It is doubtless a ‘true saying’ that Preterism has always been hard to sell to evangelicals. Certainly, its popularity is more sporadic than ongoing. Every few years or so it seems to make a comeback, in some form or another, until it eventually peters out. Preterism’s heyday was the George W. Bush era, when internet discussion boards were all awash with fevered debate over the when and how of Christ’s second coming.
Barring 9/11, of course, those were days of relative national peace and economic prosperity, when garden-variety Christians–many of them baby boomers– felt that they could indulge a little in their eschatological views. “Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies,” they would say.
But then things began to take a turn around 2008. People began leaving Preterism in flocks, and key leaders within the movement began posting renunciations online. By 2010, the “movement” was on its last leg. It would only take a few more years before it would completely collapse. Now there is hardly a fragment left. What happened? And how did something so laded with promise turn into such an apparent waste of time?
In my opinion, Preterism’s problem has always been twofold. First, it is essentially polemic in nature. Secondly, it bears little or no relevance to today’s world. These are not just minor problems. They are crippling.
On the polemic aspect: I suppose it’s ok to be polemical, especially if you have an important truth you are trying to establish. But let’s face it. A lot of Christians don’t dig polemics. Actually, it has become increasingly hard to even get most Christians to open their Bibles. That puts a doctrine like Preterism, which requires a lot of study (Biblical, lexical, and historical), at a disadvantage.
As for relevance: I doubt if Christians generally care whether a prophecy has been fulfilled in the past or not. What they are wanting to know is how it relates to them here and now. This creates another disadvantage for Preterism because eschatology and Bible-doctrine now become a mere history-lesson. As clever it can be, and having (as Doug Wilson says) “great explanatory power,” it has never risen to the ‘next level’ and taught Christians how these doctrines relate to today’s time. It’s like the difference between a fossil and a living animal. Which do you think is more interesting and relevant for today?
Although I have no actual metrics to share, Preterism’s salability seems to decrease in direct ratio as people demand relevance from their churches, pastors, Bible teachers, and leaders. They would rather, most of them, listen to a prophecy-monger who sees fulfillment in every news headline than to someone who stands at the pulpit and drones about how 2,000 years of Christianity has been fundamentally mistaken on eschatology, and that “this is what they actually meant.”
Although the Full or “Hyper” Preterist movement is beyond repair, modern day Reconstructionists like Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordan, and others, are finding that they must desperately pump new life into their teachings to keep audiences engaged and prepare a new generation of Postmillennialists for the challenges ahead. This means taking the emphasis (or at least the edge) off of the polemical approach, as well as downplaying the eschatological element. There is no other way to effectively pitch this. Many of these men are getting old and “pooped out.” A renovation of sorts must occur within the next few years, or “partial preterism,” too, will become a thing of the past.
Whatever side you take, it is clear that Preterism has reached a bend in the road. Admittedly, 2020 was a game-changer for many. It taught us that some things in the world are not getting better and better as Preterists would have us to believe. In fact, they seem to be getting darker and more dismal. Of course, I could point out that this was all predicted in the pages of the New Testament. I could even take a Limbaugh-esque dig at Preterism and say “I told you so.” But why should I have to say anything? The writing is on the wall.