PMW 2022-009 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In the last thirty years or so the Hyper-preterist movement has made its presence felt in dozens of evangelical churches. But it is has developed an especially strong Internet presence that has been able to attract hundreds of theological enthusiasts. In fact, it is largely through its Internet presence that it has been able to grow in numbers, spread in geography, and infiltrate in churches.
Hyper-preterism (or Full Preterism or Consistent Preterism or Covenant Eschatology, as it is known by its adherents), is an extension of preterism. But it is an extension that has pushed its theology beyond biblical limits.
Preterism holds that there are a number of passages in the NT that refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, even though many Christians have viewed these as referring to the time of the second advent. Preterists derive this understanding from the express statements of Scripture, statements declaring that the events will occur in “this generation,” because “the time is near,” “soon,” and so forth.
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Hyper-preterism, though, uses these passages as a leaping-off point, building its innovative theology on these passages and applying temporal limitations where they do not appear. They believe that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. They hold that the time of the AD 70 destruction of the temple experienced the second coming of Christ, the great judgment, the resurrection of the dead, and more.
By departing from the universal, historic, formal, corporate, public, systematic belief of the Christian faith in these areas, Hyper-preterism has constructed a new, aberrant theology. Hyper-preterists have radically reworked the Christian doctrinal system and overthrown the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Interestingly, Hyper-preterists are so enamored with their system that they like to use the word “futurism” as a pejorative put-down for historic, orthodox preterists. That is, since orthodox preterism holds to a future second coming, bodily resurrection, and final judgment, Hyper-preterists loudly declaim it as actually being a futurist system.
This charge of futurism is erroneous on two counts.
First, “futurism” is a widely-used, well-known term that has historically spoken of a specific eschatological commitment to a future, literal establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. Futurism has for a long time been defined by noted Christian theologians. It has not been left to the Hyper-preterist movement to define. Their employment of this term as a put-down for orthodox preterists is uncalled for.
And if it were legitimate to deride orthodox preterists as “futurists” because they accept future elements in their eschatology, then it ought to be the case that dispensationalist futurists ought to be called “preterists” because they recognize certain prophecies were preteristically fulfilled in AD 70. For instance, they understand that Luke 21:20–24 prophetically points to AD 70.
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Second, interestingly one of the most important Hyper-preterists was J. Stuart Russell (1816–1895). His large and impressive work The Parousia (1887) was resurrected (!) in 1987 by Baker Book House and has been a standard text of the Hyper-preterist movement that developed after its republication. And Russell is clearly a Hyper-preterist (a modern designation) in that he held to the key commitments of this new movement: the AD 70 destruction of the temple witnessed the second coming of Christ, the great judgment, and the resurrection of the dead.
Nevertheless, in this primary document of the Hyper-preterist movement we discover “futurist” elements by this champion of preterism (i.e., Hyper-preterism). Let me demonstrate this.
In speaking of the loosing of Satan (Rev 20:7–10), Russell writes:
“It is evident that the prediction of what is to take place at the close of a thousand years does not come within what we have ventured to call ‘apocalyptic limits.’ These limits, as we are again and again warned in the book itself, are rigidly confined within a very narrow compass; the things show are ‘shortly to come to pass.’ It would have been an abuse of language to say that events at the distance of a thousand years were to come to pass shortly; we are therefore compelled to regard this prediction as lying outside the apocalyptic limits altogether.” (Parousia, 522).
He continues in the next paragraph: “We must consequently regard this prediction of the loosing of Satan, and the events which follow, as still future and therefore unfulfilled.” On the next page (p. 523) he adds: “This we believe to be the sole instance in the whole book of an excursion into distant futurist; and we are disposed to regard the whole parenthesis as relating to matters still future and unfulfilled.”
Then as he closes his book, he declares very clearly his postmillennial hope for the conversion of the world — an unfulfilled prophetic hope. Speaking of statements by the apostle Paul, Russell (pp. 553, 554) notes:
“He does not hesitate to affirm that the restorative work of Christ will ultimately more than repair the ruin wrought by sin…. We are happy to be assured of the consummation on higher and safer grounds, even the promises of Him who has taught us to pray, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is done in heaven.’ For every God-taught prayer contains a prophecy, and conveys a promise. This world belongs no more to the devil, but to God. Christ has redeemed it, and will recover it, and draw all men unto Him. Otherwise it is inconceivable that God would have taught His people in all ages to utter in faith and hope that sublime prophetic prayer: — “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; And cause his face to shine upon us; They thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations. … And all the ends of the earth shall fear him.’”
Here he is citing from Psalm 67.
Should Russell should then be written-off as an futurist?
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That’s what I like about preterism, it puts the burden on interpretation of a biblical passage to derive its meaning, but also how the word(s) are defined and used throughout the entire bible. If the narrative says “this generation” it.must therefore mean the generation contemporary with the speaker consistently in all places where the phrase is used. That is word and context-driven hermeneutics.