Twenty-two years ago (1990), Gary North wrote a book, Millennialism and Social Theory.
He gave it an academic-sounding title, hoping (he says) that “there may be a few secular academics who decide to read it.”
Well, I’m not a secular academic. But after reading the book, I can tell you it is not a detached intellectual treatise on a dry academic/theological subject.
It is more of an impassioned plea to the Church of Jesus Christ to re-examine and rediscover its mission to the world: intensive gospel evangelism and comprehensive, covenant-driven discipleship of the nations. (That would make a great title for Gary’s next book: The Covenant-Driven Church!)
There’s a definite evangelistic undertone running through it.
Gary makes it clear why he’s writing. He doesn’t make any bones about it. A lot is at stake. It is not to settle any theological scores or to engage other millennial views in a friendly (or unfriendly) debate. Rather, it is to get the Church to get a grip on itself and see just how unbiblical (and unresultful) its approach has been in its attempts over the last 2,000 years (of fits and starts) to fulfill the Great Commission–owing mainly to a defective understanding of God’s Covenant and of the nature and timing (and global impact, in history) of Christ’s earthly kingdom.
Gary is deeply concerned for the spiritual destiny and salvation not only of the five billion people inhabiting the planet at the time of his writing (1990), but also of the six and perhaps ten billion people who will quite possibly live and die without Christ during the next 75-80 years.
He says only a widespread, global move of the Holy Spirit in the very near future can stop the demographic disaster, spiritually speaking, that is currently taking place.
And the Church is totally unprepared for such a massive influx of new converts, who must be discipled and trained in the way of righteousness so that the institutions of society and the culture at large can likewise be (progressively) transformed.
The Kingdom of God: Christ’s New World Order
Gary’s operating thesis is this: the kingdom of God is the civilization of God. And the Bible–the Old and New Testament scriptures–are the “blueprints” and basis on which that civilization is to be built.
The Church is called to the task of rebuilding a fallen civilization–to replace Satan’s counterfeit kingdoms and empires–according to those blueprints, thereby facilitating the widespread, Holy Spirit engendered salvation and sanctification of multitudes of presently unsaved persons and nations around the world–God’s promised response of widespread, corporate blessing for widespread, corporate, covenantal obedience.
But, because of the modern Church’s predominantly pessimistic, escapist/defeatist/pietist theology and eschatology, a truncated version and vision of evangelism, and the lack of a comprehensive, covenant-based approach to discipleship, pastoral training, church planting and societal/institutional restoration and reconstruction–well, that job–which is of eternal significance–is just not getting done. And the world at large is suffering massive cultural and spiritual consequences for it.
And that is why Satan and his counterfeit New World Order/humanist social order is (or appears to be) winning.
This glaring defect in the Church’s worldview and its inability to carry out its divinely appointed mission properly, Gary says, can be traced to its recent (19th-20th century) abandonment of the robust, covenantal (“social/judicial”) postmillennialism of the 17th-century Puritans of New England, and its embracing a more “pietist/individualist”, non-covenantal (non-Calvinistic) theology. Also, its adopting (by some) of an aberrant, dispensational understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture, that has led to its current premillennial (or amillennial) misinterpretation of prophecy and Scripture and of the Church’s role and mission in the world prior to the Lord’s return.
Gary focusses on millennialism rather than the larger area of eschatology (doctrine of last things) because, for the most part, Christian eschatology is not in dispute. The Church’s understanding of Christ’s earthly kingdom (i.e., his reign during “the Millennium”), how it is realized, how it impacts the world and the role we play in it, however, is.
Premillennialism and amillennialism he frequently refers to, jointly, as pessimillennialism, because both views agree on the historical failure and increased persecution (or “exile”) of the Church during the present age before the Second Coming (or Rapture), as well as agreeing on the “futility” of trying to change institutions and cultures by the Gospel using biblical laws and standards.
He defines the three major millennial views (mentioning briefly dispensationalism, which some consider to be a fourth view apart from historic premillennialism), comparing and contrasting them. He spends a little more time discussing the problems of amillennialism since that is the de facto view of most Reformed/Calvinist churches as well as most mainline liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal/Anglican). Premillennialism is embraced by most evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal churches. Postmillennialism is the odd man out here, currently the minority view and essentially out of vogue in most churches, but is gaining more of a hearing these days (as is Christian Reconstructionism in general) despite its being, historically, the predominant millennial view of most Presbyterian churches up until the late 19th/early 20th centuries. He cites the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (Q. 191) as proof of this.
Millennialism and the “Social” Gospel
All along the way, Gary is careful to point out the impact that millennialism has on the success and failure of evangelization and discipleship by the Church and by Christians throughout the world and throughout history.
He relates it to “social theory” (hence, the title of the book), which deals with understanding how a society operates and what “holds it together”–its laws, its institutions, its system of sanctions and rewards, its time perspective, etc..
And that is the crux of his biggest complaint and criticism against the modern Church: its failure to construct a biblically-based model, a comprehensive, cultural, covenantal alternative to the humanist social order and secular/non-Christian social theory.
He sees this failure as a direct result of its unwillingness to see the whole of Scripture as a covenantal historical document–one with a revealed (inspired) system of sanctions and rewards, laws and precepts–blessings and cursings for obedience and disobedience–that are predictable and reliable because they are based on God’s promises (his law-word). Also, that the Christian faith provides all of the tools necessary–spiritual and temporal–to reconstruct society and rebuild civilization, one soul at a time “in the image of God”, using a Bible-based set of laws and principles to govern every institution, and a biblical time perspective (linear and upward in progress) to rally everyone around and “bond” them together, united towards a common goal: the “healing of the nations” through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Gary covers an enormous amount of ground in his 300+ page book. I’m only giving the barest of outlines to sketch the major themes of it.
Here are the topics covered in his 13 chapters (followed by a Conclusion, Appendix and indexes):
- Eschatology and the Millennium
- What is Social Theory?
- Covenantal Progress
- The Society of the Future
- Time Enough
- Denying God’s Predictable Sanctions in History
- Historical Sanctions: An Inescapable Concept
- The Sociology of Suffering
- Pietistic Postmillennialism
- Will God Disinherit Christ’s Church
- Our Blessed Earthly Hope in History
- What is to Be Done?
The entire book, Millennialism, is intensely practical. The last chapter, “What is to Be Done?”, even offers a game plan and “road map” to follow that answers the question, ‘Okay, so now what?‘ Here, Gary gets down to brass tacks (as only he can) and gives it to you straight.
I could fill page after page online with quotable material from this book. Gary North is a master of rhetoric (as well as grammar and logic), with enough training and experience as a historian, theologian, economist and writer to easily qualify him and position him as the official scribe, editor and spokesman (as well as co-founder… and economist!) of the modern Christian Reconstruction movement.
Here is one of the more sanguine yet blunt of his statements, taken from pages 310-311, that reflects the heart of Gary on this matter of millennialism and why it matters so much to him:
My concern is with evangelism. I am not willing to write off automatically (prophetically) the souls of five-plus billion people. God has this prerogative; I do not. Again, let me say it as plainly as I can: my hostility to amillennialism and premillennialism is not based on my disagreements with their interpretations of this or that verse in Scripture. Good men have disagreed for a long time over the proper interpretation of Bible verses. My hostility is to the mindset that has to underlie any Calvinist who says that God will not move large numbers of souls into His kingdom at some point in history. He is saying, in no uncertain terms: “To hell with the whole world. I’m in the Book of Life, and that’s what counts for me.” It is a bad attitude, but it underlies all pessimillennial Calvinism. The Arminian pessimillennialists have an excuse: they do not believe in God’s irresistible grace. But the Calvinist who thinks in pessimillennial terms has necessarily adopted an elitist attitude: a world in which he assumes, and sometimes even says publicly, that “God will not fill up heaven with the people of my generation. But I’ve got mine!”
My attitude is different. I think: “Oh, God, if you were willing to let me in, why don’t you let billions in? It’s no more difficult for you to let five billion more in than to let me in.” I can pray in confidence that God might do this in my day because I know he will do it someday. Pessimillenialists do not pray for the conversion of the world with my degree of confidence…
I wholeheartedly recommend Millennialism and Social Theory to all, especially Christians, who want to know, (a), why it matters, and, (b), what to do about it.
Either way, READ IT! (carefully, prayerfully)