In part one of my book review of Beyond Creation Science by Timothy Martin and Jeffrey Vaughn, I stated that the authors succeeded admirably in one of their objectives, which was to present a Biblical case against young-Earth creationism, with its 6000-year old Earth and global flood. Their second, and perhaps primary, objective was to present a case for a position regarding eschatology (the doctrines regarding the future) known as “full preterism,” and though this was a key part of their argument against young-Earth creationism, I found their case to be far from convincing.
The basic idea of full preterism is that all of the “end times” prophecies of the Bible, including those in the Old Testament, the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25 and parallel passages in Mark and Luke), and in the book of Revelation, were fulfilled in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus has already returned and the resurrection has already happened.
I had not previously read any books on full preterism, though I had been exposed to the concept in conversations with a friend. As I read through Beyond Creation Science, however, I saw a number of problems:
- The basic problem, of course, is that Jesus has not returned. Not in the way that is described in Acts 1:11, which says: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (ESV). The apostles saw Jesus physically ascend to heaven, and we should expect his return to be in the same manner. Martin and Vaughn have a 9-page Scripture index with hundreds of references, but don’t refer to this verse.
- The full preterists describe Jesus’ second coming as a spiritual, rather than a physical, bodily return. According to full preterism, there were physical events associated with his return, but no Jesus descending bodily from heaven. This isn’t a whole lot different than the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 1914 return of Jesus, other than the timing.
- Those who hold to the various futurist eschatologies (e.g. premillenialism or postmillenialism) acknowledge that much of what occurs in the Olivet Discourse is at least partially fulfilled by the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but view this event as a figure of the universal judgment to come. The full preterist position, on the other hand, seems to ignore the possibility of multiple-fulfillment of prophecy. Many Old Testament prophesies about Christ were fulfilled in multiple ways over the centuries. Often there was an immediate fulfilment, and then a complete fulfilment in Christ. Likewise, there is no reason to say that much of what is written in the Olivet Discourse had an immediate fulfilment in the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, but that there will be an ultimate fulfilment of these prophesies in the future when Christ returns.
- Most Biblical scholars place the writing of Revelation in the mid-90s, which was after the destruction of Jerusalem. This is based on the testimonies of early church fathers, not long after the apostolic age.
- Christ’s work for our salvation was complete with his death and resurrection. It did not need the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in order to be complete.
- The early church did not teach that Christ had already returned. Full preterism is in conflict with the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.
Most Evangelical theologians consider full preterism to be less than orthodox. The ESV Study Bible describes preterism (including partial preterism, which is within the historic, orthodox understanding of Christ’s return) as follows:
3. Preterism (from Latin praeteritum, “the thing that is past”) thinks that the fulfillment of most of Revelation’s visions already occurred in the distant past, during the early years of the Christian church. Preterists think these events—either the destruction of Jerusalem or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or both—would “soon take place” only from the standpoint of John and the churches of Asia. Some preterists interpret the order of the visions as reflecting the chronological succession of the events they signify, but others recognize the presence of recapitulation (that is, that distinct, successive visions sometimes symbolize the same historical events or forces from complementary perspectives; see Structure and Outline). Full preterism—which insists that every prophecy and promise in the NT was fulfilled by a.d. 70—is not a legitimate evangelical option, for it denies Jesus’ future bodily return, denies the physical resurrection of believers at the end of history, and denies the physical renewal/re-creation of the present heavens and earth (or their replacement by a “new heaven and earth”). However, preterists who (rightly) insist that these events are still future are called “partial preterists.” (p. 2457, Introduction to Revelation, emphasis added)
The authors focus their critiques on dispenational premillenialism, which in in its popular form (Hal Lindsay, The Left Behind series) has often been guilty of wild speculation and date-setting. Perhaps full preterism is an overreaction to nonsense such as 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 88.
While the book made a good case against young-Earth creationism, I was completely unconvinced by the authors’ arguments regarding eschatology. I will stick with the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of what the church has always taught regarding the return of Christ:
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
Grace and Peace