Sunday, July 2, 2017

Review of He Shall Have Dominion



In reviewing this book one feels almost compelled to interact with Gray North's foreword, because he makes some rather extreme claims in it regarding the book itself, and the position it espouses. For this reason, many of my comments, while pertaining to the book, will be written with North's foreword in mind. Having recently read North's “Crossed Fingers,” I found the foreword to be incredibly weak, and I don't use that word lightly. In "Crossed Fingers," he speaks harshly against seminaries with accreditation, and mocks the PhD as an invention of liberal German education (He has one). Then, in this volume, after sweeping some Premillennialist opponent aside, he puts a snarky comment in the footnotes implying that the man is small potatoes and shouldn't be taken seriously because he teaches as some "obscure" seminary that is even accredited. He imputes beliefs to Premillennial and Amillennial folk that are simply not true. For a guy who talks about God's Law so much, he plays fast and loose with the 9th Commandment. He lets you know that Amillennialism has been the standard position of the Church for most of her existence. But he's fine with glibly kicking it to the curb because no one, in his estimation, has written a book on the scale of Gentry's. I fail to see how that is an argument at all. But the whole force of his argument seems to be that Gentry's book can make postmillennialism happen even if it isn't true because no one else could ever write a better eschatology book. I would have liked to see Gentry say something like "The views expressed in the foreword do not necessarily represent the views of the author."

If one were to believe Gary North's foreword, this should be the mother of all eschatology books. It isn't. And I hate to break it to Mr. North, but neither I nor anyone else is on the hook to write a point by point refutation of Mr. Gentry's book to make that assertion. There are good, standard works on Amillennialism, for instance (Hendrickson, Riddlebarger, Cox), which neither North nor Gentry has taken on point by point, which they nonetheless reject. That knife cuts both ways.

Moreover, it is hard to take North's high praise of the books references (and the sheer volume of them) as an indication of the greatness of the book, when many of the works referenced are his own. North claims that Gentry will drown his critics in footnotes. At least 80% of the boasted footnotes do not pertain directly to the defense of Postmillennialism. They are just references to various authors – not directly contributing to the building of Gentry's case. And several of the authors he does cite to bolster his position are authors of dubious quality. These are primarily his fellow theonomist Reconstructionists. If he wants to prove his point to those outside this small circle, he needs to demonstrate a consensus outside this circle. Hanko has rightly noted the vaunted support is illusory. Either the supposed references don’t really address the subject, or they are appealed to anachronistically, or they appeared to be pulled out of thin air. For example, in Postmillennialist literature, one will find several references to Charles Hodge. The fact is however that the one passage of Hodge that is marshalled in as proof, is the single line addressing the issue in his entire 3-volume Systematic Theology. Most of the citations provided in the book are not the earth-shattering proof North bragged about in his foreword. He hasn’t drown anyone in footnotes; he’s only cumbered up the ground.

And frankly, I wish all authors would stop appealing to Rushdoony. His home church in Armenia, pastored by his father, practiced animal sacrifices. The blood of the slaughtered animals was sprinkled on the church doors as a "thank offering". He never condemned this practice and always spoke highly of the Armenian Church and frequently lamented the fact (in his view) that the modern reformed churches did not go as far as the churches of Armenia. Rushdoony repeatedly asserted that that there is no valid reason to discontinue the rites of purification and he linked this with thank offerings. He tried to argue for the continuance of the Levitical priesthood into the New Testament church. So when the theonomist reconstructionists get accused of hauling Jewish ceremonial law into the New Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace, it is a fair accusation – unless, of course they repudiate Rushdoony – which, let’s face it, ain't gonna happen.

Secondly, I find myself over 200 pages into the book (including the foreword and preface) still being told that there is an imminent powerhouse exegetical case for Postmillennialism just around the corner. And when the actual exegesis begins, much of it (most, in fact), falls squarely within the purview of Amillennialism, as well.

I hardly view myself as a cutting-edge thinker, so I can't imagine that my fundamental objections to are unique to me. So it is more than a little disappointing to not find them addressed in what is touted as the end-all text book on the subject. To demonstrate what I mean, I will list my objections, and briefly detail how (or if) they are dealt with in this book.

My fundamental objections to Postmillennialism:

  1. Optimism vs. Pessimism argument. I fail to find this argument even remotely compelling. Gentry, like all modern Postmillennialists, promote their position by appealing to its optimistic view of the future – in opposition to the “negative” view held by Premillennialists and Amillennialists. My question (which I found completely absent) is this: Who says that one’s eschatology is to be assessed on the basis of pessimism or optimism? Is or is not the Second Advent of Christ the “blessed hope” of the Church? Is or is not the Second Advent of Christ therefore a most optimistic hope? So, how in the name of the 9th Commandment, is it fair to accuse men who believe in the glorious Second Advent of being pessimists? And how does Postmillennialism not fall under the condemnation of the Second Helvetic Confession, which reads: “We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth”? This condemnation clearly applied to Postmillennialism, not Premillennialism, because the Jewish fable being rejected is a golden age before the Day of Judgment. So throwing out the opposing views merely on account of a supposed “pessimism” is no argument at all. It is logically fallacious. Every time Gentry interacts with Amillennialism, rather than serious address the theological objections that are raised by acknowledging the effects of Original Sin, and the enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, he glibly shoves them aside as “pessimistic.” There is a third word that is missing from his optimism/pessimism debate: realism. Who says that his opponents' views are pessimistic? This is begging the question. This arbitrary classification keeps his opponents' view held in a pejorative light, regardless of the validity of any of their objections.
  2. Entangling of Church and State. Gentry repeatedly denies this connection, but every single book he cites in his favor advocates this very thing. And because his particular notion is built on Abraham Kuyper's notion of “common grace,” the way in which the Church is to influence society always terminates in compromise and worldliness. It denies, in action if not on paper, that God has placed enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. There is no conceivable way that the church can influence society along Postmillennialist terms without joint efforts between elect and reprobate. Any honest Christian will acknowledge that whenever compromise occurs between the Church and the world, it is always on the world's terms. It was the PCUSA's incipient Postmillennialism that facilitated her apostasy into Liberalism. Norh acknolwedges as much in Crossed Fingers. Gentry, with absolutely no explanation or defense for the switch, starts using the world “culture” where he had once spoken of dominion. This is why the appeal to common grace bothers me so much. Whose culture is the Church called to promote? That is never defined. Presumably what is meant by the word is whatever is pleasing and aesthetic in any culture influenced by a Christian worldview. And it is precisely here that Gentry and company would fall afoul of their Postmillennialist predecessors. Part of the Postmillennialist “cultural mandate” always includes Christian involvement (and supposed superiority – leading to eventual control of) in whatever fields of interest society's “culture” develops – be it sports, the arts, and entertainment. Advocating Christian involvement in any of these fields prior to the early 20th century would've gotten you excommunicated. It's not simply that this is compromise and worldliness, but it is a fascination with the things of this world that makes little sense. Am I to believe that in the eternal state, I have no better pastime to look forward to than the music of Beethoven or Mozart? This cheapens the glory of the eternal state. And it does so precisely by promoting secular society's culture. It acts as if, divorced from God, humans are capable, and in fact do, create a culture that deserves to be imported into the Eternal state. Gentry makes a brief reference to the “salt” principle, but it seems like quite an exegetical stretch to say that the Church acts like salt by preserving the world's culture. 17th and 18th century Postmillennialists might not have advocated such worldliness, but it lies at the base of the system because it ignores the reality of total depravity and the enmity God has placed between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. I’m not accusing Gentry of promoting this particular view of “culture,” but he has left the term entirely undefined – and this view of human culture is precisely what is held by most advocates of “common grace.”
  3. Confusing the person and work of Christ with His mystical body. This seems to me to be the most obvious objection. I defy anyone to show me in Scripture one single benefit the Church enjoys that does not flow to her from Christ, her Federal Head. And yet, if the Postmillennial position be true, it looks suspiciously as if Christ receives victory over His enemies through the Church, rather than her enjoying said victory through His work. I see no way of escaping this dilemma. In His office as King, Christ rules over all creation and He subjects His enemies to Himself. If I were to claim that it is our responsibility as Christians to work out a perfect sanctification in this life and then present this to Christ as a ground for His claim of sanctifying His people through the work of the Holy Spirit, you'd say I was a Pelagian – and you'd be right. What am I to make of an eschatology that posits the same thing in reference to the cosmos? And this object is not so much as even noticed in the book. The references to Psalm 8 substantiate my claim. Hebrews clearly teaches that Psalm 8 refers specifically to Christ. Christ is the “son of man” in Psalm 8 under whose feet all things will be subjected. Yet, even after noting the Hebrews citation of Psalm 8, Gentry continues on as if the “son of man” is the Church putting all things under it own feet.
  4. The newness of the position. Novelty is never a good thing theologically. Gentry fails to convince me of the antiquity of his position. He make a few references to respected Patristic sources, but freely acknowledges that not one of these men would recognize, or accept, Postmillennialism as a system. Sorry, you can’t claim in your favor people who wouldn’t even recognize the position. He marshals in Augustine, who every scholar I have ever read on the subject affirms is primarily responsible for the first clear and developed exposition of the Amillennial position. He notes that certain comments in Augustine’s writings are capable of even a Premillennial construction. If this is true, then let’s call it a draw and say that no one gets to claim Augustine for their eschatological system. He then leaps over a 1000 years (an actual millennium) to Daniel Whitby (1703). Mr. Gentry hastens to inform us that the Postmillennial system predates Whitby, and as evidence he submits the work A Revelation of the Revelation, by Thomas Brightman (1562- 1607). Even granting this to be the case, this is a virtual admission that Postmillennialism as a recognizable theological position did not exist prior to the 17th century. Let’s assume for a moment that all Christians are myopic, viewing the struggle between the Church and the world through the lens of their own condition. If this be true, Christian for most of Church history would not be inclined to hold to the Postmillennial position. Amillennialism makes sense. Even Premillennialism makes sense, in this light, assuming it carries water. But there has only been one brief period in Church history where the societal milieu would lead anyone to view the struggle between the Church and the world in Postmillennial terms: the 17th century – which is exactly when we first find the system developed and promoted. This may not be conclusive, but it certainly must count for something.
  5. It only works if everyone believes it. This is more of an observation than an objection. But it surfaces everywhere. North's foreword leaves the impression that the book is so compelling that it will literally make Postmillennialism be true simply by sheer force of argumentation. One of the most common laments of the book, stated or implied, is that the Church has not achieved her destined Millennial kingdom because not everyone is on board. What does one make of such a feeling? It seems to fly right in the face of the ostensible Reformed commitment to Divine sovereignty. If God is sovereign, and He plans (wills) to convert the whole world to Christianity, why does the dissent in anyone's eschatology matter? What fulfilment of any Scripture prophecy ever hinged on the belief and/or acceptance of it by anyone – in or out of Israel? Scripture tells us that scoffers will say, “Where is the promise of his coming,” and yet this will not hinder Christ's return to judge the world in righteousness.
  6. Scripture repeatedly speaks of the time prior to Christ's return as mirroring the days of Noah and Lot. These were hardly characterized by mass conversion to faith in the God of Israel. And, just as an aside, had there been more righteous men in Sodom besides Lot, would Lot's “saltiness” have been intended to save Sodom's culture? To ask the question is to answer it. This raises the whole question of history. This objection Gentry does take on, although he treats is as a practical objection, rather than a theological one – which is surely is. The objection he responds to take the form of questioning how one can hold such an ameliorating view of the future in the same century that witnessed World War I and II? His response is that, all things considered, this is a rather small sample, and that the world present an overall more positive picture if your sample is bigger than the 20th century. Granted, there is something to be said for this reply, but the problem isn't stated accurately. It's not just that the 20th century witnessed so much war and bloodshed. This is the legacy of mankind since Cain murdered Abel. That is not a small sample. Plus, does the history of Israel's apostasy, the apostasy of Papal Rome, and the apostasy of mainline Protestantism not count for anything? Does this not verify the fact that Christ's church is always a remnant, a “little flock,” who are among the few that find and walk the narrow path that leads to salvation?

I realize it sounds insane to say this of a book clocking in at over 600 pages, but it is strikingly superficial. I felt like I was reading clickbait: “You won't believe what happens next” - only to find the case presented skims along the surface of the doctrine being presented and the supposed Scriptural support for it. When it takes you 8 chapters, plus a foreword and preface to set up your exegesis, it's hard to expect anything compelling. And the 8 chapters don't really bear directly on the Postmillennial position, per se. So one feels cheated when Gentry marches into Chapter 9 triumphantly as if he's decimated every semblance of an objection. And the exegesis comes in rather sideways most of the time as well. Instead of going to the prophecies of Isaiah and arguing that the triumph of the Messiah's kingdom is most faithfully understood as a golden age on the earth prior to Christ's return, he argues from the “be fruitful and multiply” command in Genesis. As I stated already, this completely overlooks the Fall. And it doesn't do anything for his case (he thinks it does) to show how man, after the Fall, immediately took to dominating nature. The command was given to man prior to the Fall, and ignoring the Fall to assert that the command is still equally binding is poor exegesis. It neglects to explain why such dominion-behavior was good when fallen sinners did it, yet it is actually only the domain of the Church. That is no small oversight. Prior to the mission of the Twelve Spies, Israel was commanded to enter the Promised Land and conquer it. The morning after God sentenced Israel to wander 40 years in the wilderness, some of the men of war arose to enter Canaan to, as they put it, to “go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” Yet, this apparent act of obedience to the dominion mandate, was now sinful. In fact, the men who did attempt this conquering of Canaan were defeated in battle precisely for trying to do now what God had commanded them to do before their sin had entered the picture. Gentry doesn't come within a country mile of this objection. And based on the Scripture precedent of Numbers 14, one would be inclined to think that defeat is exactly what Postmillennialism should expect.

Starting at Chapter 10, Gentry launches into the exegesis proper, but by this point he has worn the reader’s patience with 200+ pages of “any moment now, I’m gonna blow everyone out of the water.” And even granting that his exegesis is fair, it suffers from two defects that weaken his use for his case. A). Much of what he says doesn’t represent Postmillennialism as a whole, and some of it could be agreed upon by both Premillennialists and Amillennialists. That hardly can be counted in his favor. B). All of his exegetical work is based on the Dominion Mandate which he inexplicably bait-and-switched into a “cultural mandate” within minutes of introducing the subject. It doesn’t matter how formidable his edifice appears when it is built on the rotten foundation of cultural compromise as a way of Christianizing the world.

There is an unbalanced, I almost said inconsistent, presentation of the opposing views’ hermeneutical principles. In the foreword, North castigates Amillennialists for a “spiritualizing” hermeneutic – the same slander hurled by Dispensationalists at both Amillennialists and Postmillennialists. Then, in the body of the work, Gentry rides herd on the Dispensationalists for their “literal” method of interpretation. Let’s be honest, Dispensationalists treat Scripture in many ways, but most of them are not literal. I have never understood people who can affirm that the chariots in Nahum 2:4 were modern-day automobiles, and the locusts of Revelation were Bell-Huey helicopters, have any room to boast of a literal hermeneutic. What surprises me, is that after criticizing Dispensationalists for their silly literalism with regard to prophecy, the Postmillennial position advocated by Gentry (and North) understands the same prophecies in a literal sense as well – the only difference being whether the “golden age” takes place before or after the Second Advent of Christ. It hardly seems consistent to squawk about one opponent advocating a “literal” hermeneutic when you’re going to use it yourself. Or to squawk about another opponent’s advocating a “spiritualizing” hermeneutic, when you periodical have recourse to the same approach. In fact, Chapter 15 ends with what is essentially a concession of this point. Mr. Gentry spends several pages treating the New Heavens and the New Earth in quite a literal fashion, and ends the segment by saying Premillennialists and Postmillennialists have no problem interpreting the New Heaven and Earth because both interpret it as a literal golden age upon the earth. Only Amillennialists, he says, have exegetical problems, because the relevant passages lend themselves more easily to a literal interpretation.

Chapter 16 is where I take the biggest issue. He spends a full twenty-eight pages on the “characters” of eschatology (the Beast, the Antichrist, etc). Never once does he even so much as mention the Papacy. I know that it is controversial today to say that. But controversy aside, there is no other doctrine about which ALL the Reformers were monolithically agreed than that the Papacy is the Antichrist! Zwingli, Luther, Bucer, Calvin, Martyr, Beza, Musculus, Cranmer, Melanchthon, (I could do this all day) to a man held that the Antichrist is the Papacy and that the Beast is his Romish church. And this includes both the 17th and 18th century predecessors of his theonomic version of Postmillennialism: the Pilgrim Fathers! Until the early 20th century, nothing would get you suspected more quickly of apostasy than expressing doubts regarding the identity of the Antichrist and the Papacy. The various streams of Reformation thought may have differed on their understanding of the Sacraments, on the nature of the Church, on the relation of the Church to the State, but there was zero difference on their view that the Papacy was the Antichrist! The Reformers, to a man, provided long, detailed exegetical explanations to prove the identity. They weren’t simply engaging in rhetorical retaliation against their persecutors, and it is libel to suggest it. Anyone is free to deny the identity if they please, but you cannot offer your position as authoritative without explaining point by point why the Reformers were wrong. After all, this is what North says you must do if you disagree with this book (hence the inordinate length of this review!)

This is actually a monumental error in his hermeneutic. By making the Beast and Antichrist stand for Nero and Pagan Rome, he ignores a central motif of Scripture: covenant – which is ironic because he talks about it so much. All the judgment language in Revelation is lifted from the Old Testament – and every bit of it comes from the warnings of the prophets against apostate Israel. The Great Whore of Revelation is set in terms that mirror the description of the Bride (which is clearly the Church). This means that the Whore should be understood as an unfaithful whore of a church. This is precise verbiage of the Lord against Israel: “playing the whore.” So it’s not that Gentry is wrong to notice the covenant language, it’s that he’s wrong regarding the referent. God is in covenant with His Church, not with mankind in general. You can talk Reformed theology till you’re blue in the face, but if you miss this, you’ve missed the essence of Reformed theology. The view that makes the Beast and the Antichrist identical to pagan Rome (as opposed to Papal Rome and the Pope), was invented by Counter-Reformation Jesuit theologians precisely to create an alternative interpretation to the Reformers. It is one thing to disagree with a position, but it is quite another thing to skirt a reasonable opposing view by completely ignoring its existence. And the view that identifies the Antichrist with the Papacy is not one of several views held by the Reformers: It is the distinctive view!

After this, Gentry turns his attention to his interpretation of the book of Revelation. This is where his work will be hardest to swallow. In his attempt to prove that everything in the book is past and has already taken place, one is left wondering why we aren’t in the Millennium already. He literally (pun intended) has the entirety of the prophecy of Revelation accomplished by 70 AD.  He argues this based on the preterit tense of many of the verbs in Revelation – and that phrases such as “must soon come to pass” in Chapter 1 don’t allow for a long delay in the fulfillment of any of the contents of the book. There are a couple of reasonable objections to this. First, many Scripture prophecies are in tenses that sound past even when the event is far off into the future. If anything, this emphasizes God’s power by showing that He speak with certainty about future events because He has ordained them. Secondly, think of the promise in Isaiah 7: “The Lord Himself will give a sign – a virgin will conceive.” Am I to reject an interpretation that refers this to Jesus because it would be unreasonable to tell Ahaz that God was giving a sign that was still hundreds of years in the future? Of course not! Further, his interpretation method is not consistent. When dealing with Daniel’s 70 Weeks, he follows the standard 1 day = 1 year method to arrive at 490 years. But when he comes to the 1280 days of Revelation, he suddenly takes a 1 day = 1 day approach and has the whole 1280 days prophecy fulfilled in 3 ½ years. Perhaps this is correct, but he gives no clue as to why he has switched hermeneutics all of a sudden. He can’t see how it would be honest or fair to tell people of things that would soon coming to pass, when the fulfillment might be far in the future. My question is: How was it fair and honest to offer Ahaz a sign which neither he nor his great-great-great-great grandchildren would live to see? That knife cuts both ways. Plus, he is averse to injecting a long time into the fulfillments of the prophesies of Revelation, but he doesn’t mind injecting indeterminate centuries into the space between the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the Second Coming.

His argument that Nero is the Beast relies on a speculative guess at the reason behind a variant reading of the number of the beast verse, which says “616” instead of “666.” He suspects that a copyist unaware of the numerical value of “Nero” in Hebrew altered 666 into 616. Now, granting that this took place, why are we to place any interpretive value on a purposeful alteration of God’s inspired word? I don’t how I’m supposed to take this argument seriously. He asserts that “Nero” in Hebrew letters (which all have numerical values), equals 666. But Revelation was written in Greek, so why are we to think that the Hebrew numbering system is what we are to use? Besides, nearly every author who has written on eschatology has his own explanation of the infamous 666. Gentry neglects to take this into account and explain why his peculiar way of deciphering it is superior to anyone else’s.

In concluding the book Gentry has three chapters devoted to fielding the objections, which he categorizes as “Pragmatic,” “Theological,” and “Biblical.” The answers to the pragmatic objections are fairly good, but this is because the objections he tackles are Dispensationalist objections. But not every Premillennialist is a Dispensationalist, so tearing Dispensationalist objections to ribbons doesn’t necessarily deal with the objections that a classic Premillennialist might offer. Little is said of pragmatic objections by Amillennialists, and this is because their objections are largely related to exegesis of Scripture, not the daily newspaper.

The answers to the Theological and Biblical objections follow the same pattern: tear the Dispensationalists to ribbons, and call it a day. When handling the Amillennialists’ objections, he generally does little more than state the objection and move on. His most formidable Amillennialist opponent is Professor Herman Hanko, and it is clear that Gentry knows this. When presenting an Amillennialist objection or interpretation that is easy to refute, he goes to Hoekema, but when he wants to present the strongest Amillennial arguments, he cites Hanko. The work by Hanko that he most commonly cites is an unpublished lecture found in the PRC’s magazine The Standard Bearer, from the April, 1978 issue. I read that article (An Exegetical Refutation of Postmillennialism), and I must say, Gentry’s handling of Hanko’s paper leaves a lot to be desired. Essentially, it boils down to labeling it “pessimistic.” Again, I fail to see this to be a category derived from Scripture. Theological debate should focus on true versus false, correct versus incorrect, exegetical versus eisegetical, not optimistic versus optimistic. And Hanko has an additional card up his sleeve that never gets addressed: The appeal to the Church Fathers and Calvin is pure anachronism. No one had ever heard of Gentry’s  theonomic Reconstructionist form of Postmillennialism in either the Patristic or Reformation era, so they cannot be cited as authorities or backers of the position. It’s like citing Euclid to support Newton or Einstein. Moreover, the optimism versus pessimism gambit is misleading anyway. Both Premillennialists and Amillennialists believe the Christ rules and reigns and that the Eternal State will be an everlasting display of Christ’s triumph. That is optimism, is it not? Plus, this sees the enjoyment of the triumph as the culmination of all things. In the Postmillennialist view the Millennium isn’t a full display of Christ’s triumph. That still has to wait for 1000 years. Even if Christians outnumber unbelievers by 5:1, as Gentry suggests, Christ’s triumph is still not displayed as complete. For that to happen, all His foes must be forever vanquished.

Apart from these issues, the book is horribly formatted. Typos abound. Nearly every page has very noticeable typos. The whole section of Dispensationalism's pretended appeal to a literal reading of prophecy is so fraught with typos, it makes is nearly impossible to read. The word intended is obviously “literal.” But in nearly half of the instances of the word, the text reads “liberalism.” This is clearly a formatting problem occasioned by the OCR conversion to pdf, but it is very poor on the part of North’s and Gentry's organization to distribute a book they are undoubtedly aware has so many typographical errors. Plus there are countless instances of words and phrases in bold face font – as if they are being emphasized. But the context will reveal that there could be no possible reason to emphasize these words and/or phrases. Now, it may be nitpicky to bring this poor formatting up, but for a book that claims to be scholarly, and claims to trounce the scholarship of its opponents, lousy formatting is unacceptable. The book was written in 1992. Presumably someone could have edited it for typos since then, or at least since the conversion to pdf. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

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