Saturday, 1 March 2008


Cannot be reduced to a three-fold typology, as much dogmatics and popular discussion tries to do today. You've heard it all before, amillennial, postmillennial and premillennial (of which there are two branches, the sober 'historic' and the wacky 'dispensational'). Everyone knows that Reformed people are amillennial, unless they're a bit enthusiastic like Iain Murray or Doug Wilson (or full-on scary theonomists) in which case they're postmillennial. In any case, Reformed people don't waste time on futurist fiddling with eschatological texts.

Meanwhile, in the real world...

A group of Puritan chiliasts awaited Christ’s transient, premillennial advent, which would signal the end of Antichrist (the Pope of Rome), the conversion of the Jews, and the opening of the millennium.

[Linda Munk, The Devil's Mousetrap: Redemption and Colonial American Literature (OUP, 1997), p.100].

But even this was not like the modern pre-mils, for this millennium did not have Christ here on earth bodily. It was like the postmillennial vision of the millennium. A generation or so later, Jonathan Edwards spoke of the various “comings” of Christ (4 of them) in the run up to the end [in sermons that were posthumously published as A History of the Work of Redemption]. He comes, but not in the sense that he will come. Puritan Thomas Shepherd had already written of the "double coming" of Christ and the "sixfold coming of Christ".

Shepherd rejected an earthly millennium such as the one taught by modern premillennialists. However, unlike Calvin, who taught that the destruction of Antichrist, the restitution of all things and the second coming all coincided, preceded by a universal call the Gentiles – i.e. the church age - Shepherd was interested in a periodization of this church age based on the idea that Antichrist would be destroyed sometime before the full second coming of Christ. The churches would be purified, would fall into complacency because of delay of the parousia, but would be ‘awakened by a cry from the bridegroom before his final appearance’ (Pfisterer, Prism of Scripture, p.110). Shepherd placed the virgin churches of New England in the ‘purification’ period of the timeline, and warned against complacency (‘security’) instead urging them to see this period as an opportunity – a time for converting many, a time for mission. ‘We must be very careful here not to presuppose the modern notion of the failure of the parousia, for delay here has a positive and not a negative meaning and function’ (ibid., pp.110-111)

This calls to mind Patricia Parker's great piece of feminst criticism, Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London: Methuen, 1987), and its discussion of expansion and waiting. Her first chapter contains surprisingly reasonable comments about Biblical themes of delay and dilation (pp.11-12) starting with Rahab (the 'wide', 'broad' prostitute of Jericho) and the temporal space before the eschaton, which she persists in calling 'The Apocalypse' (e.g., pp.9, 18) - guaranteed to confuse us all!