PMW 2022-085 by Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
Professor of Old Testament
Hyper-preterism, the belief that the New Testament expectation of Christ’s return in glory has already occurred, has taken at least two basic forms. On the one hand, it has become a fairly standard part of critical approaches to biblical faith as they have developed during the modern period. Critical theologians tend to reject the expectation of a future cosmic consummation of the Kingdom of God because they hold that modern rational people can no longer embrace such hopes. Their reflections tend to focus almost exclusively on what Christ has already done, rather than on what he may do in the future. On the other hand, hyper-preterism has also taken root in recent years within circles that are otherwise orthodox and evangelical. These theologians affirm classical views of biblical authority and build their distinctive views of the return of Christ on these assumptions of biblical authority. As strange as it may sound, these conservative hyper-preterists insist that belief in biblical authority requires believers to reject the notion that we are still waiting for a cataclysmic return of Christ. A central line of their reasoning has to do with their understanding of biblical authority and prophecy. In this article, we will explore the contours of this line of reasoning.
I. THE PROPHETIC ARGUMENT FOR HYPER-PRETERISM
This aspect of the hyper-preterist argument may be summarized as follows.
Biblical prophecies predict an imminent return of Christ. All biblical prophecies must be fulfilled as predicted. Therefore, the imminent return of Christ was fulfilled.
First, hyper-preterists typically insist that biblical predictions portray the return of Christ as an event that will take place quickly, within a generation after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Second, they insist that belief in the authority of Scripture requires us to believe that all biblical predictions must be fulfilled just as they are stated. These affirmations lead to the conclusion that the return of Christ was fulfilled within a generation after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
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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.
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The premises of this argument are so central to hyper-preterism that if either of them proved to be false, the case for the conclusion would be significantly weakened. For the most part, opponents of hyper-preterism have argued against the first premise. They have challenged the idea that the Scriptures speak of Christ’s imminent return. Yet, to my knowledge no critiques of hyper-preterism have focused on the second premise. No one has challenged the idea that biblical prophecies must be fulfilled just as they predict future events to be. In this article, we will explore whether all predictions made by true prophets must come to pass exactly as they are stated. 1 In many respects, questioning this premise may be even more important than challenging the first one. If prophecies do not have to be fulfilled precisely as stated, then it does not matter if the Scriptures depict Christ’s second coming in close proximity to his first coming.
In this article, we will argue that hyper-preterists oversimplify this complex issue and arrive at a number of seriously misguided conclusions. In contrast to the hyper-preterist proposal, we will argue that biblical prophecies are seldom fulfilled exactly as they are stated. Therefore, even if the Scriptures did predict that Jesus’ return would take place within a few years, his return could still be in our future, even more than two thousand years later.
From the start we should acknowledge that many Christians endorse the view on the fulfillment of prophecy taken by hyper-preterists. 2 Their outlook on prophetic fulfillment is largely based on Deuteronomy 18:22, where Moses warns against false prophets:
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
It is quite common on a popular level for evangelicals to understand this passage to teach that everything a true prophet says about the future will come to pass.
To be sure, many evangelical scholars have been subtler in their interpretations of the verse, 3 but little effort has been put into adjusting general perceptions of prophecy to account for these more subtle understandings. 4 As a result, evangelicals seldom dispute the hyper-preterist interpretation of this passage.
We will return to look directly at Deuteronomy 18:22 later in this article. At this point, however, we should merely state that we will see how this interpretation is far too simplistic. Instead, we will observe that it is the very nature of authoritative biblical prophecies that fulfillments often differ significantly from predictions because of historical contingencies that intervene between predictions and their fulfillments. Historical contingencies such as fasting, repentance, worship, indifference, rebellion, and recalcitrance that occur after a prediction and before its fulfillment often move God to redirect history in ways that seem appropriate to him. These redirections always match biblical prophetic predictions when understood in the light of larger theological considerations, but they often do not match with an atomistic reading of what biblical prophets announced.
Why I Left Full-Preterism (by Samuel M. Frost)
Former leader in Full Preterist movement, Samuel M. Frost, gives his testimony and theological reasoning as to why he left the heretical movement. Good warning to others tempted to leave orthodox Christianity.
See more study materials at: KennethGentry.com
II. CONTINGENCIES AND THE FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY
In light of the ways open theism is capturing the imagination of so many believers in our day, any mention of historical contingencies in a theological context raises questions about the relationship between God and history. 5 For this reason, we should distinguish our position from open theism by explicitly framing our discussion in terms of the traditional Reformed view of divine immutability and providence.
A. Contingencies and the Sovereignty of God
When we speak of historical contingencies affecting the fulfillment of prophecies, we have in mind a concept of contingency that complies with the emphasis of traditional Reformed theology on the sovereignty of God. 6 In the first place, this study is built on the doctrine of God’s sovereign immutability. Unfortunately, this doctrine is often misunderstood to teach that God is unchangeable in every way imaginable. But such an outlook denies the biblical portrait of God’s ability to have meaningful interaction with the creation (to judge, redeem, answer prayer, become flesh, etc.). It is for this reason that Reformed theologians have distinguished ways in which God is immutable from ways in which he is not. For example, Louis Berkhof puts the matter succinctly:
“The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purposes, His motives or actions, or His promises.” 7
We can summarize Berkhof’s position by saying that Reformed theology has identified at least three ways in which God is unchanging: (1) God’s character does not change; he cannot become something other than what he is. (2) God’s covenant promises are immutable; he will not break his covenant oaths. (3) God is immutable in his eternal counsel or plan for all of history; God has an unchangeable plan, and this plan governs every detail of history.
This last sense of immutability is especially important for the purposes of our study. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (3.1). Following this statement, we affirm in no uncertain terms that every event that takes place in history, even if it may in a secondary sense be called contingent, is nevertheless a part of God’s eternal and immutable plan for the universe. 8
In the second place, although it is important to affirm divine immutability, it is equally important to stress the Reformed doctrine of God’s sovereign providence when dealing with the fulfillment of prophecy. The traditional Reformed doctrine of providence provides a framework for understanding the role of historical contingencies. The providence of God may be defined as God’s active involvement in history as he sovereignly works out his eternal plan for the universe. 9 According to the Scriptures, God does not simply have a plan that he watches take place as a distant observer; he is actively involved in history. 10
The Westminster Confession faithfully reflects the teaching of Scripture in this regard. For our purposes, one aspect of its teaching on divine providence moves to the foreground:
“Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decrees of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (WCF 5.2).
We see here that the eternal decrees of God will not fail. He works out his immutable plan by ordering events so that they occur either necessarily (necessario), freely (libere), or contingently (contingenter). The proof texts associated with these three words in the Confession make the concepts here clearer. 11
First, sometimes God orders history so that events occur necessarily (Gen 8:22; Jer 31:35). . . .
To finish the article and see the footnotes, go to: Pratt, Hyper-Preterism