A Response to Ed Hindson’s “The New Last Days Scoffers”
Jerry Falwell’s National Liberty Journal, a publication of Liberty University, published two articles in its May 2005 issue on the topic of preterism. Preterists teach that the majority of NT prophecies have already been fulfilled in events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Ed Hindson, Assistant to the Chancellor at Liberty University, wrote the lead article with the title “The New Last Days Scoffers.” In another article, Norman Geisler critiques Hank Hanegraaff’s The Last Disciple. Hanegraaff’s position is described as “strange theology.” I didn’t believe it was necessary to respond to these articles since my books Last Days Madness and End Times Fiction do an adequate job of answering any and all of their objections. But since most people will not read books that run 200 pages or more and lack end-time sensationalism, a number of friends asked me to respond to the articles so they could distribute my analysis to people interested in the subject of “Preterism vs. Futurism.”
What Is Preterism?
Preterism, which is derived from a Latin word that means past, has a long and distinguished history in the church. ((Gary DeMar and Francis X. Gumerlock, The Early Church and the “End of the World”: The Past Fulfillment of Matthew 24 (Powder Springs, GA American Vision, 2005).)) Of course, historical precedence does not make preterism true, but it certainly does answer the charge that it is some new fangled theology. When Dr. Hindson quotes Tommy Ice’s statement that “pastors and teachers need to be prepared to defend orthodox eschatology from this attack,” one has to wonder who he’s trying to fool. He’s certainly not fooling anyone who knows the history of eschatology. Surely he does not mean that dispensationalism is orthodox when compared to preterism. While various forms of futurism have a long history—premillennialism, for example—dispensationalism and its teaching of a pre-tribulational rapture, is a nineteenth-century invention. Philip Mauro, an early critic of dispensationalism, wrote that “Dispensationalism is of recent origin.” ((Philip Mauro, Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications, [n.d.] 1978).))
The Recent Origin of Dispensationalism
Dispensationalism became popular with a larger audience with the publication of The Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and the revised 1917 edition. When this new way of looking at Bible prophecy made its debut, it was viewed with doctrinal suspicion. Mauro considered dispensationalism outside the boundaries of orthodoxy, describing it as modernism. “It is modernism, moreover, of a very pernicious sort, such that it must have a ‘Bible’ of its own for the propagation of its peculiar doctrines, since they are not in the Word of God.” ((Philip Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom—With an Examination of Modern Dispensationalism (Boston: Hamilton Brothers, 1928), 9.)) R. B. Kuiper of Westminster Theological Seminary considered “the Dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible” to be one of a series of “anti-reformed heresies” in that it contradicted the system of theology outlined in the Westminster Standards of the seventeenth century and embraced by Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Anglicans. ((R. B. Kuiper, “Why Separation is Necessary,” The Banner. Reprinted in The Presbyterian Guardian (September 12, 1936). Quoted in Edwin H. Rian, _The Presbyterian Conflict (_Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1940), 235.)) John Murray, also a professor at Westminster Seminary, described the theological system found “in the Scofield Reference Bible and in the books of various Bible teachers of prominence” to be “palpably inconsistent with the system of truth embodied in our Presbyterian standards.” ((John Murray, “The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes,’ The Presbyterian Guardian (May 18, 1936), 77. Quoted in Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict, 236.)) Murray went on to conclude that “The ‘Dispensationalism’ of which we speak is heterodox from the standpoint of the Reformed Faith.” ((John Murray, The Presbyterian Guardian (February 3, 1936), 143. Quoted in Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict, 236.)) Charles Ryrie, in his book-length defense of dispensationalism, at least informs his readers that there has been opposition to the dispensational hermeneutic from numerous popular and well respected theologians over the years that “range from mild to severe.” ((Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 13. This is a revised and expanded work that was originally published as Dispensationalism Today (1966).)) Dr. Hindson gives the false impression that dispensationalism has been the received doctrine of the church since the time of Christ, and it has been unquestioned by the church until preterists came along and began to attack it. ((See Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism: Its Historical Genesis and Ecclesiastical Implications (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House,  1977) and Timothy P. Weber, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004).)) He writes that he has “watched various eschatologies come and go over the past 40 years. . . . But none have [sic] had more insidious implications than Preterism—the idea that Jesus already came back and we missed it!” Of course, if the coming of Christ that preterists address in their writings is His coming in judgment against Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then Dr. Hindson is wrong in describing it as a “come and go” eschatology.
In the past, Dr. Hindson has done good scholarly work when he published in theological areas that did not touch on dispensationalism. His small book titled Isaiah’s Immanuel is a helpful analysis of Isaiah 7:14 and its Messianic meaning and purpose. ((Edward E. Hindson, Isaiah’s Immanuel_: A Sign of His Times or the Sign of the Ages?_ (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978).)) He edited _Introduction to Puritan Theology: A Reader_. ((Edward Hindson, ed., _Introduction to Puritan Theology: A Reader_ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976).)) One of the chapters discusses the eschatology of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Edwards was no dispensationalist. In fact, he was a postmillennialist and believed that the “coming” mentioned in Matthew 24 refers to Jesus’ coming judgment against Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the same position that Hindson describes as “strange theology” and modern-day preterists hold:
’Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem [in A.D. 70] ((John H. Gerstner, “The Latter-Day Glory and Second Coming: From Jonathan Edwards—A Mini-Theology”.)) and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it. ((Jonathan Edwards, “Observations on the Facts and Evidences of Christianity, and the Objections of Infidels,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Part 1, Chap. 2, § 17.))
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The degree of their punishment, is the uttermost degree. This may respect both a national and personal punishment. If we take it as a national punishment, a little after the time when the epistle was written, wrath came upon the nation of the Jews to the uttermost, in their terrible destruction by the Romans; when, as Christ said, “was great tribulation, such as never was since the beginning of the world to that time,” Mat. 24:21. That nation had before suffered many of the fruits of divine wrath for their sins; but this was beyond all, this was their highest degree of punishment as a nation. ((Jonathan Edwards, “When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come Upon Them to the Uttermost” (May 1735).))
We’ll come back to Edwards when we discuss some of Hindson’s comments about the church and Israel. Hindson also discusses John Owen (1616–1683). Owen, like Edwards, was a postmillennialist who believed that the new heaven and new earth language of the New Testament refers to the new covenant and not the dissolution of the physical universe in an end-time conflagration. ((John Owen, “Providential Changes, An Argument for Universal Holiness,” The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust).)) There is no discussion in Hindson’s article that calls these and so many other Christian scholars to task for holding a theological position that he says has “insidious implications.”
The odd thing is that Hindson dedicated Introduction to Puritan Theology to Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner was a vocal and consistent critic of dispensationalism. He wrote a Primer on Dispensationalism in 1982. His longer work, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, is a devastating critique of dispensationalism. As a scholar of some reputation, who has access to historical sources and knows how to use them, Dr. Hindson should have informed his readers of preterism’s orthodox history and the recent history of dispensationalism and the many critiques lodged against it.
A Conflict of Interest
So why is his article so misleading? I can only assume that Dr. Hindson has not studied the subject very well, that he is relying on the few seminary classes he took decades ago that only touched on the subject. He understands the damage well reasoned preterist arguments will do to dispensationalism. He also knows how it will affect Liberty University if he even hints that preterism has a well respected history and should be looked at in an objective manner. The issue of the National Liberty Journal that carries the two articles critiquing preterism includes a full-page advertisement for a “Left Behind” Conference on Bible Prophecy with Tim LaHaye, Gary Frazier, and Ed Hindson. And we mustn’t forget that Tim LaHaye is a big donor to Liberty University. There’s the “LaHaye Lounge,” the “LaHaye Student Center,” and the Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy.” How is it possible for Liberty University and Dr. Ed Hindson to be objective on this subject when one of the school’s major contributors is a major advocate of dispensationalism?
Preterism’s Bright Past
Here is Dr. Hindson’s problem. He claims that it is absurd to “insist on interpreting the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation as basically already fulfilled in the past.” He does not have history on his side. Jonathan Edwards certainly believed the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in the past. So did Adam Clarke, John Gill, Thomas Scott, John Lightfoot, Thomas Newton, Milton Terry, and many other Bible commentators. I have a library full of their works, and so does every theological school and seminary in the country. Consider Milton Terry’s Biblical Hermeneutics, ((Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1883). Biblical Hermeneutics has been reprinted numerous times by Zondervan, both in an abridged and unabridged edition.)) a well respected manual on Bible interpretation, praised by dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists alike. It is fully preterist on Matthew 24 and 25 and Revelation. So is his Biblical Apocalyptics. ((Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898).)) Robert L. Thomas, professor of New Testament at the Master’s Seminary, a thoroughly dispensational school, extols the virtues of Terry who “insisted on letting the text speak for itself, without allowing ideas foreign to the text to intervene in its interpretation.” ((Robert L. Thomas, “The Origin of Preunderstanding,” Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2002), 48.)) Thomas never informs his readers that Terry was a preterist. Similarly, Dr. Hindson leads his readers astray by leaving the impression that preterism is “new wave” theology, similar to the prophetic views of the Jehovah Witnesses. Of course, he does not tell his Liberty constituents that like so many dispensationalists, the JWs are consummate date setters. He also neglects to inform his dispensational audience that, like dispensationalists, JWs are premillennial.
Liberty University is trying to compete academically with America’s major universities. The Mormons have Brigham Young and Catholics have Notre Dame. Jerry Falwell wants Liberty University to have a similar Protestant reputation. This will never happen if honest scholarship is not pursued by its representatives no matter what the financial and academic consequences. Not even a final-four women’s basketball team will help.