Church,  Culture,  Hermeneutics,  Theology

The Postmillennial Vendetta Against Dispensationalism

Many postmillennialists spurn dispensationalism because they view dispensationalism as standing in the way of cultural reformation. As a case in point, here is a recent comment that up-and-coming postmillennialist, Joel Webbon, posted about the need for Christian involvement in artificial intelligence. Although the tweet was about Christians leading in innovation, Webbon somehow managed to work in his dislike for dispensationalism.

If you are confused about Webbon’s logic, you are not alone. Many of the comments also indicated confusion as to why the defeat of dispensationalism was key to the success of Christian innovation. But Webbon is not alone in his reasoning. Others have blamed dispensationalism for the degeneration of culture. Andrew Sandlin has also promoted a similar anti-dispensationalism in a variety of comments. For example:

This negativity toward dispensationalism among the postmillennial crowd is well-documented but little understood. Why do many postmillennialists have a vendetta against dispensationalism?

Christian Reconstructionism as the Antithesis of Dispensationalism

In the 1960s a Christian-political movement was born. Known as “Christian Reconstructionism” or “Dominion Theology” this movement was led by three individuals: R. J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, and Gary North. These individuals were foundational in this movement and promoted the idea that the gospel will not only save individuals, but it will save and transform cultures and societies. Postmillennialism, the belief that the gospel will gradually and fully take over the world until the vast majority of people are saved, is inherently linked with this movement.  

Dispensationalism, on the other hand, believes that, rather than the whole world slowly and steadily becoming Christian, evil will increase and evil people “will go on from bad to worse” (2 Tim 3:13). Thus, for the postmillennialist, the dispensationalist stands in the way as a pessimistic dissident who is hindering Christians from embracing the mission of the church—which is ultimately cultural reformation and the establishment of Christian nations.

Gary North, one of the patriarchs of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, said it this way:

“There is no doubt that the most vocal critics of dispensationalism have been the Christian Reconstructionists. Our view of law and the future—theonomy and postmillennialism—is the antithesis of dispensationalism. Where dispensationalism flourishes, the visions and goals of Christian Reconstruction cannot prosper.”

North, Rapture Fever, xxxii.

Postmillennialists of the Gary North variety thus view dispensationalism as the enemy of the progress and success of the church. Although it has often been pointed out that dispensationalism does not cause cultural decay, North was so convinced on this point that it became part of his goal in life to destroy dispensationalism. He writes, “I decided in 1984 that I would like to be known in Church history as the man who financed the intellectual demise of dispensationalism in its time of greatest crisis” (Rapture Fever, xxxii). This deep-seated desire to destroy dispensationalism has had a lasting influence on the current postmillennial movement.

Modern Postmillennialism and the Gary North Influence  

The influence of Gary North is traceable through his own writings, to be sure. However, more importantly, North’s negative assessment of dispensationalism can be traced through the influence of his protégé, Gary DeMar.

DeMar is one of the most popular and influential postmillennialists of our day. He was a close understudy of North and they worked together on a number of books and projects. In contrast to North, DeMar offered a more winsome and palatable version of a postmillennial theonomy. DeMar’s outgoing personality and pleasant nature earned him the name, “Uncle Gary.”

“Uncle” Gary’s influence on modern-day postmillennialism is seen by his many appearances on the podcasts of Joel Webbon, Doug Wilson, and others. Perhaps his most prominent influence is seen in the person of Jeff Durbin, who runs Apologia Studies (a Youtube channel with ~400K subscribers and a vast media reach). According to Durbin’s own testimony, Gary DeMar was the most influential voice in discipling him in postmillennialism (Youtube Video, 8:45–9:15 mark). Durbin has been instrumental, along with Doug Wilson, in popularizing postmillennialism to the younger Christian generation. But Durbin’s influence doesn’t stop with the younger generation either. Apologist James White also became postmillennial shortly after joining Jeff Durbin’s church.

Although the postmillennial movement of today looks much different than the early days of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, there are a few key similarities that remain. One thing that remains is a fiery scorn for dispensationalism. Understanding the theological contribution of Gary North and his disciples seems to help explain why some of the most prominent postmillennialists speak so adamantly and negatively against dispensationalism. But, this is not (nor does it have to be) the case.

An Alternative Path

I am happy to say that I have friends who are postmillennialist—good friends! Although I know it is hard to believe I have friends, it is the truth. I am even more happy to report that these postmillennial friends have expressed disappointment and disgust at how dispensationalists are often misrepresented and maligned as those who hurt the church. I am very grateful for these friends and I mention this so people will know that not every postmillennialist is the same in how they talk about dispensationalism.

In reality, whether one is amillennial, postmillennial, or premillennial, the arguments need to move away from personal attacks and characterizations which are unhelpful. Although postmillennialism has often been associated with a vehement vendetta against dispensationalism (due at least in part to the influence of North and others), that does not have to be the case. As my postmillennial friends have shown, there is a correct way to discuss and even debate theology. The correct way is not found in blaming the system of dispensationalism for a failure to redeem culture. The correct way is to compare exegetical and theological arguments. This is the path forward in any theological disagreement.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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