PMW 2020-097 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Much of this article repeats an earlier article which I think might be helpful once again. I am bringing it up-to-date due to some recent observations I have gathered in the eschatological debate.
As previously noted, I often have people ask me if I am a “preterist.” This is generally asked by someone who does not know what “preterism” means. They are usually fearful of the term because they do not understand what all is involved in the preterist idea. In fact, at a theological exam when entering a new presbytery, I was challenged as being an agent of the Hyper-preterist movement because of my orthodox preterist views. Fortunately, I was able to demonstrate that I am fully orthodox. But this experience showed me the danger of accidental false associations.
This will surprise some of my readers, but I would like to state categorically and unequivocally: I am NOT a preterist. To believe that I am a preterist is quite mistaken.
But: have I changed my understanding of biblical eschatology? The answer to this question is a resolute “Yes” and “No!” How can this be? What is going on here? Am I running for political office (though the official election date just passed)? Perhaps I am looking forward to receiving a lot of mail-in votes to be counted over the next few years! I admit I was tempted to run for office so that I could make myself fabulously wealthy on funds taken from the hard work of others. But, no, that is not the answer. Or am I striving to be Dr. Sic et Non? Let me explain.
Until the recent arising of the aberrant theology that calls itself “Full Preterism” or “Covenant Eschatology,” it was fine for someone like me to call himself “a preterist.” In fact, I have done that quite often myself. And probably will still do so — due to long-standing, historical use of this word. But in a technical sense, such a descriptive label for someone like me is mistaken . . . in our current theological context. This is due to the arising of unorthodox preterism, which is causing some believers to be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).
Have We Missed the Second Coming:
A Critique of the Hyper-preterist Error
by Ken Gentry
This book offers a brief introduction, summary, and critique of Hyper-preterism. Don’t let your church and Christian friends be blindfolded to this new error. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
For more Christian educational materials: www.KennethGentry.com
So what do I mean?
As is often the case in the history of theology, words take on fresh connotations and even alatogether new meanings. And if we are not careful, we might use a familiar, long-held word to describe an issue, but which is no longer accurate . . . in our current setting.
For instance, until the creation of the word “amillennial” in the early 20th Century, non-premillennial theologians who held to a pessimistic view of history called themselves “postmillennial.” They did this to set themselves over against those who were “premillennial.” They held that Christ would not return in his Second Advent until the “millennium” was completed. Hence they were “post-millennial.” But there were two categories of “postmillennials.” Many were optimistic regarding the flow of history, while many others were historically pessimistic. Today we distinguish the two by the terms “postmillennial” (an optimistic eschatology regarding the outworking of history) and “amillennial” (a pessimistic eschatology regarding the outworking of history). See my article: “Amillennial Pessimism” for further discussion of this matter.
Similarly, it may be that one day the word “preterist” will be so widely used in a way much different from its historical meaning that it will suffer from what scholars call “semantic obsolescence.” That is, “preterist” may in the wider discussion come to mean something other than it did in earlier times. It may no longer function properly within the living, semantic range of the word in that day. This would be like the KJV word “prevent” in 1 Thess. 4:15. There the seventeenth-century word “prevent” meant “to vent beforehand,” i.e., “to precede.” But it later came to mean “to prohibit, preclude.” Those are radically different concepts.
This could well be the case with the word “preterist.” Historically, the word “preterist” was used (and is still used) by those who understand certain New Testament prophetic passages as having already been fulfilled. This understanding sets them over against other Christians who believe that those passages remain to be fulfilled in our future ( “futurism” is the virtual opposite of “preterism”). Two key passages that are greatly impacted by the preterist approach are: the Olivet Discourse and the whole Book of Revelation. (However, these are not the only passages impacted by the debate.)
Today, however, we must distinguish the enormous differences existing among “preterist” interpreters. The preterism to which I hold is a hermeneutic tool, which is useful for better understanding part of one locus of systematic theology, i.e., eschatology. The preterism promoted by some unorthodox Christians (they call their view “full preterism”) is not simply a hermeneutic tool helpful for fleshing out biblical eschatology, but a wholesale, new, free-standing theology.
Orthodox Christians call “full preterism” by the term “Hyper-preterism.” This is much like the situation with “hyper-Calvinism.” Calvinism is a theological system emphasizing the sovereignty of God. But hyper-Calvinism goes beyond Calvinism, hence it is hyper. Hyper-Calvinists believe that we do not need to evangelize or to send out missionaries, because God will sovereignly convert sinners. In fact, they even hold that it is not the obligation of sinners to trust in Christ in order to be saved — because God effects their salvation wholly apart from anything they do.
Similarly, “hyper-preterism” goes beyond historic “preterism,” in that it adds to preterism. That is, Hyper-preterism declares the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith held over the many centuries of Christianity’s existence to be mistaken. It does so by declaring that the future bodily Second Coming of Christ, the future physical resurrection of all men, the future Final Judgment of all men, and the conclusion of history that gives rise to the consummate order have already occurred (in AD 70). As Hyper-preterist Don Preston summarily states it in one of his books: “Preterism is the view that all prophecy of the end times, the Judgment, Second Coming, and Resurrection were fulfilled in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.” They therefore go beyond orthodox Christian doctrine.
Just recently a book by Preston has shown this tendency to rework Christianity’s whole historic theological system. Preston began his journey into preterism by initially noting particular passages of Scripture that have contextual near-term indicators in them. These he applied to his eschatological system. Then he moved on to begin altering broader, long-held theological views. Thus, he has worked his way from several eschatological notices in Scriptures to engage in wider theological changes. His journey is evidence of the tail wagging the dog. Let me (briefly!) explain:
Surprisngly for orthodox Christians, this tendency in Preston is actually helpful in a round-about way. For it shows the slippery-slope in Hyper-preterism. To provide just two sample of this problem, we should note that Preston now has re-interpreted the Fall of Adam and the principle of substitutionary atonement, as well. He continues to hold to the historical Fall of Adam and to substitutionary atonement, to be sure. But he holds them in ways that are altered, re-interpreted, and erroneous.
In this regard, we must realize that some Hyper-preterists who came on the scene before Preston actually jettisoned the doctrine of hell, re-worked the role of Satan, rejected the doctrine of the Trinity (becoming Unitarians), altered the role of the Holy Spirit in soteriology, and other historic doctrines. They made these changes in attempting greater “consistency” in their doctrine. You can see a list of a few such doctrines in my book Have We Missed the Second Coming? (pp. 33–37).
Who knows where Preston will end up since he is untethered from historical Christianity? This tendency was already present in him while he was a pastor and before he changed his views on eschatology (which he had long preached), for he is a Church of Christ minister. And the Church of Christ was established as a phase of the Stone-Campbell Movement during the Second Great Awakening. It had as a starting point the rejection of the historic ecumenical creeds.
What Preston and other Hyper-preterists write-off as “creedalism” or “traditionalism” needs to be understood for what it is. Those of us who hold to a preterist hermeneutic in certain contexts, but reject the innovative Hyper-preterist theological system are committed to . . . historic Christianity, not traditionalism. The historic Christian theological system is found in the creeds; it was not created by the creeds. And that is a big difference. But in a recent work Preston excitedly challenges his readers:
“there is a ‘New Reformation’ taking place in regard to the doctrine of the ‘last days.’ The movement called preterism, or Covenant Eschatology is growing and changing lives. Along the way it is challenging the long standing traditions of the day…. Join with me and countless other Bible students who are beginning to see the Scriptures in a ‘new’ way, unfettered from the creedalism, traditionalism, and prejudice that can, and does, so often blind us to what the Scripture meant to the original readers.”
Preston’s sort of talk is commonly found in the writings of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses (for example, see the JW book Let God Be True). A Mormon site writes similarly to Preston:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not profess any of the Christian creeds. When Joseph Smith had his First Vision he asked which of all the Christian sects he should join. He was instructed they were all wrong, that “all their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight” (JS – History 1:19). In another instance Joseph Smith said, “I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’” (Teachings, p. 327).”
Besides, Preston sadly misunderstands the function of creeds altogether! In a recent work he complains of Mathison’s view of the spiritual judgment-coming of Christ in AD 70. Preston writes: “He resorts to an interpretation unknown in the creeds which he claims determine orthodoxy.” This is naive and absurd! The creeds do not record every element of doctrinal orthodoxy. Rather, they summarize key components foundational to historic Christianity. For instance, the creeds do not report that the temple was going to be destroyed, that the Spirit would be poured out at Pentecost, or that Jesus performed miracles. Preston should read my chapter on the function of creeds in my book Have We Missed the Second Coming.
When Shall These Things Be?
(ed. by Keith Mathison)
A Reformed response to the aberrant HyperPreterist theolgy.
Gentry’s chapter critiques HyperPreterism from an historical and creedal perspective.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Thus, we need to be careful how we use — or at least understand — the term “preterism.” It speaks of a hermeneutic tool that becomes necessary for use in Scripture for understanding certain textual statements requiring it. Such as in passages stating that a prophetic event is “near” or “soon.” Some New Testament passages speak of our future; some speak of prophecies that are already fulfilled in the past. The context must decide. Furthermore, historic preterism originally dealt only with eschatology, whereas Hyper-preterism molds a whole new theological system.
What does this entail?
So more accurately, I am a hermeneutic preterist rather than a theological preterist. As a postmillennialist and orthodox Christian committed to the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith, I agree with premillennialists and amillennialists on the four issues mentioned above: the Second Advent, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Final Judgment, and the consummate New Heavens and New Earth. Thus, I am not a preterist in the new, alien, heretical sense of the term as it is used in the Hyper-preterist movement, i.e., their “new Reformation.”
In light of the confusion in some circles, perhaps it would be clearer to describe my eschatology simply as “biblical eschatology.” As one committed to the Bible, I hold to some elements of preterism and some of futurism — depending on the context. (This is like my holding Jesus as a man and as deity without sacrificing one for the other.) I accept preterist elements when dealing with particular passages, for example, those dealing with the destruction of the temple. But I hold to futurist elements when dealing with passages promising a literal resurrection of the body, a physical second coming of Christ, a literal final judgment of all men, and a future consummate, eternal order wherein sin is removed from the universe so that righteousness and peace can prevail in perfection. God will not endure a rebellious, sinful universe forever. Thus, I am like Milton Terry and J. Stuart Russell, partly preterist, partly futurist — depending on the context. See: my article “J. S. Russell & Milton Terry: Futurists?” (By the way, I am more like Terry than Russell, for Russell goes way too far.)
Warfield has observed a sad truth: “the chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems. . . . It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity.” We are seeing that today in the spread of Hyper-preterism. As Paul lamented long ago: there are “men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18).
I will continue to use the word “preterist” in my writings. Unless it becomes intolerable. Fortunately, the Hyper-preterist movement is small enough so that we can continue to use historic terms and expect its historic meaning.
JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!