The Problem With "Pan"Millennialism
Recently I was hanging out with some friends chatting about a number of different topics. One topic passed around the table was whether businesses should use the "Christian" distinctive; is it right for a car dealership to advertise that it's a "Christian" car dealership, or a computer company to name itself "Computers for Christ" (an actual example brought up!). One person made the point that, in the Bible Belt, businesses will often use the Christian distinctive to manipulate the largely Christian populace, which is definitely a problem.
I was taking in the discussion while my inner-postmillennialist was chomping at the bit to say something. I decided to ease into the conversation with a question I like posing from time to time. I asked, "If Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and has been given ALL authority in heaven and on earth and is ruling all things, then isn't the "Christian" distinctive misguided at it's foundation?" I went on to give my opinion that because all things are under Christ's rule, saying that something is "Christian" (like a car repair shop or bakery) is, in a way, redundant. Because the world now belongs to Christ everything in it's true form is already "Christian" by definition. When a business is practicing justly (by God's standard) and offering a product that is beneficial to it's community at a fair price, then it is fulfilling its purpose as a structure and acting "Christianly" even if it's not a distinctively "Christian" business or even if it's not run by Christians.
I rarely find this approach wholeheartedly embraced and this situation was no exception. This perspective is foreign to the modern ears of many Christians who seem to think Christ's declaration of authority in Matthew 28 as something merely spiritual. This being the case, my suggestion was countered by a friend who asked how my concept would fit in with the Bible's teaching that we are pilgrims on earth and sojourners. At this point that I could no longer leave my postmillennialism under wraps any more. I stated that because I'm a postmillennialist I take a very different perspective on those passages that many believe teach that earth is not our home.
I explained that I saw Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension as the definitive act of ushering in God's eternal kingdom. This kingdom will, like Jesus explains in his parable, grow slowly, like a mustard seed, throughout history. As we discussed the postmillennial perspective one friend brought up the concept of "panmillennialism." He did not claim to hold this position but simply brought it up. Panmillennialsm being the approach to eschatology that states, "in the end everything is going to pan out." In other words, it's an eschatological pun. For whatever reason the conversation moved on and I was happy to enjoy other topics with everyone else.
However, over the last couple days I've considered the concept of panmillennialism and thought I would quickly share a couple thoughts here.
My main qualm with the concept of panmillennialism (or really any form of eschatology that takes a similar approach) is that it views a very prominent theme in the Bible as unimportant or as something to be ignored. Due to the popularity of a "scientific" or "literal" approach to the Bible many Christians have no idea how to deal with its rich symbolism. I for one am a novice in this area, but even as a novice I've grown in my appreciation and understanding of the more "mysterious" parts of the Bible. Many Christians who've grown up in churches where the Old Testament has been undervalued see the "apocalyptic" passages in the New Testament as mysterious and cryptic. Therefore they often avoid them entirely or study them with one eye on the Bible and the other eye watching Fox News for "signs of the times."
To the apostles and first century Christians, the Christian faith was viewed as the climax of the Jewish story. The main contention between Christians and Jews in the first century was an argument over the story of Israel and Israel's God. Christians proclaimed that the zenith of Israel's story was found in Christ while the Jews despised the implied accusation that they had so misread their own story as to crucify the Messiah. What we can learn from this is that the New Testament is not at odds with the Old Testament. In fact, it is the fulfillment of it. Therefore, without a comprehensive understanding of Israel's story laid out from Genesis to Malachi Christians are, in essence, depriving themselves of the foundation of their own faith. Further, they deprive themselves of the necessary vocabulary and symbolism to rightly parse the New Testament's use of the Old.
This is particularly the case when it comes to the book of Revelation or other apocalyptic sections of the New Testament (like Mattew 24). Nearly every single illusion in the book of Revelation can be found in the Old Testament. Yet, due to our ignorance of those Old Testament passages we remain in the dark as to what John was talking about. This has ultimately led us to ignore a portion of God's word or (perhaps worse) apply it to the front pages of the New York Times.
So in conclusion, the specific problem of panmillennialism is really evidence of the deeper hermeneutical problem found in many modern churches in general. We must learn to interpret God's word with God's word. In order to do this we must immerse ourselves in the vivid imagery, language, and symbolism from the pages of the Old Testament.
Food for thought.