Friday, May 30, 2014

A brief history of postmil preterism

Postmil preterism has become popular in some contemporary Reformed circles. To my knowledge, Warfield was the first postmil preterist, but it didn't catch on at the time.

Postmillennialism has a long history in Calvinism. But a synthesis of preterism and postmillennialism seems to be more innovative.

Warfield's preterism is clear from how he interprets the Johannine Antichrist (in 1 John) and the Pauline Antichrist (in 2 Thessalonians). That, in turn, commits him, in some measure, to a preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse. 

I don't know if Warfield arrived at his preterism independently of how he arrived at his postmillennialism. His mentor and teacher, Charles Hodge, was a postmil. Warfield began his career as a NT scholar, before succeeding A. A. Hodge at Princeton. I don't know where Warfield picked up preterism. 

I think Reformed postmillennialism was kept alive by Loraine Boettner. He's a bridge between Warfield and the resurgence of postmill preterism. He got clobbered when he contributed to The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. If memory serves, Martin Selbrede helped him behind the scenes to shore up his case.  

To my knowledge, the resurgence of postmil preterism initially took place in theonomic circles, although I don't think Rushdoony was a preterist. I don't know if Bahnsen was the fist to recombine preterism with postmillennialism. 

A further complication was the split between the Rushdoony faction and the Tyler Texas faction. The movement spawned splitter groups, with some former members leaving the movement. It's possible that the resurgence of postmil preterism would have been abortive had it not been for the influential patronage of R. C. Sproul. 

Warfield was easily the most distinguished postmil preterist. Among the current crop, Keith Mathison and Kenneth Gentry seem to be the two best scholars. You also have hack popularizers like Gary DeMar. 

Here's a generally positive review, which–however–registers concerns:

Partial preterism is a very unstable position. If you start with partial preterism, it's hard to stop with partial preterism. In that respect, it's disturbing to see the inroads that preterism is making in some Reformed circles. Here's a glowing review from the OPC rag that's utterly oblivious to the dangers of shipwreck:

And here's a review, by a hyperpreterist, which charts Mathison's drift towards the rocky shoals of hyperpreterism:

There are some very significant changes in this book from some of Mathison's previously written works on eschatology that need to be pointed out. 
The main change is that Mathison used to divided Matthew 24-25 up into two sections--with two comings of Christ: 1) one in AD 70 Mt 24:1-34, and 2) one to end time Mt 24:35ff (cf. Mathison, "DISPENSATIONALISM Rightly Dividing the People of God?" p. 138ff). He is now partially following Gary DeMar's exegesis that the OD (Olivet Discourse) is united and that the coming of Christ in Mt 25:31ff. is also a reference to Christ's return in AD 70 (380). I say "partially" because he will not admit that the "end of the age" is the end of the old covenant age in AD 70 which is contextually tied to the destruction of the temple, which DeMar boldly points out. Mathison's change is curious because he, along with other Reformed theologians in his book, "When Shall These Things Be?" condemned "hyper-preterists" for coming up with exegesis or interpretations that could not be found in the early church fathers. Question, "What early church father taught that the coming of the Son of Man in Mt 25:31 was NOT the "actual" Second Coming of Jesus connected to the general judgment and resurrection - as Mathison has attempted to pull off in "FROM AGE TO AGE?" 
Mathison takes EVERY eschatological text in 1 and 2 Thessalonians as being fulfilled in AD 70 except for 1 Thessalonians 4 (507ff., cf. Mathison, "Postmillennialism An Eschatology of Hope" pp. 225ff.). In order to establish his preterist interpretations of say 2 Thessalonians 2, he uses the parallels or analogy of Scripture hermeneutic with Matthew 24: 
2 Thess. 2:1=Matt. 24:27, 30 a coming of the Lord
2 Thess. 2:1=Matt. 24:31 a gathering together to Him
2 Thess. 2:3=Matt. 24:5, 10-12 apostasy
2 Thess. 2:7=Matt. 24:31 the mystery of lawlessness
2 Thess. 2:9-10=Matt. 24:24 satanic signs and wonders
2 Thess. 2:11=Matt. 24:5, 24 a deluding influence on unbelievers (Mathison, Postmillennialism, 230). 
BUT when the resurrection is associated with Christ's return and is the topic, he avoids the parallels that Amillennialists and Full Preterists make between Matthew 24-25 with that of 1 Thessalonians 4-5: 
1 Thess. 4:16=Matt. 24:30 from heaven
1 Thess. 4:16=Matt. 24:31 with archangelic voice
1 Thess. 4:16=Matt. 24:31 with God's trumpet
1 Thess. 4:17=Matt. 24:31 believers caught up to be with Christ
1 Thess. 4:17=Matt. 24:30 believers in "clouds"
1 Thess. 5:1-2=Matt. 24:36 exact time unknown
1 Thess. 5:2=Matt. 24:43 Christ comes like a thief
1 Thess. 5:3=Matt. 24:37-39 unbelievers caught unaware
1 Thess. 5:3=Matt. 24:8 birth pains
1 Thess. 5:4-5=Matt. 24:43 believers are not deceived
1 Thess. 5:6=Matt. 24:42 believers told to be watchful
1 Thess. 5:7=Matt. 24:49 exhortation against drunkenness
1 Thess. 5:4-8=Matt. 24:27, 36-38 the day, sons of light, sons of the day (Michael Sullivan, "House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?,chapter 4, THE ESCHATOLOGICAL MADNESS OF MATHISON OR HOW CAN THESE THINGS BE?" pp. 107-108)" 
Due to creedal commitments (obviously not exegesis), notice how he is FORCED to violate his own parallel hermeneutical approach - with partial preterists such as Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, James Jordan, and Peter Leithart all having the same problems. Mathison now claims that Jesus did not teach about His actual Second Coming, but Paul (through progressive revelation) did in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15. But Paul tells us that what he is teaching in 1 Thess. 4:15ff. is "According to the Lord's own words..." (see above). Matthison is obviously "conflicted" between his hyper-creedalism and Full Preterism, and that is why he makes these bizarre statements and avoids the obvious Full or True Preterist interpretations.


  1. Pauline Antichrist (in 1 Thessalonians).

    Seems that should be 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, if the "man of lawlessness" is the "Anti-Christ".

    2 Thessalonians 1 seems to be about the future to us Second Coming. But chapter 2 seems to be something that was going on at the time - "you know what restrains him now" (verse 6) and "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work." (verse 7). But the partial Preterists see "our gathering to Him" as the church being gathered in all nations in history, rather than being gathered up from the earth at the second coming, which to me, seems really strained; which is also how they interpret Mathew 24:29-31 - as the church being "gathered" from all the nations and the beginning of the church/new covenant age.

    Douglas Wilson also admitted that seeing some of 1-2 Thessalonians as 70 AD (2 Thess. 2) and some of it (1 Thess 4) as the future second coming is the most difficult problem for the Partial Preterism-Postmillianism resurgence in recent years. (in his discussion/friendly debate with John Piper and Jim Hamilton at one of the Desiring God Conferences a few years ago - "An Evening of Eschatology"

    1. I view that in terms of typology, where you have repeatable kinds of events (or individuals).

  2. Whatever view one takes, there are problems. That is why we should NOT be overly dogmatic about the Millennium views or the Tribulation views - although, I think the dispensationist/pre-trib view is the weakest of all the four main views. (between 1. Pre-Mill-historic Post trib, 2. Amill, 3. Post-mill, and 4. Pre-trib/dispy. ) The Pre-Wrath view seems to me to be a modified Mid-trib and Post-trib view. One of the biggest strengths of the partial preterism view is that it is at least a good apologetic answer to the accusation that Jesus was wrong in predicting His soon coming on "this generation" (Matthew 23:36; 24:34) - it provides a way of seeing at least a double fulfillment - Jesus truly did come back in judgment on that generation who rejected Him and He judged the temple and apostate unbelieving Israel in 70 AD. It also provides a good apologetic against the accusation of any kind of anti-semitism and blaming future generations of Jewish people for the crucifixion of Christ. Only that generation at that time was held accountable for that by God.

    Whatever view one takes, there is always a "now, and not yet" aspect. There seems to be a lot of double and even triple fulfillment in Matthew 24 and Revelation. Daniel - prediction of desecration of the temple in 167 AD - Antiochus offering a pig on the altar - abomination of desolations - then 70 AD - destruction - then some future thing at Second coming. Also Daniel 7:13-14 seems to include ascension and session in heaven (the son of man came up to the ancient of Days), His ascension, session, ruling, and coming in judgement in 70 AD (Mark 14:60-64) and the second coming - Rev. 1:7. (seems strained to see that as 70 AD).

    1. Here's one take on Mat 24:34:

    2. that view of "this generation" seems forced. It seems better to understand it's meaning in light of Matthew 23:36, which is the immediate context.

    3. Ken, partial preterism is not a good response at all to skeptics. it relies on tortured eisegesis.

  3. I don't think I would call it a 'creedal commitment" but rather, it seems to be, to be just seeing the clearness of 1 Thess. 4 and 1 Cor. 15 and Acts 1:11 passages along with Rev. 20-22 as about the second coming/judgment/resurrection of bodies at the end of time as too clear to spiritualize.

  4. N.T. Wright seems to be another postmil preterist, from what I gather. I wonder if Mathison is following Wright's lead concerning Jesus not talking about the second coming while Paul did.

    1. I think some contemporary preterists are borrowing arguments from R. T. France as well as N. T. Wright.

  5. Any recommended reading on the millenium and eschatology Steve, especially for those of us who haven't really made up our minds?

    1. Here are some good online resources: