There is no doubt in my mind that the Fulfilled Eschatology aspect, at least, of what has come to be known as 'preterism' is both true to and honest with the Scriptures. As this belief becomes more wide-spread and mainstream ( yes, I said 'mainstream' ); it has become as widely varied in its many facets as say, dispensationalism. In fact, some opponents of preterism like to accuse preterists of being dispensational. I believe that this may be founded, and even have a firm foundation in the fact that many preterists have rejected, or are just plain ignorant of, the covenantal aspect of Scripture. Much baggage, I believe, still has a tenacious hold on many preterists, most notably, maybe, the notion that the two main covenants, the 'first', of which we read in Hebrews 8:7, and the 'new' Covenant, of whom we read in places like Jeremiah 31:31 ( Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 ), were different in their make-up, in that one was a covenant of works, whereas the other is a covenant of grace.
Grace has always been the primary aspect of the covenant!
This truth has always been, at the least, in the back of my mind. Recently though, it was brought fully to the fore-front, by comments like, 'even the Ten Commandments start with grace; 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out.........', and even by my own remembrance that God's very creation of 'Adam', or the covenant, was an act of grace, which remembrance was jogged by my friend's comment. The grace of God, if you honestly review Israel's history, even through the eyes of the ( Mosaic ) Law, was always active! Sure; you would be cut off from the children of Israel if you committed certain acts, but if you repented of your sin and offered the sacrifice that God required ( which was a figure of the the sacrifice of the Christ ), you would be forgiven. God, in His grace and mercy, provided even then, a way for men to return to His the blessings of the covenant! The writer to the Hebrews ( 9:12 ) wrote of this figure; 'Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption', and, as he wrote earlier ( 7:27 ), speaking of this same Jesus, 'who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself'. Not only was the grace of God present under the 'first covenant', the grace of God was prevalent; as long as there was a priest to offer up sacrifices; grace was shown to the children of Israel!
Some people, I know, have a problem with the terminology that we, as covenantal preterists use; for instance, the very term 'covenant' or 'covenantal' itself. There is a tendency, as with any doctrine where mere finite human beings are involved, for it ( whatever 'it' may be ) to become an 'ism': therein, I believe, lies much of the problem. We are inbred with an attitude of, 'if man has anything to do with it, it must be wrong, or corrupt, at the very least!' Another way it might be put is, 'we know that man is corruptible, so anything he espouses is suspect': in this way, the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Because something has the propensity to be used, or understood, wrongly, we should just discard the whole idea. Several former preterists seem to have done this. Part of the problem, maybe the largest, as I see it, is that the truth of fulfilled eschatology has been approached apart from a good understanding of the covenant that God instituted, that God Himself maintains with His people.
I know that covenant eschatology is nothing new, but too often it stops there, with many rubbing their aching foreheads, saying 'What now?' This, even, is nothing new, for there are many out there, in one way or another, that have tried to provide the answer to this question. Some have done an admirable job, but others have gone off the deep end, saying that 'since all Scripture is fulfilled; we don't need it any longer, it's no longer applicable anyway, right?', even going so far as to say that Christ did away with the Law when He fulfilled it at the cross. Without the understanding that the Scriptures are a covenant document, and that we are a covenant people; it is easy to see where these people might have gotten those ideas.
There can be no doubt that Scripture does, in our modern translations ( 1611- ), anyway, speak of two main covenants; the writer of Hebrews terms the Mosaic Covenant ( given through Moses ) the 'first' ( covenant ), but you may note there, that the word covenant ( at least in the NKJV ) is italicized, and thus not in the original Greek, and likely somewhat ambiguous, so to speak. We have traditionally call this the Old Covenant, as opposed to the New. Is the iteration given through Moses, though, actually opposed to that which came through, and indeed, in the form of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus, who was the Christ?
Paul wrote, in Colossians 2:14 ( which many like to use in their defense ), that Jesus 'wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us'. Is this really to say that we no longer need to keep the Law? We can now worship other gods, we can murder, steal, covet ( even take ) our neighbor's wife? Of course not! Anyone with an ounce of sense would immediately say 'Why, that's just crazy: utterly ridiculous!' Some people just don't think these things out! The key word here, I believe, besides 'wiped' out', is 'against'. Jesus ( God ) took away that part that was 'against' us. Again, to clarify this statement, lest someone think that I am purporting that He did remove part of the Law, remember that the language of the Bible is somewhat ambiguous, what with the inserted words ( for clarification ). What, according to Scriptures like James 4, was 'against' us, or rather, them? James said 'You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet[a] you do not have because you do not ask': that was, and still is, the problem! The Law was not the problem; rather, as the writer to the Hebrews explained ( 8:8 ), God found fault with His people! It was His people that were the problem! Paul, who persecuted the Church of God before he was 'startled' on the road to Damascus, recognized that 'the law [ is ] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good' ( Romans 7:12 ). Yes, you may say; the Law was/is contrary to us, therefore that must be what Jesus took away'! Well; Paul did say that Jesus took away, 'wiped out' what was contrary to us, but what exactly did he say was contrary to us ( not to our fallen nature, but to our rebellious human nature )? Not the Law itself, but rather, 'the handwriting of requirements'. I return to this passage a good bit, and some might roll their eyes at me, but in Ezekiel 36:26, God promised His people that 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh', and later, in His promise of the New Covenant ( Jesus ), 'I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts'. Remember how the original Ten Commandments ( the Law ) were written with the hand of God on tablets of stone? Now God would remove the tablets of stone on which the Law was written, which was contrary to them, and instead, write the Law on their hearts, in their minds; no more was the Law as un-yielding as stone, now it was written on something pliable, something conformable! But I digress.......
As I was saying; a good understanding of the Covenant, I believe, is what is lacking in many of those who oppose the glorious doctrine of fulfilled eschatology, whether they are futurists, as they have always been, or whether they have tasted the fruit of fulfillment and have fallen away!
I believe, as I have written in several articles and mentioned in discussion, that there is but one Covenant. There has been only ever, since the foundation of the world, one Covenant! Right away, some will likely say 'Whoah; stop right there!' The Bible is very clear that there were any number ( ranging up to 8 or so, I believe ), you might say, of covenants that YHWH made with certain men, in particular, Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc., all the way up to David. What might be a better statement, and a truer one, is that YHWH renewed the covenant with each of these men. These renewals, as you might say, these covenants, all pointed toward the greater Covenant, the Covenant of Whom all these others were but types and shadows!
Some others will object to the idea of a seemingly one-side covenant. Well, I would reply, it's not really one-sided, and here, my friend, is where we might get into the whole Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Sovereignty of God vs. free-will battle. I have come to realize and understand that, though the One Covenant ( from the 'creation' of Adam ), though this covenant was instituted by God alone; it is not a one-sided thing! As under the 'first' covenant, that which the writer to the Hebrews, and other Gospel writers talked about, and which was instituted under Moses ( a type of Christ ); so under the New, which is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ, we are expected to live by His Law. Jesus told His disciples, which we are, in John 14:15, 'If you love Me, keep[d] My commandments'. The Law has not been abrogated, the requirements, as some might suppose, were not even changed; in that sense then, it was the people of God that were changed, as Paul wrote, in I Corinthians 15:52. Lest some think I'm advocating some type of replacement theology here, the people of God were not exchanged for a different set of people; I believe that God's chosen people have always been the same people, so to speak, from both Jew and Gentile nations. The 'change' that I'm speaking of, and that Paul wrote of was a spiritual one, that of 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' ( Colossians 1:27 ). This was a future hope for them, but we have the presence of God, through Christ!
Some preterists, those who have seen the truth of fulfilled eschatology, but without a proper covenantal basis, have taken preterism to its extreme, either that, or turned their back on it, because it's not viewed as orthodox by those who should know ( sound familiar? )! Those without a proper understanding of the covenant have, as I described earlier, come up with presuppositions based on the idea that if all Scripture is fulfilled, then it should be done away with, it has no applicability for us. We no longer must obey the Law, because Jesus accomplished it all for us, and of course, 'wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us'. This, of course, is beyond ridiculous, as I've already explained, but this just goes to show where fulfillment without covenant can lead. We are the covenant people of God, we have always been the covenant people of God, and we will always be the covenant people of God!
Let me explain a little bit here; I am not, by any means, saying that our individuality should go out the window since we, 'being many, are one body' ( although certain aspects of it should ). The marriage bond, at its basis, is identical to the covenant between us and God, for as God said in Genesis 2:24, 'they shall become one flesh'. Now we know that when a man and a woman are joined in marriage, they do not actually become one body, or one person. They are both individuals, one a male and one a female, with different ( and inter-locking ), but complimentary parts. But this is the analogy that Paul uses of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:32. Though we have become One with Christ, having joined Him in the spiritual marriage covenant, we are still individuals. We all have differing gifts, different parts, and when we work together as One Body, which we are, regardless, it is a beautiful thing; God is glorified, and we experience heaven on earth!
One aspect that I have noticed about this individualism, and maybe especially when it comes to those who espouse preterism, or fulfilled eschatology ( or those who used to ), is that there is a tendency to think, 'what does this mean for me?' ( sometimes to the point of, 'what can I get away with?' ), rather than, 'what does it mean for us?' As the covenant people of God; we now experience, and live with God on a daily basis! This could be a frightening, and at the very least is, a humbling fact! If we live according to His Law of Love, and not our own, things have a tendency to work in our favor, as we strive together, in communion with Him and His people, but when we live according to our own law of love ( feelings ), and individualistically ( 'no man is an island' ) strike out on our own; things tend to go the other way. When we live without, or outside of communion with the Body, what is supposed to work together often ends up not working at all, especially not the way it's supposed to!
There's no good 'ism' except a 'prism'!
Man, bu his very nature, corrupts that which he controls! This is a well-known fact! No matter how good his intentions, left to his own devices, man will always prove that 'power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely'! One has only to look the many examples we have, written down for us in the pages of Scripture, and in our own nations history to confirm the veracity of this statement!
You may have noticed that this 'ism' is attached to many doctrines and subjects today; there's, of course, two very notable ones, Calvinism and Arminianism: there's Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, Presbyterianism, Americanism, baptism ( woops, how'd that one get in there? ), creedalism, trinitarianism, and many other 'isms' which, while not necessarily wrong at their basis, have been corrupted by the influence of certain men! Even 'preterism' has not gotten away scot-free; some have begun to look at this doctrine as the end-all, and have become corrupted in their comfort! There are so many versions of 'preterism' out there today, that it has become almost as laughable and ridiculous as the very 'ism' it proposes to squelch; dispensationalism!
Most recent maybe, and close to my heart, is that of so-called baptismal preterists as opposed to so-called anti-baptismal preterists. One believes in the continuation of water baptism as a necessary entrance into the covenant, the other doesn't believe that this sign ( outward/inward ) is a necessary part of covenant-keeping, especially taking into account its eschatological nature! The disagreement here is not over whether to, or not to submit to the waters of judgment; the issue is over baptism itself! What is baptism? Can washing your body in water save you? It may seem, from prophetic passages like II Kings 5 that it can, but any serious student of Scripture should be able to see that these outward actions were only significant of the work of God in their hearts. These rituals pointed to the True, which came in the form of the Messiah of Israel!
'Isms', while not necessarily wrong in themselves, can be used wrongly, and can become dangerous to their adherents! If believers in Fulfilled, or Covenant Eschatology continue to inconsistently apply the principles of preterism, and thus create more 'isms' within 'isms', the focus will be taken off the Kingdom we are supposed to be advancing and onto our pet 'ism'! May this NEVER be!
Charles Haddon Shank