Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Not Enough Fingers

When everything is falling apart around me, when things are going south in a big hurry, I find it helpful to ask myself “What is MY role here? Is there something I should be DOING rather than just standing around looking concerned? Should I pray, act, consult others or wait (or some combination thereof)?”

Sometimes that question gets asked very quickly, or skimmed right over: if there’s water shooting out of a leaky pipe and accumulating on the kitchen floor, going away to pray and meditate about my next move is probably not the most useful response. On the other hand, if the issue is the ongoing decline of my local church and its increasing disobedience to its Head, the question of what I should do about it deserves some serious consideration in the presence of God.

Ideally, my stored knowledge of scripture or that of others is what provides the answer to that question when it is needed.

The First Step

I’m not sure I’m entirely successful at this, but I think it’s a more constructive approach than simply wallowing in misery or waiting for someone else to solve the problem. What would God have ME do here? is never a bad question to ask ourselves, whether the problem before us is big or small. When faced with a crisis, most mature Christians I know move very quickly to considering what they are personally responsible to do about it. Spiritually, “Speak, for your servant hears” seems a good attitude to cultivate.

Of course the first step in deciding what needs doing is diagnosis. If you don’t truly understand what’s wrong, you can’t fix anything. If the water on the kitchen floor is coming from the apartment upstairs, climbing under my own sink with a wrench will not help. If you are suffering from a thyroid-related chemical imbalance, praying harder for patience may be less effective than hormone therapy.

To do the right thing, you need to understand what the problem really is. This makes me think of Douglas Wilson.

The “Pessimistic” View

Doug is a postmillennialist. He and I both see the mess our society is in, but we differ about the diagnosis.

Mr. Wilson calls my view pessimistic, and it may well appear that way to him. You see, I (and many other premillennialists) view the world and its culture as irredeemably sick. We see Christians as salt and light in a wicked environment: we influence and illuminate and preserve where we are, but we are not capable of effecting wholesale cultural transformation. As a premillennialist, I note that for every new “right” we confer on one another, some virulent and horrible abuse inevitably breaks out: a valid concern for women’s rights leads to mass murder of the unborn; or the abolition of slavery leads to the disintegration of the black family, thug culture and the welfare state. Social progress is one step forward and three steps back.

The premillennialist sees the broader culture as a dike full of holes and recognizes that we Christians haven’t got enough fingers. Only the personal presence of Jesus Christ can fix this mess. That’s what we believe.

The “Optimistic” View

The postmillennialist, on the other hand, looks at Revelation 20 and is convinced it teaches that Jesus Christ will return after the promised golden era of earthly blessedness in which righteousness will rule and in which “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”

The postmillennialist believes that, overall (and despite the obvious cognitive dissonance this produces for anyone with eyes and ears), things are actually improving. The gospel is out there in the world, and it has made the world a better place. We are attempting to address the race issue. People have greater access to health care and more of us are being educated. We live in a kinder, gentler, more tolerant society. Sure, the world has major problems, but the solution is to be found in increased Christianization of our culture, and Jesus Christ (the postmillennialist believes) left that task to us.

Thus the job of the postmillennialist is to get out there in this present world and effect change. The best postmillennialists understand that it is the gospel that changes men and women, and this is where they place their emphasis and energies. The less reflective postmills take more of a ‘social gospel’ approach, concentrating on the symptoms rather than the disease.

Postmill Christians are not necessarily unspiritual, but we and they certainly diagnose the problem differently.

An Apparent Paradox

The postmillennialist view of Bible prophecy leaves a smart guy like Doug Wilson pondering this apparent paradox:
“Before I was postmill, I used to wonder why all the most trenchant and incisive criticism of how screwed up our society was came from postmillennialists. And since then I have had occasion to wonder why it is that the pessimistic eschatological vision, which holds that everything was supposed to fall apart, was tenaciously clinging to the status quo. Those who believed everything was getting better provided the most insightful analysis of how everything was falling apart, and those who believed everything was falling apart were providing arguments for keeping things the same.”
What Wilson sees as paradoxical makes perfect sense to me, and the reason relates to my first point. Doug Wilson and I look at the world and see a mess, and we both ask ourselves “What is my role here? Is there something I should be doing?”

But what we do next hinges on our diagnosis, doesn’t it?

Getting the Diagnosis Right

If we believe (as I do) that the world cannot ever be restored in the absence of the glorified Christ ruling from Jerusalem, we will set about doing what he told us to do, which is: (1) to “serve the living and true God”, and (2) to “wait for his Son from heaven”. All our efforts will be focused on bringing about the spiritual transformation of individuals through salvation, since we believe society to be irreparable.

On the other hand, if we believe human society is reformable and its restoration is our responsibility, we will get to work fixing it. In order to do that (to borrow Doug’s phrasing), we need “trenchant and incisive criticism” of how screwed up our society is. How can we attack even the symptoms if we can’t accurately describe them?

Thus postmillennialists (Doug Wilson among them) provide some of the “most insightful analysis of how everything is falling apart”, because society’s disintegration is their main drive and area of focus. They are convinced that stopping it is their service to Christ; hence their preoccupation with abortion, war, human rights, racism, abusive authorities and even the current election. Who else will obsess on these things if the postmills don’t?

For the premillennialist, such things are the sad symptoms of a diseased culture and a fallen world. We detest abortion, war and abuse as deeply as any postmill. We speak against them where we have opportunity, and where they intersect with our lives we must take them on full force.

But we cannot invest our lives working in the election campaigns of the godliest political hack currently running, in combating inequality, in obsessing about crime stats or telling the world why #BlackLivesMatter. Such things cannot be our primary focus.

The dike in front of us is springing leaks a mile a minute, and we don’t have enough fingers.

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