I working my way through Dr. Gary North’s book, Millennialism and Social Theory, and I can’t put it down. For far too long Christians have failed to give a cogent answer for both social theory and its institutional bonds in a culture. In other words, the pietists are running amuck. North challenges both amillennialism and premillennialism both exegetically and logically. Those two eschatological categories are dubbed “pessimillennialism,” because both do not see the church victorious in history. (The only way “out” of this whole mess is for Christ to come and mop it up; don’t think you can do anything about it! Don’t bother planning for retirement, leaving an inheritance for your children, or worry too much about laboring for just laws in your respective nations–the Rapture is coming anyway!)
The basic argument is this: is there historical continuity with the Second Coming of Christ? Or is it only discontinuity? Let me try and make it even more simple: when Christ returns, will anything we do here and now in history actually matter? Black coffee postmillennialists like myself say, “Yes!” The others? No.
While reading along I found (so far) my favorite quote from Dr. North on page 154.
The problem comes when Christians deny the existence of God’s predictable, biblical law-governed, covenantal, corporate sanctions in history. Such a viewpoint explains God’s historic corporate sanctions as random and inscrutable to man, even covenant-keeping man. The great historical discontinuities are not interpreted as advancing God’s earthly kingdom. Therefore, by default, God’s negative sanctions in history must be seen as working to advance Satan’s earthly kingdom. There is no neutrality. Historic discontinuities are then viewed as mere reminders (“earnests”) of the future cosmic discontinuity of Jesus’ Second Coming. This future cosmic discontinuity is supposedly the only event that will enable God to bring His kingdom-civilization to earth, but only after history ends. In short, God’s civilization is defined a[s] exclusively non-historical, while Satan’s is exclusively historical.
In conclusion, whenever God’s historical, covenantal sanctions are denied, history loses all meaning for covenant-keepers. But there will always be discontinuities in history as God’s kingdom advances. Thus, from a sanctions-denying perspective, history becomes a threat to Christians. This is exactly what has happened in our day. Here it is not primarily the apocalyptic premillennialists who are at fault; rather, it is the Calvinist amillennialists, as we shall see in the next chapter.
Wow. Take that in a few times if you must.
All of God’s covenantal endeavors contain a 5-fold aspect of its implementation. 1) Sovereignty–who is in charge?; 2) Hierarchy–who do I report to? (delegated sovereignty); 3) Law–what are the rules?; 4) Sanctions–blessings or cursings, depending on obedience to said Law; 5) Inheritance–where is this heading in history? If you want to learn more about this, I suggest you read That You May Prosper by Ray Sutton. (It’s brilliant.)
North explains why this matters for developing an explicitly Christian social theory:
Every social theory must offer answers to at least five fundamental questions: (1) What provides legitimacy to any given institution or complex system of institutions? (2) What system of authority binds people and institutions together in their corporate ventures? (What do we mean by “institution”?) (3) What are the rules and regulations of the social bond, and how are they discovered and applied to specific cases in history? (4) What are the sanctions that individuals and institutions legitimately bring against deviants and outsiders? (5) What is the view of time (continuity) that binds men and institutions to both the past and the future?
The focus of North’s interaction here is on #4–God’s positive and negative sanctions in history against both covenant-keepers (those faithful to the covenant) and covenant-breakers (those who are not). (See Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 for a list of such sanctions; they do still carry over to the New Covenant, by the way).
The average Christian thinks solely in terms of individuality. Get persons saved to their personal Lord and Savior (not entirely problematic), and wait for Jesus to come back. Oh, and go to church. God only deals with individuals at the final judgment, it is believed. “There are no corporate sanctions in history against God’s people, nor are there any against the enemies of God,” they say. Of course, there is no biblical justification for that position. Jonah brought a threat of covenantal sanctions against Nineveh (*gasp!* read: not Israel!); and yet they repented, and it started with the king…
The reality is, God judges nations today. He judges groups of people today. He brings sanctions in history against those who would keep covenant and those who would break covenant. The point North makes above is that if you reject the idea of God’s sanctions against both covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers, then history “loses all meaning for covenant-keepers.” Any judgment God may bring against anyone in history ultimately serves to advance Satan’s fake kingdom. (By the way, Satan had legal right over the nations because Adam sold his birthright. But Jesus came, bound Satan (see Mt. 12) and plundered his house. When tempted by Satan, Jesus didn’t say “No” to the nations, He said no to Satan giving Him the nations. Instead, Jesus went to the cross to get the nations, and would not sell His birthright to Satan like Adam had done.)
All this is to say, Christians have a better vision for society. Christian doctrine has a better vision for education, economics, State/Federal government, justice and crime, math and marriage. What is that answer? The law of God. For far too long we’ve kept silent, believing that you can’t “polish brass on a sinking ship.” But let’s get one thing clear: The meek shall inherit the earth. The ship is not sinking.