My preterist testimony

I was in college. In my fourth of five years, I heard about a professor who was fairly “liberal” in theology. A friend of mind took his class on Revelation, and was disturbed by how good the arguments were that Revelation was written about first century events. When my friend explained to me in brief terms the professor’s argument, I, too, was apalled – and intrigued. Something about the whole thing rang true. However, I would put it somewhat on the backburner for a little while.

By the time I was out of college, I was ready to dive in and find out if there was anything to this belief system. A few internet searches, and I found that the name for this scandalous view was “preterism”. I looked at a lot of arguments, asked a lot of questions. I discovered that there are two main types of preterists. Partial preterists see only some of prophecy as related to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and hold out for a future something or other (usually the Second Coming and the Resurrection) in the future. Full preterists, the main type of preterist with whom I corresponded on the theological forums, believe that all eschatological events were fulfilled in those events of the first century. Around this time I was starting to see the Bible as literature rather than as a magic text independent of its original cultural context. I saw that the prophetic diction in the New Testament was not a brand new creation, but that it was built upon the tradition of the Old Testament prophecies, and with this revelation and what it did to the Olivet Discourse (Mat 24-25), I was a preterist. Of some sort, anyway.

Then came to a momentous (and stupid) decision: I would decide whether full preterism was true or not by praying and then reading through all the epistles, trying to see if it all made sense from a full preterist standpoint. I didn’t get all the way through before the inevitable happened: I could not reconcile the relevant eschatological passages as I understood them in my fully dispensationalist mindset with the view of preterism. Surprise, surprise, huh?

This was only a slightly more sophisticated epistemological methodology than closing my eyes, flipping the pages of my Bible, and deciding my future based on what verse my finger happened to land on. The basic problem was that I decided to stop asking questions, and decide based on a hunch – even a prayerful hunch.

This resolution to dismiss preterism seemed to content me for several months. But at the end of that time, something happened that turned on the light in my theological basement, and I could see that my previous study had really cracked my futurist pipes, and I had inadvertently let the leaks trickle in during those months and suddenly became aware that my basement was now full of preteristic theology. The event that triggered this was when a close friend asked me what I thought about a certain passage in Revelation. Without feeling any compunction otherwise, I gave him a summary of the full preterist viewpoint. I stopped talking when, despite his continued nodding, he started looking deeply troubled. I thought to myself, “Wow. Not only have I discovered definitely that I am a preterist, but I think I’ve made an impact on my friend, too!”

Oh, I definitely made an impact. When he went to bed that night, he told his wife in some anguish, “I don’t know what kind of crazy, mixed-up stuff Steve has gotten into, but we need to pray!” And there in their beds that night, they lifted up an impassioned plea for my sanity and/or my restitution to the faith.

A few months later, a family that had left my church when I was in high school to start a church in another town came back into town. I soon discovered that they had become partial preterists themselves. One of them lent my brother-in-law a copy of Gary Demar’s End Times Fiction, and he soon came to agree that most of Matthew’s and Revelation’s prophecies had been fulfilled in the first century, and that the Kingdom had, indeed, come. I was overjoyed with the vindication.

Even when I first looked at the evidence for preterism, I immediately recognized that it seemed most consistent to believe that all New Testament prophecy was pointing to the same event(s). But I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, especially given the extreme minority status of those who do not see any prophecies as yet future. I called myself a preterist, but remained agnostic on the full vs. partial bit, highly suspecting full preterism but holding out cautiously. I spent a couple years trying to find the key that would settle it for me one way or another. Eventually I could no longer justify this agnosticism when I saw that the main constituents of the eschaton – the Second Coming, the Judgment, the Resurrection of the Dead, the New Jerusalem/New Heavens and Earth – were so obviously referring to first century events that any attempts to put off other, less momentous aspects of eschatology for at least 2,000 years seemed unjustifiably artificial, even when I couldn’t quite understand what they meant. That wrestling with something I was already in agreement with was the inspiration for this post.

I’m still learning. Holding a theological position should not be construed as a necessarily permanent thing. When I say that I’m a full preterist, it’s like saying I’m an evolutionist: it answers the most important questions better than any other system I know of, has the fewest problems, and through trend analysis shows the highest probability of addressing the unanswered questions so that I am generally more and more confident in my beliefs.

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