them.
However, I realized that right now very few people will understand the title “Adventures in Postmillenialism” and what that has to do with anything. Because I still haven’t explained postmillennialism, or premillennialism, or premillennial dispensationalism! Soooo looks it’s time to define my terms!
First, what is dispensationalism?
Dispensationalism is the belief that history is divided into stages (or “dispensations”) based on God’s relationship with humanity. These stages are outlined in the Bible, though what qualifies as a stage is often debated by people like me who seem to have too much time on their hands.
Most dispensationalists count either 3, 4, 7, or 8 stages. However, everyone agrees that the final stage is … (cue: dramatic music) *the Millennium.*
What is the Millennium?
Millennialists believe that Jesus will come back to earth and usher in a Millennium of peace and prosperity, where God will reign supreme and everyone will be happy.
Seems simple enough. However, there are a lot of variations on this theory. I don’t know all of them, but the two most popular ones are premillennialism and postmillenialism. There’s also amillennialism, which views the millennium as figurative, but way to take the fun out of the apocalypse, amillennialists. So we won’t talk about them anymore.
Let’s move on to the two fun ones instead.
Premillennialism–The Emo Kid of the Millennialisms
Premillennialism is the dominant millennial theory today. It teaches that the world is just gonna get worse and worse until Jesus returns all Rapture-style to save us. There’s not much point in fixing things since humanity’s decline is a sign that Jesus is about to come back and fix it all for us. Cheerful stuff.
After Jesus fixes things, though, we get a millennium of peace. (So Jesus comes back before the Millennium. Hence, pre-Millennialism. ) Til then, premillennialism sits in its room, listening to My Chemical Romance and writing sad poetry about how nobody will ever understand the depths of its despair.
Interestingly, all dispensationalists are also premillennialists. I’m sure there is a reason for this, but I don’t know what it is. But anyway, that’s why you’ll hear about premillennial dispensationalism but never postmillennial dispensationalism.
Postmillennialism–Jesus Takes All the Credit
Postmillennialism is premillennialism’s naive but otherwise well-adjusted older sibling. Nobody pays it much attention because they’re too worried about premillennialism’s refusal to leave its room, which is quite a shame because the postmils have a lot of good stuff going on.
Postmils believe that we will have a Millennium of peace first and then Jesus will come back. (Jesus comes back after the Millennium, therefore Post-Millennialism.) In this theology, humanity works towards its own Millennium of peace. Once we’ve made the world awesome, Jesus will pop down like, “Great job, guys! I can take things from here.”
Then either we all breathe a sigh of relief (because maintaining a thousand years of world peace is hard) or we all roll our eyes like, “Gawd, did Jesus really just swoop in and take credit for our Utopia? Talk about a God complex.”
Some History and Stuff
Postmillennialism was big back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when everyone was convinced that humanity would continue uninterrupted down the track of progress until we reached the pinnacle of awesomeness, which at that time probably meant we’d all join the British Empire, sipping tea and watching Monty Python all day.
Not a terrible plan, actually. But silly things like World War I and World War II and the Holocaust crushed people’s optimistic spirits, and millennialists gave up hope that the world was going to get better on its own.
So when premillennialists cropped up in the mid-20th century, announcing that gloom and doom was all part of God’s plan, a lot of people were comforted, believing that things would get better again. And that’s good. To an extent. But now some people are using “Gloom and doom is all part of God’s plan,” as an excuse to actively not improve the world. And that’s really not a good thing for those of us who don’t plan on being Raptured tomorrow. We need to make the world a better place because we’re going to be here for a while.
So now you know what postmillennialism, premillenialism, and premillennial dispensationalism are. And when I explain my plan for “Adventures in Postmillennialism,” it will actually make sense.
Some sources for those who would like to learn more:
Apocalyptic Fever: End Times Prophecies in Modern America by Richard G. Kyle (2012) ISBN 1610976975