So me, Joe Rigney, Jim Hamilton, and Doug Wilson walk into a bar . . . at Southern Seminary. It’s called “The Mohler” . . . (I know, I know, you can’t believe it. Work with me. We’re postmil).
Jim Hamilton, a Southern Baptist pastor and professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, released the audio of a church-wide bible study that he did at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He addressed the themes of postmillennialism, theonomy, and the serrated edge, marking disagreements with each. He was very clear about why he was doing this church-wide bible study. One of the reasons was because of me and Joe Rigney, “Baptists who defected and joined team Doug Wilson,” according to Jim. You can hear Jim spelling this out in the first few minutes of his bible study. Evidently, there are other Baptists in Jim’s orbit who are in danger of defecting, so the messaging is, “Don’t defect like Rigney and Longshore did.”
Now, I have only listened to Jim’s bible study on postmillennialism. But, given that he named me and that I spent many a year there in Louisville at Southern Seminary, it seems fitting that I should say a few words about this little encounter.
A Bit of Scattershot
Let me start with a shotgun blast, as several things need to be said:
First, praise the Lord for pastors like Jim, who will tell their sheep, “I don’t think this is good, and here’s why.” I worshipped with the saints at Kenwood Baptist Church one Sunday when visiting Louisville to study at Southern Seminary, and it was a lovely time.
Second, the best part was Jim calling Christians to be manly, full-human beings with the Southern Seminary flavor of “roast coffee and use fountain pens.” This made me recall my old friend Don Whitney shaming any non-fountain pen as a mere “writing stick” when I was back at Southern. I commend the sentiment and say to my Southern Seminary brethren, “Roast on, write on, we’re gaining ground.”
Third, it is intriguing to me that SBC leaders and other evangelical leaders think that men adopting postmillennialism are “joining team Doug Wilson.” This would also be team B. H. Carroll (the first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), team Jonathan Edwards, and team a host of other puritans and reformers. I understand that there is still quite a line drawn between Moscow and much of the Reformed and Evangelical world. But I would note here how silly and artificial that line is. The silliness is quite obvious when a professor at Southern Seminary characterizes becoming a postmillennialist, a long-standing and widely held position in the history of the church, as “joining team Doug Wilson.”
Fourth, I have been a postmillennialist for over twelve years or so, including my time at Southern. This was not a peculiar position. I sense there are droves of Reformed credo/paedo folks who hold to or lean toward postmillennialism. For an encouraging read see: “The Puritan Hope” by Iain Murray.
Fifth, the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse Jim addressed is, likewise, not a funky Moscow or Canon Press thing. I learned the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 years ago from the likes of R. C. Sproul and Marcellus Kik. See: “An Eschatology of Victory” by Marcellus Kik.
Sixth, I understand why Jim speaks of “Baptists who defected.” It fits the Baptist theological paradigm and the pure church sentiments embedded in that tradition. The rock-ribbed Baptist position would not permit Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Rutherford, J. C. Ryle, or R. C. Sproul to become members of their churches. I knew all of this when I was a Reformed Baptist, so I’m not crying foul. Just a note to say it isn’t the same from the other direction. Baptists are “on team” as far as we are concerned.
Seventh, The CREC Council recently reaffirmed that we are a Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches, including Baptist Churches. And this unity is indeed another piece of evidence supporting postmillennialism.
Jim’s take is that many men are adopting postmillennialism and other doctrines, not because of the Bible verses, but because of a mojo. I think the doctrinal changes are much more due to the widespread availability of good teaching made available by podcasts, blogs, and media like Canon+. Nevertheless, Jim is concerned about a fanboy problem. And I at least agree that this is a thing to watch out for. But, the mojo problem is a danger that lurks in every direction. You can bet that there are men walking around Southern Seminary who insist others have changed their theology because of a certain “man,” namely Doug Wilson. So, “Don’t join team Doug Wilson” is one of the messages writ large.
But these same men partake in an institution where one can obtain a President Al Mohler bobblehead doll. There is a Ph.D. lounge at Southern, with a tightly governed passcode for entry. This lounge sits atop the fourth floor of the stately Boyce Library and overlooks a perfectly manicured lawn the length of a couple of football fields. You get there by passing Charles Spurgeon’s Bible encased in glass. Southern has a fancy store just across that lawn where seminarians can purchase both the wax and a wax seal stamp with Southern’s emblem on it, along with fountain pens north of $800, and a tie that is mapped off of the one that Al Mohler is going to be buried in.
Now that is some mojo.
I’ll be honest with you, I am all for well-manicured lawns and I have no problem whatever with special lofty spots where the PhDs can do their research. I actually think it is all quite fun and would happily go back to Louisville for a visit to trod that ground again with friends. But I do want to check the notion that the only mojo you should watch out for is what is coming out of Moscow.
Now to the nub of the issue. Jim is highlighting real differences that exist within the Bride of Christ. We should thank God for our unity while taking note of these differences. Postmillennialism, general equity theonomy, and the serrated edge, for that matter, stem from an approach to the Christian faith that is concerned with all things of earth. It is not earthly-minded. But this approach does look for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven, as our Lord taught us to pray. Jim made clear that he believes our Father will only answer this prayer after the final coming of our Lord. I disagree. And that disagreement results in different approaches to the Christian life, including Christian ministry, worship and sacraments, and family.
If the Southern Baptist flavor errs, it errs by leaving the faith in the upper story, a practice that Francis Schaeffer warned about. Quite frankly, that error is leading to the devouring of our society and the Christian gospel. Granted, if postmillennialism, theonomy, and the serrated edge err, they do so by becoming worldly (the danger Jim is likely worried about).
The fact is, we are talking about these things now because the world has gone mad, and the saints are rediscovering that Augustine’s City of God was embedded in the city of man, not simply up in Plato’s realm of the forms.
A while back, I wrote on three different futures for your Christian community: Separatist Pietism, Defensive Evangelicalism, and Reformed Kuyperianism. It is clear that the Southern Baptists and Southern Seminary toggle between the first two options. The third position, the one I commend, involves the principles that Jim is concerned about, and those principles have become very appealing. Given these developments, I have a very simple encouragement to those who are taking note of things.
Do Work Through It
My encouragement, as my friend Timon Cline puts it, is to do the reading. Do work through the issues. Some men have studied and become convinced of historic premillennialism. Others are convinced of an approach to civil government that claims secularism is just as good as Christendom, as Scott Aniol recently announced. If you have worked through things and landed, then good on you. We are all brothers and very much on team together. But, others are pressured by comments like, “Longshore and Rigney defected” and “for Pete’s sake if you adopt an optimistic view of the kingdom’s advance, you are joining that naughty man from Moscow who burns couches in November.”
They hear, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But then they realize that R. C. Sproul, the man all over their bookshelves, held to the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. And then they start to wonder why Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, along with loads of the other godly Puritans and reformers, held to a Christian faith that proclaimed Christ is Lord of all, including the public square and the civil magistrate.
We have extended several invitations to those who have spoken up as of late with concerns on these matters and the related one of Christian Nationalism. The invitation is to come sit down and talk these things over. The response has been along the lines of, “I am not able to engage in a public conversation,” and “I don’t think there is much of an advantage in doing so.” Even so, the invitation remains. This is the lot of the matter: As we have pulled down deep heaven on our heads, God has given us an opportunity to look good and hard at Scripture. So, “To the law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, It is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).