Simmons Response to Simmons - Is Preterism a Logical Corallary of Univeralism

Simmons' Response to Simmons

Is Preterism a Logical Corallary to Universalism?

 

In a recent article posted on PreteristArchive.com, Brian Simmons tells the story of his journey from partial Preterist, to full Preterist, to Universalist.  The thrust of Brian’s article is that Universalism is a necessary and logical implication of full Preterism.  I feel this is error, and therefore respond.  It is not full Preterism[1] that leads to Universalism, but a lack of sufficient grounding in basic Bible instruction regarding issues of sin and salvation that lead to belief in this pernicious doctrine. 

Brian’s Premises Lead to Brian’s Conclusions

At the outset, it should be noted that Brian has been a full Preterist for less than two years.  It was not until the summer of 2005 that he began his inquiry into full Preterism, and not until November of that year that he embraced fulfilled eschatology.  This is more than passing significant, because it shows that Brian does not bring the voice of experience or maturity to his conclusions, but those of a mere neophyte.  He is not the voice of one who has wrestled with these issues over long years only to surrender at last, but someone who, in the space of little more than a year, rashly followed his own mistaken premises to wrong conclusions.  I have been a full Preterist for over 27 years, and have never become a Universalist, and never will.  It is difficult to imagine anything more biblically indefensible than the irresponsible notion of “universal salvation.”  On the other hand, there are few things more biblically sound or easily defended than full Preterism.  Far from one leading logically to the other, they are like water and oil that will not mix.  It is only by perversion of Preterism and the gospel that one can fall into Universalism.  Whatever led Brian to Universalism was not the full Preterism embraced tens of thousands of sound and faithful believers, but errors peculiar to Brian and those sharing his views. 

Mistaken Premise No. 1: Reversal of “Original Sin”

Brian indicates that approximately one year after embracing full Preterism, he became aware of certain logical conclusions he felt flowed out of J. Stuart Russell’s Parousia.   Says Brian: “As I traced Russell's system to its obvious conclusions, I began to feel that he was correct.  Yet the full doctrinal implications of his teaching had yet to dawn on me.  It would take almost a year before I realized one major truth: If death was destroyed in A.D. 70, why would anyone be under condemnation today?”

There is a logical fallacy here: Brian assumes that the “death” destroyed at the eschaton was juridical death, which he believes was imputed to all mankind based upon Adam’s transgression.  That this is Brian’s meaning is clear from what he says later: “In time, however, the same questions kept recurring.  If death was abolished, it could only have been abolished in a universal sense.  This would release all men from the condemnation of Adam's transgression, thus imputing righteousness to all.”  (Emphasis added.)

Thus, Brian believes in universal imputed condemnation, apparently infants included, based upon Adam’s transgression.  This is nothing but the Catholic doctrine of “original sin,” carried over into some Protestant churches by early reformers, but by no means unanimously embraced among Christians.  Indeed, it is probably a minority position among evangelical Christians.

The doctrine of original sin is based on Paul’s statement in Romans 5:19 that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” However, this passage can be interpreted several ways.  The Catholic interpretation is that God imputes and imposes legal condemnation to all mankind based upon the transgression of Adam, requiring even infants to be baptized to be saved.  The Catholic church recently softened this view, and now allows the possibility that unbaptized infants may escape damnation.  But the basic teaching remains that God condemns mankind vicariously in Adam.  How this squares with the notion of a just God I will leave those embracing that view to work out for themselves.  I personally find it irreconcilable with the Bible and the justice I see exercised by God throughout.  This leads to the second way of interpreting the passage, and the one that I would urge is correct; that is, that mankind was made the heir of Adam’s fallen condition, not his legal condemnation; that mankind inherited Adam’s fallenness, but that no one man is condemned before God based upon that fallenness until he personally acts upon it, having attained to an age of accountability. 

Sin implies moral culpability and this, in turn, implies possession of moral faculties beyond those of infants and small children.  It also means that legal blame is not transferred or imputed from one man to another, but that every man is answerable only for his own sins.  Ezekiel clearly establishes this point for all that will objectively consider the prophet’s words: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.  The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”  (Ezek. 18:20)  This passage expresses God’s system of equity and justice and his decree that one man shall not be visited with the sins of another.  We do not speak here of the unavoidable consequences of the child growing up in the home an alcoholic parent, or similar situation, for in this case the sins of the fathers are plainly and unavoidably visited upon the children.  But this is due to the nature of things, and not to the specific judgment of God. Rather, we speak to the established principles upon which God exercises his office as judge of the world, and either saves or condemns individual men.  God’s righteous judgment is the model for man’s righteous judgment; as men expect justice by earthly sovereigns in government, so they expect justice in God.  Appeal to “sovereignty” is not a license to arbitrary and unjust judgment in God any more than it is men.  The notion that God condemns the whole race based upon Adam’s transgression cannot be reconciled with a just and righteous God.

Issues of man’s free moral agency enter into the equation.  Luther denied free will in man:  “free will is really a fiction and a label without reality, because it is in no man’s power to plan any evil or good…Everything takes place by absolute necessity.”[2]  In another place, Luther said that “free will is a downright lie.”[3]  However, as Erasmus ably pointed out, “Where ever there is pure and perpetual necessity, there can be neither guilt nor virtue.”  “’I have set before you life and death.  Choose the good and follow me.’ Could it be stated any more plainly?  God shows what is good and what is evil. He offers as recompense death or life.  He relinquishes to man the freedom of choice.  It would be ridiculous to command one to make a choice, if he were incapable of turning in either direction.”[4]  It is probably an easier step logically for those that deny free will and embrace doctrines like “predestination” and the “impossibility of apostasy” to make the transition into the error of Universalism than for those that deny them, for they take all responsibility away from man to respond to the gospel message and assign everything to the will of God.  “Did God condemn all men based upon the act of a single man?  What of it? God now justifies all men based upon the sacrifice of Christ.”  Man is simply a passive instrument in the hands of God to save or condemn as he elects. 

It is clear that Brian’s understanding of Rom. 5:19 and belief in “original sin” (by whatever name) are leading factors causing him to embrace Universalism.  Conversely, rejection of the doctrine of original sin has kept tens of thousand of other full Preterists like me from falling into Brian’s error.  Indeed, Universal justification is not a logical corollary of full Preterism at all!  One can fall into the error of Universalism, irrespective of his view of eschatology, for the basic premise of Universalism is not fulfilled eschatology, but the universal affect of the cross.  It is true that some have fallen into the error of Universalism after embracing full Preterism, but, typically, as with Brian, this has more to do with the unsoundness of doctrines they embraced when they became full Preterists, than full Preterism itself.  Full Preterism does not teach original sin; that is an error Brain brought with him; full Preterism merely provided the catalyst for him to think his errors through and logically apply them; it did not create them.  The better policy would have been to reject original sin, not embrace Universalism! 

Townely, who also went from full Preterist to Universalist followed the same trail as Brian.  As may be plainly seen, the culprit is not Preterism, but erroneous notions about imputed sin:

In this state or constitution all the family of God, who were of the existing generation, were interested, independent of their knowledge.  For instance, the Philipian jailor, as he was judged in the first Adam head, so he was justified in the resurrection of the second Adam head.   Did his ignorance of these facts, prior to Paul’s preaching, absolve him from the judgment any more than it precluded him from the justification?  By no means.  As he had been in the state of condemnation by the first Adam, so was he then in the state of justification by the second.  He was reconciled to Go by the death of the Son, and not by the knowledge of that death.[5]

Notice that Townely here preaches Universalism without being aware of it (he actually argues against Universalism in one of the closing notes to his book).  Hence, it is not Preterism that brought him to Universalism, but his own imperfect understanding of sin and salvation.  It may be that his imperfect understanding of sin and salvation when viewed through the prism of Preterism caused him to see the Universalism that had always been a latent part of his system of belief, but Preterism itself did not put those beliefs there.  Like Brain, they were Townely’s long before he became a Preterist. 

Mistaken Premise No. 2: Death Universally Destroyed

Brian argues: “the premise is incontrovertible.  If death has been nullified, it can only nullified completely.  This means eternal life is imputed to all men, regardless of faith.”   Contrary to what Brian alleges, the premise is not “incontrovertible.”  Indeed, it is completely false.  It is only in the city, the new Jerusalem, that death is destroyed. (Rev. 21:4)  Outside the city are “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”  (Rev. 22:15)  John, who wrote the Revelation, says no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  (I Jno. 3:15)   Does John contradict himself?  Does he say in one place that murders do not share in salvation, but in another that they do?  Not at all.  Those who enter into the city are acquitted for their sins; those that are without the city (the church) remain dead in sin.  Death has not been completely or universally destroyed, as Brian maintains.  Brain gratuitously reads that into the Bible, but it is not there.

When Paul says that “in Christ all shall be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22), he limits the application of grace to those who have obeyed the gospel.  Being “in Christ” is the same as being in the new Jerusalem, the church.  The Bible teaches only one way for a man to get “into Christ,” and that is by repentance as baptism. 

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”  Rom. 6:3-5

This is in the very next chapter following Paul’s statements that have given rise to the notion of original sin and universal salvation, and is a sufficient refutation of those doctrines.  Few things could be plainer: by baptism man is made a partaker of Christ’s death.  Jesus said “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  (Mk. 16:15)  Peter said “baptism doth also now save us.”  (I Pet. 3:21)  In baptism man receives the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and his sins are washed away: “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.”  (Acts 22:16)  Some people’s paradigm of how we are made partakers of Christ causes them to reject these verses, as if acknowledging their plain meaning somehow entails preaching a gospel of “works,” but deny them as they will, the truth remains the same: we get into Christ by repentance and baptism in Jesus’ name, or not at all.  And this is the teaching of virtually all the reformers, to say nothing of the church fathers, and the Nicene Creed, recited almost everywhere in Christendom.  I will quote Calvin as typical of them all:

"Ananias, therefore, only intended to say to Paul, 'That thou mayest be assured that thy sins are forgiven, be baptized; for in baptism the Lord promises remission of sins; receive this and be secure."  (Calvin, Institutes, Vol. 2, p. 487)

  "By baptism, God promises remission of sins, and will certainly fulfill to all believers: that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith; it was long dormant by reason of our unbelief; now, then, let us receive it by faith."  (Calvin, Institutes, Vol. 2. p. 488)

The idea that death has been destroyed for those out of Christ (those that obey not the gospel) is alien to the scriptures.  Brian’s premise that death was destroyed for all men is wrong.  It was his own mistaken premise that led to his wrong conclusions, not full Preterism.

Brian quotes statements by Russell that he feels hold latent seeds of Universalism, and may even have been disguised to conceal his views.  But this is wrong.  Russell quotes Jesus when he says “I will draw all men unto myself”and Paul when he states that “grace did much more abound.”  These are not affirmations of Universalism.  They simply show that God invites all men to be saved, not that he thrusts salvation upon them.  It is Brian, not Russell, who is wresting the scriptures.

Mistaken Premise No. 3: Source of Sin & Death was the Mosaic Law

Another error common to those who wander out of the way and into Universalism is the idea that the source of sin and death was the Old Testament.  Brian indicates that this was his view: “I tended to see everything in the New Testament canon as applying to the Old Covenant only.  In a statement I made at the time, I said: ‘On the day of Pentecost the Old Covenant was made spiritual, and it ended in A.D. 70.’"  In other words, Brian came to see man’s salvation exclusively in terms of his redemption from the Old Law.  This meant that the Bible had little relevance for today, speaking only to circumstances applicable other men: “The epistles were just old letters written to dead people who were under a totally different covenant.  Thank heaven we were out of that business now, and under a different set of terms and privileges.  Since sin has been abolished through the nullification of death, a mass murderer such as Henry Lee Lucas cannot be any less righteous than a man like Billy Graham.  Neither Graham nor Lucas can fulfill the law... right?  Then how can Graham be more righteous than Lucas?  They both must rely on the finished work of Christ.  And that work was ‘finished in A.D. 70.’"

This is a common mistake.  Townely said “”sin, Satan, death, and hell have their true and scriptural meaning in reference only to the two covenants.”[6]  He states moreover, that death was a dispensational matter done away in A.D. 70.  “Death and time are dispensation matters in scripture: we hold that at the close of the dispensations, in the fall of Jerusalem, there was time no longer; so, in like manner, we maintain that at the same close there was no more death.”[7] Max King, who also has wandered out of the way into Universalism makes the same error, affirming that the sole source of sin and death was the old law: “One must look to the Jewish system as the state and power of death to be destroyed by the reign of Christ.”[8] “Paul is conscious that death’s defeat hinges upon sin’s defeat, and that the defeat of sin is tied to the annulment of the old aeon of law…For Paul, death is abolished when the state of sin and the law are abolished.”[9]  “When the ‘ministration of death written in tables of stone’ was finally destroyed, death was swallowed up in victory.”[10]  

It is easy to see the seeds of Universalism in all of these statements: If sin and death existed only in the Mosaic law, removal of that law can only equate with universal justification.  Notice again King’s statement: “the state of sin and the law are abolished.”[11]  Thus, the logical implication of King’s Jewish soteriology and eschatology is the complete abolition of the state of sin and death for all mankind; viz., universalism! 

But this is a grave mistake.  The source death is not the Mosaic law; the source of death is the law of sin and death.  (Rom. 7:23; 8:2)  This law existed in the garden; it was the penalty attached to transgression of God’s moral law by disobedience to his commandments.  “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  (Gen. 2:17)  The law of sin and death has existed in every age and generation; it existed in the garden; it existed under the law of Moses; and it exists even now.  “For him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not for him it is sin.”  (Jam. 4:17)  “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”  (Rom. 14:23)  Brian states that “sin has been abolished by the nullification of death” but this is reverse of the truth.  It is death that is abolished by the nullification of sin.  The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.  (I Cor. 15:56)  Christ satisfied the law by his cross; for those that obey the gospel his death takes the place of their own.  Those who refuse to believe and obey remain in sin.  “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”  (Jno. 8:24)  “There is a sin unto death.”  (I Jno. 5:16)  Indeed, Brian states that both Graham and Lucas must “rely on the finished work of Christ.”  But does Lucas rely upon that work?  That is the issue.  For those that rely upon Christ by obeying the gospel, repenting of their sins, and being baptized, Christ is indeed Savior.  But for those that refuse the offer of grace, he is their judge and will say “depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”  (Matt. 25:41)  “But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and wrath upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also the Gentile.”  (Rom. 2:8, 9)

Conclusion

Universalism is not a logical corollary of full Preterism.  Tens of thousands of full Preterists reject Universalism with no logical inconsistency in their system of beliefs. Those that fall into the error of Universalism do so based upon erroneous conclusions unique to themselves. 

 NOTES: 

[1] By “full Preterism” is simply mean fulfilled eschatology; viz., that the prophecies of Christ’s eschatological coming were historically fulfilled in the world events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

[2] Luther,  Asertio, Art. XXXVI.

[3] Luther, Bondage of the Will, Introduction.

[4] Erasmus, Discourse on Free Will, Ernest F. Winter translation.

[5] Robert Townely, The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ a Past Event (1845, London), p. 90.

[6] Townely, p. 17.

[7] Townely, p. 84.

[8] Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy (Warren, OH, 1971), pp. 144.

[9] Max R. King, The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p. 644.

[10] Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy, p. 145

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