Preterism came on the scene as an eschatological synthesis that took seriously the so-called “time texts” of the New Testament and applied them to prophecy. The preliminary results of these endeavors proved to be successful. There were certainly substantive portions of New Testament prophecy that could be applied to historical events of the first century, and this seemed to set the stage for a general hermeneutical approach to prophecy. The general hermeneutical assumption was that all New Testament prophecy could be attributed to a historical event (chronological fulfillment) and that the time texts were not just applicable to some of these events, but all of them. Thus we have what has emerged as Full, Consistent or Hyper Preterism. In this article we will make a distinction between general preterism (acknowledging the implications of time texts on New Testament prophecy) and Full Preterism (The hermenutic mentioned above.)
The promise of Full Preterism was and is appealing. It promises a systematic understanding of texts that have generally been ignored by serious theologians. Orthodox theologian Fr Sergius Bulgakov states:
“the Church has not established a single universally obligatory dogmatic definition in the domain of eschatology” (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 379)
The creed of the historical Church only attests that “He shall come again with glory and judge the living and the dead. His kingdom shall have no end.” Beyond that very vague and open ended affirmation, one which Full Preterists would mostly come to reject, there is little in historical eschatology to compare with the promise of Preterism; and nothing close to what Full Preterism has hoped to achieve.
The problem with the Full Preterist synthesis is that it leapt from the successful interpretation of a few chronological fulfillments, to broad unsubstantiated assumptions as to its hermeneutical approach. One such assumption being that chronological fulfillment is the primary purpose of prophetic fulfillment. In other words that all prophecy has a historical event that it predicts. Further that when prophecies do have chronological fulfillments, that there is no other sort of fulfillment to be expected. Further still, that all aspects of fulfillment must chronologically coincide with a historical event; mostly ignoring any mystical aspects to prophecy. These are hermenutical contentions that most Preteristic schemas never attempt to substantiate, and are taken as matter of fact. This lack of self-criticism is perhaps because Preterists tend to be small in number and very often dialogue amongst themselves. These assumptions however should be substantiated and not taken as matter of fact. Quite frankly I do not think they are warranted, and they create more issues than they resolve in the end.
Another unsubstantiated assumption is that the term fulfillment equates to some degree of cessationism. This leads to an insistence that time texts limit all action of God to the first century. This is untenable on its face seeing that time and space themselves are sustained by the force of God’s will. God cannot vacate creation without creation ceasing to exist. This definition of fulfillment is simply irrational considering the present condition of the cosmos and human existence. Further it is based on a narrow view of ontology. A view, once again, that is taken as a hermenutical principal without qualification. What we have then is Preterism that begins by making great strides toward a consistent prophetic hermeneutic, but then dies by choking on its own assumptions.
In my opinion Preterism has spiked the ball too early. Rather than maintaining an open mind, and a healthy level of self-criticism, Preterism has crystallized into to tribes that are too busy defending their turf to actually engage in any sort of constructive criticism; criticism that is desperately needed to develop this view. In some cases Preterists have devolved into little better than conspiracy theorists; denying history and any other pertinent sources of information. As though for two thousand years Christians have been oblivious to any sort of truth, and that within about fifty years a small group of thinkers have synthesized the perfect eschatology. Am I the only one who thinks that is a bit arrogant? We see further that in Preterists discussion boards that terms like futurists are thrown around as pejoratives, as though acknowledging the future in itself is an error. Preterists have become reactionary and attack anything that suggests an ongoing action of God. Particularly any such action that would suggest a degree of fulfillment or sustained action either in the future or ongoing. This to the point that it is frequently reported that the “Bible is irrelevant to anyone today” and that the Gospel of Christ has no application for anyone today; theological cessationism. The baby has clearly been tossed out with the bathwater, and this in the name of a so-called consistency. As though Preterism is the denial that the world exists after 70AD rather than an acknowledgement of the significance of the first century chronology in regards to prophecy.
It is my opinion that Preterism still has great potential, it however needs much thought and work. It needs to be seen as a work in progress. There are too many assumptions that are being proposed as authoritative, and without substantiation. There are too many views that are not subject to any sort of peer review. The entire view has separated itself from mainstream theology and at times has outright refused to dialogue with those who hold other views. This is tragic and can only lead to a deformed view.
I remain a Preterist in the general sense mentioned in the opening paragraph. I have hope for a complete synthesis – I am intrigued and hopeful of the promise of Preterism. I am just not convinced that we have arrived. There is still much work to be done.