Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2006 September 12 -- The Problem With Preterism

Like all "ism"s, Preterism -- the eschatological view that all (or at least almost all) the predictions in the Bible about the future have already been fulfilled -- suffers from our need to be consistent and logical at the expense of the data. Theological consistency usually involves selecting one or a few verses in the Bible to be primary, then ignoring or "spiritualizing" away everything that seems to disagree with it. Calvinists give preference to a few verses in Romans on the sovereignty of God, and deprecate or explain away the verses that invite us to choose. Preterists give preference to "this generation" in Matt.24:34 while ignoring the obvious fact that some of those things simply didn't happen in 70AD.

The verse I have never seen a Preterist adequately explain is Acts 1:11. Most Preterists say nothing at all about it. They want Jesus to "return in the clouds" in some mystical way in 70AD. It seems to me strange that this Second Coming, which is so important in Jesus' teaching, gets no ink at all in the Canon of Scripture after the fact. Now I have no quarrel with an early composition of the New Testament -- certainly all of it before the end of the first century, while the eyewitnesses were still around to corroborate the message -- and perhaps (although I personally doubt) all before 70AD, but the church fathers also make no mention of this Second Coming as a finished fact.

There is no way, however, that Acts 1:11 could have happened in 70AD. Jesus had just gone up into Heaven on some kind of celestial elevator, and the disciples are still peering up into the actual fleecy white clouds that he disappeared into, when this angel shows up and tells them to get on with life, Jesus is coming back in exactly the same way, a physical descent in the same elevator they had just seen go up. Nothing like that has ever happened. Yet. At least some "partial Preterists" acknowledge that Jesus is still coming (see DeeDee Warren's eclectic PreteristSite).

Wild interpretations of 2000-year-old texts whose authors are not here to defend themselves abound, but Preterism has a practical problem in today's world: it doesn't explain what we see. One of Preterism's more vocal proponents, Gary DeMar, correctly sees that your theology affects how you live in the world, but he's clueless about the world we live in. He seems to think we can take the USA back -- well, we never really were there, but some people think of it as "back" -- to a theocratic state under God's law. I think that's a fine idea, and the Bible clearly shows it coming in the future, but DeMar's future started in 70AD, so he is convinced that theonomy is the way to go. Wake up! The USA is moving the other direction, toward atheism. There are parts of the Bible that predict that kind of anomie, but in DeMar's view those are past and gone.

There are pockets of the world where Christianity is ascendant: China, Korea, sub-Saharan Africa, and large parts of South America. After Christianity activates their economy, these areas will probably move on to apostasy like the USA and especially Europe (where Christianity is practiced by much less than 10% of the population). DeMar is not telling us a different future for China and Korea, he is imagining a turn-around in the USA, where we are already in decline. His own organization is called "American Vision" not world vision or China vision.

Sometimes I think that DeMar is a closet evolutionist. Contrary to all evidence, he wants to believe that the world is evolving to become a better place, that the influence of Jesus Christ is increasing and (Real Soon Now) God's Kingdom will encompass the whole earth in reality and not merely in his own imagination. Like the Darwinists he debunks so well, he is mistaken.

At least the Dispensationalists, who have their own problems reading the Bible correctly, can accurately see the flow of history. They are looking for that Second Coming and know that the world is not evolving to be better. When Jesus comes again (on that celestial elevator), then the world will be a better place. Until then, we have a rescue effort. The Dispies are doing that, the Preterists are not.