Review and Response to:
When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper Preterism
In 2004, Keith Mathison published a book by himself & five contributors. The book is called When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response the Hyper Preterism. Since 2004, hyperpreterists have sought to respond to the response but as of yet the hyperpreterists have been unsuccessful in not only publishing a response but even in getting together in enough unity to write a response. At this present time, there are at least 3 separate teams by hyperpreterists that seek to publish a response.
Well folks, you need not wait any longer. I beat them all to it AND you don’t have to buy it. IT’S FREE! Please click either the MSWord or PDF link to read my 24 page review / response of WSTTB. I hope to have brought some unique perspective to the review as:
- I WAS a hyperpreterist for 15 years
- I WAS on one of the projects mounting a response
- I AM no longer a hyperpreterist
A Review & Response To When Shall These Things Be? – A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism
By Roderick Edwards, former Hyperpreterist © 4/2009
In 2004, Keith Mathison put together a team of scholars to write a response to a growing heresy within the Church. The heresy is called hyperpreterism & advocates 3 minor premises driven by one major premise.
Major Premise of Hyperpreterism:
That for whatever reason, God was unable or unwilling to sustain within His Church a basic correct understanding of eschatology. That 2000 years of Christianity has been either a gross misrepresentation of what Jesus actually taught or a huge conspiracy has covered up the true teaching of Christianity.
Minor Premises of Hyperpreterism:
That Jesus returned once & for all in or around the year AD70.
That the resurrection of the believers happened in or around AD70.
That Judgment of the wicked & righteous happened in or around AD70.
The book that Mathison edited & to which he contributed is called “When Shall These Things Be? – A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism” (WSTTB). As of September 2008 the hyperpreterists have been trying to pen a response but are so fractured that there are now at least 3 separate projects attempting to respond. In the interest of full disclosure, the readers should know that I had actually been a hyperpreterist for a number of years but by 2003 I was working my way out of the “movement” & by late 2007 renounced it completely. So, this review of WSTTB is from that unique perspective. And actually, I was part of one of the hyperpreterist groups planning to respond to WSTTB. Although WSTTB is a must read for people coming out of hyperpreterism, I was already no longer a hyperpreterist by the time I read the entire book. I will try to use this unique perspective to give the reader a fair assessment of the strong & weak points of WSTTB. I will review the chapters in the order in which they were written.
I’d like to acknowledge Dee Dee Warren whom was my friend even while I was still a hyperpreterist yet never gave into the false concept of treating me as if what I believed is valid. Treating a person caught in a heresy as if what they believe is inconsequential or even acceptable is like treating a family member with a destructive addiction as if their addiction is inconsequential or acceptable. This false “charity/love” is NOT helpful & I submit is NOT really “loving”. Secondly, I’d like to thank Keith Mathison for graciously interacting with me AFTER I came out of the delusion of hyperpreterism & for answering some of the left over questions I had.
I’d like to dedicate this review to all the people who are trapped in hyperpreterism – this doesn’t include everyone since some hyperpreterists, such as the “leaders” & main propagators are not trapped by hyperpreterism as much as they are by their own egos. It is my hope & desire that the “followers” of these “leaders” will reconsider the destructive teachings which they have embraced & repent & re-embrace true, historic Christianity. Others & I are waiting for you.
Review of Chapter 1
Kenneth Gentry opens the book with the strong point that “Christianity is an historical religion”. (pg 1.) Hyperpreterism is built on the premise that all of Christian history should be scrapped & replaced by their new interpretations. Gentry also opens with a very strong quote from B.B. Warfield: “the chief dangers to Christianity do not come from the anti-Christian systems…It is corrupt forms of Christianity itself which menace from time to time the life of Christianity”. (pg 1) Gentry’s point should not be glossed over. Whether hyperpreterists want to claim they are Christians or not, they MUST acknowledge that they are unlike any kind of Christianity in history – be it pre-Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Reformed, Anabaptists, or Modern Evangelical. Hyperpreterism is as estranged from historic Christianity as is Mormonism & Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Gentry mentions that unlike how hyperpreterists often depict arguments against their beliefs, the historical & the creedal case is used as the first word against the heresy. (pg 2) So, often hyperpreterists do not see the significance in framing the discussion in the fact that what they are advocating is outside not merely the creeds, but outside of every historical expression of Christianity. Chapter 1 does a good job at properly framing the debate.
Gentry make mention of how “historic, orthodox preterism” has so been associated with hyperpreterism that it causes troubles for the historic preterists such as himself. (pg 3-4) This has become even more the case since WSTTB was published. As a matter of fact, there are many prominent teachers who while holding to historic preterism, give too much of a platform to hyperpreterists & hyperpreterism where I have seen many hyperpreterists claim they became a hyperpreterist after reading the works of historic or so-called “partial-preterists”.
Gentry spends much time interacting with comments & teachings from hyperpreterist Ed Stevens stating that Stevens “is a leader of one of the larger factions in the movement”. (pg 4-5) In 2008, this is no longer the case. Stevens’s influence in the movement has waned, mainly due to his teaching of a first-century rapture with which the majority of hyperpreterists do not agree.
The key point of Gentry’s interaction with Stevens is that doctrines are intertwined. Hyperpreterism is not merely a modification of a person’s eschatology. A radical change in this doctrine will eventually affect all other beliefs & indeed has manifested itself within hyperpreterism in the years since WSTTB was published & Gentry does a good job at pointing out some of those aberrant tendencies even before they would later appear among the hyperpreterists.
Chapter 1 is a must read for those who claim they “have no creed but Christ”, since even THAT is a creed – the word creed simply means, “belief” & unless a person is willing to say they don’t believe anything then as much as they don’t like the word, everyone has a creed. The question is, how much does your personal creed mirror the beliefs of the historic Christian Church? Hyperpreterists are willing to scrap the beliefs of the Church & start over which is a slap in the face of God’s Sovereignty to guide His Church throughout the ages.
Review of Chapter 2
Charles Hill authored chapter 2. Hill is a late-date advocate for the writing of the book of Revelation (some put it at AD95-96) & thus Hill argues from that position. Personally, I think Hill’s late-date position doesn’t fit well with WSTTB but Hill’s contribution is significant in one respect; Hill’s interaction is with hyperpreterist Max King. King often credited even by some hyperpreterists as the founder or the first modern promoter of their beliefs.
Hill points out that immediately after the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70, Christians were STILL looking forward to the future return of Christ. This is important because it shows that Christians around the event did not see in the event what hyperpreterists claim. Now, since WSTTB was published, hyperpreterist Ed Stevens tries to get around this by inserting a first-century rapture wherein he claims all the first-rank Christians were removed from the earth, leaving only second-rank Christians. Apparently we are to assume that these second-rank Christians were oblivious to the supposed real meaning of the AD70 events & so now we have had almost 2000 years of a Church that missed it. Amazing!
Hill cites many contemporary first-century references to Christian theologians still advocating for a future return of Christ & then mentions J.S. Russell (a 19th century author) who like Stevens advocated a first-century rapture. (pg 92) Hill then addresses King’s approach to the problem hyperpreterism has in trying to explain why no Christian’s immediately post AD70 advocated anything like hyperpreterism. King does not advocate a first-century rapture but instead claims 3 factors as to why the silence from early Christianity on the hyperpreterist supposed return of Christ in AD70.
The one I want to interact with is King’s claim that there was a “Hellenization of the Gospel”. Hill seems a bit confused by King’s usage of the term Hellenization since King is not using the word in its normal sense (pg 95). Since WSTTB has been published, hyperpreterists have spoken more extensively about this Hellenization concept that amounts to a claim that the original Hebraic understanding was lost. Sometimes you will see hyperpreterists express this as a shift from “Eastern thinking” to “Western thinking”. In this case the Eastern thinking is supposedly Hebraic & the Western is Hellenistic & somehow we are supposed to conclude that we can’t understand the Bible accurately because we have supposedly been Hellenized. I find this is typically put forward more as an elitist argument – as if the person knows more because they aren’t thinking with a “Western mindset”.
Hill continues to address the various ways hyperpreterists try to explain why the immediate post-AD70 Christians did not speak of anything resembling hyperpreterism. Hill notes that most of the solutions hyperpreterists have tried to offer amount to wild conspiracy theories of wholesale cover up, to first-century raptures. Hill does make mention of a hyperpreterist that was just beginning to come on the scene in 2004 – Samuel Frost (pg 109-110). Though Frost had been a hyperpreterist before 2004, even speaking in Warren Ohio, the city where King had his Church & ostensively the birthplace of modern hyperpreterism Frost didn’t really make inroads into the movement until he was taken under the wing of another now prominent hyperpreterist – Virgil Vaduva. Hill notes that Frost attempts to claim hyperpreterism always existed in seed form. It is presently a common argument of hyperpreterists – they even attempt to scour writings of the historical theologians to pull out anything that might even remotely sound like it advocates hyperpreterism & claim it is an early form.
Hill clearly understands the problems with hyperpreterist’s claims & how they attempt to solve those problems. In the end, Hill does a good job at showing the lengths hyperpreterism must go to try to explain away the silence in the immediate days after AD70 about any supposed hyperpreterist concept of a AD70 return of Christ.
Review of Chapter 3
In chapter 3, we see the work of Richard Pratt. I was actually intrigued by his arguments because they are some of the most difficult. While hyperpreterists often accuse Christians of being too “literal” in their reading of the Bible, Pratt points out that it is actually the hyperpreterists that are too literal. Indeed, hyperpreterists often claim they are reading the Bible in a “consistent” manner – in that they typically apply only one meaning to words such as resurrection & age for example.
More specifically, Pratt argues that biblical predictions do not necessarily need to be fulfilled exactly as they are stated. As a Reformed Christian, I was ready to oppose Pratt’s argument until he clarified by juxtaposing it against “open-theism” & clearly advocating for the Reformed position of God’s divine immutability & providence (pg 123).
Pratt advocates for “historic contingencies” within the plans of God & in this way Pratt tries to show that it is biblical that what God says will come to pass will indeed come to pass even if it doesn’t come to pass how we assumed it would. In this way, Pratt makes a rather interesting point against the hyperpreterist “consistency” argument. Pratt cites many scriptural events that didn’t come to pass how & even when it was assumed it would, yet this in no way detracts from God or the prophet that uttered the prediction & thus Deut 18:22 should not be called up. Pratt makes perhaps the most powerful point for his “historic contingency” argument when he cites how in Dan 9:1-14 Daniel seems to understand that a prophecy was not unfolding, as it seemed to originally predict because some intervening issue – the continued disobedience of the Israelites. Pratt points out how the prophecy was extended from a 70-year period to a 490-year period. This is a major re-adjustment. Pratt notes: “This feature of Daniel’s prophecies is important to our study because it indicates a second level of eschatology after the destruction of Jerusalem [in 586 BC]. At a time when other prophets were speaking of the imminent fulfillment of eschatological expectations, Daniel learned that the eschaton had been postponed because of a lack of repentance”. (pg 145) This is a very powerful point & Pratt tries to apply this same principle to the New Testament echaton (pg 149). All in all, Pratt offers an interesting look at how biblical predictions have come to pass & it is remarkable how the hyperpreterist “consistency” argument is turned on its head when you consider what Pratt presents.
Review of Chapter 4
Chapter 4 is one I was eager to read because it deals with the so-called “time texts” – these are texts that supposedly indicate a first-century return of Christ & fulfillment of all things. These texts are typically phrases that contain words such as “soon”, “about to be”, “at hand”, “shortly”, “ before this generation passes” & “near”. Pratt’s “historical contingency” argument notwithstanding, hyperpreterists cut their teeth on the time texts, so it is here where WSTTB must make a strong case, thus it is not surprising that this chapter is handled by Mathison himself.
In his introduction to his topic, Mathison points out something very, very important to how anyone should approach hyperpreterists. Mathison says:
“..our concern here is not to critique the particular forms of hyperpreterism [since there are so many varieties]. Instead, our concern is with the foundational hyper-preterist thesis. If that thesis can be demonstrated to be biblically invalid, then all the systems built on that foundation automatically collapse.” (pg 156) This is significant because one tactic of hyperpreterists is for you to address their personal version of hyperpreterism – doing so will only bog you down in dealing with their personal errors. Instead, take Mathison’s approach & deal with the over all thesis or premises of hyperpreterism, just as a person who disagrees with man-made global warming would be wasting their time fighting individual environmental legislation based on that premise instead of dealing with the over all premise.
Mathison’s first argument is to look at how Old Testament time texts were used. For example, he cites the phrase “day of the Lord” which as Mathison demonstrates was meant generally as judgment & thus there have been many days of the Lord in the Old Testament (pg 159). Mathison then points out a concept called “telescoping” which is where a prophecy is half fulfilled at one time & half fulfilled at a later time. He cites Dan 11:21-35 then Dan 11:36-12:3. Mathison relates that the first citation is typically interpreted by Bible scholars as pertaining to events in the six-century B.C. & rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second-century. The second citation, Mathison says does not correspond to any known events in the life of Antiochus IV or anyone else. Mathison goes on to note that prophecies can also have multiple fulfillments. Think of all of the prophecies about David & how these also applied to Jesus. So, time texts may be relative to the context of the fulfillment.
When Mathison approaches the time texts in the New Testament, he points out first that words such as “near” & “at hand” as used by Jesus may indicate close proximity rather than a time frame; for instance in Mt 12:28. Jesus would phrase events sometimes as if they were to happen immediately & other times he would be speaking about the same events but it appears to be yet to happen. (For example the resurrection of believers – John 5:24-29 & John 11:25-26) Mathison spends a few pages detailing these apparent ambiguous usages. With this, Mathison appears to be advocating for the typical Reformed position of “already-not-yet” concept wherein many of the fulfillments had an immediate & yet delayed effect.
Mathison’s approach to the “coming of the Son of Man” is now a position I hold as well. (pgs 181-185) This is framed by Dan 7:13 wherein we read:
“ I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.” (Dan 7:13 NKJV)
Comparing this to many of the passage in the N.T. where we see Jesus speak about the soon/about to be/at hand/within that generation coming we can see that there is no need to downplay the time texts. Jesus was indeed about to come on the clouds before the Ancient of Days. This is NOT about a coming back to earth. Hyperpreterists in their effort to be “consistent” often shoehorn the text into one meaning & therefore miss the real meaning.
Mathison continues to break down the various hyperpreterist thesis on specific texts but I will not recount that here as this is supposed to be a review, not a rewrite. Mathison concludes by denouncing the hyperpreterist thesis that claims there are only two options – hyperpreterists will claim that either Jesus came in the first-century or that the liberals/atheists are correct to reject Christianity as a failure. To this Mathison says: “In [hyperpreterism’s] insistence that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already occurred, hyper-preterism has been forced to revise and/or reject numerous biblical doctrines. The result of this is not only a completely different eschatology [than that of historic Christianity], but also a much different religion.” (pg 213) It is this realization that eventually caused me to reject hyperpreterism. The hyperpreterist must realize that he doesn’t help God save face by claiming the second coming happened in AD70, hyperpreterism undermines God’s sovereignty & still leaves Christianity as a failure – since hyperpreterism would have 2000 years of Christian expression having been fundamentally wrong until the hyperpreterists came advocating their views. It would mean a radically different religion that is not connected with the 2000 years of Christianity that had been practiced. In effect, adopting a hyperpreterist view would make someone not like any kind of Christian that has come before.
Review of Chapter 5
When some people read the Bible, they think the book of Revelation is the exclusive “prophecy” book of Bible. They think that EVERYTHING within it is yet in our future. Chapter 5 of WSTTB is authored by Simon Kistemaker & it pertains to the book of Revelation & how hyperpreterism approaches its contents.
First, Kistemaker gives a brief summary of Postmillennialism. This is significant for several reasons. Kistemaker is trying to show that the triumphant or victorious, “forward look” is not indigenous to hyperpreterism. Since hyperpreterists often come from dispensationalism & doom & gloom “Left behind” origins – they often don’t consider that the bulk of Christianity had considered the continued domination of all things, via Christ & the preaching of the kingdom – this was even BEFORE it was called systematically, “Postmillennialism”. Kistemaker goes further to show that the term “preterism” actually originally belonged to the Postmillennialists (pg 218). It wasn’t until about 1970s-90s when the hyperpreterists have so sullied the theological term, that I prefer not to even use it all. Kistemaker makes reference to how traditional preterism has come to be called “partial-preterism” (as inaccurate as that is) & the hyper version has been often labeled as “full-preterism”.
After summarizing the difference between traditional preterism & hyperpreterism, Kistemaker then briefly & rather neutrally opens the book of Revelation via the early/late date controversy. (pg 219) Kistemaker unpacks the so-called “internal evidence” for an early authorship.
Whether a person takes the early or late dating, Kistemaker makes a strong case that large parts of Revelation are meant to be taken figuratively.
As a hyperpreterist reader progresses through Kistemaker’s chapter, the reader will spot many things to attack, such as Kistemaker’s constant reference to the “end of time”. Even as a non-hyperpreterist, we must be clear: THE BIBLE NEVER USES THE PHRASE ‘END OF TIME’. However, there are a few references in the Bible to the “time of the end”.
So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, “Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end.” (Dan 8:17 NKJV)
“At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through.” (Dan 11:40 NKJV)
Hyperpreterists will seize on this like piranhas on a corndog (credit to Dee Dee Warren for euphemism). But neither does this mean hyperpreterists are correct, for the Bible speaks of MANY “end times” & THAT is the issue that needs to be sorted out. Which “end” belongs to what era – some of the events clearly speak of the first-century whereas much of the New Testament speaks not so much of “end times” as it does consummation. A consummation is neither an “end” nor even a “conclusion”.
Anyhow this is a review of WSTTB, not a personal refutation of hyperpreterism. My own writings on & against hyperpreterism can be accessed on http://preteristblog.com
When Kistemaker addresses the hyperpreterist notion of a first-century return of Christ, Kistemaker makes a strong point when he asks: “if Jesus returned when Jerusalem was destroyed, why would the early Christians near the end of the first-century utter the prayer ‘Maranatha’ (Our Lord Come!)?” (pg 247) Hyperpreterists answer this in a variety of ways, from claiming there has basically been a two-thousand year conspiracy to claiming there was a first-century rapture that took away all of the “first-rank Christians” leaving behind “second-rank Christians” that didn’t realize what has happened (ala hyperpreterist Ed Stevens). Either way, hyperpreterists want us to believe the Church has been in a crucial & critical error for 2000 years.
As I am trying to give thorough review of WSTTB, both using my historic Christian perspective AND my former hyperpreterist perspective, I must point out a sentence by Kistemaker that either misunderstands or misrepresents what most hyperpreterists believe. Kistemaker says: “The hyper-preterist made the case that when Jesus returned, both Satan and the Antichrist were thrown into the lake of fire. These two enemies were crushed and removed from the scene when Jesus returned to the city of Jerusalem in 70. Since that event, they claim, only sin remains. Sin must be conquered by the followers of Christ, so that the world in which they live may be lifted to increasingly higher levels of morality.” (pg 249)
Most hyperpreterists DON’T believe sin remains, as a matter of fact many hyperpreterists quote Romans 5:12-13 as “proof” against sin remaining:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Rom 5:12-13 NKJV)
From here, many hyperpreterists have jumped onto universalism (everyone is “saved”). I would say the preterist universalists are probably the most consistent form of hyperpreterists. However, there are some hyperpreterists that are more “postmil” in their approach to sinfulness & claim it will continue to decrease as time goes on (ala hyperpreterist Kelly Birks).
As a matter of fact, the view that Jesus dealt the deathblow to sin & death ISN’T a hyperpreterist concept – many Reformed theologians espoused this same view without going hyper. For instance, John Owen penned the great classic, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”. The title says it all. This seems to be another problem with hyperpreterists, they think they are the first to understand some of these concepts, mainly because many hyperpreterists came directly out of dispensationalism into hyperpreterism & thus they know nothing of Christian history or historic theology.
A strong point against hyperpreterism, which Kistemaker makes, is about the Millennium. (pg 249-250) The majority of hyperpreterists claim the Millennium was sometime between Jesus’ earthly ministry & the year AD70. Even if we allow that Millennium ISN’T a literal 1,000 years, it does at least signify a long, perhaps indefinite period or a totality. It would make more sense that Millennium can be longer than just 1,000 years but it makes no sense to compress it into 30-40 years as hyperpreterism does.
When Kistemaker addresses the hyperpreterist concept of a “spiritual resurrection”, he points out that the Athenian pagans understood the “immortality of the spirit and the destruction of the body”, which in contrast to the common Jewish/Christian understanding of resurrection. (pg. 251) But actually, the word resurrection in the New Testament is NOT used only to denote a physical rising, but also the immediate “born again” experience. This again is another problem with hyperpreterism, it tries to shoehorn words into only one meaning…I think this is what hyperpreterists erroneously think “consistency” means.
To conclude the review of this chapter, I can only say that Kistemaker’s contribution might be called the typical “futurist” view & it seems he pins too much on his argument that the book of Revelation was written post-AD70, especially since perhaps the rest of the contributors to WSTTB appear to advocate a pre-AD70 authorship.
Review of Chapter 6
Douglas Wilson was tasked with a very important chapter since behind all proof-texting & wrangling over interpretation is perhaps the meat of this issue – authority. Who gets to say what the Bible says? Hyperpreterists tend to claim they are simply interpreting the “Bible alone” & often-erroneous claim they are like the Reformers, when actually they are more like the Arians or the radical reformers. At any rate Wilson’s chapter covered the topic of Sola Scriptura, Creeds, & Ecclesiastical (Church) Authority. This is the sticking point not only for hyperpreterists but often for any cultic group, so if the authors of WSTTB are going to make an impact, they’d better make a strong showing here.
After opening with an analogy that basically compares hyperpreterism to a one-trick pony, Wilson makes a very prescient observation. He informs that readers be prepared for a barrage of hyperpreterist responses to WSTTB.
I am trying to prepare the reader to understand what will follow the publication of this book, or for that matter, any other book like it…the flood of responses will necessarily be quite narrow, and will routinely misrepresent what is at stake. (pg 256)
Yes indeed how observant is Wilson since at the time of this review, I know of at least 3 DIFFERENT hyperpreterist responses in the works. It seems the hyperpreterists can’t get organized enough to put forth just one response.
Wilson makes another great point that anyone who plans on engaging hyperpreterists should be mindful.
If someone were to maintain that God did not know the location of a particular town in South Dakota, and we were to debate with him, the resultant debate would not be over geography. In the same way, before we can understand our debates with hyper-preterists, we have to recognize that it is not fundamentally a debate about eschatology at all. The fundamental question is one of authority. (pg 256)
This is so true. Hyperpreterists will demand you have a conversation with them about “time-texts” & such but really the issues are larger than that. The question is; did God leave the Church in such a mess for 2000 years that it has grossly misunderstood the most basic concepts of eschatology? Hyperpreterism REQUIRES a conspiracy mentality before it can be embraced.
Wilson goes on to outline the “restorationist” underpinning of not only hyperpreterism but much of American Christianity – restorationism basically has a notion that the true Gospel & true Church had failed somewhere & needs to be restored. Again, Wilson is spot-on since the original & even now most frequent leaders of hyperpreterism all come from the restorationist denomination called the “church of Christ”. This group advocated the Church had fallen into apostasy & that they had to “restore” it to its former pure state. So much for the gates of hades not prevailing against the Church. (pgs 257-258)
Wilson builds the case that the phrase “Sola Scriptura” is a “creed” in of itself – especially since “creed” simply means “belief” or “I believe”. (pg 260) Anytime a person goes around saying they have “No Creed but Christ” or they only believe the Bible, it is a contradiction since in essence by saying they are non or anticreedal, they are actually saying they have no beliefs. We are getting at the crux of the issue, which is that what we believe about the Bible is either via our own private interpretation (such as the hyperpreterists) or we believe in line with 2000 years of historic Christianity. Hyperpreterists recoil at the notion of believing the same thing as 2000 years of Christianity, as hyperpreterists think that means either being a Roman Catholic or hyperpreterists will try to claim there has been no consistent historic Christian interpretation on eschatology.
Wilson points out that Sola Scriptura as the Reformers put forth was not like how many people today make it to be SOLO Scriptura. (pg 261-262) This goes along well with Wilson making the allusion that when someone claims they just use the Bible, we could ask them what is the Bible? Why only 66 books? Why not more or less? Who has decided these things? This is really what we mean by authority of the collective Christian witness. The go-it-alone approach will always fail since Christianity was NOT designed to be a loner’s religion. Wilson sums it up this way:
It is not possible to have a Scriptura that we can appeal to, sola, solo, or otherwise, without having a coherent doctrine of the teaching authority of the historic Christian church. (pg 263)
Wilson packs a powerful punch on this point when he penned:
[The Church] has published the most fundamental creed imaginable – the table of contents of the Bible. (pg 265)
This alone should silence the silly slathering of hyperpreterists as they contort what Sola Scriptura means. I mean, before a hyperpreterist can claim to be following the “Bible alone” as the inspired Word of God, they must first submit to the Christian witness that the 66 books therein (no more & no less) are indeed the Word of God. Quite a catch-22 for hyperpreterists.
Wilson wisely points out:
If each subsequent generation has to determine all confessional issues from scratch, then this requirement applies to the formation of the canon of Scripture as well. In fact, reason would require that it apply to the formation of the canon first. (pg 265)
Hyperpreterists can’t get around this. By accepting just the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, the hyperpreterists are subscribing to a dreaded “creed” & don’t even admit it.
Perhaps Wilson best captures what hyperpreterism lacks when he addresses what he calls the “spirit of mutual submission” or being in subjection to every other Christian, not just your own little group nor to one man be he Pope or pastor. (pg 267)
Hyperpreterists mainly come from disgruntled Christians who had trouble in their former situations even before they became hyperpreterists – plainly, most hyperpreterists already had socialization or authority issues even before they became hyperpreterists. They cannot & will not submit to other Christians but instead consider 2000 years of Christians too dumb & not worth their time.
Now, lest anyone accuse Wilson of merely being a high-handed authoritarian that wants to tell others what to believe, let them ponder this quote.
“A host of individualists warn us in dire tones about the dangers of ecclesiastical despotism, while aspiring despots point to the chaos caused by fragmented individualism…We should prefer an orthodox individual over an heretical council every time – and an orthodox council over an heretical individual.” (pgs 267-268)
To bring home the point Wilson is trying to make, I quote:
“The Word binds us & knits us all together with every ligament. The Lord said that the world will know that we are his people through the love we bear to one another (John 13:35). This love is characterized by mutual submission & striving for like-mindedness. In short, the Word of God is given to us so that we might come to confess it together. The Word was never given to an individual so that he might possess it independently of the Church. The Scriptures are not just to shape an individual’s opinions, but rather to tie all saints together in love. But the ‘saints together’ have another name as well – we call them the Church.” (pg 268)
Speaking of the constant mantra of the “restorationists” who claim things have gone grossly wrong & that we need to get back to the “New Testament Church”, Wilson says:
“We should certainly want our churches to be ‘New Testament churches’ in the sense that we want them to line up with the teaching & promises of the New Testament. But there is an historical sense which this primitivist desire is actually regressive & infantile. This infantilism ignores what the New Testament itself anticipates about the future history of the Church. The first century was not the golden age of the Church; rather it was the foundation age of the Church.” (pg 270)
On pages 274-275 Wilson does a fine job at explaining why it is NOT “loving” to just accept hyperpreterists as “brothers with a different theological opinion”, as you’ll often hear hyperpreterists try to inject themselves in historic Christianity.
Between pages 275-279 Wilson interacts with a few points made by hyperpreterist teacher John Noe (should I name-drop & say that Noe lives in my city & I have met with him several times? – just as a point of reference for the reader to consider the extent of my former involvement the hyperpreterist movement). Noe trots out the typical hyperpreterist mantra against creeds but just like most hyperpreterists, Noe ends up projecting the over-arching premises of hyperpreterism; that there has either been a 2000 year conspiracy or that 2000 years of Christians have been too dumb to see what hyperpreterists see – either case leaves us with a Christianity that is worthless.
On page 279 Wilson makes a very, very important comment when dealing with hyperpreterists. Hyperpreterists think they are the new Luthers, the new Reformation – especially as they co-op the slogan “Sola Scriptura”. Wilson says:
“Because many have understood the magisterial Reformation’s phrase, sola Scriptura, in terms of the Anabaptist solo Scriptura, it is easy for modern Christians to think that a return to the original understanding of sola Scriptura is an abandonment of it. This is simply the result of historical & theological ignorance.” (pg 279)
On the heels of that kind of reasoning, hyperprreterists will often claim a person who is actually advocating for the ORIGINAL form of sola Scriptura is instead “returning to Rome & mama Church”. Wilson follows this up by showing that hyperpreterists are actually closer to Rome in their approach to the Church – since for both hyperpreterists & Rome, “agree that authority & infallibility stand or fall together” (pg 280).
Over the course of the next few pages, Wilson answers possible objections hyperpreterists might & often do raise to historic Christianity.
Possible Hyperpreterist Objections Addressed:
The Church has no authority (pgs 279-208)
Early Christianity was too influenced by Greeks (pgs 280-282)
Orthodoxy is stifling man-made traditions (pgs 282-283)
Hyperpreterism is just a minor difference of opinion (pgs 283-284)
Wilson concludes the chapter by reminding us that Christianity is a group thing & that it was never meant to be a go-it-alone religion. He pointedly says:
“If we insist on individual ‘veto power’ over all the creeds of men, we have not successfully gotten away from man-made creeds. We have simply submitted to the creed of one, a creed that is often composed on the fly.” (pg 284)
Or as another axiom goes, “Radical individualists have merely replaced the Pope in Rome for the pope in the mirror”.
Review of Chapter 7
Chapter 7 starts out quickly with its author, Robert Strimple relating how most Christians receive the teachings of hyperpreterism, which is with the question; “How in the world can they say that?” (pg 287) But then Strimple, like most of the other contributors of WSTTB reminds the reader that when dealing with hyperpreterism, you must first consider the hyperpreterist motivation for denying 2000 years of Christian interpretation. (pgs 287-291) Strimple points out that the hyperpreterist premise is actually driven by the skeptics’ objections rather than by Christian faith:
“it is the skeptics who really control his [the hyperpreterist] interpretation, not only of the resurrection, but of virtually the entire New Testament! That is because his ‘presupposition’ is that the skeptics are correct about what the New Testament teaches about the timing of the events at the consummation.” (pg 292)
Strimple continues saying there is scant information in the O.T. about life after death. He says 2 Tim 1:9-10 is key to proper understanding of the O.T. teaching about the believer’s life after death & bodily resurrection. Strimple points out that though some O.T. references to physical resurrection, such as the Valley of Dry Bones (Ez 37:1-14) should be understood as metaphorical, metaphorical aspects must have a “concrete phenomenon behind it” (pg 293-294).
Strimple then reviews perhaps the most often quoted O.T. text in support of a physical resurrection of believers – Job 9:25-27, noting that there is a dispute as to whether the verses say – in, from or without “my flesh I will see God” (pg 294-295). Strimple bolsters the argument by noting that whether rightly or wrongly, it can be shown that mainstream Jews during the time of Jesus believed there would be a physical resurrection (pg 295-296). This is even evident from Martha’s statement about Lazarus (John 11:24). Perhaps hyperpreterists might try to claim Jesus corrects Martha on this point, but was it that or Jesus explaining the resurrection is a physical rising but also more than that. Further, Paul in Acts 23:6 associates himself with those very same Jews that believed in a physical resurrection – the Pharisees & in opposition to those that denied it – the Sadducees. It would seem that if Paul believed something different than the Jews idea of a physical resurrection, he never clarified it. Further, Strimple relates how in non-biblical Greek literature, when resurrection is mentioned, it is done so in context of its impossibility. This is important in how it compares with how the Greeks received Paul on Mars Hill/Aeropagus & “sneered” when he mentioned the resurrection. (Acts 17:16-34). This shows that the Greeks in Paul’s day understood him to be speaking of a physical resurrection – had he been speaking of a spiritualized resurrection, he would have been received more readily. (pgs 298-301)
Next, Strimple takes on the “founder” of hyperpreterism – Max King – pointing out that the Kingite error of claiming that the resurrection was only the rising of the Church (starting with the “faithful Jews”) “out of the Old Testament Jewish System” (pg 302). This reasoning ignores the personal need & call to be “re-born”, a need & call that was applied by Jesus & the apostles to both the Jews & the Gentiles. As a matter of fact, the apostles probably spent more time witnessing to Gentiles than they did to the Jews.
The hyperpreterist notion of the resurrection being merely a rising “out of the O.T. Jewish System” falls apart since many to whom the apostles preached the resurrection were NEVER part of the “O.T. Jewish System”
Strimple accurately relates why King & his fellow hyperpreterists can’t help but misread the Bible on the resurrection:
“King’s failure adequately to consider the context, the immediate context in which a passage of Scripture appears, is one of his fundamental errors. The only ‘context’ that he considers is his own faulty concept of the overarching covenantal framework of the entire Bible. For King, that schematic controls everything, so that it is impossible for the biblical writer, by the Spirit’s inspiration, to write straightforwardly on any subject in words clear enough that King cannot twist them so as to make them fit in with his preconceived system.” (p 303)
Strimple goes on to make reference how King’s “collective body” view has waned some & now there are other factions of hyperpreterists that take an “immortal body at physical death” view – as inconsistent as that is with their over all paradigm. (pgs 304-309). Recently though, it seems the pendulum may be swinging back in favor of King’s view.
The next thing Strimple touches on is the issue of what it was that the Corinthians were actually denying. Were they denying any life after death at all or were they denying physical resurrection or something altogether different? The point made by Strimple’s quoting of theologians such as John Calvin is that the text doesn’t make it completely clear. Which brings us to the point that much of hyperpreterism is built on the speculative “fill-in-the-blanks” approach. (pgs 309-311)
Strimple then goes to the heart of the hyperpreterist “apologetic” – The Hymenaeus & Philetus issue. Many non-hyperpreterists think that they can simply quote 2 Tim 2:17-18 & be done with hyperpreterism. Let’s see what the text says:
And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.
I call this the heart of the hyperpreterist “apologetic” in agreement with what Strimple observes:
“Hyper-preterists profess to be completely unruffled by the charge that their teaching falls under Paul’s condemnation of Hymenaeus & Philetus. Indeed they seek to turn this problem text into a proof text for their position” (pg 313)
The hyperpreterist “turning” or twisting of this text into a hyperpreterist proof text is seen in this quote from a hyperpreterist:
“How could this errant belief of an already-come parousia and resurrection have arisen within the church if the apostolic teaching of the resurrection were a physical one?…If the apostle taught such a resurrection, how could anybody possibly have come up with the notion that it had already happened?” (Harden quote – p 314)
And then Strimple answers how Christians should answer:
“Why, in the same way that the hyperpreterists have come up with that ‘errant belief’, despite the apostle’s having taught such a resurrection and the church having confessed her faith in such a resurrection for two thousand years!” (p 314)
Strimple then tackles Max King’s views on ‘death’ being ‘swallowed up in victory’ – 1 Cor 15:21-24 (p 315). For the next few paragraphs, Strimple almost humorously goes through the grammatical gymnastics that King’s views must endure. It is also annoying to see how King, being of the ‘church of Christ’ background has little understanding of Reformed Theology yet unwittingly utilizes some Reformed concepts but must give them new names because he is so unfamiliar with historic Christianity. (pgs 315-316)
The gist of King’s & his fellow hyperpreterists argument is that the death that Adam was cursed with was not physical death, so therefore the life regained in Christ will not be physical life (i.e. physical resurrection).
As already pointed out – OF COURSE – the Reformers did a good job of explaining this before King & his fellow hyperpreterists stumbled upon it. The problem is, Adam WAS cursed with “judicial death” (p 316) AND with physical death – thus Christ DID come to restore BOTH, or rather threefold as Strimple states.
“It is only on the basis of the total revelation of Scripture that we learn that the death with which Adam was threatened if he disobeyed was threefold: psycho-physical, judicial, and moral-spiritual.” (p 319)
Strimple next takes up the issue of cosmic conclusion – will there be an ultimate & decisive victory over sinfulness of the world? Strimple points out that the hyperpreterist paradigm says no – that instead sin will never ultimately be overcome. He then points to the work by the anti-hyperpreterist, Gary North where North notes that:
“…hyperpreterist eschatology is really an anti-eschatology, because it insists that no truly ‘last things’ lie ahead. What is now will forever be, with Christians living on this God-created, but sin-cursed earth, suffering, dying, going to heaven, and a new generation of believers living, suffering, dying, going to heaven. Thus, ‘this view grants to Satan what the creeds & confessions deny: influence in history forever” (p 322)
Seeing how words are used in the Bible & in extra-biblical literature is important – especially if people are trying to introduce a completely new or different meanings. At the time WSTTB was written, a faction of the hyperpreterists were beginning to ‘figurativize’ even the Genesis account so as to retro-act their figurative concepts onto the Creation & Flood accounts. In this way, they attempt to hyperpreterize the Bible from start to finish.
A point that while I was a hyperpreterist seemed to be a weak argument by historic Christians was the handling of 2 Peter 3:8 (thousand years are like a day to God). As a hyperpreterist, I would criticize this as a vague cop out that allows a person to elasticize the ‘end-times’ as long as they wanted. But Strimple brings up a very good point.
“Such a reminder would hardly have been made if the Parousia was coming in just a few years!” (p 326)
The next aspect Strimple addresses is the physical-same-body resurrection of Jesus. It seems Strimple is at first implying that the hyperpreterists deny Jesus’ physical resurrection. Most hyperpreterists do not deny it, however even like many Christians, hyperpreterists often try to make the case that the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body was different than before His crucifixion. For example, they will cite such things as how He appeared behind closed doors (John 20:19, John 20:26). Like some Christians, the hyperpreterists will claim Jesus passed through the walls/door in a ghostly ability. But the text doesn’t say Jesus passed through the walls/door but merely appeared behind closed doors. This isn’t the first miracle Jesus performed that should have been physically impossible – remember that He walked on water BEFORE His resurrection. (Mt 14:25-26) Strimple makes this argument on pages 328-329.
So, what is the connection Strimple wants us to see about hyperpreterist beliefs? It is that hyperpreterists’ playing on an error, even an error accepted by some Christians that Jesus’ post-resurrection body was ghostly continues in even worse error when hyperpreterists try to apply, or rather misapply their erroneous conclusions.
“So irrefutable is the evidence that Jesus’ premortem body was raised, that even hyper-preterists realize that they cannot simply deny that. Instead, they try to explain why our resurrection will not be a resurrection of our premortem body – even though our Savior’s was – and our present body will remain in the grave forever.” (p 330)
The hyperpreterists must make their potential convert think that Jesus’ postmortem physical body was somehow different, since this is partially the basis upon which hyperpreterists build the ‘spiritual’ body of the believers resurrection. In summary, Strimple argues that the pattern of resurrection is that the believers’ resurrection will ALSO be like Christ’s resurrection & since there was physicality in Christ’s resurrection, so too will there ALSO be physicality in the resurrection of the believers (p 334). Then Strimple wisely warns us:
“Any who plan to read hyper-preterist literature should be forewarned that they will encounter semantic sleight of hand on this vitally important point…Humpty-Dumpty insisted to Alice in Wonderland that words can mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, but to use the terms ‘body’ & ‘bodily’ as the hyper-preterists do is to obfuscate rather than to communicate.” (pgs 335-336)
Perhaps in the most pivotal point surrounding the resurrection of the believers, Strimple addresses the Greek word, ‘soma’ – body.
“Paul uses the word ‘soma’ forty-six times in 1 Corithinans, more than in any other New Testament book.” (p 336)
Since this is merely meant to be a book review & not a re-writing of WSTTB, I will not go much further but encourage the reader to take some time to study the soma/body issue in more detail. Strimple probably best concludes with this sentence:
“We have said that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was utter foolishness to the unbelieving first-century Greek mind; and, of course, in this twenty-first century it is considered no less ridiculous by unbelievers – and, sad to say, by hyper-preterists!” (p 339)
Strimple concludes with telling us the real goal of hyperpreterism when it comes to their attempt to interact with Christians:
“A prime hyper-preterist goal is to be accepted by Christians as offering an orthodox Christian theology that offers a distinctive eschatological option. Evangelicals have for years debated among themselves such viewpoints as amillennialism, premillennialism, and postmillennialism. Why not set another chair at the evangelical table now and extend a warm welcome to the hyper-preterists as fellow members of Christ’s church?” (p 351)
Now we reach the conclusion of WSTTB & of this review. Mathison goes right to the point when he says:
“Biblical eschatology has long been one of the most debated topics of Christian theology. Yet in spite of the numerous debates, believers have always agreed that the second coming of Jesus Christ, the general resurrection, and the Last Judgment are all future events according to Scripture. But hyper-preterists have come along and thrown down a theological gauntlet. They suggest that the church is not merely mistaken about a few secondary eschatological issues; instead, they argue that the church’s entire eschatological outlook has been backwards for almost two thousand years.” (p 353)
And it is this argument by hyperpreterists that disconnects them from historic Christianity. Whatever hyperpreterism is, it is NOT anything like ANY KIND of Christianity. It is something altogether foreign to Christianity. It was partially this realization that woke me up from being a hyperpreterist. I was beginning to apply my hyperpreterism in such a “consistent” manner & the more I did the more I saw I could not rightfully call myself a Christian. Unfortunately, many hyperpreterists try to straddle the line. They think they can call themselves Christians all the while denying everything it means to be a Christian. What is worse is when Christians, out of some desire to be “generous”, validate hyperpreterism by calling them “brothers” or treating their beliefs as if they are as acceptable as any other.
I thank the authors of WSTTB for their contribution to the biblical principle of contending for the faith once & for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).