Even preachers who claim to have no view on “End-Times” actually do – and usually make it known even if only subtlely. Thus, there are many great Gospel preachers who have built huge churches but who have a lousy eschatology! Then there are some preachers who have dangerous eschatology (such as John Hagee). When those who have some proficiency in the field of eschatology dare to disagree with any of these mega-church “big guns” about eschatology (even in a constructive manner), it is not surprising (but still disappointing) to be called “heretical” by them. To these pop-preachers, Preterism is merely “over-realised” eschatology. Here’s why it isn’t.
Perhaps these preachers have this view because they have accepted a caricaturisation of Preterism and not a well informed understanding of it. This is understandable from those preachers who are generally not careful in their in the research and tend to be more inspirational than exegetical. But when this criticism comes from one of the most popular preachers in the world (and a mega-church pastor) many Preterists are left bewildered for good reasons.
There are some preachers who deserve to be regarded as among the best in the world. Yet, many of these preachers have a false idea about what “Preterism”. More and more of them have been decrying Preterism and denouncing it as it has grown in its appeal. For example, one popular preacher alluded to Preterism as “over-realised eschatology”. Since this preacher has such a huge following, his ill-informed comments about Preterism were even more disappointing. I wish to respond to his claim that Preterism is “over-realised eschatology”.
It’s one thing to be a Futurist who has a romantic, utopian, millennialism (a coming “paradise on earth”) and preach an imminent rapture and promote the idea that Matthew 24 is not yet fulfilled – but it’s another to hold these views and deny other Gospel preachers the label of ‘orthodoxy’ when they have a different millennial position and a different interpretation of Matthew 24! It is especially unreasonable when the theological praxis of these Futurists is not consistent with their publicly stated views. That is, while decrying Preterism they actually shape their theological praxis from it! For example, most Futurists hold to a concept of ‘immanence’ (the return of Christ and the end of the world will happen any moment). This view is less than 200 years old. Through mass-marketing associated with aggressive evangelism where this Utopian-Millennialism (better known as ‘Pre-Millennialism’ which was originally referred to as ‘Chiliasm’ by the Church Fathers who condemned it as heretical along with other teachings of Marcion) has gained such wide unquestioned acceptance by Evangelicals that it is now considered orthodoxy. Thus, when Preterist scholars such as myself or Dr RC Sproul, or Dr Kenneth Gentry, Dr. Paul Copan, or even Hank Hanegraaff advocate a view of eschatology which is much older than this relatively novel eschatology (the view that teaches an immanent rapture, Tribulation, Anti-Christ, Mark of the Beast, Rebuilt Jerusalem Temple, Armageddon, Golden-Age Millennium) we are thought of as neo-heretics!
Theological Preterism (from the Latin Praeter, “the past”) is the view that Bible Prophecy must be historically examined. This means that before we assume a Bible prophecy has not yet been fulfilled we should investigate history to determine whether it has already been fulfilled. For example, the prophecy in Isaiah of a virgin one day conceiving the birth of the Messiah should be regarded as fulfilled since it can be demonstrated historically as having happened with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Similarly, Preterism upholds the hermeneutical principle of the “intended meaning” of Scripture. That is, when a divinely inspired prophecy was declared, God had a deliberate, intentional fulfilment in mind. This rules out the possibility of multiple fulfilments of prophecy. Some Bible teachers often cite Isaiah’s declaration that the virgin (or “maiden) shall conceive as having its immediate fulfilment with the birth of his own child and its ultimate fulfilment in the birth of Christ. But this support of ‘Double Reference’ or ‘Dual Fulfilment’ prophecies can not be supported by this reference. If Isaiah was giving the King of Judah a miraculous sign as proof of God’s presence, the birth of his own son is hardly the kind of ‘miraculous’ birth he was referring to. Secondly, the text itself does not claim that the birth of Isaiah’s son was the fulfilment of his prophecy. Thirdly, Matthew 1 clearly claims that the birth of Christ was the intended fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. This is no small point – as it affects the way we regard the prophecies of Christ (some teachers acknowledge that many of His prophecies have already been fulfilled but will be fulfilled again).
As more Evangelicals are embracing Preterism such as Hank Hanegraaff, the co-author of THE LAST DISCIPLE and THE LAST SACRIFICE (which I strongly recommend), who refers to Preterism as ‘exegetical eschatology’, it seems that those who either don’t understand it or have a vested interest in opposing it are maligning it with several straw-man arguments. Preterism is not Pantelogy (the belief that all Bible prophecies have been fulfilled)! To be a Preterist is not to be Pantelogical. Pantelogy is described by Dr Kenneth Gentry as ‘Hyper-Preterism’. It is also referred to as ‘Fully Realised Eschatology’. Those who hold to classical Preterism are now having to qualify their Preterism with the term- Partial to distinguish themselves from Hyper-Preterists (Pantelogists). (Partial-) Preterism affirms the ancient Creeds of the Church; looks forward to the return of Christ; hopes for the future resurrection of the dead; and, anticipates that Christ will do away with all sorrow, suffering, sickness and death. There is a future aspect to Classical Preterism! Therefore, since these are the eschatological pillars of orthodox Christianity it is hardly fair for anyone to label (Partial) Preterism as heretical!
When Mark Driscoll was pastoring the now defunct Mars Hill Church (Seattle), he seemed to make an impassioned plea against Preterism yet failed to distinguish it from Hyper-Preterism. This is the same mistake that Philosophical Naturalists make when they denounce Intelligent Design and claim support for their belief in Macro-Evolution based on the scientific evidence for Micro-Evolution. Just as there is a world of difference between the science of Micro-Biological-Evolution and the theory of Macro-Biological-Evolution, so there is a world of difference between Hyper-Preterism and Preterism. Just as Micro-Evolution shares language and concepts with Macro-Evolution, so Hyper-Preterism and Preterism also share language and concepts. For example, in Matthew 24 the disciples ask Jesus a series of questions. The (Partial) Preterist interprets the intention of these questions to refer to the timing of Christ’s judgment on Jerusalem and the end of the Temple (Old Covenant) Age. The Hyper-Preterist agrees thus far. Therefore, the “end of the age” referred to in Matthew 24:3 (Greek= “aion”, not “chronos” – time, nor “cosmos” – world) by the disciples is quite legitimately interpreted as the end of the Temple Age. This was the accepted understanding up until the 1800s when a new ‘revelation’ about eschatology was promoted by John Nelson Darby, then Cyrus Scofield, then Finnis J. Dake. This new revelation became known as ‘Dispensationalism’. Since it was generally accepted for around 17 centuries that this was indeed what Christ was referring to, it is quite strange, to say the least, that this view should now be considered “heretical”. To be fair to Mark Driscoll though, when he made these comments at a Desiring God Conference (“The Supremacy of Christ In A Post-Modern World”) he did not have Preterists in his cross-hairs. Rather, it was the “Emerging Church” he was gunning for. Apparently, many in the Emerging Church have accepted the classical hermeneutics of Preterism and no longer hold to the fanciful notions of Dispensationalism. Good on them! But to then allege, that because of this group’s adoption of Preterism, that Preterism is heretical because those in the Emerging Church endorse it – is as logical as saying that- 2 out of 3 prisoners chew gum, therefore 2 out of 3 people who chew gum are prisoners!
Perhaps, though, the most inconsistent point of Mark Driscoll’s denouncement of Preterism is that while condemning its exegesis of Matthew 24 (as referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70AD) he then goes on to advocate its praxis: planning and long-term goal setting for the Church to fulfil the Great Commission. Mark Driscoll rightly condemns the failure of Dispensationalism to take the church strategically into the future (since it doesn’t think there is much a future for the Church). Amen Mark! But you don’t have to think that Jesus is talking about the end of time or the end of the world, in Matthew 24 to come to this conclusion- in fact, such an interpretation makes it more difficult to come to the long-term planning strategy that he advocates.
ESCHATOLOGICAL VACUUM NOW APPARENT
There are a growing number of Evangelical, Charismatic and Pentecostal mega-church pastors who no longer promote Dispensationalism and its logical application of only living for the moment (since Jesus could return today). Perhaps they have observed over the past few years Dispensationalism’s consistent failures to accurately predict our future. (I have documented many of these failures in another article: Prophetic Fortune-Telling.)
Perhaps this new generation of church leaders have seen the failure of their immediate Dispensational forebears who missed some wonderful opportunities to leave a legacy for generations to come and determined that they would not commit the same error? Thus, many of these mega-church pastors are building buildings that will take many years to complete, planting churches which will take generations to succeed, investing in missions where there is little likelihood of any immediate results, engaging in the “cultural-war” of ideas so that generations of the Church to come might have a legacy in which preaching the Gospel is more understandable. They are doing these things while building great churches which are growing and multiplying. Even this runs counter to the Dispensational idea of what the “Last Days Church” should look like since they teach a “great falling away” (which Preterists claim has already happened when many Jewish Christians ‘fell back’ into Judaism and is to be seen as the underlying assumption of the Epistle to the Hebrews).
All of this tends to indicate that there is now an Eschatological vacuum. That is, there are preachers who intuitively know that Dispensationalism is theologically bankrupt and has led to a failure on the part of the Church to prepare and plan for the future, and at the same time intuitively know that they must plan and prepare for the future so that a legacy is left for the next generation of Church leaders. Yet, they don’t have a systematic, consistent, integrated Hermeneutic to undergird their intuition. These preachers need to be introduced to authentic Preterism so that they have a sound exegetical basis for understanding Scripture.
Perhaps you have thought that Preterism was heresy. Perhaps you have heard that Preterists do not believe there are Bible prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Perhaps you have been told that Preterists deny that Christ will physically return. Perhaps you have been told that Preterists deny the physical resurrection of Christ and therefore deny a future Resurrection. Perhaps you have been told that Preterists claim that this era is the ultimate expression of the Kingdom of God. None of these things are accurate. Preterism is therefore not over-realised eschatology Mr Driscoll! It is partially-realised eschatology. It discerns the difference between the end of the Old Covenant Age with, Christ’s judgment on Jerusalem, and the language that the New Testament uses to describe this as about to happen: “soon”, “now”, “at hand”, “this hour” – should be taken in the most literal sense of these terms. Which answers another allegation against Preterism- that it “spiritualises” the Bible rather than takes it literally. When this allegation comes from Dispensationalist preachers it is sadly ironic. But it can not be reasonably made by someone who understands that to take the Bible “literally” is not a matter of interpretting words in a text, but the intended meaning of the text. This demands that we understand the Biblical usage of idioms and metaphors- otherwise we are going to join Dispensationalists in making silly interpretations of Biblical prophetic literature.
Finally, a word to my fellow Preterists. The Body of Christ is blessed with many great preachers, including Mark Driscoll, who range in their opinions of Preterism from despising it to embracing it. Preachers are often forced to share their opinions on theological issues before being fully briefed on what they are commenting on. This is why I was recently impressed by Greg Koukl, of Stand To Reason, who was asked on air about Preterism. Rather than denounce it, he stated that he hadn’t read enough to comment on it. Good on you Greg! But we Preterists need to be gracious toward those who criticise our position. This is made a whole lot easier when these preachers actualise a Preterist praxis! That is, while condemning Preterism they advocate that we should-
engage with society,
seek to make a positive difference in our communities and cities,
cast a vision for their church and community that is bigger than their lifetime,
seek to inspire the emerging generation to become salt and light in strategic areas of civic leadership (the arts, media, commerce/business, the academy, government/judiciary, family, and church),
- demonstrate a faith that regards the Church being an expression of the growing Kingdom of Christ on earth.
In my eBook on the Book of Revelation, I have more fully explained what an orthodox Preterist Hermeneutic looks like. Thousands of people have now downloaded this eBook and read it. I am greatly encouraged by the emails, cards and letters I have received from some of these people who have found the teaching within this eBook helpful. Even recently I had someone acquire and read this book, THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE, with a view to disproving it and showing me where I was wrong. This is something I strongly encourage people to do. And several have joined this lady’s motivation for reading it. It is something that I would encourage Preterists who are attending good churches with good pastors to share with their pastor in the hope that he might have the myths of what Preterism is all about dispelled.
Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, March 26th 2008