Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Introduction; Millennial Theories

KingdomConspiracy2I’m a Scot McKnight fan, and I’ve just received a copy of his latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. (I had to pay for mine.)

And it’s some kind of big deal. I mean, this one is going to be discussed by elders, in minister staff meetings, in academia — and in the blogosphere — because he steps on lots and lots of toes — but in a very good and necessary way.

To put it simply, Scot’s theme is that most of our teaching on the kingdom is messed up, and so we need to rethink it all. And in so doing, we’ll rethink how we do and think about Christianity and church and mission.

Now, my September 29 post on the “Church of the Firstborn” has well over 130 comments, almost all debating the meaning of “kingdom.” And there are plenty of theories and opinions among Christians.

Discussions tend to fit into a few discrete categories:

* Some focus on eschatology, and so the debate is about premillennialism vs. postmillennialism vs.  amillennialism. This is NOT the subject of Scot’s book, but we in the Churches of Christ do need some background to understand why we feel as we feel on this subject.

The premillennialist camp believes that the Rapture (the saved meeting Jesus in the sky and proceeding from there to heaven) precedes the Millennium.  This is the Left Behind perspective, and those in this camp tend to focus their entire Christian theology on the Rapture, the Thousand-Year Reign, and such matters — so that the Kingdom is largely future tense — and of little current relevance except that we must be good moral people and regular in our church attendance so that we get to be Raptured up to heaven when the time comes.

RaptureYou’ve seen the bumper stickers. And the counter bumper stickers. (Bad taste all the way around, if you ask me.)

This was popular in the Churches of Christ about 100 yearsrapture2 ago, but was brutally criticized by Foy Wallace, Jr. and, by the 1950s, became a minority view — so much so that for a while it was considered damnable heresy, and premillennial congregations were ostracized from the “brotherhood” and not even listed in Where the Churches Meet.

This hard-nosed, graceless attitude has been repented of my most, and so the issue is no longer considered a salvation or fellowship issue by even most very conservative churches. And it remains a distinctively minority viewpoint that is rarely discussed.

The postmillennialist camp believes the Rapture is after (post) the Millennial Reign of Jesus on earth. This was the view of Alexander Campbell. He believed that the founding of the American republic, the granting of religious liberty to its citizens, and his own Restoration Movement were harbingers of the coming Millennium. And so he called his periodical The Millennial Harbinger.

In the early 19th Century, most American frontier churches were postmillennialist and saw themselves as helping to prepare the way for Jesus to return and reign on earth. In fact, postmillennialism often encourages social justice activity as a means of speeding Jesus’ return. And the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th Century made dramatic social justice gains, in part, for this very reason.

However, this point of view was largely forgotten in the Churches of Christ by 1900. Perhaps the American Civil War made such an optimistic worldview seem unrealistic. It was a sad and terrible time, with millions killed and many more maimed or diseased, with the South left in poverty. It would have been hard to feel the same optimism in the American South in the days following the War.

Most in the Churches of Christ today are amillennialist, meaning that they don’t expect a literal thousand-year reign by Jesus on earth. Most are only vaguely aware of the question. In fact, it would be more exact to call us “don’t know nothing about the Millennium”-millennialists or, perhaps more exactly, I-don’t-care-millennialists.

We really find the whole thing uninteresting and just a bit offputting. After all, what does any of this say to me and my congregation about how to live today? Worse yet, if you’re as old as me, you remember the bitterness and division that the topic brought to the Churches in the mid-20th Century, and so find it all very distasteful.

Therefore, it’s rarely discussed, and when the subject does come up, we look at our watches, announce that we’re late for an appointment, and leave the room.

Surprised by Hope

In his seminal (and very readable) book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright proposed a reading of the scriptures that rejects the Rapture entirely. Moreover, he concludes that at the end of the age, God and heaven — the New Jerusalem — will descend to earth, merging the two so that God will dwell with man, heaven and earth will be one, and the saved will live in the new heavens and new earth prophesied by Isaiah.

(Rev 21:1-4 ESV) “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Others have shown that this teaching is not nearly so new as I and most others imagined. John Mark Hicks finds this same teaching in the writings of Alexander Campbell, David Lipscomb, and James A. Harding! However, once again, it was Foy Wallace, Jr. who treated as such teaching as damnable heresy, driving it from our collective consciousness.

I covered Surprised by Hope and its view of the Rapture in this series of posts, including this post on Wright’s understanding of the Rapture. (And, yes, while I disagree with Wright on the nature of hell and damnation, I think he correctly exegetes the passages about the new heavens and new earth.)

My view, which is pretty much amillennial, is laid out in these posts:

The Millennium, Part 1

The Millennium, Part 2

The Millennium, Part 3

The Millennium, Part 4

The only reason I wrote those posts is because readers insisted that I take a position. And so I studied up on the topic, explained my conclusions, and upset the readers who disagreed with me.

[to be continued]

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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15 Responses to Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Introduction; Millennial Theories

  1. Gary says:

    Premillenial views were apparently not a matter of controversy in Churches of Christ before about 1915. James Harding, for example, was definitely premillenial. It is ironic that Harding University, named for James Harding, would not allow Harding to teach his eschatological understandings there were he alive today. Around 1914 or 1915 R.H. Boll, the front page editor of the Gospel Advocate, either began to teach his premillennial views in the GA or perhaps his teachings on the subject attracted negative attention for the first time. When the dust settled Boll was out at the GA and either started or acquired another publication, Word and Work, and served as its editor until his death in the 1950’s. Word and Work continued as a print publication until within the last decade I believe. Alex Wilson served as the editor for many years.

    R.H. Boll and H. Leo Boles, president of David Lipscomb College, debated premillennialism in the 1920’s. They definitely disagreed but both considered it to be in the realm of opinion and not a barrier to fellowship. That changed in the 1930’s when Foy Wallace, Jr. debated R.H. Boll on premillennialism. Wallace did consider premillennial views to be a barrier to fellowship and made it his mission to force a division over premillennialism effectively making the minority premillennial Churches of Christ a separate fellowship. A real low point was when David Lipscomb College under its new President, Athens Clay Pullias, forced the resignation of longtime faculty members who refused to sign a doctrinal statement refuting premillennialism. In the 1950’s anyone who taught at Lipscomb had to sign a loyalty statement which, among other things, refuted premillennialism. Roy Key was offered a faculty position at Lipscomb in the 1950’s but the offer was withdrawn when he refused to sign this statement. Key was not premillennial but felt that signing the statement would violate his conscience as a Christian. Not long afterwards he left Churches of Christ and ministered for Disciples of Christ.

    The amillennial-premillennial division in Churches of Christ effectively ended in 2000 when Dr. Mac Lynn dropped the separate designation for premillennial Churches of Christ in the directory Churches of Christ in the United States.

  2. Kevin says:

    I am firmly in the amillennial camp, but I generally don’t have any hangups about alternative views. However…I perceive, and my perception may be wrong, that far too many charlatans are hawking their Tribulation & Rapture books for the money…and it is big business. Just my opinion based on some of the authors that I have read. That’s not to say that all Rapture & Trib authors are just chasing the $ signs. Clearly, some are sincere in their beliefs and just want to add to the discourse.

    I found these books to be interesting:
    -Kingdom Come: An Amillennial Alternative by Sam Storms
    -The Second Coming by John MacArthur
    -Biblical Studies in Final Things by Wm Cox
    -Amillennialism Today by Wm Cox

  3. Kevin says:


    I am reading “The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible” by Scot McKnight. Good stuff.


  4. Dwight says:

    What happened in Rev.21:1-4 happened when Jesus established His kingdom of the saints. It tansformed the physical to the spiritual. God came to be with man in the flesh, Jesus and then God dwells within the transformed man, man is called the temple for this reason. The saints, Jews or gentiles, will be God’s people and God will be their God. Death is swallowed in victory of Jesus overcoming death. Joy reigns supreme in the promise in the grace as the law of doing things has passed way. It is important in that it directly relates to and is regarding us now as well as then and not just a future generation who is yet to come.

  5. Dwight says:

    What is damaging about the pre-books is that they embellish the mythology that may or may not exist due to interpretations on allegory and figurative language and detract people from the here and now happenings. It is sad that many of the writers believe the basis and fill in to connect gaps with added story that will be accepted as scripture.

  6. JES says:

    And we wonder why we have division and a reputation as a cult!!!

    People dying all around the world and this is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!

  7. Kevin says:


    There are many things that are wrong with your post. First, it reeks of self-righteousness and condescension, Concern for a dying world is a good and noble thing, but since you raise the topic, seemingly to contrast the misguided interests of a few bloggers and posters with your own more virtuous Christian example…What are YOU personally doing about the dying world?

    Second, how do you know what we are doing with our time away from the computer, and how do you know that your own obvious efforts exceed our own? How do you judge the interests and actions of others based on a few idle posts?

    Third, on what basis do you determine that a theological discussion about end times has such little value? Have you never read Matt 24, 2 Thess 1, 2 Peter 3, and other passages that discuss end times? Clearly the topic was of interest to Jesus and the Apostles.

    Perhaps the better lesson here is to think a bit before you post.

  8. JES says:


    Jay makes it clear that “peer pressure” to take a position is the only reason he finally wrote this essay. He opens with this as a “non-salvation” issue, but it was & will continue to be with some (not me). Jay acknowledges that WHATEVER position he takes “some will argue with his conclusions”!!! My point is ” why go there”?

    Maybe the better thing would be to stop arguing over all such things that has split the church over the past 200+ years. I’ve been involved with the church for 66 years & most of these arguments were issues with my grandparents. We will never achieve unity in Christ rehashing these issues over & over.

    For clarity, my statement is not directed at Jay. He gives a very well thought out & biblical dissertation on every subject I have read; this one included. However, in almost every case, some would rather argue than to discuss the biblical merits of an issue. This just leads to more arguing.

    Our “tribe” was intended to create unity. How does arguing any of these “positions” unite anyone? As an example, Sunday I was informed of another CoC that is splitting over eating in the building!!! Do you think presenting “the facts” again will persuade them not to split?

    Look at your rebuttal to my comment. I never said anyone refused to help the dying world. My point was, & still is, the resources we expend on these issues that we have no control over have led to nothing but more discord; such as the one we are having. In hindsight, I should have never commented at all; sorry for expressing my frustration.


  9. Kevin says:

    I fundamentally disagree with your thesis. You seem to be arguing the following…”If we can’t agree on something, then let’s just not talk about it.” In my view, such a position is seldom successful. Christianity, yea society, is rarely served by stifling discourse. Imagine if we took this position to it’s logical ends…? You stated, “Maybe the better thing would be to stop arguing over all such things that has split the church over the past 200+ years.” If we adopted this policy, I suspect that we couldn’t talk about any spiritual subject whatsoever!

    You also stated, “How does arguing any of these “positions” unite anyone?” I would flip the question: “How does not talking about our different “positions” unite anyone?”

    No, you didn’t exactly state that “anyone refused to help the dying world.” You did infer it, however. Here is what I heard from your post: “People dying all around the world and this is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!” In other words: Why are you wasting your time discussing end times when you should be out there helping a dying world. The problem with such a overly broad statement is that it could be applied to virtually everything:
    -“People dying all around the world and this (watching college football on Saturday morning) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!”
    -“People dying all around the world and this (debating the College Football playoff teams) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!” [Talk about heated debates over the next month or so…]
    -“People dying all around the world and this (your job) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!”
    -“People dying all around the world and this (justification) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!”
    -“People dying all around the world and this (doctrine) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!”
    -“People dying all around the world and this (grace) is what we are concerned with. Get a grip!”

    I am not suggesting that you agree with each of the above statements, but I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that you, apparently, do not think that we should be discussing things that have split the church over the last 200+ years, and different ideas relative to justification, doctrine, and grace have all done that.

    Lastly, you stated, “My point was, & still is, the resources we expend on these issues that we have no control over have led to nothing but more discord; such as the one we are having.” Two points. 1) How do you know that? How can you prove that all the resources that have been expended have led to nothing but more discord? NOTHING? I can’t agree with that in the least because my own thinking has changed from reading and conversing on Jay’s blog. 2) disagreement does not equal discord. The way in which one disagrees with another equals discord. Remember, Jesus and the Apostles were Jews. I think you would be astonished if you were to observe the Eastern learning environment. It is wildly different from Western methods. If you think disagreeing = discord, then one may think that Easterners are downright hostile.


  10. Dwight says:

    There are and have been less noble issues that have split people, such as what name is on the sign out front, that have no scriptural ground or basis. This is in the scripture so it is worth discussing. II Tim.3:16. Now having said that opinons vary and we must realize that one opinion isn’t neccessarily better than the other, but if we discuss on the scripture using scripture, then there can be no losers. There will be some that don’t accept what they read over other thoughts, but this is not for lack of trying and that doesn’t mean that all things in the scripture will condemn if wrongly believed. I could beleive Jesus was born in Nazarene, but this isn’t a point of condemnation, as opposed to believing that Jesus is not the Son of God.

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