If you’ve been around the theological scene for any amount of time, you’ll probably have learned of the long-standing hermeneutical war being waged between “Preterists” and “Futurists.” Silly as this sounds to an outsider with no concern in the matter, the warfare in question is a vital one–for its outcome will decide who gets to interpret the Bible.
“Well, what’s wrong with that?” you may be asking yourself. “After all, being Protestants, can’t we just all get together and drop this divisiveness? Does it really matter how the Bible is interpreted, so long as we agree on the main points of Christianity?” Dear Mr. Compromiser: you have filled your niche in human society since the days of Noah. Your arguments are ‘old stuff.’ Now please sit down and listen.
If it were a matter of personal judgment, I suppose nobody could complain. But the warfare goes far beyond personal judgment. You see, one party is trying to force its views on another party. One party is assaulting the other, under cover of darkness, trying to overturn centuries of historic witness, and that is not fair-play. The only thing the other party can do is throw up its arms to prevent the glass from flying in its face. It’s sort of like that.
But it’s like this, too. Suppose you were walking with your children down the street, and a thief with a blackjack popped out of nowhere and struck you on the head, stealing your wallet. Would you resent that? If so, then you may be able to understand what I’m talking about. But enough with the analogies. Let me get down to the solid facts.
What is a Preterist, after all? It is someone who believes in the “past fulfillment of prophecies concerning our Lord’s future advent.” OK. What is a “Futurist?” Hmm.. Please don’t refer to any theological dictionary, because you won’t find the term listed anywhere. The phrase “Futurist” was invented by “Preterists” to describe someone who believes that prophecies concerning the Lord’s second coming are future. I suppose the correct term would be “Orthodox,” but the Prets, for obvious reasons, prefer their own phraseology.
In many sectors, the term “Futurist” has become a name used by Preterists to hurl contempt at those who don’t agree with their views. But where is this contempt coming from? The question is not so easy to answer. Historically speaking, Futurists have always recognized elements of “Past Fulfillment” in the New Testament writings. But, as a general rule they have not sought to turn these random elements into a system of theology. That is where Preterists and Futurists have their first disagreement.
The Preterists take the elements of “past fulfillment” and melt them down into a system which usually results in a cessationist theology. Cessationism is a kind of faith that uses rationalistic methods to sift through God’s word, that it may construct a new revelation for today’s church. The underlying belief is that the New Testament had a primary application to the church of the First Century; and so we must figure out what “applied” to them, and what “applies” to us.
Such a view obviously fails to see the New Testament as a single revelation made to God’s church for all ages. And naturally, special hermeneutics must be first devised before Preterists can succeed in “proving” that their views are valid. But because the majority of Christians do not accept their methods, they must go to war. They realize that in order to win they must destroy the methods of their adversaries. Thus they become predators and corsairs who sail upon the high seas of religion, shooting their cannons of doubt at any ship that looks like an easy target.
They become snipers who hide in the trenches and shoot at their foes while the latter are foraging for food, or going about their business. Who dug these trenches in the first place? Well, it was he who felt the need to attack others. It was he who said, “I’m going to war with you, because I want to take over your territory.” And that’s how it all began.
Sadly, it is these unprovoked attacks that have made many of us take a defensive position against even what is called “orthodox” Preterism. For anyone who offers unprovoked attacks on others shows that he is dangerous and must be guarded against. It is these attacks that have made us dig trenches of our own, and invent weapons to counter the assaults of the adversary. It is no pleasure to have to fight for one’s life. But at this point we have no other choice.
Now, once the weapons of war have been gathered by one party, it sets out to attack the other party. And there are various ways of doing this. Outright assault is not always expedient. Infiltration is often much preferred. And this is their fatal error which has placed them in the wrong–morally, if not theologically. For God will not honor anyone who either provokes a war with someone else, or uses dirty tactics to gain a victory.
In the 19th century, college and seminary professors made a sustained attempt to take over the machinery of the orthodox ministry. Liberal heretics arose & outright denied the resurrection of the body, as well as many other doctrines of orthodoxy. Traditional methods of interpretation were substituted for rationalistic ones. The “simplicity of the gospel” was replaced by intellectual legerdemain. For those who occupied the pews, it was a very dark time indeed.
However, within a short number of years, the whole anti-orthodox movement became as the chaff of the threshing-floors. The Fundamental movement, driven by men like D.L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon, showed that pure apostolic Christianity had a power that rationalism lacked. And Christians gladly once more embraced the historic teachings.
And what was the upshot? Well, whatever territory had been taken over by Preterists was vigorously regained by Futurists. This ought to have told the Preterists something. And I suppose many of them were driven backward into their camp to nurse their sick and wounded as best they could. Many of them learned their lesson, albeit some gnashed their teeth in silence…
During the greater part of the twentieth century, the world heard very little from the Preterists. In 1971, however, a man named Max King popped out of obscurity, reviving an extremist heresy which had been concocted one hundred and twenty-five years earlier by a disgruntled former-churchman named Robert Townley.
King became very active within the Preterist movement, and was quickly recognized as the father of a stronger, less pregnable form of Preterism. The ranks, though long frayed and serried, began to thicken, and a harvest of die-harders began to be reaped by his efforts. Assisting him in this movement were others who promoted the publication of the books written by those same liberal professors whose views had been rejected years before.
The movement, however, still gained little force. Then, in the 1990’s along came the internet. The efforts spearheaded by King gained a new foothold and began spreading more rapidly. Teachers began to increase with the proliferation of heretical propaganda, and since that time Preterists have made repeated efforts to destroy the foundations of orthodox theology.
Now, dear friend, please don’t tell me about “toleration.” If someone were in your basement planting dynamite in an attempt to blow up your house, what would you do? I’m sure you would consider him an enemy. Well, that is what’s happening today within the Church. There are people trying to destroy its foundations, by changing the very way that the Bible is being read.
And whenever they succeed in doing this, they weaken the faith of others. They throw a cloud over God’s word, to prevent the sunshine from striking the Christian’s heart. They want to kill hope, they want to kill joy. They want to kill the fruits of the Spirit, and to replace pure Christianity with a diabolical, intellectualized “Gospel,” which will give the world a way to come to Christ without having to follow Him and keep His commandments.
That may sound like a strong assessment of the current situation. But I think that’s what it is all about. As I’ve said, this is primarily a war of heremeneutics. These heremeneutics are engineered to produce a particular set of conclusions. And there is no way to get to these conclusions without re-inventing the principles of Bible-interpretation.
However, as long as system lacks spiritual energy and power, it will amount to nothing. Rather, I believe with all my heart that pure Apostolic Christianity is still the answer for today. It will always be the answer. And it is my prayer that the following months will see great victories won on behalf of the Orthodox church. For this is about a war that’s being waged. But it’s also about a war that’s being won. Maranatha!