AN OPEN LETTER TO JERRY JOHNSON & BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THE DVD:
THE LATE GREAT PLANET CHURCH
THE RISE OF DISPENSATIONALISM
BY MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN
Dear Mr. Jerry Johnson (President of NiceneCouncil.com) June 28, 2009
This is not intended to be an in-depth review of your 2008 Reformed DVD that is a critique of Dispensationalism. However, I did want to simply offer some brief observations and thoughts that went through my mind as I watched your first DVD in this series as one coming out of Dispensationalism, Amillennialism, partial preterism, and now having hung my hat for the last 20 years on Biblical Preterism.
Church history, the creeds and new eschatological teachings
You (and I would presume those you interviewed) agreed with Charles Ryrie that just because Dispensational teaching is relatively new, does not make it wrong and that only the authority of God’s word can be appealed to in order to validate or disprove a theological and eschatological position.
Indeed Reformed theologians should say this, since the Roman Catholic Church charged Luther as being a heretic because his teachings on justification were innovative and new. He was charged with coming up with his own “private interpretations” that were supplanting the long held written and oral traditions of the church at that time. This is interesting since Gentry describes Biblical Preterists as just a “small group” of “theological innovators,” and yet at one time his Reformed theologians and theology was considered as thus.
Gary DeMar, Keith Mathison and Kenneth Gentry: Are used as authorities in this critique of Dispensationalism which you have produced, and yet DeMar and Mathison teach that Matthew 24-25 is not divided into two separate comings of Jesus, with the coming of the Son of Man in both Mathew 24 and 25 as referring to Christ’s ascension and coming in judgment between the years AD 30-70 (with an ongoing application today). Gentry, although not holding to their exegesis, now concedes their positions are indeed exegetically plausible and yet at the same time his exegesis of Matthew 24:27-31 and their exegesis of Matthew 24-25 somehow does not give ground to exegetical preterism. We and many within the Reformed community totally disagree with Gentry’s assessment here. I shouldn’t have to tell you that virtually all scholars from a wide range of eschatological positions understand that the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 24 and 25 lays the foundation to parallel material found in Matthew 13; 2 Peter 3; 1 Thessalonians 4-5; 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 20-22. Anyone remotely familiar with the hermeneutical principle of the analogy of Scripture or even has a Bible Concordance can see this. Therefore, according to three of your sources of authority (DeMar & Mathison on a united Mt. 24-25 or Gentry on Mt. 24:27-31), if the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 24-25 took place in AD 70, and yet the majority of the historic church identifies these passages with the above NT passages, then one of three things are true: 1) Your sources are wrong in your DVD, 2) The oldest view and majority is correct, or 3) Biblical Preterism unites them together and is the true and exegetical view honoring both a) the imminent time texts and b) the analogy of Scripture principle of interpretation.
In Gary DeMar’s debate with Thomas Ice (a Dispensationalist), Ice asked Gary what early church father taught that the coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 25:31ff. had to do with the ascension or Christ coming in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70? Gary had no answer for him (see the debate: THE GREAT TRIBULATION PAST OR FUTURE? www.AmericanVision.org).
These men have no problem taking passages that the church has always held to as referring to the Second Coming and the eternal state/age, and coming up with their own “private [partial preterist] interpretations.” The early creeds affirmed that the church was not in the “age [about] to come,” but rather, that the coming age was future and descriptive of the eternal state brought about at Christ’s [future] Second Coming. The exegesis that Babylon or the Great City of Revelation was Old Covenant Jerusalem didn’t surface until the 1600’s. The same could be said of Puritan exegesis coming from John Owen and men like John Lightfoot who took 2 Peter 3 as only discussing Christ’s return in AD 70 to dissolve the elements of the Old Covenant cosmos and establish the New at Christ’s return in AD 70.
On these points, Reformed theologians either admit that the exegesis of partial and full preterism is not orthodox because this is “new” and thus “heretical” (some Amillennialists are moving in this direction), or they simply accept that the church is an organic body and that She is just now beginning to study eschatology with the same kind of intensity that we had studied the deity of Christ and justification in previous centuries. The later group have more of a concept of what “Sola Scriptura” and “Semper Reformanda” really mean than the former.
Clearly though, if “orthodox” partial preterism can come up with their own “private [eschatological] interpretations,” then exegetical preterism can build upon theirs and the classic Amillennial position as well.
Kenneth Gentry & knowing when and when not to “count noses” argument: I found it interesting as I listened to Dr. Gentry explain how we cannot discern if Dipsensationalism is of God or not merely by the mass number of Christians believing and defending its system (“counting noses”). And yet when Gentry’s eschatological position is threatened by ours on an exegetical level, he runs to the “counting noses” argument as valid.
The Charge of Dispensational eschatology being in a “constant state of flux”
The DVD, and in the writings of Gentry and Mathison’s books critiquing Dispensationalism, teach that a sign that Dispensationalism is not biblical or logical is that it is constantly changing. This was seen as both a bad and good sign in the DVD. And yet proponents of Reformed eschatology, cannot agree on such fundamentals as if the plethora of NT imminent time texts were fulfilled in AD 70 or if they should be spiritualize away and applied to the future. They don’t even know if we are in the “age to come” or not. They don’t know if the NT teaches two redemptive comings of Christ or just one. They don’t know if we are or are not in the last days or if there should be a distinction between two different last days periods. They can’t make up their minds if the NT teaches two Great Commissions needing to be fulfilled before the one or two comings of Christ, or just one, etc… Again Gentry describes us as a “fragmented” group, and yet are we to believe he and his co-authors in WSTTB are not the epitome of “fragmentation” when it comes to trying to agree on eschatology?
Progressive Dispenstionalism and Progressive Partial Preterism: Similar to the point above, proponents of Reformed eschatology boast in this DVD that since progressive Dispenstionalism is moving further and further away from some of its previously held teachings, that this is indeed a good thing. We agree. Your sources of authority also point out that since the vast majority of students studying Dispensational eschatology along side of Reformed eschatology, – end up coming over and embracing the Reformed view(s). This is supposed to be evidence of its superior intellectual and consistent system. Therefore, it would be valid for me to say the same of the multitudes that have come from Dispensationalism–to the standard Amillennial position–to the partial preterist position–and then end up hanging their hat on exegetical preterism.
Jerry, you and your colleagues seem to boast that these progressive dispensationalists are giving up their ground and debate with you, because most of them are coming into your position and very few are coming out of yours into Dispensationalism. This is seen indirectly in the DVD as yet another sign or evidence of the intellectual, biblical, and consistent eschatological position(s) you have to offer over and against theirs. So based upon this reasoning, we are thankful for such progressive partial preterists as Kenneth Gentry, Keith Mathison and Gary DeMar who continue to give up ground to us, while we do not give up ground to them. Here is a list of admissions and the ground gained by Reformed progressive partial preterists into biblical preterism:
- The coming of the Son of Man in Matthew 16:27-28 and Matthew 24-25 took place in AD 70.
- The end of the [Old Covenant] age and the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:40-43 took place in AD 70.
- The resurrection unto everlasting life and everlasting condemnation of Daniel 12:2-3 took place in AD 70.
- The “last days” ended in AD 70.
- The second appearing of Christ in Hebrews 9:26-10:37 took place at the end of the Old Covenant age in AD 70.
- The passing of the “first” heavens and earth and the establishment of the new of Isaiah 65-66; Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3 took place in AD 70.
- The groanings, bondage and decay of creation in Romans 8:18-23 have nothing to do with the planet earth (not even poetically), but rather with the hearts and minds of men.
We are also thankful for Reformed theologians whom combined, teach us that the NT: 1) Only addresses one Second Coming, and 2) That the NT imminent time texts “demand” that Christ returned in AD 70. This is the historic and organic development of the Church which lays the foundation and pillars upon which we have built our system upon.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and the thoughts it stimulated as I watched your first DVD critiquing Dispensationalism. I look forward to watching the others as and when they are made available.