Dec 6, 2013

Critiquing R.C. Sproul's Preterist Interpretation of Prophetic Passages

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

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Q. Tony, I really appreciated your rebuttal of RC Sproul's last days teachings.

I listened to several of his earlier teachings on this and have searched the scriptures more than ever since my former preterist pastor accused me of leading people to lose their faith if I told them I believed in the imminent return of The Lord. Your conclusions are the same ones I had. My pastor could never explain his preterism biblically either. Good to understand how to address their beliefs since there is a turn in this direction by so many. So blessed by this ministry!

R. C. Sproul

Critiquing R. C. Sproul's Interpretation of Prophecy

A. I am blessed to hear that our teaching resources are helping believers such as yourself "keep the things written" within the Book of Revelation—and the rest of Scripture—until His return.

As you know, I share your concern regarding the preterist interpretation of prophecy and its popularization by influential teachers such as R. C. Sproul and Hank Hanegraaff (the "Bible Answer Man"). I wasn't originally planning to critique Sproul's teaching, but after listening to a series of his audio teachings on a driving trip, I felt compelled to respond to point out the numerous problems with his interpretation of various prophetic passages.

Understanding the Timing Texts

Preterists believe they are removing obstacles to belief in the reliability of Scripture by interpreting all timing texts as requiring a 1st century fulfillment: thereby upholding the face-value meaning of "soon," "quickly," and the like. As you pointed out, they tell futurists that we are undermining acceptance of the Scriptures because even though Jesus said these events would occur "soon," we hold that most of the events spoken of have not yet taken place. This, they believe, is a stumbling block to belief that the Biblical predictions were accurate. To rectify this situation, they assert a 1st century fulfillment and proffer a host of "explanations" which don't match the Biblical predictions. If we take their approach to understanding "soon," "quickly," and the like, we may gain a simpler interpretation of the timing texts, but at the cost of denying plain fulfillment of the predicted events. The ironic result, it seems to me, is an interpretation which does more to undermine a belief in the accuracy of the Scriptural predictions than the original problem they are attempting to respond to.

The preterists seem concerned to answer the skeptics which Peter warned about: "scoffers will come in the last days saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'" (2 Pe 3:3b-4a). These scoffers would complain that the Scriptures predicted a soon return of Christ and yet He hadn't shown up. While moderate preterists believe the bodily return of Christ is still future, they worry that many other passages concerning imminent events must have already transpired or else Scripture must be broken. [1]

It also seems inconsistent or disingenuous for moderate preterists to say that all the timing texts require a 1st century fulfillment when some of the timing texts concern the literal, bodily Second Coming of Jesus—which moderate preterists themselves hold as awaiting future fulfillment (Rev. 22:20). I believe one key to understanding the timing texts is found in what Peter says after addressing the scoffers: "with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pe. 3:8). Although this text is often abused to teach long days in creation or to deny the thousand year period of the millennial kingdom, in context it is actually saying that God's perspective concerning 'soon' is greatly different than man's.

It is my prayer that my critique will help people understand the inconsistencies of preterism. More than that, to discern the ways in which teachers can go astray when an incorrect interpretive decision dictates everything else that follows—even holding to such an interpretation when it fails to match the details of Scripture.



[1] Full or consistent preterists respond to the scoffers by stating that the Second Coming of Jesus was only spiritual and must have already taken place even though nobody seems to have been aware of it.