Why I Am A Partial Preterist And Have A Hopeful View Of The Future
There’s a criticism heard in Christian circles. Some optimists are scorned—derided as “preterists.” This seemingly dismissive label is derived from the word "praeter," a Latin term meaning “past.”
Those who believe in the fulfillment of biblical prophecies are called preterists. This interpretive lens tends to clash with the futuristic orientation of many churchgoers.
Let’s face it, Evangelical identity is entangled in futurism. Multitudes believe that the Book of Revelation and other prophecies are waiting to be activated. Thus preterism, with the belief in past fulfillment, is considered erroneous, perhaps even dangerous.
A Christian television host protested the idea of activated prophecies, saying that it provides little to look forward to. He cautioned, “Preterists throw out the Book of Revelation and any future fulfillment of Old Testament promises.”
On a prominent radio broadcast, the host suggested that preterism caused confusion. He warned that this “erroneous teaching” was a symptom of bad doctrine and the abandonment of holiness. The host declared, “It’s a twenty-first century doctrine of demons.”
Naysayers slap on a preterist label and write off what they do not understand. I told an exasperated colleague, “Go ahead and repudiate scriptural claims. Dismiss observations that don’t fit into your theological box. If labeling someone helps you sleep better at night, then, by all means, do it.”
Yes, I’m a preterist. Specifically, I am a partial preterist grounded in the historic creeds and in dialogue with modern theologians like N.T. Wright, Kim Riddlebarger, and Louis Berkhof. You may not agree with my doctrinal position but it, nevertheless, fits within the scope of orthodoxy.
I’m persuaded, after decades of investigation, most prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ first advent and outpouring of the Spirit. Understand--I’m not a hyper-preterist rejecting Jesus’ return, the general resurrection, or the final judgment. These events naturally remain in the future, but most everything else is already activated.
When it comes to my understanding of theology, I truly trust Jesus’ assertion, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Those who are swift to reject preterism ignore the fact that every Christian acknowledges some degree of fulfillment. For example, most recognize that the suffering servant passage in Isaiah 53 was carried out through the death and ascension of Jesus. Thus, all Christians are partial preterists. While some might believe in greater measures of fulfillment, all maintain some degree of completion.
Moreover, futurism is not necessarily a superior way of looking at scripture. The fact you push out the promises of God for another day doesn’t always produce holiness or devotion. It is not always the basis of a faith-filled, conservative theology. In fact, it might be more of a carrot on a stick leading people to discount the power of the cross.
I am a preterist, but so were early revivalists like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney. In rejecting the present-day fulfillment of scripture, you are dismissing an ethos that once sparked spiritual awakenings. If I am a heretic, so were these notable preachers.
Some want to write off any preacher with preterist leanings. They choose to demean and discredit. They are entitled to their opinion. However, I am not ashamed of the present day triumph of Christ. I am persuaded that God’s Kingdom is breaking into history.
We must never forget that the ancient prophets were testifying about Jesus and the New Covenant transition. Ever since the Book of Acts, believers have been residing in a season of unprecedented outpouring. The twenty-first century church should be anticipating restoration, not devastation.
Disagree with me if you must, but don’t despise my assurance of the good news of the gospel.