Monday, August 23, 2010

How Hyperpreterism Affects the Atonement

Hyperpreterists are fond of making it look like their view barely affects historic Christian doctrines. For example they will often say something to the effect, "That they don't deny the resurrection of the believers...they merely place it in the past". This attempt to minimize hyperpreterism's actual chasm of departure from historic Christianity is a frequent plot of hyperpreterists all the while in the next breath hyperpreterists will ridicule the Church as having supposedly been in gross error for 2000 years.

Recently, someone wrote me asking how hyperpreterism affects the Atonement. Now, if a hyperpreterist were to answer this, they might claim there is no affect but that just isn't true. Let's explore.

First, we should define what is meant by "the Atonement". The dictionary definition of the word atonement is:

  1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.
  2. the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of god and humankind, esp. as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.
By this definition alone, the Atonement was complete at the death of Christ, therefore someone might claim that hyperpreterism would have no effect on this doctrine. However, since the Atonement is about the reconciliation of man back to God, the issue is more complex. For example, there is a vocal segment of hyperpreterism called "Preterist Universalists" that advocate that Christ has reconciled EVERYONE back to Him. They often cite Romans 5:18 for their main proof-text:
"Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life."
Thus, one way hyperpreterism affects the doctrine of the Atonement is in the propensity for hyperpreterists to conclude universalistic (all saved/reconciled) views. This has been the historic pattern of the preterists/proto-hyperpreterists since the 1800s (source).

Next we must ask how Atonement operates. There has been 3 main views with overlap from one to the others:
  1. ransom
  2. satisfaction (substitution)
  3. moral influence/exemplar
That is, Christ's death was a ransom (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6, Hebrews 9:15), or payment for the sin of humanity or specifically for the Elect or chosen ones of humanity. The notion of "redeeming" is a type of "buying back" or making payment for something held. It is said that Christ "redeems", especially by being a satisfactory or substitution for those otherwise indebted. (Galatians 3:13, Titus 2:14, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:12) The Church has held to at least these 2 overlapping views of ransom and satisfaction/substitution with mainly dispute over whether Jesus was paying a ransom to Satan, to God, or simply to the fact that mankind was in moral debt.

The moral debt idea lends to the moral influence/exemplar view wherein it is said that Jesus acted as a moral example. We are to pattern our lives after Him and by so doing this is how we obtain or attain atonement. This view is mostly held by nominal Christians who may think that the Fall had minimal effect on the moral capacity of humanity. Those who hold this view will often cite the Beatitudes and may exhibit a religious relativity where they may say all religions teach an amount of morality which if followed gains atonement. Although there is certainly calls for Christians to live "Christ-like" lives, to confuse this with Atonement is detrimental.

The issue with hyperpreterism and the Atonement comes in where it does in many of the other doctrines of Christianity -- the SEEMING imminency -- such as the seeming imminency of the resurrection of the believers. Jesus often spoke as if something was already passed and yet future. For example, when Jesus spoke to Martha about the resurrection He said:
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'" (John 11:24-26)
This immediacy or present tense focus of the resurrection is often overlooked even among hyperpreterists. Hyperpreterists in claiming the resurrection happened in AD70 don't seem to understand that Jesus was speaking of the immediacy of resurrection EVEN before He Himself had been crucified and risen. Jesus' language would have us believe that the resurrection was immediate upon belief...and it was YET it was STILL future. This is why the apostles could go on to speak of the resurrection of the believers in the future tense and how historic Christianity also speaks of the resurrection of the believers in the future tense.

In this same way, indeed the Atonement happened at the crucifixion of Christ but the application of that Atonement/ransom/satisfaction/substitution has ongoing and futuristic focus. Otherwise, a consistent hyperpreterist SHOULD conclude that the Atonement (along with all the other aspects hyperpreterists place in the past), only applied to the first-century believers. After all, it was the Elect for whom Christ died and the Elect whom would be resurrected. If the Elect are limited to the first-century, as would be a consistent hyperpreterism, then the Atonement would no longer apply to us today, OR as many proto-hyperpreterists and hyperpreterists have concluded; EVERYONE ("all men") have been reconciled (atoned for).

However, hyperpreterists AREN'T very consistent. They will waffle between historic Christian doctrine and their heresy; often operating on a "little from here and a little from there" buffet approach (see here).

Hyperpreterism CAN'T be considered Christian since is departs from historic Christianity as much as Mormonism or JWs departs; all the while these groups use Christian terms and appear to use the Bible as their basis. No matter how much hyperpreterism may APPEAR to be a studious view, it is in reality a heresy that has been given over to the pride of its leaders who in turn dupe would be followers into the heresy by disparaging the Church as having supposedly been in gross error on the basics for over 2000 years; YET hyperpreterists claim to appeal to the Christian God -- the same God that hyperpreterists MUST make ineffective and unable to maintain the most basic truths among His community of saints.

Hyperpreterism affects the doctrine of the Atonement and all other Christian doctrines by taking the views and straining them through an AD70 terminus until it is pointless to believe God had any focus or plan beyond AD70. It is no wonder that many high profile hyperpreterists have become atheists or agnostics (see here).

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