Saengsoo Church (Living Water Baptist Church)
Modern missions cannot be discussed without also discussing eschatology. This is because how one sees eschatology—whatever system of eschatology to which he holds—will impact how he conducts missions.1 In the same light, one’s eschatology will also form one’s theory of missions.
David J. Bosch accurately discusses the development of each system of eschatology and its influence on missions.2 Besides Bosch, many missiologists agree that there is a connection between each system of eschatology and how its adherents have historically conducted missions.3
An important contribution of Bosch to the discussion is his comments on Matt 24:14. He points out that this verse in the Lord’s Olivet Discourse began to be employed by premillennialists as central to their conduct and theory of missions.4
Commenting on how premillennialists often looked at Matt 24:14, Bosch explains: “Christ’s return was now understood as being dependent upon the successful completion of the missionary task; the preaching of the gospel was a condition to be fulfilled before the end comes.”5
Such an understanding of Matt 24:14 has provided faithful believers with a missionary motivation and encouraged them to adopt an urgency in the area of missions.
This is one facet of premillennialism’s impact on missions. But there were others, such as the emphasis on seeing the spiritual salvation of people.6 Premillennialists have mainly focused on the personal salvation of those they meet on the mission field.
Related to this is dispensationalism. Many premillennialists have historically been identified as dispensationalists. Dispensational premillennialists have been particularly identified as believers who see an urgency in missions that would bring eternal salvation to the hearers of the message.
When one brings in the theology of dispensationalism, the discussion of Matt 24:14 takes a twist. Dispensationalists see a distinction between Israel and the Church. Matthew 24 is seen as addressing issues related to the nation of Israel and not the Church.
Why have dispensational premillennialists seen this urgency in missions? Why has the need to proclaim the reception of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus for it become so important in this system of eschatology? Has their dispensational theology determined their view of missions?
This article will answer these questions. It will argue that the dispensational premillennial understanding of the “not yet” eschatological kingdom has led adherents of this system to see an urgency in the conduct of missions as well as a desire to see people experience eternal salvation. This also explains why they have not placed a great emphasis on the social gospel.
The first section will provide a brief history of how premillennialists have played an active role in promoting an urgency in missions while focusing on eternal salvation. The second section will investigate dispensational teaching’s connection to premillennialism. Then, the third section will demonstrate that the dispensational understanding of the “not yet” eschatological kingdom has been the theological foundation for this urgency as well as evangelism-centered missions.
There are two types of dispensationalism. Traditional dispensationalism is also known as classical dispensationalism. This category is represented by older writers like John Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. It also includes what could be called revised dispensationalism found in the writings of Charles C. Ryrie, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Alva J. McClain, and Stanley Toussaint.
However, since the 1980s, another type of dispensationalism has come upon the academic scene. Its proponents include Robert L. Saucy, Darrell L. Bock, and Craig A. Blaising. This new version is called progressive dispensationalism. One of the notable differences from the earlier versions is an understanding of the eschatological kingdom. Traditional dispensationalism holds to a “not yet” eschatological kingdom. This view maintains that the kingdom of God does not exist in any manner during the church age. Progressive dispensationalism, on the other hand, holds to an “already, but not yet” kingdom framework—in some ways, Christ is reigning on the throne of David today. This article’s focus will be on the “not yet” eschatological kingdom of traditional dispensationalism. However, in the conclusion of this article, it will be seen that the rise of progressive dispensationalism suggests the need for further study.
II. PREMILLENNIAL ESCHATOLOGY’S EFFECT ON MODERN MISSIONS
Premillennial eschatology’s impact on modern missions can be seen historically in two areas. The first is the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM). The second is faith missions.
The successful mobilization of the SVM produced many missionary volunteers. However, denominations in the late nineteenth century could not accept them all, and the volunteers could not wait until the denominations were ready. Thus, some of them took part in a missionary task through faith missions.
In the meantime, another characteristic of premillennial eschatology’s impact on missions is its refusal to promote the social gospel. Instead, it held to the importance of presenting the gospel of eternal life on an individual basis.
A. Urgency in Evangelism through the Student Volunteer Movement
Premillennialism took root in a variety of traditions and denominations starting in the nineteenth century. Bosch names a number of different religious traditions in this regard. They include Adventism, the Holiness Movement, Pentecostalism, Fundamentalism, and conservative Evangelicalism.7 In spite of the variety in these traditions, they all became noticeably active in the task of missions.8 A notable catchphrase developed which accurately captured the premillennial conviction in regard to the task of missions, especially as it related to the urgency and importance that they saw in this task. It was “the evangelization of the world in this generation.”9
This motto was accepted as the watchword of the SVM. The origin of the phrase is found in Arthur T. Pierson’s famous address to D. L. Moody’s Mount Hermon Student Conference in 1886. The title of the conference was, “The Bible and Prophecy.” When Pierson proposed this motto, Beyerhaus maintains that Pierson’s heart was burned with an eschatological motivation for missions. Pierson made this clear when he said that “the evangelization of all the nations was the condition laid down by Jesus himself for his future coming in glory.”10
The message of the motto had a huge impact. Many young believers were kindled with a missionary zeal. Dispensational missiologist Michael Pocock correctly concludes, based upon Pierson’s speech, that this zeal was thoroughly “eschatological in nature.”11
J. R. Mott and J. H. Oldham used the motto and diligently labored to mobilize missionaries. Their effort bore much fruit. Over 20,000 students joined the SVM and devoted themselves as missionaries.12 The hearts of these would-be missionaries were filled with an eschatological hope that they might be the last generation and would perhaps witness the Second Coming of Christ. They also saw their efforts as a push to finish the task of the Great Commission. Even though they faithfully accomplished their own missionary tasks, they did not see the fulfillment of such an eschatological hope.
Because of this unrealized hope, the SVM developed a new motto for its missionary endeavors. Pocock explains the history of the SVM and its missionaries. In addition, he explains how the motto pointed to the future:
They accomplished a great deal but failed in their great ambition. Almost a century later, in 1989, the watchword was restated as “a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000.”13
Students and mission agencies worldwide responded to what was called the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement. Thousands of missionaries were deployed and engaged many unreached people groups. While premillennialists were not the only driving force behind the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement, there was an emphasis on “closure.” This emphasis was based on Jesus’ words in Matt 24:14, that the end would come after the gospel of the kingdom was preached to the whole world. The point was that this age would “close” after the gospel went out to the whole world. Clearly, this motto and movement had a definite premillennial eschatological dimension. Not surprisingly, Luis Bush, its leader, was a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, a premillennial dispensational school.14
Although the successors of the SVM changed their watchword, the eschatological motivation still led them. The history of the SVM has been led by the firmness of the eschatological motivation for missions based on Matt 24:14.
B. Urgency in Evangelism through Faith Missions
As mentioned above, the work of the SVM was so successful, there were more missionary volunteers than the denominations could accept and send to the mission field. The urgency these volunteers felt about going to the mission field caused many to decide they could not wait until the denominations were ready for them. As a result, many of those who wanted to engage in foreign missions had to look elsewhere. For them, faith missions were the only option.
Dana L. Robert says:
In the final decades of the nineteenth century, American interest in foreign missions increased dramatically. Student volunteers flooded the denominational sending agencies, and nondenominational missions were founded to contain the rising tide. Little did the average Christian of 1880 realize that the age of foreign missions would irrevocably change the religious landscape at home. By the early twentieth century, American missions had not only influenced the developing world, but a constellation of separatist evangelical missions, often called “faith missions,” had emerged from the heady enthusiasm of the mission revival.15
Faith missions were connected to premillennialism. Robert explains that the faith missions owed its rise to “the popularization of new mission theories based on premillennialism,” which emphasizes the imminence of Christ’s Second Coming.16
Klaus Fiedler agrees with Robert. According to Fiedler, many premillennialists had been involved in the beginning and vitalization of faith missions. Fiedler mentions many premillennialists such as John Nelson Darby, B. W. Newton, James H. Brookes, William Blackstone, A. T. Pierson, A. J. Gordon, D. L. Moody, and George Müller. He suggests that the faith missions originated in the nineteenth-century revivals in the United States and are connected to Hudson Taylor and his China Inland Mission. The faith missions are interdenominational and characterized by the faith principle of financial support. The missionaries are not supported by any particular denomination.17
Faith missions demonstrate an urgency for the evangelization of the world. The leaders of the faith missions, like those of the SVM, were deeply affected by premillennialism. This urgency resulted, in part, from a specific understanding of Matt 24:14 and the goal of seeing “the evangelization of the world in this generation.”
III. THE REJECTION OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL BY PREMILLENNIALISTS
While John R. Mott was exerting great effort in mobilizing missionaries, he was also the chairman of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910. At the end of the conference, Mott delivered a message in which he emphasized the eschatological hope of seeing the coming of the kingdom of God in power.18
However, the following generations of conferences at Edinburgh did not follow their founding father’s eschatological motivation when they organized the International Missional Council. Peter Beyerhaus illustrates this deterioration as follows:
…the successors of Edinburgh who organized the International Missional Council (IMC) did not maintain this eschatological motivation for world missions. In fact, the German scholar Gustav Warneck, known as the father of the science of missiology, early on had criticized the “Anglo-Saxon eschatological optimism” seemingly contained in the SVM’s watchword and the “superficial” perception of the missionary task derived from it.19
At the same time, in the early twentieth century, interest in social concerns among premillennialists dramatically decreased. This phenomenon is often called the “Great Reversal,” which “took place from about 1900 to about 1930.”20 George Marsden asserts that premillennial fundamentalists such as C. I. Scofield and D. L. Moody contributed to the “Great Reversal.”21 He asserts:
The Spirit-oriented holiness teaching, spreading quickly in this period, encouraged a clear distinction between law and Spirit, Old Testament and New Testament, and seems to have been a major factor paving the way for the acceptance of a more definite dispensationalism in the later nineteenth century.22
C. I. Scofield in his classic formulation called these two dispensations “Law” and “Grace.” The contrast between the present NT age of the Spirit and the previous OT age of Law did involve a shift toward a more “private” view of Christianity. In this new age, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of individuals. A personal experience of salvation was the chief concern. Social action was relegated to the province of private agencies. The kingdom was no longer viewed as a kingdom of laws. Civil law would not help bring in the kingdom as postmillennialism maintained. The transition from postmillennial to premillennial views was the most explicit expression of this change.23
Moody, in particular, relied heavily on premillennialism in his evangelism. He used it as an excuse to avoid, to a large degree, discussing social issues.24 The priority of personal evangelism was seen as infinitely more important.
Marsden suggests one of the reasons for the “Great Reversal” was the stark contrast it made with the social gospel. The social gospel seeks to bring a kind of “heaven on earth.” On the other hand, premillennialism looks for a coming kingdom brought by Christ at His return. Marsden states:
Furthermore, the liberal and Social Gospel emphasis on the kingdom of God as realized in the progress of civilization was readily contrasted with premillennialist eschatological hopes.25
However, a trend of world missions led by a major organization such as International Missional Council gradually changed missional outlook from the salvation of the lost to social and political liberation. As a result, the eschatological motivation for missions began to be blurred. Beyerhaus fairly portrays the change in the philosophy of missions as follows:
For a time, between the IMC’s 1952 Willingen meeting and the Word Council of Churches’ 1954 assembly at Evanston, it appeared that their concern had been attended to, but eventually their thrust was completely discarded by the dominating theology of missions in the conciliar movement. This became obvious at the World Council’s fourth assembly at Uppsala in 1968 and at its eighth world missionary conference at Bangkok in 1972. Both meetings signaled that mission meant humanization, socio-political liberation, and dialogue with other religions, with a view toward finally setting up a “coming world community.”26
Nevertheless, a new conservative Evangelical missionary movement appeared. People in this new movement began to raise the eschatological expectation for world missions. They held to “the premillennial hope that Pierson and his companions had once attached to world missions.”27 Beyerhaus explains this resurgence:
In recent decades all of the important evangelical affirmations have sounded this eschatological keynote, such as the Wheaton Declaration (1966), the Frankfurt Declaration (1970), and the Lausanne Covenant (1974). However, in view of this evangelical rediscovery of eschatology, we should not allow our confession of Christ’s return to appear as a piece of high-sounding rhetoric, but rather make it the focus of our total understanding of Christ’s mandate for world evangelization.28
In the meantime, the premillennialism of the fundamentalist movement continuously influenced missions. Most fundamentalist mission agencies held to the belief in a premillennial eschatology. Don Fanning portrays such a situation after World War II:
After WWII several thousand mission agencies were formed with specialized ministries and/or geographic targeted areas for church planting and other ministries. Most of these agencies’ statement of faith declared a premillennial view of the Second Coming, which often was reiterated in publications and mission conferences to declare the urgency for world evangelism as soon as possible.29
It is noteworthy to consider the resurgence of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist churches in the 1980s. This resurgence of the denomination at this time involved a re-emphasis of premillennialism since premillennialism was dominant among the fundamentalist movement. William A. Pitts illustrates the resurgence:
Fundamentalists in the 1920s made their attack on the religious liberal establishment through the issues of Darwinian evolution and biblical inerrancy. These two issues remained central for resurgent Fundamentalism in the SBC of the 1980s. Premillennialism was part of the Fundamentalist package that many Baptists accepted. Millennialism began to flourish in new ways among Baptists… Clearly the tide had turned; outsider became insider…The Southern Baptist Convention has changed by embracing Fundamentalism. Its ministers have redefined not only their views of Scripture and women but also of millennialism.30
As Pitts points out, premillennialism flourished among the Southern Baptists. Although the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission agency, the International Mission Board, did not plainly address the eschatological motivation for the task of missions, the eschatological hope clearly lay beneath the surface.
In the early twentieth century, premillennial fundamentalists successfully rejected the social gospel. However, when the next generations abandoned premillennial eschatological motivation for missions, the social gospel became dominant in world missions. Nevertheless, premillennial fundamentalists still had a major impact on world missions by focusing on presenting the gospel to individuals. Clearly, eschatology not only determined how missions were conducted but also the gospel the missionary proclaimed.
IV. DISPENSATIONALISM’S EFFECT ON PREMILLENNIALISTS AND FUNDAMENTALISTS
The mobilizers of the SVM and the leaders of the faith missions held to premillennial eschatology. This resulted in an urgency to preaching the gospel so that individuals would receive eternal salvation. However, many premillennialists in those days were also greatly impacted by dispensationalism. Most of the premillennialists in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century supported dispensational millennialism. Ernst Robert Sandeen maintains that many Christian leaders in those days held to John Nelson Darby’s dispensational theology. He says:
[A]ll of these men [Arthur T. Pierson, A. J. Gordon, James H. Brookes, etc.] embraced and taught, at least for a few years, the millenarian views identified earlier with Darby’s dispensational theology… The Niagara [conference] would have deserved to be known as the source of a new method of Bible teaching, a new zeal for the defense of the Bible, and a new wave of enthusiasm for dispensational millenarianism.31
Sandeen explains the situation in more detail. The pretribulation Rapture view of dispensationalism also dominated among premillennialists. He argues that the Gaebelein-Scofield party emerged from the struggle far stronger than its opposition. Those who held to a post-tribulational position of the Rapture lost control of the millenarian movement. They did not even maintain the level of support they had in 1900.32
Clearly, many participants of the Niagara Bible Conferences were affected by dispensationalism. Following a series of conversations with George Müller,33 Pierson abandoned a postmillennial interpretation and was convinced of a dispensational, premillennial view of Scripture. After becoming a premillennialist, Pierson joined the Niagara Bible Conferences. Through the teaching of Pierson, many Niagara participants converted to dispensational premillennialism.
Robert supports the assertions of Sandeen:
Muller [sic] then convinced Pierson of a premillennial interpretation of Scripture: that the condition of the world would in fact worsen until Jesus returned to usher in the millennium. Late-nineteenth-century premillennialism’s view that human effort could not in fact bring in God’s kingdom seemed to Pierson to be both more scriptural and more consonant with reality as he experienced it in his own ministry in urban Detroit.34
The Niagara Bible Conference was a regular fellowship made up mainly of church leaders. Most came from Presbyterian and Baptist churches. These leaders, to a very large degree, had become convinced of a premillennial interpretation of Scripture.35
Both Darby’s and Müller’s dispensationalism heavily impacted the participants of the Niagara conferences. The same was true for fundamentalists across the United States. Both men often travelled from Europe to the Unites States in the 1870s and 1880s.
Another reason dispensational premillennialism gained such great support is that many of the participants of the Niagara conferences were prominent urban pastors or evangelists who had many followers. These men include Dwight L. Moody of Chicago, A. J. Gordon of Boston, and James H. Brookes of St. Louis. All these men developed a strong commitment for personal evangelism. They came to view this as the solution to urban social problems and concluded that the social gospel was not the answer. Today scholars consider these conferences as the “primary breeding ground” for what would become fundamentalist Biblical exegesis.36 If there was to be a change in societal norms, it would come through people becoming Christians through the gospel of eternal life. But even this was not the goal of evangelism. The world would not get better and better until the coming of Christ. In fact, the opposite was the truth.
The dissemination of the Scofield Reference Bible, which was first published in 1909, also helps explain the proliferation of dispensationalism. In addition, it had an impact on missions. This is because the Scofield Reference Bible was intended to help missionaries.37
Robert makes this point when she says that Cyrus I. Scofield was a Congregationalist who founded the Central American Mission (CAM), one of the earliest missions to enter Latin America. He is best remembered as the editor of the Scofield Reference Bible. It was an annotated King James Bible which encapsulated the hermeneutical system of premillennial dispensationalism. Many today would be surprised to find out that its original purpose was not to codify dispensational premillennialism. Instead, it was to be a one volume reference work for missionaries who had no access to theological libraries, especially for those working with CAM.38
Mark A. Noll, a noted church historian agrees. He comments, “[Scofield] intended [the Scofield Reference Bible] as a portable guide for missionaries more than as a polished theological system.”39
V. RAPID EVANGELIZATION AND PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE COMING KINGDOM
It seems that Matt 24:14, understood from a premillennial hermeneutic, helps explain the explosion of missionaries at the end of the nineteenth century. This hermeneutic also rejected the social gospel. But we have seen, too, that dispensationalism also greatly impacted the urgency of missions among fundamentalists and the desire to present a gospel of personal salvation. More needs to be said on this last point.
Some have questioned how Matt 24:14 could be used by dispensational premillennialists to argue for an urgency in mission work. It is maintained that Matt 24:14 fits better with a postmillennial view. Isn’t this verse saying that the gospel will go out to the whole world before Christ returns? This would argue that things will get better before the Second Coming. If the gospel goes out to the whole world, such preaching will have a positive impact on the world as a whole.
David Hesselgrave makes this point. He says that those who use Matt 24:14 as a motivation to engage in world-wide missions are attempting to force Jesus to come back. They do so by trying to make the world better and better, thus ushering in the Second Coming. He asks sarcastically, “If we go in force, will he come in haste?”40
This critique seems to be reasonable at a glance. However, the premillennialist’s obsession to engage with missions and its interpretation of Matt 24:14 is different from the postmillennialist’s attempt to build a utopia by using diverse human approaches. In addition, dispensational premillennialists overtly rejected such social engineering and the social gospel. They instead sought personal salvation.
The premillennial dispensationalists saw their missionary activity as preparation for the coming kingdom of God, not to bring it in. Henry W. Frost was an early contributor to the Fundamentals. He commented that missions were simply a vehicle to prepare for the future kingdom. The gathering together of people into the Church was a way for the kingdom of Christ to come, but it would be established on earth and was separate from missionary activity. Frost wrote:
… [The] Gospels, Epistles and Revelation speak of a work to be accomplished, which is preliminary to the coming kingdom, and which, in the divine economy, makes the one and the other possible…[M]issionary service is related to all the world and is for the purpose of gathering to God an innumerable number of people in preparation for the King and the Kingdom.41
Simply put, the work of missions for the premillennialist was a work the Church was to be involved in. God had mandated them to do so. Such efforts would not bring in the kingdom. Only Christ could do that.
In addition, dispensationalists see a distinction between the Church and Israel. Matthew 24:14 concerns the time of the Tribulation. As mentioned above, the majority of these dispensationalists believed the rapture of the Church will occur before the Tribulation. The Church will be removed from the earth. The preaching of the gospel to the whole world will occur after the removal of the Church. The postmillennial use of Matt 24:14 to argue for the transformation of society in this present age is contrary to the context.
Dispensational missions are done in order to complete the church. It is not required to bring in the kingdom of God. The first does not bring in the second.
VI. THE KINGDOM IS “NOT YET” AND THE REJECTION OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL
As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of dispensational fundamentalism is to reject the social gospel and to adhere to the personal gospel of eternal salvation. The reason for such a trend is that dispensationalism’s kingdom framework holds to a “not yet” view by which the eschatological kingdom is not realized in the present age but will be realized in the future.
Since the kingdom does not belong to the church age, dispensational fundamentalists attacked the idea of a social gospel. Campos states that this idea dominated the theology of missions as well as their practice.42
The “Great Reversal,” as discussed above, was the dispensational fundamentalists’ aggressive critique and attack on the liberal’s social gospel. The “Great Reversal” was stamped in the heart of fundamentalism. Campos comments, “That experience affected fundamentalist missionary theology and praxis, which avoided all social concern.”43
According to Marsden, the theology of the social gospel is based on the realized kingdom concept, which is a desire to bring in the kingdom now. The kingdom can be experienced and realized in the “already.” This is contrasted with a dispensational eschatological framework. He points out that conservative Evangelicals did not see the threat of the social gospel in its concern for social issues. Evangelicals often had the same concerns. They also wanted to meet the great physical needs that people around the world experience.
The problem was that the social gospel emphasized these concerns to such an extent that they neglected the message of eternal life through Christ. In addition, the social gospel’s emphasis on the kingdom of God as realized in the progress of civilization was contrary to a dispensational view of the kingdom. It was impossible to reconcile the social gospel with a gospel of the need for individual salvation.44
As the attacks on liberalism heated up, it became more difficult to defend both personal salvation evangelism and social action. As the conservative fundamentalists became stronger opponents of modernism, the attempt to balance the two declined.45
Because of the “not yet” kingdom concept, dispensational theology has a pessimistic attitude toward the present world. To dispensational premillennialists, human effort to restore social order and to develop the present world is in vain. Campos explains that dispensationalists saw themselves as a separatist movement in more ways than one. They saw themselves as a heavenly people who belong to a universal and invisible church. They had a low view of social progress in this age. In their eschatological framework, the world would get much worse, not better, before the Second Coming of the Lord.46 The contrast with postmillennialism, which once had many more proponents among conservative Christians, could not be more stark.
The “not yet” eschatological kingdom is described this way because the kingdom has been postponed. Because the Jews rejected their King, the Davidic kingdom was not established when Jesus came the first time. Jesus is never called the King of the Church. He does not rule as King today. He is not yet sitting on the throne of David. All of this awaits His Second Coming. It is only then that the Davidic kingdom will be realized. It will only be then that the long awaited Golden Age will come to the earth.47 The social gospel cannot bring this about. Neither can missionary activity by the Church.
Ryrie, a dispensational premillennialist, concludes that the earthly kingdom is not for the present age. As a result, earthly norms cannot be applied now. The dichotomy between the future earthly kingdom and the present spiritual Church promotes the refusal of a social gospel. In speaking about the Good News, Jesus preached to the Jews not just a spiritual deliverance. The Good News also included material deliverance for the nation and a victory over earthly enemies. Ryrie rightly says that people get “sidetracked” when they try to impose on the world today the kingdom ethics taught in the NT to the Jews. The King is not here. He is not sitting on His throne ruling. The Christian should practice Church ethics. His focus is on the Church, not the betterment of the world.48 Social concerns are secondary.
In discussing the future of this present age, Ryrie adds that even the Church will become apostate. Conditions in the world will worsen. The Church will not usher in lasting peace. That will only happen when Christ returns to set up His kingdom.49
The Bible does instruct the Christian to do good to all people and to be light and salt to the world. Therefore, premillennialism does not teach insensitivity to the plight of those around us. Nor does it require believers to isolate themselves. Premillennialists are optimistic in the sense that they realize the kingdom is coming. But they also realize that only Christ can bring in the kingdom. At the same time, Christians are not to “sit on their” hands and do nothing about the evil around us. Biblical realism is both pessimistic and optimistic.50
Some have suggested that whenever dispensational premillennialists are actively involved in social concerns, they are being inconsistent with their theology. Such a theology should cause them to be passive towards these things.51 Campos rightly says that the motivation for such social activity among dispensational premillennialists is Christian compassion. In addition, the motivation for such social work includes evangelistic outreach. It can be used to open a door to the presentation of the gospel of personal salvation. But it is not their theological framework that produces such concern.52
Campos, who has a particular interest in missions in Latin America, gives a good summary of how dispensational premillennialism impacts missions. As a dispensationalist, he states that there is no historical manifestation of the kingdom of God. The Church is only preparing for it. In the present age, God is completing the Church. In the Tribulation, He will do all that needs to be done in order to bring in the kingdom. The Church’s mission is to proclaim spiritual salvation. The physical manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth is completely left to the future millennial kingdom. Social concerns are not the mandate of the Church.53
The church is called to obey the Great Commission. “The Church is the proclaimer of spiritual salvation until the number of the saved is completed so that the Lord may bring in the future kingdom.”54
This article has investigated why premillennialists have had a great impact on the urgency of foreign missions. But this urgency primarily involves missions that were centered on the spiritual salvation of individuals.
Most of these premillennialists have been affected by dispensational teaching. How has dispensationalism contributed to this view of missions?
It has been shown that the dispensational understanding of a “not yet” eschatological kingdom is a major reason for foreign missions as well as a desire for people to experience eternal salvation. At the same time, there is an understandable de-emphasis on social concerns and the social gospel.
As a final note, further study is needed on changes within dispensationalism itself and how this will impact a theology of missions. Progressive dispensationalism represents such a change. It rejects the hard distinction of a “not yet” framework in regards to the kingdom. Instead, it takes a middle road with an “already, not yet” view.
How will this change affect the field of missions among such dispensationalists? As this article has shown, one’s theology and hermeneutic affect how one practices his faith, including missions. If one accepts an “already, but not yet” view of the kingdom, how will he practice missions? How will he balance social concerns with personal evangelism of the promise of eternal life? Since progressive dispensationalism is new to the theological scene, the impact of its hermeneutic remains to be seen.
1 There are three major eschatological positions: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. Of course, there are derivations in each position, so there are a multitude of eschatological views among Christians. In general terms, premillennialism holds that Christ will come again before the physical millennial kingdom. Christ will reign on this earth for 1000 years. Amillennialism denies a millennial kingdom in the physical sense. The verses that supposedly deal with such a kingdom are said to involve a spiritual kingdom. An amillennialist asserts that the kingdom refers to Christ’s reign over the church, His reign in heaven over His saints, or His reign over the believer’s heart. Christ inaugurated the kingdom at His first coming, and this kingdom will continue until He comes again. Postmillennialism teaches that Christ will come after the kingdom is over. The Church will usher in the kingdom by bringing in a Christianized society through the preaching of the gospel and the teaching of Biblical morals.
2 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 313-27. He briefly discusses how each of the three major views of eschatology has affected modern missions.
3 Peter Beyerhaus, “Eschatology: Does It Make a Difference in Missions?,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 26 (1990): 366-76; Don Fanning, “Eschatology and Missions,” http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=cgm_theo. Accessed Nov 13, 2014; Everett W. Huffard, “Eschatology and the Mission of the Church,” Restoration Quarterly 33 (1991): 1-11; Julie Ma, “Eschatology and Mission: Living the ‘Last Days’ Today,” Transformation 26 (2009): 186-98; William Manson, “Mission and Eschatology,” International Review of Mission 42 (1953): 390-97; and A. Christopher Smith, “The Eschatological Drive of God’s Mission,” Review & Expositor 82 (1985): 209-16. For more discussion on the premillennial view, along with the accompanying expectation of Christ’s soon return, see Andrew F. Bush, “The Implications of Christian Zionism for World Mission,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33 (2009): 144-50; Colin Chapman, “Premillennial Theology, Christian Zionism, and Christian Mission,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33 (2009): 137-42; Michael Pocock, “The Influence of Premillennial Eschatology on Evangelical Missionary Theory and Praxis from the Late Nineteenth Century to the Present,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33 (2009): 129-34; and Michael Pocock, “The Destiny of the World and the Work of Missions,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988): 436-451.
4 Bosch, Transforming Mission, 316.
6 The NT speaks of different kinds of “salvation.” People can be saved from illness, from physical death, from the temporal consequences of sin, or from hell. In the words of the Gospel of John, salvation from eternal condemnation occurs when a person believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life. This is what is meant here by the term “spiritual salvation.”
7 Bosch, Transforming Mission, 315.
9 Beyerhaus, “Eschatology,” 366.
11 Pocock, “The Influence of Premillennial Eschatology,” 132.
12 David M. Howard, Student Power in World Missions, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 90; Pocock, “The Influence of Premillennial Eschatology,” 132.
13 Pocock, “The Influence of Premillennial Eschatology,” 133.
15 Dana L. Robert, “The Crisis of Missions: Premillennial Mission Theory and the Origins of Independent Evangelical Missions,” in Earthen Vessels: American Evangelicals and Foreign Missions, 1880-1980, eds. Joel A. Carpenter and Wilbert R. Shenk (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 29.
16 Ibid., 31.
17 Klaus Fiedler, The Story of Faith Missions (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 1994), 273.
18 Beyerhaus, “Eschatology: Does It Make a Difference in Missions?,” 366.
20 George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1980), 85-86.
21 Ibid. See also Ernest Robert Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
22 Marsden, Fundamentalism, 87.
23 Ibid., 88-89.
24 Ibid., 90.
25 Ibid., 92.
26 Beyerhaus, “Eschatology: Does It Make a Difference in Missions?,” 367-68.
27 Ibid., 368.
29 Fanning, “Eschatology and Missions,” 28.
30 William A. Pitts, “Southern Baptists and Millennialism, 1900-2000: Conceptual Patterns and Historical Expressions,” Baptist History and Heritage 34 (1999): 8-9.
31 Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930, 144.
32 Ibid., 220.
33 Many prefer the spelling Mueller.
34 Robert, “The Crisis of Missions: Premillennial Mission Theory and the Origins of Independent Evangelical Missions,” 34.
36 Ibid., 34-35.
37 Most missionaries in those days were rapidly sent out through faith missions with an urgent motivation to evangelize. On the missionary fields, these missionaries needed theological assistance. The Scofield Reference Bible, written from a dispensational, premillennial viewpoint, was part of that assistance.
38 Robert, “The Crisis of Missions: Premillennial Mission Theory and the Origins of Independent Evangelical Missions,” 44.
39 Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 378.
40 David J. Hesselgrave, Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 279.
41 Henry W. Frost, “What Missionary Motives Should Prevail?” in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, vol. 3, ed. by R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon (Los Angeles, CA: The Bible Institute of Los Angeles, 1917), 271.
42 Oscar A. Campos, “The Mission of the Church and the Kingdom of God in Latin America” (Ph. D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 2000), 125.
43 Ibid., 112.
44 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 92.
46 Campos, “The Mission of the Church,” 113.
47 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systemic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 298.
48 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, What You Should Know About Social Responsibility (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1982), 22.
49 Ibid., 112.
51 Campos, “The Mission of the Church,” 141.
53 Ibid., 146.
54 Ibid., 200.