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Private correspondance not published in our newsletter

An Open Letter To A Radical Preterist

Dear ___________,

Greetings in the name of Jesus. I trust this finds you all doing well. Thank you for your recent letter.

While I appreciate and respect your scholarship and viewpoint on Bible prophecy, ______, I must tell you frankly that I am not fully convinced of the (radical) "preterist" theory of eschatological interpretation.

I have read your book . . .  quite carefully, as well as some other presentations of the position, and I must confess, though I knew little about it before, the more I have familiarized myself with what (radical)  preterist are saying, the less attractive the theory becomes.

The main problem for me is simply lack of evidence. It is hard to imagine that Christ really came as per Matthew 24:29-31 in 70 AD, and the Christian Church has scarcely know about that fact for 2,000 years! The hard core historical evidence is simply lacking, and, in my opinion, that is what really counts. It may be easy for someone living in the sixteenth century to say "they saw Christ coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory in 70 AD," but some of us will have to have a better demonstration from the Patristic Fathers than what anyone I have read so far has given, before being convinced.  Lenski's commentary on Revelation affirms that the Roman Catholic Jesuit, Alcazar, originated what is now known as radical preterism in the sixteenth century, in order to deflect that criticism away from the papacy, which was inherent in the historical interpretation of the Book of Revelation then being advanced by the Protestant reformers (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St.John's Revelation, p. 194).

And as to the interpretation of Matthew 24, I have already explained to you that I find Dr. D.D. Whedon's commentary on that chapter completely satisfactory. Jesus' teaching in that chapter (according to Dr. Whedon) is built on contrast, a contrast between the slow, calculated overthrow of the Jewish state in 66-70, and the lightening-like coming of the Son of man at the eschaton.

But what clinches it for me, ______, is the plain statement of Jesus in Luke 17:22, where Jesus told His disciples that they would NOT live to see one of the days of the Son of man, those days being explained further in verse 26 as being like the days of Noah. If I understand the Luke 17 passage right, Jesus is telling his disciples there that they will NOT live to see his coming in the clouds of heaven (what most refer to as the "second coming"), and I don't think anything could be any plainer than that.

Other problems I have with the preterist viewpoint involve II Peter 3, and the book of Revelation. It appears to me to be "forced" interpretation to apply II Peter 3 to 70 AD.  In what sense did the heaven and earth become "new" in 70 AD that had not been realized 40 years earlier via Calvary and Pentecost? Weren't the disciples fully Christians 40 years before 70 AD? And Didn't they, from earliest days onward, look for "a new heaven and a new earth" that must supersede what they already had then in the Christian age, according to II Peter 3? In what sense then, was that expectation realized in 70 AD? And have we been living in the promised age of righteousness ever since? I hate to be so blunt about it, but it seems to me that too much "fictionalization" (for lack of a better term) is done by my (radical) preterists friends in this regard, without enough substantive evidence to back up the position.

I have a theological objection to the (radical) preterist attempt to make 70 AD an intricate part of the atonement scheme. I don't think that will wash, at least not in my theological tradition. The atonement was completed at Calvary; the kingdom was realized at Pentecost; 70 AD was a judgment on the Jews for their own stubborn intransigence, and their misguided messianic expectation--it had no bearing on the inauguration of the plan of salvation. If it did, then the orthodox Church has not had the gospel right for 2,000 years, as I see it.

Another difficulty of (radical) preterism is its claim over the dating of the book of Revelation. I noticed in your book . . . that you offered no substantive proof for the earlier dating of the Apocalypse than one short sentence or two in passing in which you referred to the work of others. It seems strange to me that you would not give more space in your book to the proofs for the earlier dating of the book of Revelation, seeing that the whole (radical) preterist theory (or at least much of it) depends on that early dating. All the traditional commentaries in my library prefer the later date. Now what that tells me is that the preterist must not only assume an early (pre- 7O A.D.) date of writing for the book of Revelation, they must actually PROVE it beyond a reasonable doubt. I think the question is still too tentative at this stage, at least as far as I am aware, to warrant dogmatism.

The hermeneutics of preterism, I find strikingly similar to the hermeneutics of dispensationalism: that is, placing too much weight on interpretations that lie outside of the mainstream of the consensus of the exegetes of the Christian Church, plus a rather devious pattern of taking verses out of context and ignoring things that contradict the interpreter's own biases and  preconceptions. One example of this is the use of texts written to Gentile believers hundreds of miles away from Palestine (like the II Thessalonian correspondence) and applying them to the Jewish situation in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

As I understand it, 70 AD was a provincial affair. The coming of Christ presented to Gentile believers in the New Testament was cosmic in its application. I cannot see how the unlimited, universal,  cosmic eschatology of the New Testament can be reduced to provincialism, seeing that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles had already been abolished many years earlier at the Cross. Do we need to become Jews, and see things from a pre-Christian Jewish perspective, in order to rightly interpret the New Testament? Isn't that exactly what dispensationalists, too, have been saying all along--that we need to have some special "tinted glasses" on--some "filter"--some esoteric knowledge--, not readily available to the common man, to understand the Bible?

I don't think we have to have some "filter" on to understand the Bible. I absolutely agree that 70 A.D. was important, to be sure. I do not believe it has assumed the status of prominence in eschatology that the (radical) preterists have assigned to it, however.

Admittedly, there are many nuances involved.  We are dealing with tough issues here, and I do not claim to have all the answers either. I am quite willing to accept (radical) preterism for what it is--a theory that attempts to solve the eschatological dilemma. As such, it has its strong points, and it has its weak points. At this juncture, I do not regard it as the pure and unadulterated "gospel truth," however.

Again, let me say that I do value your fine work, and I have not closed my mind to your presentation. I am still thinking, evaluating, sifting, and praying the Holy Spirit to guide into all truth, as Jesus promised. The Bible says that every man should be fully persuaded in his own mind.  _________, it is hard to convince a man who is eating a T-bone steak, of the perceived merits of a baloney sandwich. What I mean is that the onus is on you and me to make our individual cases. I try to make mine in my quarterly paper, and in my other literature I that publish from time to time, as opportunity presents.

I will continue listening, sympathetically and open-mindedly, I trust, to the position that you, too, represent.

Thank you again for your letter.

Sincerely in Christ,

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