Thursday, March 22, 2007

Reflections on the End of Movements

Being labeled can be a dangerous thing. However, distinctions (which are always accompanied by labels) can be a helpful, even beneficial, thing. The older I get, the more I realize that the labels (or badges, one might say in good Wrightian style) need to be held loosely, never as a true identity marker--apart from faith in Jesus as Messiah. This faith is the only badge worth retaining, since it makes the only distinction worth making. Often times, though, the further distinctions we make within that distinction ("I'm of Paul" or "I'm of Cephas" or "I'm of the Scottish Reformation" or "I'm of the Dutch Reformation") can be dangerous and unnecessarily divisive. Especially when the labels are held on tightly to.

I used to be a part of two different, only tangentially related labeled movements: theonomy and preterism. While I consider myself to still be at least a "moderate" theonomist (whatever, exactly, that means), I have broken off most ties to the preterist world. I would, I guess, consider myself a cautious partial preterist, but no where near the "full" preterism I held in my (earlier) youth.

I think that this is a good thing.

When RJ Rushdoony, the grandpapa of theonomy, died, the movement ended. One of his students, Andrew Sandlin, declared the end of it (although I don't have the article in my archives). It was a good thing to declare. Fewer movements have been so striken with dissession, in-fighting, and arrogant out-fighting as theonomy. What could have led to fruitful exegesis and thoughtful engagement with the wider world devolved into bickering internally and rudeness to the outsiders. It is no wonder that when I tell people I'm a theonomist that they look at me askew, especially if they know anything about me before I say that (largely) four-letter word. Maybe, just maybe, with the end of a movement devoted to much leader worship (the big three, especially: Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen), exegetical theonomy can make some contributions to the Church. I'm hoping so.

Preterism, however, is a different story. I remember some of the things that initially made me wary, while I was in the midst of being groomed as a future leader of the movement: sloppy exegesis and dependence on pagan thought for proof (one writer proved that the resurrection body was non-material by referencing, of all people, Plato...shudder). The fruits of that, I am finding out, are now becoming ever apparent. Universalism, the doctrine that all people are saved--whether just by existing or through the remedial means of post-mortem purgatory--is becoming popular and widespread amongst preterists. The equation seems to be "no final judgement = no judgement at all historically :. no judgement at all". This, and the fact that some non-universalist preterists claim that a "secret Rapture" occurred in AD 70, seals the coffin lid for me. Most preterists either end up here, or so "spiritualizing" (that is, exegetically destroying and fuzzying) scripture as to be almost laughable. I don't laugh, though, since I have many friends and even some relatives that are a part of this movement. The end, one might say, is near.


A. B. Dada said...

As an anarcho-pantelist (basically a One King Full Preterist), I'm glad that the Rushdoony movement has slowed down or collapsed. Rushdoony was a supporter of Christian Dominionism, which to me is a scary, scary though.

I do appreciate his son-in-law, Gary North, who writes from an anarcho-capitalist prespective. I just don't mesh with his faith perspective.

Interesting article, btw.

A.B. Dada

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KDNY said...

Did you used to contribute to Gary North's "freebooks" discussion board? If so, I think I remember interacting with you on hyper-preterism at that time.

Glad to read.

Russ said...


Yep, that was me. A much younger me. I can't ascertain who you are, though, from your profile, otherwise I, too, might be able to remember you.

KDNY said...

Hey Russ,

Not sure who I posted under there, but my name is Keith and then I was briefly on Ed Stevens discussion list with you. I remember you responding to one of my emails on that list and you referenced our discussion on North's site. After that, my memory gets a bit fuzzy. The main reason you stick out is because I think you were 17 or 18 at the time and you were interested in studying theology. That's the main thing that sticks out.

After that, you may recall that I attended a PCA church, and you made reference to that in your response. It's all hazy, but...

Cody Stewart said...

I really wish that everyone knew about a very important part of preterism that even preterists do not know, or understand...
The 40 year wilderness wanderings, and the 70 A.D. parallel. To not spend a lot of time giving detailed examples, I will just say this...
From the passover at the time of Moses, until Joshua entered the land of promise, 40 years passed. The fulfillment of this is from the passover, (death, burial, and resurrection of Yashua) until Titus came into the land, 40 years passed. Everything in between is a fulfillment in the NT period.
The 1000 years beyond this is from the time after Joshua, (...because if Joshua had given them rest, then he would not have talked about another day... Hebrews 4:8) Joshua 24, until 2nd Kings 25. THat is the 1000 year "rest" that they had in the land of promise until they were totally kicked out.

Virgil T. Morant said...

It is fascinating to see the fate of movements that are focused on one mere man. They have an inherent instability. Those that don't—as, it seems, the majority do—die within a generation of the man, give rise to a great many further divisions as the generations continue. Most of us aren't the Apostle Paul, and most of us aren't prophets.

On prophets and preterism, by the way, I am reminded of the Orthodox understanding of prophecy as an unfolding or revelation of God that is not limited to specific events. Any notion of the prophecies of Scripture that would look for their completion in specific historical events in such a way as to render them mere past tense facts of history would in many or all cases be difficult for the Orthodox φρόνημα to agree with. Prophecies, to be sure, are fulfilled, but not so much in discrete, text-book history ways.

Nice post. Thank you for notifying me about it. I'd be interested in further thoughts you have as time marches on and you continue to process the things inculcated in you in younger days.