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Does Amillennialism Really Need a Rebrand?
A Response to Matthew Everhard
I recently bought myself a fountain pen. I’ve had terrible handwriting as long as I can remember—an excellent trait to have as a writer—and I thought it was time I did something about it. I decided on a fountain pen partially because a number of other writers have recommended it, and also because it seems to force one to be more careful. No one suggested it had to be yellow though.
Yellow, I thought, If I’m going to convince myself to use it, it ought to look exciting.
In sales, new recruits are often asked to “sell” a pen to a colleague to exercise their skills. Well, I marketed the pen to myself and I bought my own logic, so I guess I’m one step towards winning salesman of the year in the Ravenhill household. Today I’m facing a similar issue, should I—should we—paint a theological model “yellow” too? Would that make it more attractive? Easier to understand? Less boring?
Important: My guess is that you’re in one of two camps:
You’ve clicked on the name but might not make it past the next couple of paragraphs because they might seem more dense
You’re savvy with the terms and you just wanna get on with the article.
For those in the first camp, I’d love to encourage you that this article isn’t as dense, boring, or aimless as it might seem. There are reasons we need to discuss subjects like this and although “academic” theological terms might be an immediate barrier, getting to know the terms can open up deeper biblical and theological understanding as well as simplifying future reading.
Here are some key terms:
Eschatology is the study and theology of the end times, post-, pre-, and amillennialism are models to help understand the shape that the end times will take and although there are others, these tend to be the most common amongst protestants.
Premillennialism (Pre-M) - Things will get worse before they get better. Some time during that period the saints will be raptured—or taken away from the world—then God will judge the earth.
Postmillennialism (Post-M) - Things will get better before they get worse, followed by judgement day. The better time will begin by being ushered in by the work of the church.
Amillennialism (A-M) - The end times started at pentecost and since then things have been both good (the work of the church) and bad (the persecution of the church) and this will be followed by the coming of Christ, the final judgement, and the new heavens and new earth.
The “good” in each of these is usually referred to as “the reign of Christ”, and the bad is referred to a “tribulation."
In a recent YouTube video Matthew Everhard, Senior Pastor of Gospel Fellowship PCA, suggested that Amillennialism might be in need of a rebrand1. He’s not the first to suggest this, for instance, in a commentary on Revelation Beale says:
It is better to refer to [“amillennialism”] as “inaugurated millennialism,” since “amillennial” literally means “no millennium.”
G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, page 420.
In researching for this article I’ve found that it’s quite a common practice for those arguing for the Amillenial position to produce or provide an alternative term, suggesting that the one we currently use is at best confusing—potentially even unfit to carry the weight of the theological implications it carries. Throughout his video, Everhard suggests a number of alternative terms such as:
Nuncmillennial - Nunc meaning “now”
Supramillennial - Supra meaning “over” or “above”
Optimistic Amillennials - As opposed to the pessimistic portrait painted of us by our critics.
Beyond these possible new designations, however, Everhard doesn’t go into much detail as to what the benefits of a rebrand would be. Clarity is certainly an admirable goal, but theological terms are often difficult to understand at first. There seems to be an underlying emphasis that Everhard never quite gets to, but seems to be present throughout his video.
It’s Just So Boring
One of the main reasons, as I see it, that Everhard’s argument came about in the first place is that Amillennialism seems boring. I will come onto why that isn’t actually true, but on the face of it the Amillennial view doesn’t bring an urgency or new “mission” to the table in that same way that the Pre-M and Post-M views do.
This is part of what makes these models so exciting. They often come with particular markers to look out for, or goals to achieve. These include but are not limited to:
Scientific, Philosophical and Theological breakthroughs
The Unification and Purification of the Church
The Mass Conversion of Israel
The Rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem
In addition, there are often specific dark forces, key players, or enemies to warn people against. I’m not saying any of this to mock or deride anyone, in fact it would be a glorious day if one day Israel did with one voice suddenly turn around and accept Jesus as Lord—I don’t think you’d find a serious amillennial who would disagree with that, we’re just not convinced that the Bible makes an argument for that happening.
Exciting as they might seem, these additional or alternative missions do come with some flaws though. The first flaw is perfectly illustrated in an interview I’ve been listening to today with Russell Brand in which he lays out his own hope for where we’re headed as a society, and it sounds remarkably similar to the Postmillennial view. In fact, one of the strengths of the Postmillennial view is how applicable it is even outside of the church. If you’re a christian politician seeking to stir up a base, but you know that the great commission isn’t going to cut it with non-christian voters, you might have an easier time convincing them instead that God is going to bring the people together for a brighter future. That’s something people would love to get behind, even if they disagree with your concept of God. It also isn’t hard to see how one could “flavour” Postmillennialism with almost any other ideology. To be clear, I don’t think this is why Postmillennials believe or preach what they do, but I do think this is part of the reason it is so popular even amongst agnostics and nominal Christians.
Another reason these models fall short is that they can often distract from the great commission. It is true to say that there are many things, including the study of theology as a whole, that can do this too; the enemy loves to draw our attention away from our goal to “go…and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded”2 This doesn’t mean we can’t also do other things with our lives for the glory of God, whether we are tent-makers, politicians, or construction workers we ought to submit those things to the Lord.
There are people out there, for instance, who have dedicated their lives to attempting to recreate elements needed for the rebuilding of the temple, despite the land being inaccessible to Christians. There is a view that if we were able to fulfil this dream, then this would go some way towards ushering in the Millennium of Christ’s reign.
This is, from an amillennial point of view, a distraction from our mission as Christians because it has introduced a different mission as a substitute. Amillennialism doesn’t add anything of this sort to the mix, because as we see it, the church has experienced to goodness of Jesus’ reign as the head of the global church, as well as the persecution our enemy has fostered, since the kingdom of God was ushered in—this is often called Inaugurated Eschatology.
What are we meant to do until the end then?
Keep making disciples, keep baptising them, keep teaching them; in the power of the Spirit and the name of Jesus. What makes Amillennialism so exciting and encouraging is not that is introduces anything new, but that it encourages us to continue in faith with the work appointed to us. Yes, persecution may come, but Jesus is on the throne, he is ruling, and is our ultimate hope.
Support for the Amillennial Position
To get a general idea of what my rather broad collection of Twitter followers generally thought on this subject, I put out a poll out. With 148 responses, this really is a statisticians dream—eat your heart out ONS. All joking aside though, I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of the things this poll revealed. Firstly, although, as Everhard points out, amillennialism has a good number of supporters—including, but not limited to, Calvin, Luther, Bavinck, Vos, Berkoff, Storms, and R. Scott Clark—he is is also right in saying that it doesn’t seem to be talked about all that often. Much of that is because it has less of an obvious effect on preaching or writing, for instance. Often it plays a more supporting role, showing up without being named in commentaries, or in books like Jeremy Writebol’s “Pastor, Jesus is Enough.”
It is interesting, therefore, that even in a small sample size like this, that around a hundred people voted for this view. If Pre- and Post-M are both more talked about, how did these people get exposed to it?
As I asked around, the majority response was something like, “I studied the Bible, I read some books, I was convinced.” There were no fireworks, it didn’t announce itself in the sky, most hadn’t even heard it preached, but there was a quiet comfort all the same.
It didn’t need to be exciting, it didn’t need a rebrand.
I say this partially because I come from a church background full of rebrands. I say this with the greatest of love, but if you’d been in my church growing up, you would think that Philippians 4:8 said, “Finally, siblings, whatever is cool, whatever is trendy, whatever is hip, whatever is new, whatever is novel, whatever comes out of Hillsong, if there are any excellent riffs and any new ways to praise, dwell on these things.” I know this isn’t what Everhard was suggesting, but I do think all the same that this is where these things begin. I do agree with the importance of perspicuous nomenclature (easily understandable language) but we can’t just change terms because we’re worried they don’t get enough attention. Who knows, maybe more people agree with Amillennialism than we think. There is another option that I also don’t mind.
I mentioned that there were a couple of things I was surprised by, this is the second. I’ve got no idea whether this term has been around for a while, but it was new to me. Almost everyone that ticked the “other” category in my poll ascribed to this eschatological view:
Panmillennialism - Things will pan out in the end.
I don’t know about you, but I quite like that.
It isn’t always important to pin down everything, especially not in this area. I do think that we ought to be clear about what we believe, but this view is one I hope many Christians would default to if they’re not sure. At the end of the day, we should all be able to agree with Panmillennialism because we all believe that one day Jesus will come again and that it will be a glorious day indeed.
On that note, thank you for reading, if you made it to the end, please do leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
To be clear about the word “rebrand” Everhard clarifies:
“Now that's a figure of speech, don't freak out,…we don't promote, brand, and label theological doctrines or systems as though they’re some sort of product to foist upon a consumeristic base.”