Tolkien was not a premillennialist, or even an evangelical. But Tolkien’s imaginative oeuvre is nevertheless one that premillennialists recognise as representing the emotional tone of their cultural outlook. “The Long Defeat” refers to the incessant struggle of good against a growing and encroaching evil. Though evil is often defeated, routed, or expelled, it is never completely eliminated while the Earth is subject to the Fall and to Mortality.
Premillennialism thus denies the two poles represented by postmillennialism and amillennialism. It denies the premature optimism of postmillennialism, which while correctly seeing a victory of Christ on this Earth, fails to account for the power of the Fall on human culture. Misunderstanding the nature of the church, postmillennialism reads the millennial triumph into the church age, and overlays the disciple-making Body of Christ with a spiritualised militarism belonging only to the Messiah returning on a white charger.
Premillennialism also denies the opposite pole: the overextended pessimism of amillennialism. Amillennialism is correctly pessimistic about the cultural trajectory of this age, but then fails to explain the kingdom of Messiah upon this Earth, one that includes children (Is. 11:8), mortal men (Is. 65:20), and uncooperative nations (Zech. 14:18). Extending its pessimism to all of human mortal history, amillennialism moves all prophecy about such a time to the New Heavens and New Earth. In so doing, it fails to see the consummation of earthly prophecies, covenants and blessings must be realised in the earthly realm.
Premillennialism expects a temporary triumph of evil during the age before the kingdom, followed by an intermediate kingdom, which will itself by eventually marred by the Fall. It is both pessimistic about short-term triumphs, and optimistic about ultimate victory.
What do we call this outlook? It is the attitude of the Elves in Middle Earth. It is the Long Defeat. It is fighting the apparent lost cause. It is sighing hope, and groaning expectation.
But there is a biblical appellation for this mood, too. Paul said that his posture was one of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Here is a poignant summary of the tone of the Christian life. Ours is the music played in a minor key, awaiting a glorious modulation, which shall be when Christ returns. Our song is not one of despair, though it contains much perplexity. Nor is it a superficial cheeriness filled with glib clichés without real consolation. It is the most moving song of all: the pain of the human condition, the tragedy of the Fall, the promise of redemption, the essentiality of God among us, the groaning for resurrection.
Though the truth or error of eschatological positions must be settled with the Bible alone, the charge that premillennialism must be rejected for its pessimism or negative tone is not a theological objection, but an aesthetic one. This series has hoped to show an analogue between Tolkien’s widely loved Middle Earth, and the emotional outlook of premillennialism. If the one is beautiful and justly loved for its hopeful melancholy, premillennialists can similarly take satisfaction in the aesthetic quality of their system. That premillennialism is true must be settled from Scripture. That premillennialism is ugly has been shown to be a false charge.