What is ‘Full Preterism’, and Why It is Unacceptable For Me and Most of the Christian Church

Here is a post I wrote when I first started blogging; my own views have changed quite dramatically from when I originally wrote this post (I was a Pre-Tribulational Progressive Dispensationalist when I wrote this). But I Second-Comingthought it apropos given my last post on this similar topic, and since one of my interlocutors appears to be a Full Preterist (unfortunately!). This post is short, as originally written, but is intended to briefly sketch the difference between a Full Preterist (which I still consider heretical because it denies the bodily resurrection), and Partial Preterism. Here is the reposting, and I think I will follow it up with a few more words:

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Briefly, I will provide a quick survey of Preterism (latin=praeter, meaning beyond or past), and its inherent hermeneutical/theological problem. There are two camps within this particular belief system, either full preterist or partial preterist.

A “full preterist” believes, in relationship to the second coming of Christ that in fact it has already happened. They believe that Christ already came, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They see this judgment, as the fulfillment of the resurrection prophesied by Jesus. Note Kim Riddlebarger’s analysis here:

“. . . full preterists teach that the resurrection—which, they say, is not bodily but spiritual—has already occurred. To teach, as full preterists do, that Christ has already returned and that the resurrection occurred in A.D. 70 at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem is heresy, according to the apostle Paul.” (see Kim Riddlebarger, A Case For Amillennialism: Understanding The End Times, 239)

As noted above, the full preterist position is heretical because it undercuts the blatant scriptural teaching that the general resurrection will be bodily not spiritual (cf. II Tim. 2:17-18). But there is a variant teaching, that does not cross the threshold of heresy, it is an adaptation of “full preterism” known as “partial preterism.”

Partial preterism, contrarily, does not believe that the “resurrection” or second coming happened at 70 A.D.; although they do believe that Christ did “judge” Jerusalem at the 70 A.D. date. They believe that this judgment signified the end of the “Jewish Age”, and concurrently inaugurated the “age to come.” Note Riddlebarger:

“Partial preterists, however, do not believe that the second coming and the resurrection occurred in A.D. 70, although they do believe Jesus did come back in judgment on Israel (a parousia), to bring about the end of the Jewish age (this age) and to usher in the age to come. According to many partial preterists, this view resolves the tension found throughout the New Testament between those texts which teach that Jesus and his apostles expected our Lord to return within the lifetimes of the apostles then living and again at the end of time when Jesus will return to judge the world, raise the dead, and make all things new.” (see Kim Riddlebarger, A Case For Amillennialism: Understanding The End Times, 239-40)

The interpretive problem this poses is one of positing a position that presupposes two returns of Christ (one local and one universal). The scriptures nowhere teach a local/universal two time return of Christ—only one return (cf. Acts 1:10-11; Heb. 9:27-28). The preterist position (full or partial) is an untenable position to forward, at least in its relationship to the clearer teaching of scripture (analogia fidei).

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As you can see at the end, I critique partial preterism as well, and I did so from my Dispy Premillennial perspective. I am willing to concede that there are some partial preterist elements going on especially as noted in the Olivet Discourse (cf. Mt. 24), and aspects of the book of Revelation (but I’d rather label what I hold as historist in a denotative way, and not in the connotative way that developed among the Calvinian Reformed and Lutherans who saw Roman Catholicism and the papacy as fulfilling the role of the Beast and the anti-Christ; I see the Roman Empire, in the context and historical situation of the book and theology of Revelation, as typifying the ‘kind’ of Beastly power that is characteristic of ages and peoples who are opposed to the purposes of God … I think even literarily this correlates well with a motif and theology of Babylon throughout scripture’s usage).

As far as Full Preterism, as I said, quite strongly, I see it as a full orbed heresy; why? Because it, by definition denies the bodily resurrection of all believers from all ages. According to scripture this transformation (Phil. 3.20-21) will happen when the last trumpet sounds, the dead in Christ will rise first, prior to those living at the time of Christ’s second coming (I Thess. 4 etc.); all of which will happen in a twinkling of an eye (I Cor. 15.) It contradicts the clear teaching of scripture and the angelical declaration that Christ will return in like manner; in like manner to his ascension, which was bodily. Acts 1.9-11 says,

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

This requires no argument, it is straightforward; Jesus will return just as he left, bodily, and visibly; not secretly or platonically spiritually. There are theological points associated with this, especially by the book of Revelation; but those points aren’t necessary to undercut the aberrant teaching that Jesus will not return bodily (of course how ‘bodily’ is understood for some varies; some hold to the ubiquity of Christ’s body, for example, but even this view must account for the particularity of Christ’s body as understood in context found in Acts 1) and a second time (as the epistle to the Hebrews also refers to more than once).

I will have to discuss some of the theological reasons I see associated with the second coming at a later date (like the relation between justification/sanctification and glorification). I will also, in the future, like to address the theology of ascension from a Reformed perspective in the near future; these are underdeveloped themes in Christian thought, and I think Reformed theology has some hefty resource to tap into in this regard.

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5 comments

  1. So … it doesn’t exactly surprise me that both preterist positions are also supersessionist.

    Also, considering that the best evidence I am aware of shows the destruction of Jerusalem as the impetus for the composition of the gospels, it seems silly to suggest that the second coming of Christ was in execution of that destruction. Someone hasn’t been paying attention to the OT. In the worldview of the gospels, God simply withholds protection (which is suggested by the verbs in Mk 13 anyways), and permits Rome to destroy Jerusalem. In retrospect, Jesus is the prophet who speaks of these consequences, and behold: they happened.

    Which also aligns with the Rabbinic sense, even without seeing Jesus as a key figure, that the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was due to God abandoning it in judgment of their misdeeds. There’s just no reason, besides a later Gentile Christian desire to suppress Judaism as a competitor, to see God’s active hand here where the scriptures do not. The nations are permitted to execute the consequences of Israel’s misdeeds only when God sees fit to expose Israel to them for her chastening. It is never a sign of abandonment.

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  2. Amen to that, Matt!

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  3. André, my goodness, where did you stop following?

    What don’t you understand about Christian history? Are you not thinking in terms of Jews, Christians, and the long history of competitive “anti-semitism” that we extend also to Islam? Do we really actualize the removal of the divides that separate creature from creature? Shall we not be held accountable for our injustices in failing to see children of God as children of God, and for our attribution of unfaithfulness to God in our ideas that God might have abandoned the Jews? This is one of those places in theology where the problem becomes most obvious.

    Has Jesus actually done away with our racism?

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  4. I agree with Matthew here. Certainly every soul is saved the same way, through Christ alone. We are not referencing individual salvation here, we are talking about God accepting or rejecting a people, again not unto salvation, but because people groups are organic bodies, as are families, our Lord deals with them individually: The Edomites, the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Philistines, etc. Again and again and again in the O.T. God promised to never abandon or reject Israel, even at the same time He was saying He was going to vomit them up and finally leave them to their enemies, He would then say, “but when my anger has abated, I will…”
    Just as the Church at Ephesus, and the Church at Corinth and the Church in Laodaceia are organic bodies, so are the people groups, the ethnos of the world. We are treated “equitably” by Him who judges not with the sight of the eyes, but with righteous judgement, but judge He will.

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  5. Bobby Grow · ·

    Andre,

    I’m thinking in terms of how Romans 9–11 thinks! Jesus is the new Israel so to speak, but not w/o the particularity of the nation of Israel. And Jesus’ particularity will always be tied to this prefigural concreteness as the son of David, because the promises made to the fathers are irrevocable ( Rom 11:29). You can’t have Jesus, by his self determined choice without Israel, and this will never be superceded!

    Yes the dividing wall has been broken down between Jew and Gentile, and Jesus is the only way for both. But again Jesus identity is and always will be contingent upon the history of the nation of Israel; unless of course you want to be a docetic Christian who believes that Jesus’ body was merely an aparition or phantom (which by the way fits well with the theology that informs full preterism); then you have that choice. But just know at that point you move outside the bounds of biblical Christianity, and like I said via email, into historic and even neo gnosticism.

    The biblical Christian and Jewish hope, even; has always been a physical bodily one. Jews believed that the general resurrection, discussed in John 11, was a bodily physical resurrection. Jesus claims to personify and actualize that promised reality in his fulfilled life. As the fulfillment of Israel Jesus is claiming that the promises made to Israel are forever, and thus not supersessionally, realized in him; as the point and purpose of Israel in particular, and creation in general (Col. 1:15ff and Rom 8:18ff).

    The only ones left behind are those who reject the hermeneutic presupposed by the New Testament, and Old.

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