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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Book Review

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom: An Introduction to Postmillennialism by John Jefferson Davis, published by Canon Press, 1996

Postmillennialism is the view of the end times that holds that Jesus Christ will return bodily to the earth after an unprecedented period of righteousness and blessing on the earth, which period of time is commonly called by theologians "the millennium", based on Revelation 20:1-6. While it is still an uncommon view in the church, it has received something of a resurgence in recent years, especially in Reformed and Presbyterian circles. After wrestling with the various positions on the end times for a few years, I came to embrace Postmillennialism as the view taught by Scripture. I recently joined a Bible study group that is studying the Book of the Revelation and, being the only non-premillennialist in the group, I thought I would read Davis's book to brush up on the topic. It was a worthwhile read.

The Victory of Christ's Kingdom is an abbreviated form of a book written by Davis and originally published by Baker Book House in 1986, which was entitled Christ's Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered. This version was put back into print last year by Solid Ground Christian Books, and may be purchased here. I have not read the original, and so am unable to comment on it or to compare the two books. At about half the length of the original, one would certainly expect The Victory of Christ's Kingdom to go into less depth than did the original publication. It is, nonetheless, a good overview of the Postmillennial position.

The book is simply divided up into five chapters: 1. Introduction; 2. The Witness of the Old Testament; 3. The Witness of the New Testament; 4. Contrary Texts in the New Testament; and 5. Summary and Conclusions. In the Introduction, Davis gives a brief summary of the doctrine. He then seeks to clear up misunderstandings about the position. I found this to be one of the most helpful parts of the book. I have often heard Fundamentalists and Evangelicals categorize and align Postmillenialism with notions of Evolutionary progress, Liberalism, the "Social Gospel", Universalism, and "Manifest Destiny". But Davis puts all of these false understandings to rest, showing that the Postmillennialism he advocates is fully orthodox. He then traces Postmillennial thinking since the Reformation. It would have been helpful if he had discussed elements of Postmillennialism that existed in the church prior to Calvin, but the period he did cover was helpful nonetheless.

In the next two chapters, Davis does exactly as the titles state. First, he shows how the Kingdom in the O.T. is represented as growing and overwhelming the whole earth. Then he shows how those O.T. texts find their culmination in and through the work of Jesus the King. While the book is too short for Davis to deal with every related text, the outline he sketches demonstrates convincingly the position that the postmillennial scheme most accurately represents the Biblical text.

If there is a fault to the book, one finds that fault in chapter 4, where Davis seeks to address texts that are commonly cited by opponents of Postmillennialism in criticism of the doctrine. Here, Davis shows his own failure to see the basic preteristic structure of the New Testament. When dealing with the Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24, Mk. 13, and Lk. 21), Davis speaks as a preterist, assigning the content of these texts to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. (pp. 76-78). He does the same when dealing with some texts that suggest that few people "in the end" will be saved (pp. 79-80). And yet he is inconsistent, as he fails to make use of a preteristic reading when dealing with texts that suggest the nearness of Christ's return, as well as other texts. I would suggest that the preterist reading of the texts he deals with are the most natural reading, and that it is possible to read the texts that way without falling into the heresy known as hyper- or full-preterism.

So the book isn't perfect. Working on a five-star grading scale, I would give the book three and a half stars, with a part of me itching to push that up to four stars. I consider the absence of a preteristic understanding pretty significant, eventhough the book overall is fantastic. In fact, I would even recommend the book for those looking for an introduction to Postmillennialism. It's short, and so it's a quick read. But for those seeking a fuller understanding of how to read the Bible, following up this book with a good preterist work is imperative.

For those interested, I am happy to announce the reprinting of two classic preterist works, both by the late David Chilton. The first is entitled Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion. The second, The Days of Vengeance, is Chilton's commentary on the Book of the Revelation. Both have been available for free online at www.freebooks.com for a while now. But for those who find sitting at a computer to read or printing off lots of pages a hassle, bound copies of the books are now available. They may be purchased from www.americanvision.org.

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