Amillennialism, Two Kingdoms and The Decay of History (Part 1)
A few weeks back, my fellow blogger, John Dunne, posted an article in which he critiqued his Amillenial beliefs. I too am an Amillenialist and became one around the same time as John. I think we both read the same book (A Case for Amillenialism by Kim Riddlebarger) within a few months of each other. We also regularly attended Friday night lectures with Dr. Riddlebarger at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim. As time has passed, my views on Amillenialism have changed as well. However, I have not gone in the same direction of the soon to be Dr. Dunne.
Rather, my Amillenialism has been vigorously strengthened over the years, especially by my belief in two-kingdom’s social theory. As such, my goal in this article is to demonstrate Amillienlism’s compatibility with the two-kingdoms. In fact, I would argue that Amillenialism is the natural outworking of the two-kingdoms. Or, if you work backwards, starting with Amillenialism, you should be able to end up with something close to two-kingdoms. Rather than defending Amillenialism from an exegetical perspective, I want to focus here on the eschatological distinctives of the church, in light of the Amillenial/two-kingdom framework.
It is important for my readers to know that what lies here is not a defense of Amillenialism. Instead, I assume the legitimacy of the aforementioned position and work to flesh out its implications for the church. The reader must also know that I will use the words “Amillenialsm” and “two-kingdoms” interchangeably and I will do likewise with the words “progressive” and “one-kingdom.”
Two Contrasting Views of History
It is important to note at the outset, that the difference between the one-kingdom view of history and that of the two-kingdom/Amillenial view of history could not be starker. Indeed, our understanding of history is deeply imbibed with one-kingdom or two-kingdom overtones in more ways than we might think. In his book The War for Righteousness, historian Richard Gamble discusses the Augustinian view of history (two-kingdoms) as opposed to the progressive clergy’s view of history (one-kingdom) in saying:
For Augustine, human history did indeed possess direction, stages and purpose, but this sort of “development” was a process of decay, one without hope of renewal and one that led inevitably to destruction. Redemption would come, to be sure, but only outside of history and by the hand of a transcendent God. While maintaining that history possessed meaning and ultimately accomplished the will of God, Augustine saw no reason to believe that was incrementally transforming this fallen world into his kingdom. Rather than a literal, thousand-year reign of peace, the millennial kingdom existed as a spiritual kingdom of God’s elect. It flourished as a union of the saints—both living and dead—in the one “City of God,” while the groaning creation struggled on as the “City of Man” awaiting the consummation of the ages. In the meantime, God desired His people to seek an eternal, rather than a temporal, kingdom. The progressive clergy, on the other hand, while retaining Augustine’s conception of unilinear history, removed the key distinction between the City of God and the City of Man. They fused sacred and secular history into a quest for temporal salvation and redirected the historical process toward the goal of an everlasting Golden Age. Unlike Augustine, who claimed that destruction had awaited the human race ever since Adam’s fall, the progressives believed that the flow of history bore humanity along to higher stages of development. Explicitly, rejecting the Augustinian scheme of history, they united past, present, and future into a single redemptive process. (p. 35)
While Gamble’s quote speaks for itself, there are a couple of things to point out; namely, that Amillenialism is rooted in a broader view of history that is rife with two-kingdoms overtones. Two-kingdoms/Amillenialism, rightly understands history as a process of historical decay, which only the hand of God can redeem from. This view of history has long since been discarded by the Neo-Calvinist movement who have instead run in the opposite direction, viewing history as a movement of inevitable progress in which the world around us is becoming more redeemed as we take partake in redeeming and renewing society. Be sure to note the difference. On the one hand we have history as a process of decay from which God redeems; on the other hand we have history as a process of progress that we create. The two ideas could not be more different.
As Gamble notes, Amillenialism is birthed out of this understanding of history. It is this view of history that reminds that the city of God is of ultimate import (though any fair reading of Augustine would not fully classify him as holding to a more advanced two-kingdom doctrine). It is this view of history that reminds us that the call of God is to seek an eternal kingdom, not a temporal one. Indeed, it is this view of history that prevents us from thinking that we are the redeemers.
Amillenialism teaches us that God is at work now, in the present age, but it centers his locus of activity in the church and those who are redeemed. It does not center his millennial work on some golden age of mass Christianization or on some literal thousand-year reign in which Jesus will triumph in a very temporal fashion. Rather, Amillenialists believe that Jesus was triumphant at the cross and his kingdom is advancing now as a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of those marked out by the blood of the Lamb. Just as the two-kingdoms doctrine limits God’s redemptive rulership to the church, so Amillenialism reminds us that God’s kingdom is advancing spiritually.
The similarity between one-kingdom thought and the doctrines espoused by the progressive preachers of the early twentieth century is truly remarkable. Commenting on the theological pontification of the progressive clergy, Gamble writes:
Their consolidation of the City of Man and the City of God into one holy metropolis united the work of man and the work of God; it fused politics and religion into a single redemptive work… While this confusion might seem to have been an inconsequential by-product of the progressives’ untethered imagination, its implications both for the church and for civil society were profound. To combine the two citizenships is to venture to build the City of God though human agency, to assume the place and activity of God Himself, to presume to know His will and conceive of oneself as the instrument of that will. (p. 41)
In all fairness to the neo-Calvinists who undoubtedly deserve to be heard on their own terms, we must still ask the question, “Is this type of doctrine really any different than what we are hearing in church on a week in and week out basis?” The answer you are looking for is, “Hardly.” Indeed if those who propagate and teach such “truths” want to claim any sort of spiritual heritage it is far more along the lines of early progressives like Washington Gladden, William Jewett Tucker and Lyman Abbott rather than the Reformation.
With such a clear difference in historical perspectives between the one-kingdom and two-kingdom school of thought, is it really any surprise that those who share one-kingdom sympathies are forced to accept any position besides Amillenialism? Two-kingdoms and Amillenialism are cut from such a similar cloth that it is virtually impossible to accept one without accepting the other.
In fact, that is one of Dunne’s weakest links in his argument against Amillenialism. Amillenialism is not just a position that informs eschatological chronologies but it is a position that among other things, embraces a certain understanding of history. So while Dunne does a good job of dealing with immediate textual issues, his analysis is left wanting when it comes to the totality of the Amillenial understanding.
The roots of Amillenialism run deep. It is not just a view of Revelation 20 but it is a biblical view of the entire historical matrix.