Is Universalism a Logical Corollary of Full Preterism?
By Kurt M. Simmons
In a recent article posted on PreteristArchive.com, B Simmons tells the story of his journey from partial Preterist, to full Preterist, to Universalist. The thrust of Brian’s article is that Universalism is a necessary and logical implication of full Preterism. I feel this is error, and therefore respond. It is not full Preterism1 that leads to Universalism, but a lack of sufficient grounding in basic Bible instruction regarding issues of sin and salvation (soteriology) that lead to belief in this pernicious doctrine.
Wrong Premises lead to Wrong Conclusions
At the outset, it should be noted that Brian had been a full Preterist for less than two years. It was not until the summer of 2005 that he began his inquiry into full Preterism, and not until November of that year that he embraced fulfilled eschatology. This is more than passing significant, because it shows that Brian does not bring the voice of experience or maturity to his conclusions, but those of a mere neophyte. His is not the voice of one who has wrestled with these issues over long years only to surrender at last, but someone who, in the space of little more than a year, rashly followed his own mistaken premises to wrong conclusions. I have been a full Preterist for over 27 years, and have never become a Universalist, and never will. It is difficult to imagine anything more biblically indefensible than the irresponsible notion of “universal salvation.” On the other hand, there are few things more biblically sound or easily defended than full Preterism. Far from one leading logically to the other, they are like water and oil that will not mix. It is only by perversion of the gospel and Preterism that one can fall into Universalism. Whatever led Brian to Universalism was not the full Preterism embraced tens of thousands of sound and faithful believers, but errors peculiar to Brian and those sharing his views. If there is anything we can learn from Brian’s example, it is that one should be well grounded in first principles before embarking upon a study of “last things.” Brian was not well grounded and therefore wandered into error.
Mistaken Premise No. 1: Reversal of “Original Sin”
Brian indicates that approximately one year after embracing full Preterism, he became aware of certain logical conclusions he felt flowed out of J. Stuart Russell’s Parousia. Says Brian: “As I traced Russell's system to its obvious conclusions, I began to feel that he was correct. Yet the full doctrinal implications of his teaching had yet to dawn on me. It would take almost a year before I realized one major truth: If death was destroyed in A.D. 70, why would anyone be under condemnation today?”
There is a logical fallacy here: Brian assumes that the “death” destroyed at the eschaton was juridical death, which he believes was imputed to all mankind based upon Adam’s transgression. That this is Brian’s meaning is clear from what he says later: “In time, however, the same questions kept recurring. If death was abolished, it could only have been abolished in a universal sense. This would release all men from the condemnation of Adam's transgression, thus imputing righteousness to all.” (Emphasis added.)
Thus, Brian believes in universal, imputed condemnation, including apparently infants (if it is not imputed at birth, when is it?), based upon Adam’s transgression. This is nothing but the Catholic doctrine of “original sin,” carried over into some Protestant churches by early reformers, but by no means unanimously embraced among Christians. Indeed, it is probably a minority position among evangelical churches.
The doctrine of original sin is based on Paul’s statement in Romans 5:19 that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” However, this passage can be interpreted several ways. The Catholic interpretation is that God imposes legal condemnation to all mankind based upon the transgression of Adam, requiring even infants to be baptized to be saved. The Catholic church recently softened this view, and now allows the possibility that unbaptized infants may escape damnation. But the basic teaching remains that God condemns mankind vicariously in Adam. How this squares with the notion of a just God I will leave those embracing that view to work out for themselves. I personally find it irreconcilable with the Bible and the justice I see exercised by God throughout. This leads to the second way of interpreting the passage, and the one that I would urge is correct; that is, that mankind was made the heir of Adam’s fallen condition, not his legal condemnation; that mankind inherited Adam’s fallenness, but that no man is condemned before God based upon that fallenness until he personally acts upon it, having attained to an age of accountability.
Sin implies moral culpability and this, in turn, implies possession of moral faculties beyond those of infants and small children. It also means that legal blame is not transferred or imputed from one man to another, but that every man is answerable only for his own sins. Ezekiel clearly establishes this point for all that will objectively consider the prophet’s words: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezek. 18:20) This passage expresses God’s system of equity and justice and his decree that one man shall not be visited with the sins of another. We do not speak here of the unavoidable consequences of the child growing up in the home an alcoholic parent, or similar situation, for in this case the sins of the fathers are plainly and unavoidably visited upon the children. But this is due to the nature of things, and not to the specific judgment of God. (Incidentally, this is why all mankind suffers from Adam’s fall, without the imputation of his guilt; viz., because we inherit his fallen nature as the offspring of his loins.) Rather, we speak to the established principles upon which God exercises his office as judge of the world, and either saves or condemns individual men. God’s righteous judgment is the model for man’s righteous judgment; as men expect justice by earthly sovereigns in government, so they expect justice in God. Appeal to “sovereignty” is not a license to arbitrary and unjust judgment in God any more than it is men. The notion that God condemns the whole race based upon Adam’s transgression cannot be reconciled with a just and righteous God.
Issues of man’s free moral agency enter into the equation. Luther denied free will in man: “Free will is really a fiction and a label without reality, because it is in no man’s power to plan any evil or good…Everything takes place by absolute necessity.”2 In another place, Luther said that “free will is a downright lie.”3 However, as Erasmus ably pointed out, “Wherever there is pure and perpetual necessity, there can be neither guilt nor virtue.” “’I have set before you life and death. Choose the good and follow me.’ Could it be stated any more plainly? God shows what is good and what is evil. He offers as recompense death or life. He relinquishes to man the freedom of choice. It would be ridiculous to command one to make a choice, if he were incapable of turning in either direction.”4 It is probably an easier step logically for those that deny free will and embrace doctrines like “predestination” and the “impossibility of apostasy” to make the transition into the error of Universalism than for those that deny them, for they take responsibility away from man and assign everything to the will of God. “Did God condemn all men based upon the act of a single man? What of it? God now justifies all men based upon the sacrifice of Christ.” Man is simply a passive instrument in the hands of God; human volition does not enter in.
It is clear that Brian’s understanding of Rom. 5:19 and belief in “original sin” (by whatever name) are leading factors causing him to embrace Universalism. Conversely, rejection of the doctrine of original sin has kept tens of thousand of other full Preterists like me from falling into Brian’s error. Indeed, Universal justification is not a logical corollary of full Preterism at all! One can fall into the error of Universalism, irrespective of his view of eschatology, for the basic premise of Universalism is not fulfilled eschatology, but the universal affect of the cross. It is true that some have fallen into the error of Universalism after embracing full Preterism, but typically, as with Brian, this has more to do with the unsoundness of doctrines they embraced when they became full Preterists, than full Preterism itself. Full Preterism does not teach original sin; that is an error Brain brought with him; full Preterism merely provided the catalyst for him to think his errors through and logically apply them; it did not create them. The better policy would have been to reject original sin, not embrace Universalism!
Townely, who also went from full Preterist to Universalist followed the same trail as Brian. As may be plainly seen, the culprit is not Preterism, but erroneous notions about imputed sin:
Notice that Townely here preaches Universalism without being aware of it (he actually argues against Universalism in one of the articles appended to his book). Hence, it is not Preterism that brought him to Universalism, but his own imperfect understanding of sin and salvation. It may be that his imperfect understanding of sin and salvation when viewed through the prism of Preterism caused him to see the Universalism that had always been a latent part of his system of belief, but Preterism itself did not put those beliefs there. Like Brain, they were Townely’s long before he became a Preterist.
Mistaken Premise No. 2: Death Universally Destroyed
Brian argues: “The premise is incontrovertible. If death has been nullified, it can only be nullified completely. This means eternal life is imputed to all men, regardless of faith.” Contrary to what Brian alleges, the premise is not “incontrovertible.” Indeed, it is completely false and easily refuted. It is only in the city, the new Jerusalem (the church), that death is destroyed. (Rev. 21:4) Outside the city are “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (Rev. 22:15) John, who wrote the Revelation, says no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (I Jno. 3:15) Does John contradict himself? Does he say in one place that murders do not share in salvation, but in another that they do? Not at all. Those who enter into the city are acquitted for their sins; those that are without the city remain dead in sin. Death has not been completely or universally destroyed, as Brian maintains. Brain gratuitously reads that into the Bible, but it is not there.
When Paul says that “in Christ all shall be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22), he limits the application of grace to those who have obeyed the gospel. Being “in Christ” is the same as being in the new Jerusalem, the church. The Bible teaches only one way for a man to get “into Christ,” and that is by repentance as baptism.
Few things could be plainer: by baptism man is made a partaker of Christ’s death. Jesus said “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mk. 16:15) Peter said “baptism doth also now save us.” (I Pet. 3:21) In baptism man receives the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and his sins are washed away: “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) “Thend they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls…and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:41, 47)
Some people’s paradigm of how we are made partakers of Christ causes them to reject these verses, as if acknowledging their plain meaning somehow entails preaching a gospel of “works.” But deny them as they will, the truth remains the same: we get into Christ by repentance and baptism in Jesus’ name, or not at all. And this is the teaching of virtually all the reformers, to say nothing of the church fathers, and the Nicene Creed, recited almost everywhere in Christendom. I will quote Calvin as representative of them all:
The idea that death has been destroyed for those out of Christ (those that obey not the gospel) is alien to the scriptures. Brian’s premise that death was destroyed for all men is wrong. It was his own mistaken premise that led to his wrong conclusions, not full Preterism.
Brian quotes statements by Russell that he feels hold latent seeds of Universalism, and may even have been disguised to conceal his views. But this is wrong. Russell quotes Jesus when he says “I will draw all men unto myself” and Paul when he states that “grace did much more abound.” These are not affirmations of Universalism. They simply show that God invites all men to be saved, not that he thrusts salvation upon them. It is Brian, not Russell, who is wresting the scriptures.
Mistaken Premise No. 3: Source of Sin & Death was the Mosaic Law
Another error common to those who wander out of the way and into Universalism is the idea that the source of sin and death was the Old Testament. Brian indicates that this was his view: “I tended to see everything in the New Testament canon as applying to the Old Covenant only. In a statement I made at the time, I said: ‘On the day of Pentecost the Old Covenant was made spiritual, and it ended in A.D. 70.’" In other words, Brian came to see man’s salvation exclusively in terms of his redemption from the Old Law. This meant that the Bible had little relevance for today, speaking only to circumstances applicable to other men: “The epistles were just old letters written to dead people who were under a totally different covenant. Thank heaven we were out of that business now, and under a different set of terms and privileges. Since sin has been abolished through the nullification of death, a mass murderer such as Henry Lee Lucas cannot be any less righteous than a man like Billy Graham. Neither Graham nor Lucas can fulfill the law... right? Then how can Graham be more righteous than Lucas? They both must rely on the finished work of Christ. And that work was ‘finished in A.D. 70.’"
This is a common mistake. Townely said “”sin, Satan, death, and hell have their true and scriptural meaning in reference only to the two covenants.”6 He states moreover, that death was a dispensational matter done away in A.D. 70. “Death and time are dispensation matters in scripture: we hold that at the close of the dispensations, in the fall of Jerusalem, there was time no longer; so, in like manner, we maintain that at the same close there was no more death.”7 Max King, who also has wandered out of the way into Universalism (“comprehensive grace”), makes the same error, affirming that the sole source of sin and death was the old law: “One must look to the Jewish system as the state and power of death to be destroyed by the reign of Christ.”8 “Paul is conscious that death’s defeat hinges upon sin’s defeat, and that the defeat of sin is tied to the annulment of the old aeon of law…For Paul, death is abolished when the state of sin and the law are abolished.”9 “When the ‘ministration of death written in tables of stone’ was finally destroyed, death was swallowed up in victory.”10
It is easy to see the seeds of Universalism in all of these statements: If sin and death existed only in the Mosaic law, removal of that law can only equate with universal justification. Notice again King’s statement: “the state of sin and the law are abolished.”11 Thus, the logical implication of King’s soteriology is the complete abolition of the state of sin and death for all mankind; viz., universalism!
However, be it notes: This mistake is completely unrelated to full Preterism! Preterism may have been the vehicle for bringing to the surface the flaws in these men’s soteriology, for bringing them into light, but it did not create them. The source of death is not the Mosaic law; the source of death is the law of sin and death. (Rom. 7:23; 8:2) This law existed in the garden; it was the penalty attached to transgression of God’s moral law by disobedience to his commandments. “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The law of sin and death has existed in every age and generation; it existed in the garden; it existed under the law of Moses; and it exists even now. “For him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not for him it is sin.” (Jam. 4:17) “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:23) Brian states that “sin has been abolished by the nullification of death” but this is reverse of the truth. It is death that is abolished by the nullification of sin. The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. (I Cor. 15:56) Christ satisfied the law by his cross; for those that obey the gospel his death takes the place of their own. Those who refuse to believe and obey remain in sin. “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (Jno. 8:24) “There is a sin unto death.” (I Jno. 5:16) Indeed, Brian states that both Graham and Lucas must “rely on the finished work of Christ.” But does Lucas rely upon that work? That is the issue. For those that rely upon Christ by obeying the gospel, repenting of their sins, and being baptized, Christ is indeed Savior. But for those that refuse the offer of grace, he is their judge and will say “depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41) “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath; tribulation and wrath upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also the Gentile.” (Rom. 2:8, 9)
Universalism is not a logical corollary of full Preterism. Tens of thousands
of full Preterists reject Universalism with no logical inconsistency in
their system of beliefs. Those that fall into the error of Universalism do
so based upon erroneous conclusions about soteriology, not eschatology or
1 By “full Preterism” is simply mean fulfilled eschatology; viz., that the prophecies of Christ’s eschatological coming were historically fulfilled in the world events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
2 Luther, Asertio, Art. XXXVI.
3 Luther, Bondage of the Will, Introduction.
4 Erasmus, Discourse on Free Will, Ernest F. Winter translation.
5 Robert Townely, The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ a Past Event (1845, London), p. 90.
6 Townely, p. 17.
7 Townely, p. 84.
8 Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy (Warren, OH, 1971), pp. 144.
9 Max R. King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p. 644.
10 Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy, p. 145
11 Max R. King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p. 644.
What do YOU think ?
Date: 31 May 2007
Many thanks for the article! It is great to see someone interact on this topic -- a discussion that has been intertwined with full preteristic doctrinal systems since their earliest appearance in the writings of "Father of American Universalism" Hosea Ballou. I have only been posting works on the connection between the "great judgment in AD70" idea and Universalist conclusions based upon it for a little over two months, but have already seen the connection dated back to at least 1804.
This is likely the most important discussion in full preterism today, and one which reaches to the very formation of the contemporary view through Max King's Covenant Eschatology hermeneutic, as you've pointed out. By the way, I really appreciate your acknowledgement of King in this discussion, because regardless of whether the connection is seen as being illogical or unbiblical, there undoubtedly is a connection with Universalism which reaches to the very top. With others, their silence is their consent, so I really commend you for pointing out the Full Preterist Universalism in King's system.
I think Brian and others should be cut a lot of slack, though... for two key reasons:
1) Considering the fact that systematized full preterism arose out of Universalism, and that the earliest unquestionable full preterist turned Universalist, others who follow in those footsteps are in historical company. The largest preterist movement in history was Universalist in soteriology, and was hundreds of thousands of people stronger than full preterism is today -- even using the most wildly inflated numbers (I would be very surprised if there were currently more than 2,000 actual full preterists world-wide (not including the hordes of ex-full prets) -- there certainly aren't half that number active on the Internet.) Reformed Full Preterism, as an example on the other hand, appears to be about twenty years old. (cite)
2) These sincere -- though inexperienced -- students are simply following the lead of the full preterist discussion, striving to follow the view to its logical and consistent conclusions. I hear FP teachers encouragingly say all the time that full preterism has led them to re-evaluate everything else in the Bible... so why should we be surprised when people follow that enthusiasm to redefine the ministry of Christ based upon their full preterist assumptions?
I certainly share your rejection of Universalism, but find that your statement "I have been a full Preterist for over 27 years, and have never become a Universalist, and never will" to be a very important one to consider for the sake of Brian and the many others who are leaving biblical soteriology. The vast majority don't have 27 years of ministerial experience nor a staunch determination to refuse Universalism... nor will they ever. In my presentation at Carlsbad I suggested that by focusing so intently (almost exclusively) on "last things", it is the leaders and authors of full preterism who are most to blame when sincere students like Brian head off in another direction with their "first things." I'm convinced that the "greater condemnation of teachers" idea is at play here.
Perhaps we can understand why Brian and a host of other people are heading off into different directions, considering this cycloptic approach to biblical studies. Your point that the real issue here is a "lack of sufficient grounding" is absolutely correct -- although biblically answering the skewed directions people are going doesn't address the root issue, which can only be remedied by a re-focus of the entire movement on Jesus Christ's first coming. Heading in the opposite direction by starting with his second coming and then looking back will naturally set up a filter through which Christ's advent is "redefined" as "first things" are determined based upon "last things" -- which is the classic "tail wagging dog" scenario.
One thing your article demonstrates very well is that Full Preterism is not truly a stand alone doctrinal system -- but is one that is added on top of whatever soteriology leads one's beliefs. This is an important point. Another important point is the fact that Townley was preaching Universalism through his Full Preterism before he knew it, and even though he denied it. I believe this to be the case with many even today. Even if one teaches that in the future all will be saved in Christ.. it still demonstrates that the conclusions of full preterism lead to Universalism -- even if it is a "gospel universalism" like JS Russell's.
So, anyway, the issue doesn't seem to be "is there a connection" -- because there undeniably is a connection between Full Preterism and Universalism. This fact alone should be no big surprise though, as this type of thing has happened to every "last things" focused movement in Christian history. I encourage pret teachers to consider focusing on this discussion, and re-evaluate their current evangelical methods... while lovingly (with a sense of responsibility) helping people such as Brian -- one by one -- recover their first things (not their last things!) from where their full preterist studies did indeed lead them...
Thanks again, very much!
Date: 31 May 2007
Date: 31 May 2007
Date: 31 May 2007
Mike, not sure what you are talking about, as Scott said precisely the same thing in his quote as I did in mine.... unless by "ending in rest" you are assuming he meant physical death.. which he did not.
You have two classic full pret assumptions going here:
1) People Couldn't Enter Rest Until AD70
Not so. In fact, Hebrews 4:10 states that those who ceased from their labors "have entered" into his rest -- using the word sabbatismos to describe the substance of that promised rest. Notice how this is written in past tense, and in no way claims they had to wait to enter the rest of the Lord. There are dozens of verses which say such things, including John 5:24, where Jesus talks about the passing from death to life in seeing and believing -- as a **present reality even before he went to the cross!** In the past your have said that when fulfillment is spoken in present or past tense in the Bible it actually means AD70, so I don't assume that these verses will settle the matter. In cases such as that, there is nothing anyone can say towards the Truth until such a horrendous presumption is broken.
Hebrews 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also
hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
2) Once in Covenant with God, Total Rest is Achieved without Further Process
Not so. One can be in covenant with God and yet not be in resting in Christ alone. This transition period (from darkness to light) is not only shown in the first century, as you pointed out, but also in the earlier history of Israel, where from the time of Sinai until the last of the heathen nations were subdued they still awaited rest in the land that was promised and waiting to be received
Jos 21:44 - And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand. .
But above all, notice how Hebrews is using both circumstances to make a personal appeal. This is key. He is not just foretelling future events, but using the history of natural Israel to appeal to the hearts of the audience to put off darkness. And the substance is received "by FAITH" not "by HISTORY" -- Now THAT is pret-idealism.
Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto **Jesus the author and finisher** (AD70 is not the finisher, cf II Cor 1:20) of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
And as for that internal transition from darkness to light, as manifested by both the first and last generations of Israel's schoolmaster role:
11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Anyway, I think you may have misread Scott's stuff bro.
may your well run deep... with blessings!
Date: 31 May 2007
Date: 01 Jun 2007
Date: 01 Jun 2007
In what sense do you think "perfect" is used? Also, if you don't believe you need any transition from darkness to light, does that mean you were born in the light? Were you born with the need for resurrection, or is that something you received in AD70? Do you see the dilemma? (To apply it to Kurt's article about the connection between full pret and universalism.. if there is no more original sin needing resurrection -- as AD70 was supposedly the "last judgment" and the "destruction of the death" in finality -- then that is Universalism, plain and simple. It is not even that it LEADS to Universalism, but that IT IS UNIVERSALISM)
The idea of consummation and fulfillment which you take as being strictly AD70 is nowhere mentioned as such in Hebrews 11; in fact, in that chapter the **entire history of Israel** is used in the same context as that generation as all teaching the internal truth of patience and trusting, waiting for the manifestation of who the true sons of God are - now THAT is one of the pre-eminent Pret-Idealist chapters! The usage of "perfect" in Hebrews is different than your usage, I believe. And what is super cool is that the very same word is used in the past tense to speak of those who **had already been sanctified** and **were already perfected**:
Heb 10:14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Ultimately, the idea in the perfection is the public declaration of the Lord in who the true people of God were. This was abundantly *manifested* in AD70, although it had *always been the case*. Christians didn't *become* the people of God in AD70 -- they had always been that -- they were, however, *publicly consecrated as such* then. Now that is a HUGE difference, and one which has a profound effect on how everything else appears.
The covenant, like the nature of the true people of God, is from everlasting. It was not waiting to be created in AD70.. it was just awaiting the time of its **full revelation**.
Eph 3:5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons
of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the
2 Tim 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
may your well be full.. of blessings from on high!
Date: 01 Jun 2007
Date: 01 Jun 2007
Date: 25 Jun 2007
Date: 15 Nov 2007
[It seems to me that the events of the last two years have justified the need for the examination here. This article still remains unanswered, too.]
Date: 22 Nov 2009
Date: 22 Nov 2009
Date: 22 Nov 2009
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