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In a recent blog article, Dr. Roger Olson said that the popular hymn We've a Story to Tell to the Nations

"is clearly postmillennial eschatologically."

But when I sing it in various churches I took the hymn to mean that we should bring the light of Christ to the world so that the Kingdom rule of love and mercy becomes gradually realized as the gospel is announced and received by new converts, even though the process will not be completed until Jesus's second coming, which means that this hymn can be consistent with the premillennialism scheme.

My question: how is the hymn's lyric "clearly" postmillennial?

Did the author (H. Ernest Nichol) hold a postmillennial view or intended the lyric to be interpreted postmillennially?

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    I'm also not seeing how the lyrics are post-millennial. Given his anecdote, in which the choir director said "only you would think of that," I'm led to believe that an obscure interpretation of the lyrics is what led to his conclusion. Either that, or in the church he attended, a different verse was sung than what is in the link you shared.
    – jaredad7
    Oct 17, 2022 at 22:11
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    @jaredad7 I checked the hymn book variations, it's practically the same everywhere. I'm just surprised that an experienced professor of theology who has deep knowledge of diverse denominations (he edited a handbook of denominations) would make that comment, unless he knows something I don't. Oct 17, 2022 at 22:15
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    The linked blog has a section at the end with comments and questions. You could get an answer straight from the horse's mouth. Oct 17, 2022 at 22:51
  • @RayButterworth Yes, I'll have to do that :-). But I later found his 2014 blog entry about theological ignorance of choosing/singing hymns and it seems the hymn author's historical context (late 19th cent.) contributed to Dr. Olson's postmillennial interpretation, but over the next hundred years congregations have been singing it out of context, or the hymn can be sung without meaning-abuse that are more blatant in Prof. Olson's other examples. Oct 17, 2022 at 23:08

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First let's agree on what postmillennialism teaches. Christianity.com says:

Postmillennialism is an end-times view that focuses on the progressive victory and expansive influence of Christianity. It believes that we are currently living in the “Millennium” and that, during this indefinitely long period of time, Christians are tasked to extend the Kingdom of God in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals. Postmillennialists believe that, as more people are saved, the Millennium will become an increasing golden age of spiritual prosperity with uplifted social, economic, political and cultural life. The world will eventually enjoy a state of righteousness and peace hitherto unseen. Only after the completion of this period will Christ return.

The Shoe Fits

This fits with the hymn's outlook, which presents the triumph of the Gospel occurring first, followed by the coming of Christ's kingdom. Verse one focuses on the "Story" being told, followed by the darkness turning to light and finally "Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth." In verse two, the "song" is sung that puts an end to war, followed by the same refrain of the kingdom coming. Verses three and four return to the Gospel, and once again the kingdom comes after the Gospel succeeds in turning mankind to God.

But so might another

On the other hand, Roger Olson claims the hymn is postmillennialist because "The lyrics... express the belief that Christians, the church, will bring about the Kingdom of God on earth before the return of Christ." I do not read it as necessarily saying so. It could just as well be interpreted as paraphrasing Matthew's Gospel:

And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

In other words, the fact that the song speaks of the kingdom coming as a result of the Gospel being preached does not necessarily mean that Christ comes after the Millennium.

Agenda?

I was not able to find sources that say anything about the author's view on this issue. A quick glance at some of his other hymns does not show any particular bias one way or the other. He wrote mainly for Sunday school hymnals with simple lyrics along the lines of "Onward Christians Soldiers" (which he did not write), emphasizing the joy of spreading God's word. Bottom line: It's a great hymn, either way.

SUMMARY: "We've a Story to Tell to the Nations" does support a postmillennialist eschatology, but this does not mean that Christians with different theological views cannot interpret it for themselves and sing it with with their whole heart. It is not known whether the author intended a postmillennialist message or simply expressed his poetry in a way that seems to lean in that direction.

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