If Hyper-Preterism is True
A Response to David Green
In a recent internet forum Dr. Kelly Nelson Birks published an article called “Justification is Pre-Parousia.” I wrote a brief comment, in response to the criticism in part by full-preterist David Green (Siegle, 2009). I wrote “when I first read ‘If Preterism is True’, I was appalled.” Green responded by asking if I was indeed speaking of a chapter he wrote in the recently published book House Divided, and by asking why I was appalled. I never bothered to answer until now because I did not want to get involved in that debate at the time. However, I do think a response could have some educational value.
First, I think Dave made some valid points about Hill’s chapter. For example, on page 34 he writes,
“Hill never explains why it is that he believes that futurism constitutes another gospel if preterism is true.”
I think Hill could have given some good reasons why full-preterism is another gospel (i.e. “futurism” and full-preterism have different views concerning the Atonement, the Incarnation, Justification, Sanctification, etc.). However, Green’s analysis of the chapter (4, 33-34) hardly exhausts Hill’s main thesis, the question of how hyper-preterism “might fare when placed in the larger context of the first and second centuries” (63), to offer a skeptical criticism of the hyper-preterism in J. S. Russell, Max King, and even Sam Frost, and to suggest that Christian (orthodox) eschatology has exegetical merit and historical support that is not rivaled by aberrant forms of hyper-preterism.
Part of Green’s response to Hill’s “survey of some of the early church fathers” and “historical arguments” (33) is to likewise appeal to some of the early church fathers to imply Hill hastily exaggerates about the lack of preterism in patristic Christian thinking. This will be returned to some below.
I was appalled when I read this chapter because Green blatantly denies the Reformed doctrine of Justification. When I was a full-preterist, I naively anticipated the publication of House Divided, a book green calls “Reformed/Calvinist” (2), Hassertt even includes the authors as “Reformed preterists within the history of the church” (240). Back then, some conservative full-preterists still vehemently defended all the doctrines of Grace (the very Gospel that delivered our souls), and kept our soteriology and our eschatology in separate compartments. What a fool I was. Now, as 2009 comes to a close, virtually all vocal full-preterists have openly separated themselves from the fundamentals of the Reformed Faith. A few months ago, I found some full-preterists who still dubbed themselves as Reformed, or Calvinist. But now, since the terms have been defined, I find none. When I read House Divided, though, I had understood that my hope of a Reformed Full-Preterism was a delusion not shared by even conservative full-preterists.
In the chapter preceding “If Preterism is True”, Green dismisses the charge that full-preterists “must be refuting a cardinal (principal, fundamental, indispensable, essential) doctrine of the biblical Faith” (21). In the disingenuous display described by Gentry (27), Green affirms that preterism ought not to challenge “the elemental traditions of the gospel”, the “rudiments of the gospel”, “the cardinal elements of the Christian Faith”, “the foundational truth of salvation” (24-25). Green then questions what those very fundamentals are, this constituting one foci of his thesis on “The Arbitrary Principle of Hyper-Creedalism”. Albeit brilliant, Green’s challenge of what doctrines are necessary, Green is guilty of Gentry’s charge of special pleading (Green 26 cf. Gentry 27, 31). Green even seems to grant that the creedal doctrines of the death and resurrection of Christ cannot be challenged (26), but denies the Christian dogmata of the resurrection in his response against Strimple (175, 186-189).
Although I could find much to disagree with Dr. Strimple, his section of the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ and the Resurrection of Believers (326-341) defends the paleo-Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and others, whereas full-preterism offers some novel insights. Generally full-preterists acknowledge that the resurrection of Christ was physical, but deny the very theological reasons we believe (Sullivan 101-102, Green 176). Strimple rightly says,
“Make no mistake about it: the gospel is at stake in the debate with hyper-preterism” (330)
“…other fundamental Christian doctrines are also at stake. In order to maintain their heretical doctrine of the resurrection, hyper-preterists have devised heretical doctrines of creation, man, sin and its consequences, the person and redemptive work of Christ, and the nature of salvation. Much more than eschatology narrowly defined is at stake in this debate.” (352)
But Green seems to think that “…futurists and preterists stand shoulder to shoulder in agreement on the substance of the Christian faith…” (35). However, in the same page he denies the Reformed doctrine of Justification, even calling it a “ultimately damnable implication of futurism”. He states “If His reappearing out of the heavenly Holy Places did not take place…then…our High Priest’s sacrifice was rejected by the Father (Lev. 16:2), and we are still dead in our sins.”
Sullivan seems to agree in page 91. However, Leviticus 16:2 does not teach that the High Priest’s atonement for our sins is not accepted by the Father until He appears after His official duties. The Belgic Confession states our Christian teaching on the Propitiation,
“We find comfort in His wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means of reconciliation with God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which the believers are perfected for all times. This is also the reason why the angel of God called Him Jesus, that is, Saviour, because He would save His people from their sins.”
Green responds to dogmatism defensively (43),
“Hill…is inadvertently thinking in futurist categories while judging a situation in which preterism is theoretically true.” This is indeed special pleading.
Green’s solution is to supply the shred of evidence for full-preterism in some patristic writings to show they believed “the earth is already filled with the knowledge of the Lord (the Gospel) in fulfillment of Isaiah 11:9 and Habakkuk 2:14; and death is destroyed among believers in fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 15:55…”
But let those passages be fulfilled. What does it prove? The Gospel has been preached, and “Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice in their behalf” (WCF 11.3). Certainly we Christians believe that the victory is ours in reality through legal obedience of our Savior. The power of Death has been defeated at the cross (Hebrews 2:14). Death has no victory against the elect by virtue of Christ’s work, and Death shall be swallowed up in victory. Being freed from sin, and indeed dead to the strength of it, we do mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit by the saving graces won for us by our Lord’s crucifixion. We believe that actual corruption was conveyed to all the elect who are in Adam and that “this corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned and mortified, yet both itself and all the motions thereof are truly and properly sin” (WCF 6). Therefore, until the number of the elect is complete in time, death is defeated, and the very sins thereof are to be entirely extinguished. We believe the Scriptures categorically assume realism,
“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fulness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.” (WCF 11.4)
Another tactic of Green is to suggest that the doctrine of Justification by Faith was virtually unknown until the Reformation era. It is debatable whether Augustine “conflated ‘regeneration’ and ‘sanctification into a progressive and nature changing concept of ‘justification’”, Calvin in his Institutes expresses Augustine’s inability to articulate the doctrine as distinguished from other saving graces, but he nevertheless appealed to Augustine and even Ambrose in defining Justification (3: (Calvin)11). But to suggest that Justification was not found in the faith, works, and writings of the Church at all until Martin Luther is not Reformed ecclesiology (cf. Green 47). It does not even respond to Gentry’s concern in When Shall These Things Be? (55-56). Green states,
“Then in the early 1500’s, the Reformers began teaching something altogether new.” (47)
But this is not the most appalling part. I was appalled that not only has Green wanted us to believe “the historic church misunderstood the nature of justification”, he also wants us to believe the church still does not understand it. In a footnote suggesting that Reformed Theology is not equipped to deal with “the new perspective on Paul”, he suggests,
“The Reformed doctrine of non-progressive and full “justification by faith alone” at the point of conversion is true only if the process of “corporate justification” has already been consummated. It was consummated in AD 70.”
However, this contradicts what the Apostle teaches us in Romans 5:1-11,
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Justification is by virtue of the cross, not through a consummation in AD 70. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that the “fullness of time” in which Christ did work the justification of the elect in His death and resurrection.
Again the Apostle states in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19,
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
The consummation of any sort of “corporate justification” decreed before time is future in Christian theology. Green teaches another sort of justification. If he teaches the timing of justification is different, then he therefore teaches the nature of justification is different. Green claims he holds to the Reformed doctrine (47), but he holds to an altogether aberrant one. Green’s tactic is simple. Cast skepticism on foundational Christian dogma to open to floor for other radical systems, viz. full-preterism.
Green does some justice in exposing the weaknesses in Hill’s arguments. His claims that some have “exegetically mis-categorized” some things could help us understand the liability of individuals who may err. However, Green goes too far, and his rebuttal to Hill is but a tu quo.
Frost writes on Wilson in a polemic characteristic of the book,
“So let me get this straight. The Reformers could overthrow the Augustinian view of justification, and Wilson can overthrow the Reformed view of justification (and some within this community have called him a heretic for doing so), but Wilson will not allow for the possibility that preterists can overthrow, or even challenge the futurist interpretation of eschatology.” (221)
But even Sam has admitted to me that full-preterists do more than just challenge dogma on “interpretation of eschatology.” We see this in Green’s views on the Incarnation, Sanctification, Mortification, Anthropology, Sin and the Curse, and here on Justification. David Green is not as “Reformed/Calvinist” as he would have us to believe.
Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Green, D. A., Hassertt, E. J., Sullivan, M. J., & Frost, S. M. (2009). House Divided: Bridging the Gap In Reformed Eschatology. Ramona: Vision Publishing.
Siegle, L. (2009, October 12). “Justification is Pre-Parousia.” By Dr. Kelly Nelson birks. Retrieved December 26, 2009, from Preterism Debate: http://preterismdebate.ning.com/profiles/blog/show?id=4171784%3ABlo…
Sproul, R. C., Gentry, K. L., Hill, C. E., Pratt, R. L., Mathison, K. A., Kistemaker, S. J., et al. (2004). When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Sponse To Hyper-Preterism. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company.
Westminster Confession of Faith.
What do YOU think ?
Submit Your Comments For Posting Here
Comment Box Disabled For Security
Date: 27 Jul 2010
The truth that Jesus Christ saved all who were given to Him in eternity by the Father at the Cross is true. I’m having real difficulty seeing how some so-called “former full preterists” think that they have somehow disproven what they condemn as “hyper-preterism” by this insight.
This smells like politics to me. “Hyper-calvinists” are not determined theologically in most cases. Rather, the term is part of a scare tactic to make sure that people feeling the waters are turned off before they ever consider anything related to predestination, election of grace, etc.
Likewise, “hyper-preterism” is a vicious assault on the very Berean attitude praised by the Apostle Paul! If, in fact, the Lord Jesus promised that His coming in the clouds of glory would occur in the natural lifetimes of some of those He spoke to in Century 1, how can any self-respecting Christian accuse a person of being “hyper-preterist” for taking the position that Jesus kept His Word?
Sadly, this hatred for preterists by supposed preterists and so-called “former hyper-preterists” is the same spirit that made First Century Jewish priests and high priests so disgusting to the Lord Jesus!
Paul Ricahrd Strange Sr
119 Marvin Gardens
Waxahachie TX 75165
[No hatred at all! Just a serious opposition to critical points of doctrine. Need to get your heart right, fella.]