Sunday, January 3, 2010

Recovery Room — Installment #3: Dissecting the Delusion

Someone reading this series recently wrote me to say that even though they see the errors of hyperpreterism they also find it fascinating. Yes, of course it is fascinating, that is part of the allurement. Crime stories & major disasters also fascinate us but not many of us would desire to find ourselves part of those events.
In this installment (part 3) of “The Recovery Room” we will begin what may be compared to a live autopsy of hyperpreterism. Just as with a real autopsy, the examiners would wear protective clothing & masks to avoid contamination of themselves. It is therefore highly suggested that you read installment #1 and #2 before proceeding. 



The first thing to do is to identify the parts & properly label them. In this case will be identifying the main parts of hyperpreterism theology & labeling those parts as labeled & defined by hyperpreterism. Keep in mind that obviously there can be variation between different manifestations of hyperpreterism, just like all cadavers certain aspects are common. Also keep in mind that as a culture acquires terms from other cultures, though the term may be the same the definition of the term can change, thus hyperpreterism often acquires biblical/theological terms & redefines the typical, accepted meaning. So, do not consider the following terms & definitions as representative of the REAL definition of historic Christianity. As with all cults, hyperpreterism is master a redefining terms.
Term
Definition
Covenant(al)
Often used as a synonym for symbolism or spiritualizing
Time-text
Any Bible reference that appears to identify the time of a said event
Judgment
Specifically, judgment against the old Jewish system in AD70
Law
The Ten commandments & by extension all direct commands in the Bible
Resurrection
Rebirth mainly of the old Jewish system into the new Christian system
Parouisa
Second Coming of Christ’s “appearance” & presence in AD70
Kingdom
Where all people post-AD70 dwell, even non-Christians
Heaven
Not so much a place as a state of being post-AD70, not clearly defined
Hell
Synonymous with Hades or merely a temporary separation from God
COVENANT(AL)
As you can see, the definitions of these terms widely depart from the historical Christian definitions. In historic Christianity, covenant is not merely another term for symbolism or spiritualizing but covenant specifically means contract – God’s contract with Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses & ultimately with Christ (see Gal 3:16). What happens in hyperpreterism is that a wrong notion of covenant allows them look at all sorts of texts in the Bible & call it “covenantal” when what they really mean is that they think they see symbolism. For instance, they will look at the Creation story & claim it isn’t really about the physical or cosmological creation of the universe, or of humans, or of animals but instead they will say it is a “covenantal” reference. This use of the word “covenantal” is thrown around within hyperpreterism with either disregard or ignorance for what the word really means. They even will sometimes use the label “Covenant Eschatology” instead of the word preterism when referring to their theological system. This may appeal to the person just leaving theological systems such as dispensationalism. Since the person may be embracing “Covenant Theology” it only seems consistent then to add to one’s theological lunch box, a thing called “Covenant Eschatology”. The two are not at all related, whereas Covenant Theology is solidly historically Christian – Covenant Eschatology is just another highjacking of a term & re-labeling it to make it sound legitimate.
TIME-TEXT
Much of the early apologetic for hyperpreterism was built on this concept of the time-text. Specifically, time-texts are referenced in the three Gospels of Matthew 24, Mark 13, & Luke 21 often collectively called even by historic Christianity; “The Olivet Discourse” since the conversation that Jesus had with His disciples occurred on a mountain called “Mount of Olives”. Time-texts are not limited to these three chapters or books. The time-texts are words or phrases such as:
  • soon
  • about to be
  • at hand
  • shortly
  • within this generation
The contention by the hyperpreterists is that these time-texts point to the imminent Second Coming of Jesus. Further, that if Jesus didn’t come back in the first-century that He misled people. The hyperpreterists will appeal & seem to make a convincing case that the “traditional” view is distorted because it first focuses on the nature of the Second Coming rather than the timing. It is true that many present day Christians, especially those prone to believe the fiction of the “Left Behind” series will come at Scripture in a way that assumes things will happen a certain way; such as Jesus coming to actually straddle a spilt mountain or having a tangible sword protruding from His mouth. (see Zech 14:4 & Rev 19:15) But that “traditional” view to which hyperpreterism is reacting is not really “traditional” at all. The Left Behind concept is simply the manifestation of dispensational theology, a theological system only 200 years old. It only seems traditional or as normative Christianity because it has been so dominate over the last 200 years. But true traditional, historic Christianity doesn’t advocate secret, earth-removal raptures of people nor does historic Christianity see a Great Tribulation in the future. Historic Christianity has understood the time-texts for what they are; speaking of Jesus’ soon/about to be/at hand/shortly/with in this (first-century) generation establishment of His kingdom (such as “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”) & the opening of Heaven – whereas before the Son of Man came out of Heaven, no man had gone into Heaven. (see John 1:51 & John 3:13) This was all about to change but it does NOT speak of Jesus’ “return” to the earth.
So, while hyperpreterists are right to put some focus back on the time-texts of which dispensationalist theology distorted for over 200 years, the hyperpreterists fail to see what was soon/about to take place.

JUDGMENT

Historically, Christians have seen THE Judgment as being a combination of immediate judgment at the moment of physical death & as some sort of final judgment at some point in time. But the way hyperpreterism defines judgment it was merely judgment against the old Jewish system. Even so-called “partial-preterists” feed into this notion when they say Jesus came back in “judgment” in AD70. Rather, the judgment going on in AD70 was the judgment of the Landowner against the vinedressers (see Mt 21:33-46). Like other issues of theology, hyperpreterism is like a person in a house of mirrors. They see everything as the same image, though the Bible may use the same word & have various meanings or specific situations in mind. Hyperpreterism then takes that judgment by God the Father against the vinedressers & turns it into THE Judgment. This notion by hyperpreterists is often paired up with their term of “covenantal” & will be put forward as God’s judgment of the “old covenant system/people”. Thus, judgment is restricted to only a first-century thing leaving the door wide open for hyperpreterists to fall into even more heresy – universalism, where no one is judged/condemned but all are now “saved”. Hyperpreterists will also pair this with hell – saying hell was only for those old covenant people in the first-century who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Hell then becomes only a place or condition for this specific group & is often depicted not as a place or condition of punishment or “eternal conscious punishment” but only as annihilation or ceasing of existence of the soul of the person.

LAW

Even within historic Christianity, the concept of Law is often debated. Is it to be restricted only to the Ten Commandments or include the 630+ additions such as can be found in books like Leviticus? Is the Law collectively the “ceremonial” & the judiciary Law? Next, the question comes in – what is the state of the Law today? Is the Law gone? Has it been replaced by “grace” as often propounded from pulpits?
What happens in hyperpreterism & not exclusive to that system is that the Law is often depicted as the thing that actually CAUSED sin rather than the thing that magnifies sin. Thus, Law is seen as a “curse”, a bad thing whereas the Scriptures in Rom 7:12 say the Law is holy, just & good. Keep in mind this was said AFTER the crucifixion & resurrection of Jesus. The only sense in which the Law is considered a curse is that it reminds a person of how incapable they are to live up to God’s standard of righteousness.
Hyperpreterism’s misunderstanding of the function & purpose of the Law cause them to think that any mention of its apparent end is a good thing. Hyperpreterists, like so many present day Evangelicals will often tout a “love” & tolerance-based Christianity that lacks any moral compass except whatever a person can “lovingly” tolerate. Rather, the Law was not destroyed, but was fulfilled as Christ Himself says in Mt 5:17. This fulfillment does not mean the Law ends but rather that the Law is kept & manifested in an internal to external manner – think of all the places where Jesus said, “You have heard it written but I say…” This misconception by hyperpreterists of what the Law is, has led many of them into what is called “antinomianism” or against-law. They hold to no commandments, no moral bounds so long as they can feel fine in their conscience. They do all this in contradiction to the fact that the Law is fulfilled & not destroyed and in contradiction to the fact that Jesus said if you love Him, you’ll keep His COMMANDMENTS (John 14:15). So, there is something that is still commanded & it isn’t some vague notion of philanthropic “love”.

RESURRECTION

Another place where hyperpreterism suffers from a myopic view is the issue of Resurrection. As many hyperpreterists depict it, the Resurrection is only about the rebirth of the old covenant system into the new covenant system. For instance, they will claim that the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3 was only about the need for Israel to be reborn, that those verses don’t apply to individuals today.
Though most hyperpreterists don’t deny the physical resurrection of Jesus Himself, they most certainly deny the physical resurrection of believers – in the future or the past. To most hyperpreterists, the Resurrection was a one time deal in AD70 that was merely the coming to life of the old covenant system…a system that first had to die & be raised new.
This fails since the Bible uses the word resurrection many different ways. For instance, Lazarus’ resurrection was surely a physical one (John 11) . The people resurrected at Christ’s resurrection came out of their graves & went into the city. (Mt 27:51-53) Even Paul claimed to be teaching that SAME resurrection as the Pharisees taught. (Acts 23) What then is the resurrection that the Pharisees were teaching? Clear indication is that the Pharisees understood some sort of physical resurrection (see: http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=233&letter=R) so if Paul was saying he was teaching the same thing as the Pharisees, Paul was either teaching the physical resurrection or Paul was playing fast & fancy with terms.
Another place where hyperpreterists like to try to make their case is with the passage about two men named Hymenaeus & Philetus (see 2 Tim 2:16-18) where we actually see these two men teaching that the resurrection had passed even before AD70. Sometimes, hyperpreterism is even referred to as the “Neo-Hymenaen Heresy”. Paul condemned Hymeneaus & Philetus’ conclusions & even said the teaching “overthrow[s] the faith of some”. It would seem these verses should silence the hyperpreterists since they are such a direct reference to what the hyperpreterists teach yet hyperpreterists have a way out. They claim that yes indeed Paul condemned the idea that the resurrection was past but that he did not condemn the nature of the resurrection Hymenaeus & Philetus taught. That is, hyperpreterists will claim Hymenaeus & Philetus had the timing wrong but the nature correct. The nature, hyperpreterists will claim had to be spiritual since otherwise Paul could have easily pointed to the fact that dead bodies were still in the graves. But did Paul really need to bring this point out? Could it be that the Hymenaen conclusion was so off that Paul was simply dismissing it out of hand without interaction? Look at the passage; Paul lumps it in & even tacks it on to other heresies of “vain babblers” & says that the Hymenaen heresy was “of that sort”. Paul was not trying to do a point-by-point refutation of the Hymenaen heresy. Thus, hyperpreterism’s little fancy twist here is like a child who reasons that since their parents didn’t specifically tell them they couldn’t do some thing that is clearly wrong, then it must open the door to allow them to do it. Just because Paul didn’t point to graves doesn’t mean he was saying the Resurrection is spiritual. We have many other places that show Paul taught the same physical resurrection as the Pharisees…something even Jesus never took issue with.
Hyperpreterism also has a habit of running everything together like one big goulash. There are places in the Bible where resurrection is understood as life given immediately upon conversion thus also when a Christian dies physically they don’t really die but merely pass from life to life. (see John 5:24, John 11:23-26 & 2 Cor 2:15-16)

PAROUSIA

The term Parousia is not a common word among most Christians but is used 24 times in the Bible (see this link), most often in association with Jesus’ coming, but simply because the word is associated with Jesus’ “coming” doesn’t mean that coming is always a return to earth. For instance in Dan 7:13 we see Jesus “coming”… not BACK to earth but rather coming into the PRESENCE of God…the Ancient of Days. Was this not what Jesus constantly spoke about during His ministry? Was it not some of His parting words to speak about His soon to be PRESENCE before the Father? (See Mt 26:64 for example).
So, the Parousia as hyperpreterists try to term it need not have been speaking about Jesus’ return in the first-century but rather His going before the Father, visibly showing that He is indeed King & sitting at the right-hand of the Father. It is hyperpreterism’s insistence that every passage they see is speaking about a Second Coming return that has caused them to fall into their own theological morass.

KINGDOM

The notion of the kingdom is another concept that has been so badly distorted by dispensationalism that many Christians have lost sight of what is really being put forth. For example, since dispensationalists don’t see Jesus as yet king, claiming in contradiction to John 6:15 that the Jews rejected Him as king – then so without a king there is not yet a kingdom. However, historic Christianity has always understood Jesus as the King..not in a future sense but presiding even now over His kingdom. Whether in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Reformed Christianity – all agree that Jesus is king even now.
Hyperpreterism uses the dispensationalist distortion to lure more people. To a former dispensationalist, it looks like the hyperpreterists are advocating the true biblical concept of kingdom since this might be the first exposure a former dispensationalist has with a non-delayed king & kingdom.
Hyperpreterists teach a variety of kingdom views. Some from that same false notion of “covenantalism” to even basic Reformed concepts. They tend to talk a lot about the kingdom but how it is actually lived out seems to elude them. For how can they speak of the kingdom if it is a place or state of being that God has somehow been unable to preserve? I mean, hyperpreterism is a complete departure from historic Christianity so either God has failed to maintain a visible representation of the kingdom…which admittedly came without observation (Lk 17:20-21) but is surely discernable among Christians… or it has been so indiscernible it is futile to count on any example from historic Christianity & the cults of all sorts might just as well be correct representations.

HEAVEN

To most Christians heaven is a place or state of being to which we “go” when we physically die but to many hyperpreterists Heaven is a state of being that was established on earth during the first-century. Indeed, there are some hyperpreterists that will claim they are in “Heaven now”. They will quote verses like 2 Peter 3:10-13 & Rev 21:1 where it is said God makes a new heaven wherein all Christians shall dwell. Hyperpreterism wants us to believe the old Heaven (abode of God) needed to be made new. Huh? Why? What was wrong with it? As a matter of fact, it was Jesus’ mission to open up Heaven for entry so are we to believe that after that is done, suddenly there is a need to create a new heaven?
Again, hyperpreterism’s myopic hermeneutic latches onto one word or phrase & forces one conclusion every place that word or phrase is used. God’s Abode was not about to pass away & be replaced anew. Living people are not in “Heaven Now” as any simple search of the Bible will show Heaven as God’s Abode & distinct from earth. Hyperpreterists will try to counter that it was the intent of God to reunite Heaven with earth, claiming that it is a reversion to the situation before the Fall of Adam. Yet, even at the beginning there was a distinction between Heaven – God’s Abode & the earth He created for His creation’s physical existence. Turning Heaven & earth into one state or place is biblically erroneous. Further, hyperpreterists that advocate for “Heaven Now” can never seem to answer then what happens to souls AFTER physical death. I mean if we are in “Heaven Now” what difference will it be to be physically dead? Will we see God any differently? Will we see the spirits of other departed? They have no biblical answers, only more convoluted speculations.

HELL

As with most things, hyperpreterists tend to relegate everything to a symbolic first-century situation. This is also true with the idea of Hell. While it is true that the Bible makes distinctions between places or states of being called “hades” & “hell” which should be further sub-headed with sheol, gehenna, paradise, death, grave & Abraham’s Bosom (see these references) those distinctions are often not clarified among modern Evangelicalism. Perhaps out of disdain for the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory, modern Evangelicals have all but lost the right distinctions of these concepts. So, what happens is that groups like the hyperpreterists begin to claim hell in general was a temporal place, a place that only existed until Christ came & “led captivity captive” as it says in Eph 4:8-10. Hell then, as depicted by many hyperpreterists was only a type of pre-Christ purgatory, which no longer exists after Christ led this captivity (holding place) captive. You will then find many hyperpreterists that are either universalists – believing there is no hell for anyone anymore or you will find among them annihilationists – believing that unrepentant souls simply cease to exist after physical death. Those hyperpreterists that do still see a Hell for the condemnation of the unrepentant have a hard time explaining how this is consistent with their theology.
For the historic Christian, the distinctions clearly show that while there was certainly a temporal place (Abraham’s Bosom) where the physically dead went until Christ came the first time, we can also see that there is reserved a place where the unrepentant go for all eternity. Just as Christians at physical death now do not languish in the grave but rather go immediately to be with the Lord, so too do the unrepentant departed go to eternal torment. This repulses some hyperpreterists which often are of the liberal mentality & cannot fathom a God that would so punish anyone.
CONCLUSION
So as you can see, though hyperpreterism uses much of the same language & terms as historic Christianity, they so much redefine the terms that any profitable discussion with them is suspect. They will often try to get some unsuspecting new or weak Christian to give them a hearing. When the hyperpreterist seems to only use the Bible to make their case, the unsuspecting or weak Christian with little theological or historic support can easily fall prey to what seems like a logical & rational interpretation of the texts. But keep in mind, no matter how logical & rational the hyperpreterist case may seem, it should always be known that it is outside the historic Christian interpretation of the Bible. The hyperpreterists are closer in kinship with the Gnostics (one of the first heresies in the Church) than with any other group.
If you find yourself in a discussion with someone using the terms listed above & they are explaining those terms as how I have described then chances are you are speaking to a hyperpreterist. Ask them outright if they are a hyperpreterist & watch the reaction. If you continue in discussion with them, keep bringing it back to the fact that no matter how logical or rational their interpretations may appear they are still outside all of historic Christianity. They are claiming something as foreign to Christianity as is Mormonism & Islam. If you let them trick you into having a discussion “just about the Scriptures” they will only misuse the Scriptures. They are interpreting the Scriptures in a manner the historic Church never did. They are twisting the Scriptures to their own & to other people’s destruction. (2 Pet 3:16)
It is my hope that any hyperpreterists reading this series will immediately see the flaw in what they have bought into, & though as difficult as it may be make the corrective back to the historic Christian faith. I am not asking them to re-embrace their dispensationalism or to follow me in some new alternative. I am asking them to re-embrace historic Christianity before the 200 years of distortion by dispensationalism & before the 30 years of knee-jerk reaction by hyperpreterism.
Join me for the next installment of “The Recovery Room” when I discuss the different authors who have also taken on hyperpreterism.

GOTO PART

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few months ago I was in a keyboard debate with a man who tried to equate the definition of heaven that you describe and I believe as Gnosticism. He also claimed that to say we went to heaven when we died was a form of transmigration of the soul or reincarnation. As bizarre as this is, Kenneth Talbot was defending him. He never once discussed my objections. Why? It seems the man was a new student of some sort at Whitefield and had to be defended at all costs. I personally was involved with Talbot in 1991.-95. I left for personal reasons initiated by my divorce. Talbot has since held a personal grudge against me evidently. He does not like to be questioned or opposed in any way.