As a follow-up to my article, The Infidelity of Preterism, I thought it well to further explore the kind of rationalism and unbelief on which Preterist theology bases its claims. While systematic Preterism has little historical support, there are a number of writings documented throughout church history that contain key concepts espoused by Preterism. One of these concepts is that our Lord’s own description of His “coming in clouds with power and great glory” is purely symbolic in nature. Preterists hold that such language doesn’t describe a physical reality, but points to a hypothetical and providential coming, which was fulfilled in A.D. 70.
As I wrote in my last article, much of Preterist theorizing arises from the a priori notion that there must be a “perfectly logical explanation” for what is commonly viewed as supernatural. That’s just the problem, though. Preterism stands in the the wisdom of men, and not the power of God. In their effort to be “logical,” they overthrow anything that seems out of line with the established laws of the natural world. As a result, Scripture-teachings are made to accord with their views.
Of course, no reverent student of Scripture would agree to such a cold analysis as Preterists would bring to its pages. And so, the business of the Preterists is to attack Biblical inspiration, or at least discredit its authority. And herein is manifested the unbelief of Preterism.
Eusebius of Caesarea (otherwise known as Pamphili), was one of the earliest teachers to espouse a Preterist view. In his writings, he professes to have seen the coming of the kingdom in his own day, in the conversion of Constantine to Christianity. To Eusebius, the restoration of the Christian churches under the new emperor was the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy of the “dry bones” coming to life. He writes: Then was fulfilled the prophetic utterance which mystically foretold what was to take place: ‘Bone to bone, and joint to joint,’ and whatever was truly announced in enigmatic expressions in the inspired passage.” (Ecclesiastical History, X. iii. 1-2).
Because Eusebius did not believe in the inspired literality of the Scriptures, it was easy for him to take such a prophecy as Ezekiel’s and force it into a fourth century context. Similar chicanery is seen all throughout his writings. Moreover, due to the Chiliastic teachings of the Apocalypse, Eusebius is said to have denied its apostolic authorship, inventing an imaginary “John the Elder,” whom he professed to have written the book.
That is just one early sample of the rationalism and unbelief by which Preterism operates. Now fast-forward to the 17th century. Another example of Preterist unbelief is witnessed in the writings of John Lightfoot (1602-1675), a Protestant divine. Although some would paint him a reverent student of Scripture, a careful study of his works reveals a thinly-disguised unbelief in the supernatural.
Among his many questionable views, Lightfoot believed that the “speaking in unknown tongues” alluded to by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, was nothing miraculous or extraordinary, but mere utterance in the Hebrew language. He writes: “We inquire not in how many languages they could speak, but how many they spake in the church; and we believe that they spake Hebrew only.” (Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations, Vol. 4, pg. 258).
While Lightfoot did not outright deny the inspiration of the Bible, he is noted for stripping revelation of its supernatural elements, and bringing the doctrines of Scripture into accord with the laws of human reason. According to Lightfoot’s approach, the Scriptures were treated as divinely-endorsed human documents, and not as transcendent communications steeped in the miraculous and extraordinary.
Fast-forward again to the 19th century. During this period, it became obvious that Preterism was growing alongside the skepticism of the Higher Critical schools, as something of a collateral movement. The relation between Preterism and Higher Criticism is evidenced in the works of liberal academics like Moses Stuart, Samuel Lee, and P.S. Desprez.
But while their writings show how quickly the Preterist leaven was proliferating among academics, the damage it did within the church is not to be underestimated. Canon F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), an Anglican clergyman, had imbibed the poison of the critical schools. Thus his writings teem with a cold unbelief in the supernatural. Farrar went so far as to deny the authorship of the Book of Daniel, alleging that it was written by a “pious Jew” of the post-exilic period. Farrar disagreed that the “cutting off of the Messiah” (Dan. 9: 26) had anything to do with our Lord. He rather insisted that it pointed to the deposition and murder of the high priest Onias III. Farrar was also a universalist who questioned the doctrine of eternal punishment.
The prime example of Preterist unbelief of that period, however, is seen in Scotch clergyman J. Stuart Russell’s 1878 book, The Parousia. In this tome Russell covertly attacked the inspiration of the Bible. Like Eusebius, Russell found the Apocalypse a perfect target for his critical marksmanship.
Speaking of the “Revelation of Jesus Christ,” Russell writes: “It must be remembered that it is a poem rather than a history that we are now reading; a drama, rather than a journal of transactions, and that there is no book in which poetical and dramatic effect is more studied than in the Apocalypse.” (pg. 510).
Hence, Russell basically denied that Revelation was the word of God. In fact, when he saw inconsistencies between his own interpretation and the actual facts, rather than question his Preterist theory he treated the Scriptures as human documents.
Here’s a case in point. After doing his utmost to prove that the first beast of Revelation 13 was actually emperor Nero, Russell realized that Nero’s death in A.D. 68 did not fit in with his being “taken alive” at Jesus Christ’s alleged A.D. 70 parousia, as detailed in Revelation 19: 20. Russell’s explanation is as follows: “No doubt there is something here of an anachronism. The death of Nero is placed in the vision subsequent to the judgment of Jerusalem, whereas it actually preceded that event by two years or more. As we before remarked, something must be conceded to poetic license. In an epic, a drama, or a vision, it is unreasonable to require strict chrononolgical sequence.” (pg. 512).
This type of interpretation was perfectly compatible with Russell’s disbelief in the Divine authorship of the Apocalypse. Russell seems to have viewed the prophets as nothing more than eastern poets gifted with a dose of prescience. He writes: “First of all, the utterances of the prophets are poetry; and secondly, they are Oriental poetry.” (pg. 350).
Let the reader note that Russell’s work The Parousia is viewed among Preterist circles as the official “hornbook” of their teachings. It has had more impact upon the “Modern Preterist” movement than any other work. Partial Preterist Ken Gentry writes: “Although I do not agree with all the conclusions of The Parousia, I highly recommend this well-organized, carefully argued, and compelling written volume. It is one of the most persuasive and challenging books I have read on the subject, and has had great impact on my thinking.”
Incidentally, Gentry is one of the main proponents of the view that Nero was the Antichrist. He, along with colleagues Gary DeMar and James Jordan, has helped produce books and videos espousing this view. As typical of his teaching, Gentry argues that the “huge hailstones, of one hundred pounds each” mentioned in Revelation 16: 21, were actually boulders thrown by Roman catapaults during the siege of Jerusalem! For more information on Gentry’s rationalism, see Dr. Thomas Ice‘s article, 100 Pound Hailstones.
After all this unbelief in the inspiration of Scripture, how refreshing it is when we come to the 20th century, and are met by a salutary wave of old-fashioned pre-millennialism. Speaking of the Apocalypse, Clarence Larkin, one of the chief proponents of the Dispensational view, wrote: “While the Book of Revelation contains many symbols, they are explained in the book, and we must not forget that it is not a mysterious book, for it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and is the only book in the Bible that promises a blessing to te reader. Rev. 1: 1-3. The Book is to be taken literally.” (Dispensational Truth, pg. 104).
Any impartial student of church history will clearly see why Dispensationalism has grown so rapidly during the past decades, to the point where it is now the chief faith of Christendom. Because it is based on childlike belief in the Word of God, it must have a greater attraction for all kinds of men. The esoteric and elitist tendencies of Preterism, however, make the latter view a bad bet for the church. And this is probably why most of its adherents are numbered among liberal intellectuals.
But although Preterism is not as widely accepted as it was during the 19th century, its modern proponents still carry on the old tradition of denial. And such behavior can only result in a dead faith, which is totally unable to save souls. I even go so far as to say that in many cases, Preterism may result in the loss of individual salvation. In the coming weeks I hope to bring out further the dangers of such theology. Until then, carefully study the above information, and you’ll see that Preterism is really a theology that is steeped in unbelief. And regardless of our professions, let it be known that no unbeliever shall inherit the kingdom of God.