Preterist Spirituality: Is “Preterist-Idealism” the Answer?

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INTRODUCTION

This work is classified under Critical Materials.  In time, this post will include an examination of the criticisms offered.
Preterist Spirituality: Is “Preterist-Idealism” the Answer?
By Larry Siegle

November 2007

Recently, something quite astounding has occurred within the preterist community of faith that deserves a closer examination.

Attacks from ”outside” have been common during the past two decades, each of which has been addressed and answered:

  • Futurists have attacked full-preterism on the basis of a mistaken understanding of God’s purpose for the nation of Israel in Palestine today.
  • Traditionalists have withdrawn fellowship with preterists over the issue of an expected “physical bodily resurrection of the dead” at the “end of time.”
  • Pentecostalist believers have discredited preterism on the basis of their contention that the “temporary”  spiritual gifts remain in operation beyond the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
  •  Dispensationalists have contended that the rise of Antichrist and the period known as “the Great Tribulation” is yet future to our day.

In each of the above instances able preterist scholars have presented sound, logical reasons why their position is in complete harmony with what the Bible teaches and Jesus and the apostles expected would occur within the constraints of one “generation”that lived between the Cross and A.D. 70 (Matt. 23:36; 24:34).  Preterists, with one united voice have echoed the words of Jesus, “For these are the days of vengeance when all that is written will be fulfilled” (Luke 21:22 ISV emphasis added).

Now, from within the preterist community has arisen a ‘new’ challenge–not one that is rooted in any form of logical argumentation or that has any basis in Scriptural truth other than–it seems more spiritual than classical ‘modern’ preterism.  This ‘new” approach is being referred to as “Preterist-Idealism” and has found growing support from even experienced believers such as John Noe(www.prophecyrefi.org) a scholar in his own right.  On the surface this increasing defection from balanced-preterism seems to be nothing more than a passing theological ”fad” destined to vanish away silently into the footnotes of Christian history.  It is, nevertheless, something that deserves further consideration and honest investigation.

Todd Dennis, who for more than a decade has been the “guardian” of all things preterist, has collected in his “Archive” hundreds of valuable documents confirming the historical roots and foundation of preterism from the days of the apostles to our present time.  The PreteristArchive (www.preteristarchive.com) has been acknowledged as a place where all approaches to eschatology are considered and documented with a sense of freedom and openness, even those whose doctrinal stance and faithfulness to the word of God has been dubious at best.  Now, Todd Dennis has launched a “new” venue in support of “Idealist” theology (www.idealistarchive.com).  Like the PreteristArchive, the IdealistArchive will soon be filled with hundreds of valuable documents confirming the historical roots and foundation of Idealism from the days of the apostles to our present time.

“Houston, we have a problem!”

The very foundational basis of the Idealist movement is flawed from its inception.  This is illustrated in a recent article written by Scott Thompson, How Heaven and Earth Pass Away.  Although I do not know Scott personally, I would like to point out some obvious contradictions in his hermeneutical approach to biblical interpretation and his accusations about preterism and genuine spirituality.  Thompson writes:

 As a former Full Preterist, I believe it is necessary to explain the reasons why I have repented of promoting this system of bible prophecy. For over 8 years, my deep conviction regarding the superiority of this system blinded me from seeing beyond the confines of the Preterist method of interpretation which, in all its forms, maintains the year AD70 as a focal point for prophetic fulfillment. Ever since realizing how that point of view limits ones perspective of spiritual things, it has been my distinct pleasure to discover what AD70 really means for our lives today.

 First, those who are advocating “Preterist-Idealism” are now separating themselves from full preterism even going to the extent of having “repented of promoting this system of bible prophecy.”  Repentance implies a former connection or practice of something that is sinful.  His contention is that he was “blinded”by what he once understood to be the truth.  However, his assertion that preterism somehow “limits ones perspective of spiritual things” has not been proved.  Who would contend that the acceptance of full preterism requires that a believer abandon his deep sense of love and devotion for the Lord?  Suddenly, the acceptance of “Preterist-Idealism” has opened his eyes “to discover what A.D. 70 really means for our lives today.”  Cannot one who is a balanced-preterist “discover what A.D. 70 really means” without drifting into “Idealism” as the foundational basis for biblical hermeneutics?

 After having recognized a whole host of erroneous conclusions based upon false assumptions I had taught others while sharing my beliefs with others it is now my responsibility to define to them why I believe a consistent Full Preterist approach leads to greater errors, but also to define the newer, straighter path to which God has led me. Just as I was previously convinced that all prophetic fulfillment took place with the fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in AD70, I am now convinced that complete fulfillment actually takes place in Jesus Christ.

Scott Thompson affirms his ignorance of balanced-preterism in the admission of his embracing of “a whole host of erroneous conclusions based upon false assumptions.”  Although he never reveals what those mistaken concepts may have been, he concludes that “a Full Preterist approach leaders to greater errors”–a serious charge indeed!  What is the foundational basis for his conversion to this “newer, straighter path” he has found?  Notice the final sentence of the above paragraph:  “…I am now convinced that complete fulfillment actually takes place in Jesus Christ.”

The implication of these comments is that preterism and spirituality are mutually exclusive to the same degree that law and grace are distinguished one from the other.  Preterism bad.  Spiritualitygood.  The bottom-line question must be:  Who ever said that one could be a preterist in the true biblical sense of the word apart from being spiritual?  This is like the man who was once heard to have said, “I love the church, it is the people that I cannot stand.”  To love the one you must accept the other because the two are the same–the people are the church.  Preterists are Christians and Christians are those whose hearts and minds are devoted to their Lord with every fiber of their being.

What genuine preterist would disagree with the statement of Thompson that “complete fulfillment actually takes place in Jesus Christ“?  Is not our discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ at the very heart of our eschatology?  Years ago Max R. King was heard to have said during his debate in the early 1970′s with Gus Nichols that “any eschatology that does not have Jesus Christ at the very center of it is not biblical eschatology.”  Who could disagree with that?

The symptoms afflicting Scott Thompson as revealed in his article are not his alone.  Hundreds of preterists have experienced this same sense of hunger for a greater spiritual awareness.  The answer does not lie in the rejection and abandonment of the conceptual elements balanced-preterism but rather in the forward movement into the meaning of the glorious Victory of God and restoration of Dominion into the lives of every believer in Jesus Christ.

It is a hermeneutical mistake to look for Christ outside the bounds of historical fulfillment.  The Divine use of time is a vital part of the redemptive purposes of God.  Jesus came “in the fullness of the time” (Gal. 4:4).  It was the purpose of God to operate inside the stream of space and time.  The Cross was a historical moment in time–a redemptive event, never-to-be-repeated.  Given the “Idealist” hermeneutic one might conclude that the significance of the Cross as an actual occurrence was not really important–just the spiritual meaning of it.  The same principle would also apply to other aspects of the redemptive plan of God such as the coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead and the judgment.  The event is diminished in favor of the meaning of the event when in reality both are significant from a biblical standpoint.

In reading other parts of How Heaven and Earth Pass Away there is no objection to the application made to certain aspects of the Christian life as it pertains to individuals.  However, to remove passages from their historical-redemptive setting just to make them “relevant” to life today is not a valid approach to Bible study.  A verse can never mean what the verse never meant.  The yearnings deep within the heart of a believer cannot replace sound principles of biblical interpretation.  We must stand upon the solid ground of what the Bible says, and not be drawn into believing only what we want it to say.

Admittedly deeper study of the word of God is needed in order to ascertain what life beyond the end of the age means for believers alive today.  I would contend that we have only scratched the surface of the message and meaning of Scripture and what the restoration of our relationship with God really means for us today.  Resurrecting the things of the “transition period” just to satisfy our spiritual cravings cannot be the correct approach.  Replacing or minimizing the historical fulfillment of second coming, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgement cannot but stifle our relationship with God, replacing the reality again with the shadow.  How can this possibly be better?

I intend to spend considerable time in the examination of those principles of interpretation related to this new “ism” among us–so-called “Preterist-Idealism.”  In my judgment it is neither preterist nor idealist but rather the unholy wedlock of two opposing points of view.

In conclusion let me comment that I have absolutely zero animosity toward any of those who have embraced the “Preterist-Idealist” theology.  I continue to respect and admire such men as Todd Dennis and John Noe for their contributions to biblical research and for their willingness to take an unpopular stance even in the face of opposition.  However, I cannot pretend to agree with their conclusions about this approach to bibical eschatology.  My conviction is that it represents a compromise from what the Bible actually says.  It represents a step backward into the darkness of theological confusion.

If Scott Thompson wants Jesus then would it not be best to embrace what Jesus taught and believed himself?  Preterists whose love for the Lord has grown cold would do well to heed this warning example as some are defecting from the message of accomplished salvation.  The application of logic and reason cannot be ignored and yet it is possible to have the correct answers to every question and not have a genuine love for one another.  Some preterists have taken the view to an extreme insisting that almost everything ended in A.D. 70 without coming to a better understanding of what began in A.D. 70.  The “New Heavens and a New Earth” represents the full and complete fulfillment of the “old” and the bringing in of all the good things that God has promised would characterize the “new.”

Idealists are facing status quo without end.  Whatever was a problem remains a problem today.  The doctrine is an endless cycle of events occurring over and over with God’s people facing them again and again with the arrival of each new generation.  The historical events of old simply serve to remind believers of what lies just ahead–both good and bad.

Preterism represents the end of the status quo.  Sin and death are destroyed and replaced with life and righteousness.  The dominion that was lost in Eden is restored in Christ.  Resurrection-life is a present reality, not a deferred promise.  The “wilderness wanderings” of God’s people have now become life in the “heavenlies” seated with Christ.  The sorrow of yesterday has become the joy of today.  The historical events of the past serve to remind believers that there is finality in the redemptive plan and purpose of God.  The Power of God is evident in the lives of those who know the secret of the Abundance He promised us.

Larry Siegle (November 26, 2007)

–For more information, or to read the complete article please visit www.idealistarchive.com and include your comments and observations.