In the realm of Christian eschatology there are three primary schools of thought: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism (with dispensational premillennialism serving as a sort of fourth). In this short pamphlet (at ~56 pgs I hesitate to call it more than that) author Duane Garner makes his case regarding the issue.
The argument being presented in Why The End Is Not Near is almost a given by the title. It is an argument against premillennialism (specifically dispensationalism) in favor of postmillennialism.
As defined by Garner, the opposing view can be seen as such “…the double nature of the second coming is one of the primary points of departure of dispensational premillennialism from historical premillennialism. In dispensationalism, Christ comes first to rapture his church and then comes again with his church to establish his millennial kingdom.”
Because of the way in which this system interprets Scripture (that is the success of the antichrist, the tribulation and taking an extremely literalistic view of certain prophecy) Garner goes on to state that “… dispensationalism reflects a depressingly pessimistic view of the success of the church and the gospel. It teaches that everything continues to get worse and worse until one day Jesus comes back to rescue his people before they are overcome by the enemy. The church does not get the chance to complete her mission and the gospel falls largely on deaf ears throughout history.”
As can be seen Garner’s chief issue with dispensational premillennialism is both it’s idea of two second comings of Christ and it’s perceived pessimism in regards to the success of the kingdom here on earth. In opposition to this Garner pushes for a much more optimistic form of postmillennialism. Instead of the literalistic interpretation of the dispensationalists Garner argues that we “put all the passages about the end of the world in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem” such that we “will find that there need not be any fanciful speculation about certain events or characters, but that everything therein fits neatly into what has already happened two thousand years ago.”
Garner argues that when Christ came to earth he came to inaugurate his kingdom successfully. He bases this optimism on Christ’s prayer that “His kingdom come” along with an assertion that the Great Commission is meant to be taken to fruition. Since according to Garner the world must first see the completion of the Great Commission and a literal age of true Christendom before the Second Coming, he can state with assurance that the end is not near (given that our current state is nowhere near this golden age which must come first).
All in all this is an informative little book, although due to its watered-down nature one cannot accept everything at face value as being truly representative of either eschatology. It is a helpful read in wetting one’s feet in the debates regarding Christian eschatology, but should be no means be the deciding factor in that debate.
-“This is the work that Jesus commissioned the church to do when he commanded them to make disciples of all the nations. In promising her that he would be with her throughout all ages, he affirmed that he would not allow his church to fail in the task to which he has assigned her.”
-“The last days of Jerusalem have come and are over. God ended that world, and in Christ he ushered in a new world – our world. He has bound Satan, and we are now reigning with Christ as his brethren and co-heirs, working to bring the nations under his rule.”
-“As [dispensationalists] consistently apply their theology to their missions and lives, they find it foolish to take on any effort that may take several years, even several generations to finish. Thus this past century has not been an age of cathedrals, but of pre-fabricated metal buildings.”
One minor critique of this text is that not every dispensationalist is necessarily as pessimistic and short-sighted as Garner makes them out to be, nor is every postmillennialist as optimistic. Garner makes a strong case for the logical pessimism of dispensationalism (and also does well in demonstrating the misreadings which result in it’s two second comings), but doesn’t necessarily form a strong argument that this pessimism is incorrect.
For instance there is little to suggest to Christ’s prayer about the coming kingdom necessarily denotes a postmillennial kingdom or that the Great Commission would result in a golden age. The strongest argument for his case comes in Christ’s admonition that his kingdom was at hand, that they were living in the last days and that many alive would live to see that kingdom. Yet these same arguments can be used in support of amillennialism as well.
Another pointed criticism one might make is of Garner’s idea that much of what is wrong with the church today is seemingly the result of this end times hysteria. This can be seen when he states that: “Christians accepted the hype [of the hysteria] and retreated into their homes and their splintered churches while the world went to hell… After thirty years of this end-times hysteria, the church has fallen from her influential position in society. Without any plan for the future, and hardly a plan for the present, the church has lost every single significant cultural battle that has faced our generation.” This itself seems almost a relapse into the pessimism that the author rails against.
While the effects of dispensationalism may have been broad, I hardly think they had quite the effect Garner gives them (unless he is speaking of specific churches, or only of battles which the dispensational churches have fought, though his diction doesn’t indicate that this is the case).