In part 1, we looked briefly at the key strengths and weaknesses of Lorraine Boettner’s 1957 book, The Millennium (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company). In part 2, we’ll take a closer look at Boettner’s postmillennial theology.
Postmillennialism’s “The world is better than ever” mantra is its Achilles Heel. At times, Boettner seems naïve/willfully ignorant of the woes existing in the world. For example, Boettner says, “The Church has in it the Spirit of Christ, and today it is better, more Christ-like in spirit and service and self-sacrifice, than it ever was in the past… The Church is more Christian today than it ever was before.”
The American church is plagued with sects, heresies, and cults, and today these are gaining more, not less, momentum. The “prosperity gospel” leads multitudes of people astray. Lakewood Church in Houston, America’s largest church, is hardly a bastion of gospel preaching. Mormonism and Islam are two of the fastest growing religious movements today. Polls consistently show that professing Christians often have little concept of salvation as God’s free gift, viewing it as a wage they get from God if their good deeds outweigh their bad. Christianity Today recently published an article showing the extent to which contemporary evangelicals have imbibed a host of heresies that the church long ago repudiated.
Elsewhere Boettner says, “Slavery and polygamy have practically disappeared. The status of women and children has been improved immeasurably. Social and economic conditions in almost all nations have reached a new high plateau. A spirit of cooperation is much more manifest among the nations than it has ever been before… Simple observation of world conditions should make it clear to everyone that the world is getting better.”
Saying slavery has practically disappeared today overlooks the extent to which human trafficking is plaguing the world. It’s been suggested by some that there are more slaves in the world today than during the time of pre-Civil War America. Douglas Wilson, another prominent post-millennialist, has argued that the pre-Civl War south wasn’t as bad as history books indicate, showing that post-millennialists sometimes idealize not only the present, but the past as well.
The status of women has improved in some places, but Islam in its most oppressive, anti-woman manifestation is growing, not shrinking, in much of the world. Innocent American familes have their children kidnapped from them by tax-payer funded human trafficking organizations such as Child Protective Services. Approximately 4,000 children are aborted daily in America. It is still estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 children starve to death everyday. Talk about a “spirit of cooperation” between nations seems ludicrous, given the fact that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in recorded history. The 20th century gave us Stalin, who murdered 20 million citizens, Hitler who murdered six million, and the Rwandan genocide which saw a million Rwandans slaughtered in a 100-day period.
Continuing to argue the world is “better than ever”, Boettner said, “British and American justice today  is world-renowned for its meticulous consideration for the rights of the accused and prisoners.”
That Boettner could say this in the late 1950s is beyond mind boggling. Two years before Boettner’s book was published, the infamous Emmett Till murder trial was held in Mississippi where, to no one’s surprise, Till’s two white murderers were quickly acquitted in a mock trial. Such miscarriage of justice was very routine in the pre-Civil Rights era American south, a society Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. then described as one of the most oppressive on the planet. Today, the accused have rights provided they can afford a top notch lawyer or know a kind lawyer willing to work pro bono to make sure those rights are not trampled. Otherwise, they routinely get bulldozed my conscienceless judges. The closing line of the Pledge of Allegiance would be more accurately rendered, “With liberty and justice for all… of the rich.” If during the millennium the whole world’s “justice system” will be comparable to America’s present system, that’s hardly anything to look forward to.
Boettner discusses the “revolution” regarding transportation and communication brought about by the industrial revolution as further evidence that the world is getting better. He mentions that the past two centuries have seen more advances than the previous 2,000 years. “The automobile, hard-surface highways, electrical power for lighting and other household uses, the airplane, radio, television, etc. are all comparatively new,” he said.
This is one of Boettner’s weakest arguments by far. Technological advances as such tell us nothing about the spiritual betterment of the human race. The “Dark Ages” didn’t have electric lights, but that doesn’t mean there was more spiritual darkness then than now. Both C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton wrote much to show that those in the “Dark Ages” had far more common sense than “civilized, modern” people. Many would argue that the woes ushered in by the industrial revolution outweigh its benefits. This examiner’s wife, whose ancestry is Cherokee, views the industrial revolution as that which has made our society so emotionally frantic and spiritually sick, not to mention aesthetically ugly.
Speaking of being “civilized”, sometimes Boettner uses the word in a way that is condescending. For instance, he says Christianity has “become the faith of the most civilized and enlightened portion of the human race.” The word “civilized” makes some think of Mark Twain’s mid 19th century Missouri which was trying to “civilize” Huck Finn into the status quo of supporting slavery and viewing blacks as sub-human. Christianity shouldn’t be promoted because it is “civilized”, but because it is true.
In closing, what the Bible calls us to yearn for is not so much an earthly golden age, whether it be on where Christ is physically reigning on earth or one where the Church conquers evil and rules the world. We yearn for heaven. Boettner argues that during the millennium, the world will be so Christianized that evil will be reduced to “negligible proportions”. This sounds better than the world we currently inhabit, but it still is a far cry from heaven.
Even if 99.9% of people on earth were Christians, would the evil remaining in their hearts be reduced to “negligible proportions”, or would we continue to cry out, with Paul, “Who will save me from this body of death?” Even the most mature Christians do what they don’t want to do and find themselves unable to do what they do want to do—the battle with the flesh is at times unbearable.
What all of our hearts cry out for is the end of the curse, not just a reduction of it.