THE HOPE OF THE GOSPEL - An Introduction to Wesleyan Eschatology. By Dr. Vic Reasoner, Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers, Evansville, IN. 1999

American Fundamentalism has been married to the theory of Premillennial Dispensationalism for well over 100 years. During that time of dominance in fundamentalism, we have heard date setting of our Lord's return many times. From them, many conspiracy theories have come into being. Predictions of how Russia would subjugate the world abounded. Today it is no longer Russia the conqueror, seeing how Communism collapsed in that great country, but the European Union that will take the world by storm. Also, Israel is now back in the Promised Land and who can doubt that is not part of fulfilled prophecy, meaning that we have arrived in the famed "Terminal Generation."

This position on prophecy has lead to divisions among Bible Believing Christians, as if Calvinism was not enough. Premillennial Dispensationalism has become a cardinal doctrine in the minds of many Bible Believing leaders. Not to believe it in many Bible Believing circles would mean being expelled and labeled a heretic. Because of such teaching, a general sense of pessimism that has moved over Christendom until the Church has become passive if not utterly defeated in its world vision. Indeed, the Bible Believing Church has terminated the joy of her salvation.

Though Dr. Reasoner's book is not designed to focus on this doctrine in the Church at large, he does give a good overview of the Church in general in the first five chapters tracing the growth of Premillennial Dispensationalism in Methodism. This intense overview illustrates how Methodism and other Bible Believing Churches went from a Postmillennial view of eschatology (prophecy) to a Premillennial Dispensational position of prophecy. He contrasts Premillennial Dispensationalism and Postmillennialism throughout these chapters, along with the struggle it caused within Methodism. A lot of time could be spent reviewing these chapters, but Dr. Reasoner goes on to make scholarly observations about Wesley's own beliefs.

Dr. Reasoner's crowning accomplishment lies within the last chapters. Here he skillfully and studiously proves where John Wesley stood on this subject. He also scrutinizes the views of scholars, writers, preachers, and Bishops of both early English and American Methodism. He proves that most were generally Postmillennial. For an honest researcher and lover of Bible Believing Methodism his work is a must read.

John Wesley, it has been said, can be used to prove most any doctrine. However, Dr. Reasoner's work illustrates a Postmillennial Wesley in eschatology. He begins his development of Wesley's views of the Postmillennial position that would be more consistent with what the first and second generations of Methodist Arminians taught. First, he says that "It is inconsistent to believe that a universal atonement would produce nothing more than a remnant to be raptured." Second, he points out that Wesley's style of evangelism demanded discipleship and not just a profession. "Wesley would not preach in a community where there was no Methodist society formed for following up." He provides this contrast of the two prophetic positions. "The Premillennial concept of the Great Commission is simply to declare the name of Christ to the whole world and then Christ will return. Postmillennialism understands that we are to disciple the nations and that discipleship will produce ethical changes in society." Third, he shows Wesley's view of salvation did not hold to a imposed legalism or a positional righteousness "apart from the transforming power of the Spirit." Here Dr. Reasoner contrasts Premillennialism with Amillennialism. Accordingly, the former believes in a "legalistic kingdom which Christ physically imposes" while the latter believes in a "concept of two coexisting kingdoms, both good and bad, produces no transformation." Wesley believed that "grace was more powerful than sin, even in regeneration." Fourth, Dr. Reasoner says that "Wesley taught Christian perfection could be experienced in this life." "Wesley taught a relative perfection, not a sinless perfection," which, according to Reasoner, lead to Wesley's concept of the millennium. He explains Wesley's concept like this: it "is that...period in human history when the human race reaches a maturity level exhibited by a greater fear of God and his commandments when sinful practices are considered vices and Christian character is a sought virtue. It will be a time when Christian love is demonstrated instead of war, and the worship of God creates an awareness of the holy. But it will not be a time of absolute perfection nor a utopia." Fifth, Dr. Reasoner sees the doctrine of prevenient grace playing an important role. This grace enables us to be saved. While grace saves us, prevenient grace does not allow man to be passive in salvation. God supplies salvation by grace, and man by faith believing applies-accepts this heavenly gift. Says Reasoner, "This synergism (working together with) carries over to our understanding of the millennial kingdom. Christ does not bring the kingdom while his church passively waits, but Christ inaugurated the kingdom at his first advent and his Church is empowered to advance the kingdom." Sixth, according to Reasoner, Wesley was "pessimistic about human nature, but optimistic about divine grace." This optimism therefore would better fit with the Postmillennial model. And finally, the seventh is the fact that historic Methodism emphasizes the gift of the Holy Spirit in the creation of a new life in Christ. I should hasten to add that he is not talking about some charismatic gift here, for Methodism by nature is not Pentecostal, but rather courageously evangelical. He concludes that "it should not be hard for Wesleyans to expect the supernatural growth of the kingdom through the reviving work of the Holy Spirit."

Though Dr. Reasoner acknowledges that Wesley never used the words Premillennial or Postmillennial in the 14 volume set of his Works, he does however find strong evidence of his belief in what Wesley says elsewhere. Reasoner says "Wesley had views on both subjects which are implicit in his writings. What was implicit in Wesley was developed explicitly by Wesleyan theologians as Postmillennialism. This development was consistent with the foundation laid by Wesley." He examines many writings of Wesley such as his sermons, "Scriptural Christianity", "Great Assize", his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, and the articles that he had written in the Arminian Magazine. By quoting from this information, Dr. Reasoner makes a very strong and provable case for Wesley as a Postmillennialist.

Dr. Reasoner then examines the hymns of Charles Wesley. He points out some hymns like "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" have been tampered with, and made to sound Premillennial. "Rejoice the Lord is King" however, is basically Post Millennial.

"His kingdom cannot fail
He rules o'er earth and heaven
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given"

He quotes Leon Hynson, who reviewed 280 of Charles Wesley's hymns as saying one out of six has the theme king/kingdom in it.

"But shall he still devour
The souls redeemed by thee?
Jesus, Stir up thy glorious power,
and end th' apostasy!
Come Savior, from above
O'er all our hearts to reign,
And plant the kingdom of thy love
In every heart of man."

Dr. Reasoner then surveys other Methodist Bishops, preachers, teachers, and writers of early Methodism. Each one is considered and found to be true to the Scriptural teaching of Wesley and his Lord, Jesus Christ. He also points out those later Methodist literati who gave ground to the liberalism and higher criticisms around the turn of the 20th Century and in more recent times.

There is still one other Methodist type group that Dr. Reasoner gives some attention to. This group is the Holiness Movement of our time who also claim roots in Methodism. He gives a brief history and shows the reasons for their acceptance of Premillennial Dispensationalism. He makes a passionate plea to them in the final chapter. He says, "This book is also a call to the holiness movement, which claims John Wesley as its founder, to rethink which model it has adopted to determine how the Church relates to the world." He makes the same sort of plea to all the Church to "rethink which model" would relate to the Church and the world.

I have not touched on all of the great information that lies between the covers of this book. Although the objective was on the development of the conflict between Postmillennialism and Premillennialism Dispensationalism in Methodism, there is a lot here for all who are not Methodists. This book is a pearl of great value, and should be read by the worldwide community of Bible Believing Christians. This work is a major contribution to Biblical Methodism and the subject of Eschatology.

Please feel free to go to Quotes from other Methodist and Wesleyan Ministers and view more material on this book. If you would like to contact Dr. Reasoner please feel free to do so.