Will the Real Anti-Prophets Please Stand Up?
By Gary DeMar
Gary DeMar Study Archive | Norman Geisler and “This Generation” | Norman Geisler, “You,” & “Zechariah the Son of Berechiah” | Biblical Minimalism and the “History of Preterism” | Thomas Ice and the Time Texts | Will the Real Anti-Prophets Please Stand Up? | Time’s Puff Piece: The Devil is in the Details | Dispensationalism : Being Left Behind | Zechariah 14 and the Coming of Christ | Defending the Indefensible | No Fear of the Text | The Passing Away of Heaven and Earth | Who or what is the Antichrist | Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed | Identifying Antichrist | On Thin Ice | Using the Bible to Interpret the Bible | DeMar Articles
On December 18, 1956, Clayton Heermance, a.k.a. Bud Collyer, who was the radio voice of Superman, landed what would become his most successful game-show hosting job ever–Goodson-Todman’s To Tell The Truth. The show had three contestants who claimed to be the same person and a panel of four celebrity questioners who tried to determine which one was telling the truth and which two were lying. Following the questions, each panelist voted for whom he or she thought was telling the truth. “Wrong guesses were worth money to all three contestants, who split the money equally.” 
Throughout the show’s 12-year prime-time and day-time run on CBS, such celebrities as Polly Bergen, Kitty Carlisle, Ralph Bellamy, Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, Phyllis Newman, and Bert Convy would try to pick out the real John/Jane Doe. The famous closing line for each round was, “Will the real __________________ please stand up!” The show has been reprised and can be seen in syndication. The host of the new To Tell the Truth is John O’Hurley, the actor who played Mr. Peterman on Seinfeld.
Why the stroll down TV memory lane? I received a book written by Larry Spargimino with the title, The Anti-Prophets: The Challenge of Preterism. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, preterism is a view of Bible prophecy which claims that most Old and New Testament prophetic passages have already been fulfilled. “Preterism” is derived from the Latin word praeteritus which means “past,” “former,” “earlier.” Spargimino is a futurist. He believes that many prophetic passages in the Old Testament and most in the New Testament have not been fulfilled even though the Bible clearly states that they were to happen “shortly,” within a generation. Because I and other preterists do not follow Spargimino’s futuristic perspective, he has labeled us as “anti-prophets.”
If modern-day preterists are “anti-prophets,” then we are in good historical company. A survey of the most widely read and respected commentaries over the past four-and-a-half centuries will show that preterism, not the strained futurism of dispensational premillennialism, was the predominate prophetic system held by Bible believing Christians. This is a fact that is not in dispute. Dispensational premillennialism is a nineteenth-century invention while preterism has a long history behind it. We’ll come back to this topic in a moment.
A Muddy-the-Waters Debate
Instead of dealing with preterism in a systematic and exegetical manner, Spargimino confuses his readers (including me) by adding extraneous information that has nothing to do with preterism. For example, he writes, “Preterism, covenant theology, post-millennialism, Kingdom-Now theology, dominion theology, the Christian Reconstruction movement, and theonomy are all related concepts.” No they aren’t. There are numerous postmillennialists who are not preterists, just like there are premils and amils who are. And just to rub it in, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are premillennial. In fact, most cults are premillennial. The Christian Reconstruction movement is not monolithic on either postmillennialism or preterism. So-called Kingdom-Now theology has no theology. I can’t recall ever reading a book by any of these guys (e.g., Earl Paulk) that deals with the Bible in an expositional manner. Most wouldn’t know the difference between pre-trib and pre-millennial, post-trib and post-millennial.
Spargimino then rambles on for pages detailing the work of Rousas John Rushdoony and his assessment of American culture and the need to return to a biblical foundation. Apparently taking issue with this emphasis, Spargimino asks, “Was the real problem with America due to the fact that America had lost sight of its godly heritage?” Again, I am confused: What does this question have to do with preterism since preterism has been around for hundreds of years and taught be countless numbers of sound biblical scholars, something that Spargimino admits? Many of these long-dead preterists weren’t even Americans!
Just for fun, let’s follow Spargimino down the “godly heritage” rabbit trail. Tim LaHaye, who holds prophetic views almost identical to those of Spargimino and is the most famous prophecy writer in our day with his multi-volume Left Behind series, places a great deal of emphasis on “the fact that America [has] lost sight of its godly heritage.” In fact, he’s written several books on the subject. Spargimino claims that people like LaHaye are not like the “dominionists” because, quoting Bruce Barron’s Heaven on Earth, “only the dominionists insist that they must run” the government. It was LaHaye who wrote the following in his Faith of Our Founding Fathers, another book dealing with America’s “godly heritage”:
If we sit back and let the secularizers continue to dominate the government, the courts, the media, and education, [our religious] guarantees will be lost. Fortunately, a groundswell of concerned citizens is getting involved. They are becoming so informed that they will wrest control of this nation from the hands of the secularizers and place it back into the hands of those who founded this nation, citizens who had a personal and abiding faith in the God of the Bible.
It seems to me that it’s LaHaye and those have an “abiding faith in the God of the Bible” who want to run the show, not just “conservatives” who believe in “family values.” LaHaye follows a similar emphasis in his latest book, Mind Siege, co-authored with David Noebel. The authors write that “Every Christian should consider the possibility of running for office. Obviously, God does not want 80 million of us to run for office, but He could use 200,000. (See Proverbs 29:2). . . . It is time to vote into office only those leaders who share our moral values and who will return our laws to the biblical principles on which they were founded.” It is also important to remember that LaHaye was instrumental in starting the Moral Majority in 1979:
A group of pastors of huge “superchurches” decided that the time had come to organize to promote morality in American life. With the help of conservative political organizers Richard Viguerie and Ed McAteer, they put together a nonpartisan political organization that they called Moral Majority. Its head was to be Jerry Falwell, with other board members James Kennedy (Presbyterian from Florida), Dr. Greg Dixon (independent Baptist from Indianapolis), Tim LaHaye (conservative idealogue from California), and Charles Stanley (Southern Baptist from Atlanta).
Not one of these men is a preterist! In fact, Falwell, Stanley, and LaHaye (and Dr. Dixon – tdd) share the same dispensational, end-time philosophy.
In addition to the topics of the “Christian Right” and politics, Spargimino’s takes off on a discussion of Calvinism. This is just another irrelevant digression and distraction since there are non-Calvinists who are preterists, and there are Calvinists who share Spargimino’s prophetic views. There are many Calvinists who are dispensationalists. For example, Thomas Ice, one of several editors of LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible is a Calvinist and a dispensational premillennialist! Ice is also a “presuppositionalist,” another one of Spargimino’s dreaded “preterist connections.” R.C. Sproul is a preterist, and he is not a presuppositionalist. In fact, Sproul participated in a published analysis of presuppositional apologetics: Classic Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics.
While what is written about Rushdoony, political conservatism, Calvinism, biblical law, dominion theology, economics, presuppositional apologetics, and infant baptism–all discussed in chapter 2 of The Anti-Prophets, are interesting and deserving of study in some scholarly setting, they have little to do with preterism. As a result, The Anti-Prophets meanders all over the theological landscape. Even I was confused as to what points Spargimino was attempting to make, and I’m familiar with all the topics he discusses! I kept asking as I was reading: “What does this have to do with preterism?” By the time I got to chapter 3, the theological waters had been so thoroughly muddied that I wondered if anyone would get his point. And then it hit me. Spargimino designed The Anti-Prophets to confuse his mostly uninformed readers, most of whom are not Calvinists, probably have never heard about the debate over presuppositional apologetics, and are apolitical.
It would have been helpful if Spargimino had simply dealt with preterism in a systematic way and left out all the extraneous stuff. Is this too much to ask? It’s not until Chapter 6 on page 125 that we get to the heart of the debate: “The Question of the `Time Texts.'”
Preterism and History
Preterism has a long history. A study of the most widely read Bible commentaries in the last 450 years will show that preterism was the orthodox position of the church. Some of those who wrote on the subject were Baptist (John Gill: 1766), Methodist (Adam Clarke: 1810), and Presbyterian (J. Marcellus Kik: 1948). The Bible was read, especially the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, in terms of a preterist perspective. Jesus was describing the soon-destruction of the temple that took place in A.D. 70.
In addition to Gill, Clarke, and Kik, there are the preterist works of Henry Hammond (1653), John Lightfoot (1658), John Owen (1680), Philip Doddridge (1750), Thomas Newton (1755), N. Nisbet (1787), Thomas Scott (1817), Alexander Keith (1844), Alfred Edersheim (1874), Henry Cowles (1880), Milton Terry (1898), Philip Schaff (1910), Philip Mauro (1924), Jay Adams (1966), and many other lesser known commentators and writers. Compare these to the dispensationalism of Spargimino that did not peak its head over the theological horizon until around 1830. The Scofield Reference Bible (1909) popularized dispensationalism to a mass audience with its ubiquitous notes. The theology behind “Darbyism” and “Scofieldism,” as dispensationalism was often called, was considered heretical when it first made its way through the churches. Former dispensationalist Arthur W. Pink described dispensationalism as a “pernicious error” and the “modern method of mishandling” of Scripture.
The Bible says that Jesus would come in judgment within a generation (Matt. 24:34), before the last apostle died (16:27-28). James, in writing “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1), told them, “the coming of the Lord is at hand . . . [T]he judge is standing right at the door” (5:7, 9). John writes, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arise; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). John would later write that the events depicted in Revelation “must shortly take place” (1:1), “for the time is near” (1:3). Spargimino dismisses these clear statements of biblical fact and maintains that the Bible does not mean what it says. With these two very different opinions vying for biblical support, we ask the question, “Will the real anti-prophet please stand up?”
5. Tim LaHaye, The Bible’s Influence on American History (San Diego: Master Books, 1976). Ed Rowe writes the following in the Foreword: “What is the basic American idea? It is Christian faith and conviction arising from the Word of God and resulting in constructive action in all departments of life, including politics and government” (iii).
9. Nancy T. Ammerman, “North American Protestant Fundamentalism,” Fundamentalisms Observed, eds. Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 43. Also see Ed Dobson, Ed Hindson, and Jerry Falwell, eds., The Fundamentalist Phenomenon, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1986), 114-115.
12. Compare what Spargimino writes about David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, a critique of Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, with what LaHaye writes in The Bible’s Influence on American History: “The Bible’s Influence on Free Enterprise” (43-45).
What do YOU think ?
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- 23 Nov 2001
I really enjoyed this article especially the list of very credible authors holding the “Orthodox” view. (Why should we allow the Dispensationalists to assume they hold the orthodox view?) Thanks for your work Gary.
- 03 Jul 2002
- Remote User:
“matt. 24:32-34 now learn this parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you knoew that summer is near so you also, WHEN YOU SEE ALL THESE THINGS, KNOW THAT IT IS NEAR–AT THE DOORS! assuredly, I say to you, THIS generation will by no means pass away till ALL these things take place. HEAVEN AND EARTH WILL PASS AWAY, but My words will by no means pass away.”(nkj) this cannot refer to the generation living at that time of Christ, for “all these things”–the abomination of desolation (v.15), the persecutions and judgements (vv.17-22), the false prophets (vv.23-26), the signs in the heavens (vv.27-29), Christ’s final return (v.30), and the gathering of the elect (v.31)–did not “take place” in their lifetime. Ir seems best to interpret Christ’s words as a reference to the GENERATION alive at the time when those final hard labor pains begin. v.14 says also and this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and THEN the end will come. This would fit with the lesson of the fig tree, which STRESSES the short span of time in which these things will occur. When the fig branch “puts forth leaves,” only a short time remains until summer. Likewise, when the final labor pains begin, Christ’s return “IS NEAR; IT IS AT THE DOORS!”-John MacArthur also from what i understand is that Matthew was written about 10 to 20 yrs. before the destruction of Jerusalem…now that places you in time frame with this “preterism” and James also about 20 to 25 yrs. before….but Revelation was written about 25 yrs. or more AFTER the destruction of Jerusalem as was 1 John. I don’t get “preterism” “In revelation we about: the final political setup of the world; the last battle of human history; the career and ultimate defeat of Antichrist; Christ’s 1,000 yr. EARTHLY kingdom(very important, b/c here i am and i don’t see him); the glories of heaven and the eternal state; and the FINAL state of the wicked and the righteous.-J.M.
- 14 Dec 2002
Are you saying the people above in your article were partial preterists like yourself, or full preterists? I am not opposed to partial preterism, but my exposure to full preterism leads me to the conclusion that it is heretical; especially, when the proponents begin to change the nature of the bodily physically resurrected Christ. Can you comment? Thank you.
- 30 May 2003
Referring to the Olivet Discourse, it is important to keep in mind Jesus’ audience: the apostles and other people of the first century (Matthew 24:3, 4; Mark 13:3-5; Luke 21:5-8). Thus, the word “you” refers to the apostles and first century believers, not all of Christianity. This is irrefutable proof that Jesus expected the end to come in the first century, when the “you” (some of the apostles and other around Him) would be around to see the end. To say otherwise is to truly mishandle the word of God.
- 31 May 2003
i agree with much of what you say. however, you have to admit that God has not yet established His new kingdom on earth. therefore, there is more stuff yet to come. there should be a final battle that seems set to destroy the whole earth and all the saints must be caught up. i am not a pretriber, i believe christians will go through the tribulation, whether it is 7 years or some other number. there may not be a single antichrist, but i believe there will be a world government under the UN who will unite the world in an attempt to destroy isreal. comments
- 19 Dec 2004
The “futurists” seem to have some (albeit strained) arguments against some of the ways in which Jesus’s statement of his imminent second coming, etc., are phraised in scripture, but by no means all. For example, how would they answer Matt. 16:28 (KJV): “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom”? Or Matt. 10:23?