When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism

By Keith A. Mathison, ed.
Phillipsburg, N.J. : Presbyterian and Reformed (2004). xxii + 376 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 165-167

The theological aberration of hyper-preterism (hereafter HP) continues as a thorn in the side of pastors and ministries whose members have been affected by its publications and web pages. In short, the HP position, called “Full Preterism” by its proponents, is the notion that Jesus returned in A.D. 70 and that all biblical prophecy has been fulfilled and that believers are now enjoying the benefits of the New Heaven and New Earth (for a fuller examination of this view from a premillennial perspective, see this reviewer’s article, “International Preterist Association: Reformation or Retrogression?” in TMSJ 15/1 [Spring 2004]:39-58.)

Though this movement has not made significant inroads within those ministries holding to a futurist premillennial position, it has been a bane in Reformed circles, among those who interpret prophecy according to the traditional or classic preterist mode and those who hold the historicist position. This current work is a series of essays by leading Reformed scholars (both of the theonomist and nontheonomist position) pointedly critiquing the hyper-preterist position. It includes seven essays by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Charles E. Hill, Richard L. Pratt, Keith A. Mathison, Simon J. Kistemaker, Douglas Wilson, and Robert B. Strimple.

The work is well constructed with excellent footnotes and contains useful (but brief) indexes of names, subjects, Scripture, and ancient literature. It lacks a bibliography, which would have been a helpful addition, leaving the reader to cull out the references from the footnotes. The contributors level their arguments against the writings of four leading proponents of HP: Max King, Timothy King, Ed Stevens, and John Nöe (the last two of whom operate the International Preterist Association).

Mathison, the general editor, admits that the contributors “to this volume do not completely agree in their interpretations of every eschatological text” (155). He notes that “some of the contributors are amillenialists, while some are postmillennialists” (ibid). All the contributors unite in opposing the HP position, because, as Strimple states, “In order to maintain their heretical doctrine of the resurrection, the hyper-preterists have devised heretical doctrines of creation, man, sin and its consequences, the person and redemptive work of Christ, and the nature of salvation. Much more than eschatology narrowly defined is at stake in this debate” (352).

Several of the essays are especially noteworthy. Gentry’s examination of the historic church creeds as over against the HP position is particularly well done (1-61). He thoroughly debunks the HP claim of “No creed but the Bible” (61). He states that the adherent of HP “feigns ‘scholarship’ and claims ‘consistency’ as a lure to theologically immature Christians” (ibid). Hard line fundamentalists, to keep their own sub-biblical teachings above scriptural and theological scrutiny, have also used such claims.

In the chapter on “Eschatology in the Wake of Jerusalem’s Fall,” (63-119) Hill takes the “bible” of the HP interpretative scheme, J. Stewart Russell’s The Parousia, to task. The Parousia was originally published anonymously and then with Russell’s name (London: Daldy, Isbiter & Co., 1878) and (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887). Besides influencing Milton Terry and his methodology toward prophetic interpretation in his Biblical Hermeneutics, Russell’s work made little impact and was largely out of print for nearly 100 years, until Walter Hibbard of Great Christian Books (who himself had adopted the HP position) arranged with Baker Book House to reprint the work in 1983. Hill notes that Russell’s work is “as brilliant as it is bizarre” and that “his solution [to the rapture] is almost too fantastic to deserve a response” (92). Hill demonstrates from early church history that Russell’s A.D. 70 “rapture” simply could not have occurred.

The work of Kistemaker on HP and its view of the Book of Revelation is noteworthy as he deals with their schema of prophecy, but is most decisive in dealing with the key issue of the dating of Revelation. HP fails entirely if the traditional or “late date” of the book is correct. He notes, “[B]oth the evidence from Revelation itself and the accounts of the church fathers favor a late date for the writing” (236). The work of Mathison on the “Eschatological Time Texts of the New Testament” is also a highlight of this work (even for those who take a dispensational and futurist approach to those texts). Strimple’s chapter on HP and the resurrection is a devastating exposé to the HP heresy on this vital doctrine. The weak chapter in the work is that of Douglas Wilson. Though it does not display some of his notable theological oddities, it does not say anything that Gentry had not said in his chapter. The notations are weak, and it reads more like a sermon than a theological essay.

That minor criticism aside, this is a valuable and much needed work exposing the heresy of Hyper-Preterism. Even approaching the subject from eschatological and interpretative viewpoints we might disagree with, we agree that this is a common enemy of the church for both Covenantal and Dispensational evangelicals. This is a work that pastors should use as the HP error creeps into assemblies through those influenced by it. We highly recommend it.