Call to Conservativism

Kurt Simmons

A new error surfaced recently in Preterist circles, which argues that Lazarus, not John, was the “beloved disciple” who leaned upon Jesus’ breast and penned the fourth gospel.  The source of this novel idea is a short book by J. Philips, entitled “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved.”[1]  I do not know if the author is a Preterist, but he has found followers within the leadership of the Preterist movement.  We certainly do not want to attack anyone.  However, there can be no question that the book is frivolous and utterly without merit.  A search on the internet under the prompt “author of the fourth gospel” shows that there are four or five sites advocating this doctrine, about the same number as those advocating Mary Magdalene as the secret authoress.  In our view, one is about as worthy of credibility as the other, which hovers somewhere near zero. 

Over the course of two thousand years, the best minds and most able scholars – men of house-hold name like Eusebuis, Jerome, and Augustine, Erasmus, and Calvin, among countless lesser known others, have searched the scriptures to identify the author of the fourth gospel.  The verdict of these learned experts has been all but unanimous in favor the John, the son of Zebedee.  Now, after two thousand years, comes a man with little learning, no scholarship, no evidence, and a poorly written and reasoned book arguing that Lazarus was the “secret” author.  And who listens to him?  Members of the Preterist community!  For shame! At exactly the point where the utmost caution and circumspection ought to have been displayed, where there ought to have been required the most exacting evidence and scholarship before embracing so novel and unprecedented a doctrine, there has been haste and recklessness; where the senses should have been trained and alert to the enormous improbability that Lazarus was the secret of author of the fourth gospel, and has only now been discovered after two thousand years, there was naiveté and wild-eyed abandon.  And all of Preterism must suffer because of it. 

In the early 1800’s, German higher critics attacked the authenticity and historicity of virtually every book of the Bible, impugning the authorship of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the gospels, the pastoral epistles, and Revelation.  The Pentateuch they claimed was written by a “Jehovahist” and an “Eloihimist” whose separate works were later edited and combined in one.  Isaiah was written by two men, not the prophet whose name the book bears.  Paul did not write the pastoral epistles; John did not write Revelation, and so forth.  Regarding the fourth gospel, the attacks proceeded along various lines, some putting the fourth gospel beyond John’s ability to write by late-dating, and others by objections to its historicity and doctrine.  German higher critics were some of the best scholars from world class universities; their scholarship made their skepticism formidable; the affects of their assault upon the citadel of faith are seen even to this day.  Whole churches have gone over to liberalism because of a diminished authority of the Bible as God’s inerrant and verbally inspired word.  Countless souls have been lost to the lies of higher criticism.  However, the critics’ attacks were not unanswered.  The best and most able scholars Christianity could produced rose to the occasion and answered the objections, routing the enemy and driving them from the field.   John’s authorship of the fourth gospel in particular has been completely vindicated against the specious theories of the critics.   

However, authorship of the fourth gospel is NOT the real issue.  The real issue is the penchant of some for novel and sensational teachings, an obsession for issues that boarder on the fringe. Trafficking in issues on the fringe is courting trouble.  Those who make a steady diet of dealing in the novel and sensational, are like those that build with wood, hay, and stubble – in the day and hour of need, their faith will fail them!   Christianity is not about sensational issues, but about CHANGED LIVES and the SALVATION OF THE SOUL.  The substance of our faith is the CROSS and the power of God’s word to convict of sin and elevate men above their fallen nature.  It is the power to redeem man from sin and to reclaim ruined lives.  It is about how to raise our families so that our sons grow up to be men of God and our daughters grow up chaste and pure; it is about well ordered lives and happy and harmonious homes; about a culture whose values are brought into conformity to Christ, and whose government is compelled to acknowledge the superior claim of God to man’s allegiance and obedience.  It is about gratitude toward God for sparing us when we were worthy of death, and daily heaping his benefits upon us.  It is not about speculative questions and issues of idle curiosity of the sort represented by Mr. Philip’s book. 

If it is to retain respectability before its critics Preterism needs a healthy dose of conservatism.  Who cannot imagine Ken Gentry and Keith Matheson sitting patiently by, cataloging the frivolous material that gains currency among Preterists, lying in wait to use it against us when we are most vulnerable to assault?  Imagine being in a debate only to have your opponent bring before the audience the laundry list of Preterist gaffs that have circulated over the years.  How much credibility would we retain before an audience when it is informed of some Preterist beliefs?  An inventory of dubious Preterist beliefs includes: 

·         “Heaven now” the notion that Christians are already in heaven now.

·         “Immortal bodies now” - the idea that we already possess our immortal bodies.

·         “Covenantal Adam” – the idle notion Adam and Eve were not the first created living-beings, but were only the first humans with whom God was in covenant.

·         “Covenantal creation” – the theory that the Genesis account isn’t about the material creation of the planet earth but is only symbolic of God’s creation of covenant Israel.

·         Regional flood - the idea that the historical narratives of Genesis must be reinterpreted through a “covenantal” paradigm, assuming the use of apocalyptic language, making the flood merely local and covenantal, not universal.

·         Old Earth Creationism – the idea that the creation account of Genesis is but an allegory or metaphoric account, and must be interpreted “covenantally” in reference to Old Testament Israel.  This view also urges that the six days of creation are merely symbolic or that a gap must be read into the text, and that the earth is billions of years old.

·         Antinomianism – the teaching that with abolition of the law of Moses, no law exists today that condemns men or Christians before God.

·         Universalism/Comprehensive Grace – Mankind lives in a new world because the law has been done away; all men will be saved.

·         Anti-sacramentalism – It is unnecessary to keep the ordinances or sacraments of the church; the Lord’s Supper and baptism belonged to the time of types and shadows, but were done away at the eschaton. 

These are just some of the spurious ideas floating about Preterist circles today.  Some of them are silly but harmless, others very destructive and even dangerous.  Jesus said “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  (Mk. 16:16)  Peter said, “Baptism doth also now save us.”  (I Pet. 3:21)  Any fair treatment of these passages must place a pretty high importance upon the ordinance/sacrament of baptism.  For someone to teach these commandments are not necessary to obey is serious stuff.  Inasmuch as they are little more than accommodations with evolution, I feel old earth creationism and the covenantal Adam ideas are dangerous as well.  The Lazarus issue is sillier that it is serious, but because it strikes at the confidence men place in scripture it can only be injurious.  Indeed, no error is to our advantage, certainly not one that impugns the apostolic authorship of the gospels.   

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not have any sacred cows, and feel the search for truth is always commendable.  But, when our search constantly involves us with issues upon the fringe, something is wrong. Paul told Timothy “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.”  (II  Tim. 2:23)  Virtually every item on the list probably qualifies as an “unlearned question.”  Would someone truly learned in the scripture say that Adam was not the first man, or that the six days of creation actually spanned billions of years, that we are in heaven now, or that John was not the author of the fourth gospel?   I rather doubt it. 

We want to encourage Preterists everywhere to exercise the utmost caution and restraint in embracing anything new or that smacks of what is novel or sensational.  Truth is very old and for the most part very obvious.  An occasional pearl, like Preterism, has been lost along the way where it patiently waited to be rediscovered.  But this is the exception, not the rule.  For the most part, plain old vanilla is the order of the day when it comes to the important stuff of truth and Christianity.  Do not let an unhealthy penchant for collateral issues be what defines your faith.  God bless you as you study his word.

[1] The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

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