I’m currently reading a biography of John Knox, the influential 16th century Scottish Reformer. I knew very little about his life other than that. He was born in 1514 and died in 1572 as the Reformation was beginning to make headway in Catholic Europe. What is especially fascinating about his life and time is now looking at it with my newly fitted postmillennial spectacles (that means glasses for you youngsters), I have a much different perspective than what I might have had before, thus “the Christian long game.” It’s hard to convey and for most of us to grasp just how much we’ve been influenced by dispensational premillennialism to see everything in the short term. Our eschatology, how we see “end times,” has consequences on our perspective and how we live. In other words, our eschatology determines how we see things, how we interpret them, and almost the entire Evangelical church has become pessimistic. Why is that? Why would our theological understanding of how things end make us pessimists? Keep in mind I struggled with this for the first 44(!) years of my Christian life. I say struggle because I didn’t like being a pessimist, but my theological framework left me no other option.

In one way this is understandable and secularism doesn’t help. We’re programmed by the culture to always focus on the immediate, the here, the now. For the non-Christian if this is it, eat, drink, and be merry . . . . Who cares what happens in a hundred or five hundred years. The Christian response to secularism is too often to focus on the next life, reasonably enough. The problem is that Christians have focused salvation almost solely on “going to heaven” when we die, which seems to have become the primary reason we are saved. We’re committed to personal holiness as best we can, our personal relationship to Jesus, and the church is the primary venue for our faith; I’ve heard it called churchianity. This personalization of our faith has little to do with secularism, however. The primary drivers are dispensationalism and pietism, the latter influence coming from 17th century German Lutheranism which made its way broadly into American Evangelicalism in the Second Great Awakening.

Not only do we have an overly personalized faith that has no impact on the culture, but we are also convinced as bad as things are Jesus could be coming back any day. Our dispensational eschatology even tells us the worse it gets the sooner Jesus returns! In a perverse way we are almost inclined to see failure as a sign of progress. As I heard someone put it, tribulation is our hope and societal decay is our encouragement. Evangelism becomes an invitation to join the losing team! At least on this earth, in space and time. All Christians agree our ultimate victory only comes at Jesus’ return. Yet nobody likes this losing, and we complain about it all the time, but again, our theological framework leaves us unable to conclude otherwise. Our myopic eschatology forces us to believe we are passengers on a sinking ship, and who wants to waste time rearranging the deck chairs if it’s going down. We may as well get as many into the life rafts as possible before she goes down. But is that really the biblical testimony of our life in Christ on this earth? It is not! Are we to believe the fall of Adam is more powerful than the resurrection of Christ? It is not!

Needless to say John Knox and the Reformers did not think this way. They lived before the so-called Enlightenment, secularism, and scientific advancement, plus life was harsh and very often short, so there were no illusions about living forever in this life. Yet they saw salvation as far more than going to heaven when you die. They saw Christianity not only as personal spiritual formation, but as societal transformation as well. They were committed to Christianizing their societies and cultures knowing it would never be easy or without Risk. During Bloody Mary’s short reign of five years over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake! Knox and many Protestants who refused to embrace Mary’s Catholicism left Britain and became exiles on the continent, many finding their way to Calvin’s Geneva, which became a model for them of the ideal Christian society. After Mary’s death they made their way back to Britain with the express goal of Christianizing all of England in a Protestant mold. Knox himself was instrumental in transforming Scottland from a primarily Catholic nation and culture to a Protestant and Presbyterian one, all of which in the next two hundred years had a powerful influence on the founding of America.

Because of their eschatology they were what all Christians should be, multigenerational Christians. They knew what they were doing would be a blessing to many generations yet unborn. As I argued in a recent post, the reason Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come . . . .” is because He expects this coming now, on this earth, in this fallen world, and He expects us to expect it too! Most Christians prior to the rise of dispensationalism in the 19th century did as well. And they never thought the kingdom was just about “spiritual” stuff, or only applied to just Christians and the church. They believed the gospel had implications for all culture and society. And they believed Jesus was serious when he compared the kingdom to a mustard seed and leaven, a slow but relentless growing that in due course would bring the kingdom of heaven to earth (Matt. 13:31-33). They, as are all postmillennialists, were gritty realists who understand we are in a cosmic war against evil, not against flesh and blood. There will be times of suffering and setback, as is apparent from looking at history. The kingdom coming isn’t a straight line to ever increasing success, but a mountain we climb with many valleys and hills, and we only arrive at the ultimate Mt. Everest peak when Jesus returns to destroy the ultimate enemy, death.

One way I’ve come to conceptualize all this can be found in Genesis 3 when the Lord told us the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head and the serpent would strike his heel. I see this now as a microcosm of all redemptive history, not just what happens at Christ’s return. In this little encounter who wins? My money is on the one who crushes. The other who strikes the heel can do some damage, but according to God he has no chance—he gets crushed! Why in the world, literally, do we act as if it’s the other way round? As if the heel striker can crush? I would argue the answer is primarily dispensational eschatology. Few Christians realize how deep and widespread its influence is on our seemingly congenital pessimism about the nature of this world and the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Christ, we think, is only the victor in eternity, in the sweet by and by, in “heaven” beyond this veil of tears. Of course He is, but He is also the victor here, now, in this life, in this fallen world. He sits at the right hand of God Almighty reigning “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (I Cor. 15:25). In other words, here, now, in this life, he is crushing it!

Having said that, in one of my favorite sayings, God is never in a hurry. Think about it. When He promised Abram he would bless his offspring, or seed, and make them like the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky, it took 2,000(!) years before the seed would be born Jesus of Nazareth. Another 2,000 years has passed, and as far as I can tell we can still count the number of Christians on earth. I think we have a ways to go. And all the nations per Jesus’ command in Matthew 18, the Great Commission, have yet to be made disciples, so we have a lot of work to do. As we go about the business of the Great Commission in our daily lives, all of it, we can have absolute confidence our God in Christ is crushing the serpent’s head before us as we love and serve others and proclaim the gospel. How exciting are our lives! We serve a victorious king; pessimism is not allowed.

 

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