The Tar Baby of Full Preterism and the Briar Patch of Debate

On July 19‒21 of this year, I engaged in a three-day debate event with full (hyper-) preterist Don Preston. Knowing that that movement is tiny, almost insignificant, filled with various types and degrees of troublemakers, and that the benefits of engaging it would likely be minimal, many people asked me why in the world I would invest my time and energy like that.

Well, here’s the short version. I told some inquisitive full preterists it was not good stewardship of my time to engage such a fringe issue. I could not justify doing so without being compensated by those who wished me to do so. I thought the issue would then fade away, but I was wrong. Long story short, someone put up the money—so I kept my word.

The side benefit to this, however, is that a few people read the partial preterism taught by American Vision, but then, in an effort to learn as much about preterism as possible, eventually find the full preterists and fall to that seductress. Whether in the name of “consistency” or whatever, a few of our readers don’t know when to stop.

This phenomenon occurs very infrequently. But it’s happened enough that there is some public knowledge of it, and this creates a problem. Critics on both sides of American Vision’s eschatology (full preterists on one and dispensationalists on the other) point to it in order to woo converts to themselves. Dispensationalists say, “Don’t go down that partial preterist route! It only leads to heretical full preterism!” Full preterists say, “Partial preterists just aren’t being consistent! You need to continue on and become full preterists.” Either argument is, of course, a classic slippery slope fallacy, but they bother enough readers into asking us questions from both sides.

So, it seemed like a good thing for American Vision to have a product to which we can direct people to say, “We’re not that, and for good reason: here’s why.” This is effective against dispensationalists because it defends preterism as a vital prophetic reality and hermeneutical tool, and yet upholds the necessity of yet future realities. But it’s simultaneously effective against the full preterists in that, among other things, it puts the lie to their alleged consistency and exposes the many ways their theological claims absolutely uproot and destroy everything God promises in Scripture simply because they are forced to redefine those promises and shoe-horn them into AD 70 fulfillment.

This being the case, it seemed good for everyone: readers would know exactly where we stand, I would keep my word, get paid, and AV would also have a new helpful product.

The debate

The only aspect of this debate I was not fully prepared for was afterward. I knew the general full preterist world would join in a unanimous chorus lauding not only Don’s total victory, but his absolute pulverization of me, and then jeer my complete inability even to utter a rational sentence without wetting myself, getting mad, and storming off the stage completely debunked and embarrassed. Anyone familiar with most of the full preterist world (which exists mostly in cyberspace (and which you have to take a spaceship to reach), can relate many such experiences.

What I was specifically not fully prepared for was that after all his boasting about professionalism and courtesy, and after all the thankfulness to my face—while I was there in person during the debate—for being professional, scholarly, and kind, Don Preston himself led the way with much of this post-debate gloating and grandstanding afterward.

So how did the debate really go? If you ask Don, it was a landslide. Since that time, Don and his closest associates have claimed that during the debate:

  • I was “out of character”
  • I “upset” and “displeased” a lot of people
  • my hermeneutic was “distorted, vague, ambiguous”
  • my hermeneutic had “no validity to it”
  • I “failed”
  • my arguments “blew back in my face”
  • my analogies were “way off”
  • I “gave away the debate”
  • I “completely and totally changed my hermeneutic 180 degrees”
  • I “never responded” to Don’s devastating arguments
  • I “amused” Don
  • I was “trying to run a bluff over the audience”
  • My responses were “outlandish”
  • I was “making up” my arguments as I went
  • I allegedly complained that Don’s arguments were “illegal, as far as debating goes”
  • I relied on “debater’s tricks”
  • I ignored “99% of scholarship in the world today”
  • Don has the “finest exegesis” many Bible students “have ever seen”
  • I “stunned” and “shocked” Don with my “remarkable” (outlandish) claims
  • I have “become Dispensational”

And this was all just in one podcast! Here’s even more from a single article by Don about how dumb I am:

  • I don’t make arguments or rebuttals, I’ve learned, only “arguments” and “rebuttals”—that is, pretenses to the real thing!
  • My entire “rebuttal” hinged upon the fact that the word “final” was missing from one Scripture (can you believe that?)
  • When “pressed” on this absurdity, I “was silent.”
  • Don demonstrated the “utter fallacy” of my hermeneutic to the whole audience, and . . . (wait for it) . .
  • I “agreed 100%” with Preston’s demonstration of my “utter fallacy”(!)
  • Don was “stunned at the disingenuous nature” of my responses
  • I “revealed my own self-contradiction”
  • Don demonstrated to the audience how I “badly contradicted” myself
  • I was “grasping at straws”
  • I was “desperate and illogical”
  • I have “abandoned the Truth”
  • “Joel impaled himself”
  • My rebuttals were “unrealistic”
  • I offered a “haphazard hermeneutic”
  • My arguments were a “blatant violation of Jesus’ words”
  • I was reduced to “desperation” (like all of Don’s other debate opponents!)
  • I consciously and knowingly proffered a “false hermeneutic”

Well, there you go. Straight from the self-proclaimed victor himself. And straight from the guy who boasted there was no “animosity,” “personal attack,” or “personal innuendo” during his debating!

That was his story anyway. I have to say that after covering just his reactionary podcast and one article, I have seen little except very poor listening and comprehension skills coupled with a very acute ability to excerpt the least important, passing part of what someone says as representative of their “argument”—a.k.a to create straw men.

While it would take me a dozen pages to respond to all the fallacies this guy’s compiled in four (which I have no intention of doing), I’ll let two outstanding facts reply for now:

First, one of the great ironies of it all was that most of the people to whom I spoke at the debate had a totally different tenor and drew a different conclusion. At least one guy said I took him off the fence and “pretty much settled” the argument for him. He is now a partial preterist. Some full preterists noted that I had made “good points” they had not thought of before and could not answer. Even some of those who I assume remained full preterists said they had never seen Don taken to task like this before.

Now these are not my opinions of myself and my debate. These were almost all full preterists at the debate who said this, and even if they still remained full preterists at the end of the day, they told a much different story about the proceedings than Don himself does.

Second, and much more importantly (!), the debate itself. That’s right. If you want to hear how it really went down, who really is guilty of ignoring the tough arguments, who really created diversions and fallacies all over the place, then get your copy now and listen. Hear it for yourself.

And even better read my study companion, We Shall All Be Changed, for it’s there that the clearer and more systematic case is made.

And just a word of personal advice for the future: be careful whom you choose to debate. Whether you’re right or wrong, skilled or not—some tar babies aren’t worth punching. Because, honestly, I’m not a bit worried about that podcast . . . or the twelve people who “liked” it on Facebook.

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