Optimistic but Dead Yankee Generals & The Distinction Between Optimism and Realism

Yankee General John Sedgwick was an Optimist of the first order. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House Gen. Sedgwick moved up to where the battle was running hot. When Gen. Sedgwick’s men warned him to take cover, Sedgwick responded by joking, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at that distance.” Just as those words fell from his mouth, a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet crashed into his skull, right below his left eye, killing him instantly.

This story was repeated with Union General Philip Kearny:

In a violent storm with lightning and pouring rain, Kearny decided to investigate a gap in the Union line. Responding to warnings of a subordinate, he said, “The Rebel bullet that can kill me has not yet been molded.” Encountering Confederate troops, Kearny ignored a demand to surrender and, while he tried to escape on horseback, a “half dozen muskets fired” and he was shot with a Minié ball that entered his hip and came out his shoulder, killing him instantly.

The moral of the story?

An Optimist is a fool who doesn’t understand the nature and terrain of his circumstances. It’s one thing to be positive. It is an entirely different thing to ignore reality.

This applies to eschatology. Postmillennialists have always been known as and indeed are optimists. They know that Christ reigns and so because of that are optimistic regarding history. However, there is a subset of postmillenalists I call “Pollyanna’s” who have the optimism of Generals Kearney and Sedgwick. They have moved beyond optimism and have entered into the territory of reality ignoring.

As a Postmillenialist I am supremely optimistic but I refuse to allow my eschatological optimism to trump my realism. When for example, I see the World Economic Forum putting all the planks in place to set up their New World Order I remain optimistic that in the long run such plans cannot succeed. However, I embrace realism to realize that in the short term it is very likely that they are going to be successful.

Admittedly, it is difficult at times to identify the line between optimism and realism. I am routinely told by friends and acquaintances that “you are the most pessimistic optimist I’ve ever met.” Actually, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve seen up close and personal the disaster that has been the consequence of foolish Pollyanna Postmillennialism. Pollyanna Postmillennialists are forever trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Better to identify a situation for what it is rather than lie to yourself and everybody else and so breed massive discouragement once the reality is unavoidable and inescapable.

This is not to be taken as being in support of the Gloomy Gus’s of the world whose motif seems to be always and all the time; “We’re all gonna die.” It’s merely a plea to look at situations with the steely eye of realism while at the same time retaining the confidence that with God all things are possible.

The Necessity for Postmillennialism

A great deal that is wrong with the contemporary church in the West can be traced to its abysmal eschatology. If one expects that God’s word teaches that the Church will be defeated in space and time then it is counter-intuitive to work for victory. Further, if one expects that the “Kingdom of God” is exactly only synonymous with the Church then any talk of the advance of the Kingdom reserves the belief that the Kingdom of Grendel can grow at the same time God’s Kingdom grows. R2K, as organized anti-postmillennialism in the Reformed Church, has raised up a coterie of clergy who absolutely are fornicating with pessimism every night before they go to sleep and then bringing the children of that union into Church pulpits.

Below are some quotes from what earlier Reformed men believed regarding eschatology before the time we are in now where the clergy are defined as effeminate at best and spiritual Trannies at worst.

Charles Hodge famously remarked that “we have reason to believe … that the number of the finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saved will be very inconsiderable.” Warfield held that “nothing less than the world will be saved” by Christ, the world as an organic whole. Indeed, “the number of the saved shall in the end not be small but large,” and will far outnumber the lost.

In a sermon “God’s Immeasurable Love,” Warfield strongly opposed the idea that the elect is a small remnant of the world, since they are the world. In this light, he wrote:

Through all the years one increasing purpose runs, one increasing purpose: the kingdoms of the earth become ever more and more the kingdom of our God and his Christ. The process may be slow; the progress may appear to our impatient eyes to lag. But it is God who is building: and under his hands, the structure rises as steadily as it does slowly, and in due time the capstone shall be set into its place, and to our astonished eyes shall be revealed nothing less than a saved world.

In “The Prophecies of St. Paul,” he describes the time from the advent to the parousia as “a period of advancing conquest,” Christ “progressively overcoming evil, throughout this period.” Furthermore, Romans 11 “promises the universal Christianization of the world,—at least the nominal conversion of all the Gentiles and the real salvation of all the Jews … the widest practicable extension of Christianity.” We should hope, pray, and work to that end.

Robert Letham

Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 882–883.

Contradiction between Evolution and the Idea of Inevitability of Progress

Given Darwin’s mantra of “survival of the fittest,” it is clear that Darwinian evolution is a worldview that intrinsically requires a “conflict of interest.” In point of fact the whole notion of a “harmony of interests,” would be bad news in a climate that insisted that advance is only achieved by the survival of the fittest. When one combines this with the reality that there is no mind behind the unwinding of evolution one must add that the survival of the fittest is a survival that happens completely by chance in a random universe.

Further, because of the randomness necessary in a mindless universe all “facts,” are uninterpreted facts and therefore are brute meaningless facts with no stable meaning. These brute facts, like the survival of the fittest, are facts without relation to any other facts as they likewise struggle to exist. Facts can be wiped out just as species can be wiped out.

Conflict is thus inherent and is the substance of worldview Darwinian evolution. Whether the conflict for survival among the fittest or the conflict among various facticities conflict of interest is the mother’s milk of Darwinian evolution.

But here we come face to face with another key doctrine of humanism and that is the idea of the inevitability of progress. If “conflict of interest” is characteristic of worldview Darwinism then how can progress be inevitable? Indeed, in a mindless world governed by time + chance + circumstance how can progress even be measured or determined? In a mindless world where fact itself is in a contest of survival, how can humanists even be sure that the inevitability of progress is a warranted good to be desired?

If evolution is mindless and governed only by time + chance + circumstance then any notion of progress is itself subject to evolution. Progress at one point of the march of evolution might be Stalin’s Holodomor while progress at another point of the march of evolution might be Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Because of this to speak of the inevitability of progress is an automatic non-sequitur in Evolution’s own world and life view.

Only Christianity posits a sovereign creator God who orders all things to the end and purpose of a harmony of interest found in glorifying God in all things (Romans 11:33-36). Only Christianity holds to all of the creation longing to glorify God (Romans 8:19f). Only Christianity envisions all things enjoying the service of the interests of God anticipating that day when Christ so reigns so that all things are put under His feet so that all things serve His interests. This is the inevitability of progress that Christianity presupposes.

So, advance by the conflict of interests is contrary to Christianity except as that advance is characterized by defeating those interests which are in conflict with God’s harmony of interests. Since those things that make for conflict of interests in God’s cosmos are doomed for failure we can anticipate the one-day dawning of the postmillennial vision where the harmony of interests that is a metaphysical reality by nature of God’s rule will overcome the conflict of interests introduced into God’s reality by man’s ethical attempt to overthrow Christ’s Kingship. This is the Christian reason for embracing the inevitability of progress.

A Postmillennial Thought

27 No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.

With the arrival of Christ, the Kingdom of God has come. This is the truth that is the cornerstone of Postmillennialism. Christ brought the Kingdom. Now that Kingdom has not yet been consummated but it has been inaugurated and so it is now present among us and the anticipation is that the intensity of the present Kingdom goes from break out to break out so that it is seen that we are getting closer and closer to the not yet but coming consummation of that already present Kingdom. The strong man has been bound. He has been and is being plundered of his goods. The yeast of victory is working itself through the whole cosmos. The Kingdom is present.

We must not make the error of the Amillennialist who admit there is a nowness to the Kingdom but who for all practical purposes live as if the Kingdom is now and always will be completely not yet since they have reduced the reality of the Kingdom to a “spiritual” reality. The Amillennialist has no swagger … no moxie since they don’t really believe on a practical everyday level that the Kingdom has come and is now in more than a spiritual manner.

The Postmillennialist on the other hand is confident in the presence of the Kingdom and he lives and walks in terms of the anticipation of the ever-expanding reality of the Kingdom. As such he carries himself with a humble swagger and he knows the moxie of being on the side that is victorious.

We need a return to this kind of Postmillennialism because the terminal expectations of pessimillennialism yields up the defeat that pessimillennialist’s eschatology expect.

Fighting in the Shadow of Short Term Loss

“The ceaseless body blows delivered with increasing power by the allied forces left the German Army breathless and helpless but it is fair to acknowledge that they retreated fighting for every kilometer that they ultimately had to concede. It was not a chase and hardly a pursuit. Chased, decimated, despairing, the German soldiers fought on making us pay a heavy price for every mile we wrestled from them. Throughout the whole war, the Germans had shown themselves doughty fighters but there was nothing finer in their record than the pluck with which they continued to withstand us in the hour of their defeat. They could not but know that they were beaten. At home, their families were starving. Yet in the month of October — the last whole month of the war — The British forces in France suffered 120,000 battle casualties as evidence of the resistance they encountered. Between July 1 and the cessation of hostilities (11-11-18) the British battle casualties from fighting a beaten foe, and a foe who knew he was beaten was on every front totaled 430,000 in killed, wounded, prisoners, and missing. During practically the same period the French lost 531,000 men and the Americans over 200,000. Let us give due honor to a brave people with whom we have had but one deadly quarrel. They fought to the end with desperate valor.”

Llyod George 

The reason I post this here is that, by way of metaphor, the Church known by Christ is now in the same place as the German Army was in July of 1918. Short term we are a beaten foe and we would wage war better if we just came to terms as being, in the short term, a beaten foe. Acknowledging such would go a long way towards eliminating disappointment and give us reasonable expectations. Acknowledging such would deliver us from such a thirst for visible victory that we inch towards calling defeat “victory” because we are so desperate for a visible victory. Acknowledging such would cause us to place our hope in God as opposed to voting patterns, political promises, or social activism.

This is not a call for pessimism, though doubtless, that is what it will be cast as by those who have no ability to fight on when short-term victory is not on the horizon. Instead, this is a call for optimistic post-millennial realism. We work towards the future regardless of what God’s good providence has given us in the present. We work with the expectation that our current labors will, while not bringing instant victory, put us and our seed on a trajectory of future victory.

We still soldier on and fight back and resist with all our might for our great Liege-Lord Jesus Christ. We can still, sticking with the metaphor, inflict casualties and we should pray we are given opportunities to do so. If the Germans of WW I could be brave and fight on in the knowledge of a certain defeat we few — we happy few — can continue to be brave and fight on in the knowledge that we are preparing the ground for future victory. That is victory enough.

Always faithful.