Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.
After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).
This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:
‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.
The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.
The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.
In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.
You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!
It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.
A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.
Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.
In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.
It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.
It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.
Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.