House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist
Response to When Shall These Things Be?
Edward J. Hassertt
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According to Dr. Richard Pratt, one of the central errors of preterists
is our belief “that all biblical predictions must be fulfilled just as
they are stated” (WSTTB, 121). In contrast to the teachings of preterists,
Pratt says that the prophetic predictions of the Bible are “seldom
fulfilled exactly as they are given” (122). In fact, “true prophets,” he says,
“often predicted things that did not happen” at all (131).
According to Pratt, the reason that biblical prophecies failed to be
fulfilled is because human choices intervened and played a major role
in determining how or if the predictions would be fulfilled (123, 126).
Therefore, concludes Pratt, “it does not matter if the Scriptures depict
Christ’s second coming in close proximity to his first coming. . . . [H]is
return could still be in our future, even two thousand years later” (122).
Pratt begins his chapter, “Hyper-Preterism and Unfolding Biblical
Eschatology,” lamenting that many Christians endorse “the hyper-preterist
proposal” that the predictions of true prophets are fulfilled just
as they were stated (122). He complains that it is “quite common” for
evangelicals to agree with “the hyper-preterist interpretation” of Deuteronomy
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not
take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.
That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid
Many or most Christians, including preterists, believe this verse to
be saying that if a prophet makes a prediction in the name of Yahweh
and the thing predicted does not take place or come true, then the prediction
was not a message that Yahweh had spoken. Pratt says that this
interpretation is not “subtle” enough (122–123).
Halfway through his chapter, Pratt, in one paragraph, explains his
interpretation of this verse. He says that different prophetic predictions
were meant to be taken in different ways and indicated various levels of
determination of God to direct the future. Almost none of God’s predictions
in the Bible, according to Pratt, offered absolute certainty that
they would be fulfilled. Thus, a true prophet passed the test of Deuteronomy
18:22 “so long as historical events took place that matched the
level of certainty that their predictions offered” (137).
Although Pratt does not say so, this interpretation of Deuteronomy
18:22 means that if a false prophet uttered a prediction in the name of
Yahweh and the prediction failed to come to pass, the false prophet and
the people could simply say: “The fact that this prediction in the name
of Yahweh did not come to pass only proves that this was a typical prediction
of God. He simply did not have a high level of determination to
direct the future when He made this prediction.” No one could prove or
disprove this argument if Pratt’s interpretation is true. Pratt thus renders
Deuteronomy 18:22 practically useless and ultimately meaningless.
Pratt versus Reformed Theology
Not surprisingly, Pratt attempts to dissociate his view from Open
Theism and to connect it instead to traditional Reformed theology
(123–124). He does this by affirming God’s sovereign immutability,
and by affirming that everything that takes place in the universe is part
of God’s eternal plan (124–125).
He also reminds the reader of the Reformed teaching that God’s immutability
does not mean that He is unchangeable in every way imaginable.
While God does not change in such things as His Being, character,
attributes, eternal counsel/plan/purposes, and promises, God does
change in the sense that He has meaningful interactions with and relationships
with man. He is actively involved in history. He lives our life
with us. He judges us, redeems us, and answers our prayers. He also
changed in that He “became flesh” (124–125).
This is all well and good and perfectly in line with Reformed theology.
But Pratt subtly shifts this Reformed teaching into the area of prophecy
fulfillment. It is at this point in his chapter that Pratt begins his defense
against preterism in earnest. And according to the pattern of WSTTB, he
begins his arguments with a creed, instead of with Scripture (125):
Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decrees of God,
the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly;
yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according
to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely,
or contingently. (The Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.2)
The illusion that Pratt attempts to create by referencing this section
of the Confession is that it says anything about prophecy or the end
times. But of course, it does not. This section of the Confession deals
only with God’s eternal decrees made within the Godhead. Nowhere
does it address prophetic predictions. Pratt also attempts to use the
scriptural proof text that the Confession uses (Isa. 10:6–7) in order to
validate his view that God causes His own prophetic predictions to fail
(126, 152), but that scripture in no way suggests what Pratt contends.
Sawing Off The Limb He is Sitting On
Pratt begins his attempt to prove his view through Scripture exegesis on
pages 127–128, by using Jeremiah 18:7–10:
The instant I speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom,
to pluck up, or to break down, or to destroy; if that nation
against whom I have spoken will turn from their evil, I will repent
of the evil that I thought to do to it. And the instant I speak
concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to
plant it; if it does evil in My eye, not to obey My voice, then I will
repent of the good which I had said to do good to it.
According to Pratt, this passage demonstrates that the prophets of
God often made predictions (of judgment or of salvation) that did not
come true, because the intervening historical contingencies of the people’s
repentance or of the people’s sin caused God to cancel or postpone
or change the fulfillment of the prophetic predictions.
What Pratt misses here is that Jeremiah 18:7–10 itself is a prophecy
which Pratt is assuming must be fulfilled just as it was given. The
irony is thick here. Pratt claims that preterists are wrong in their view
that prophetic predictions were always fulfilled as they were written,
because human action usually changed things so that the predictions
were not fulfilled as they were written. Yet to prove this claim, Pratt assumes
that Jeremiah 18 is fulfilled exactly as it was written.
According to the logic of Pratt’s scheme, God is or was likely to
change His mind about His prophetic prediction in Jeremiah 18 and
God could decide instead to never change His stated plans when nations
repent or sin. Yet illogically, Pratt argues with certainty that God,
according to the sure prediction of Jeremiah 18:7–10, causes His own
predictions to fail.
Pratt is like a radical anti-creedalist who illogically endorses a creed
(“all creeds are false”) to prove that all creeds are false. The anti-creedalist
must assume—based on nothing—that his own creed is correct in
order to reject all creeds. He does not realize that his anti-creedal position
invalidates his own creed. Likewise, Pratt is assuming—based on
nothing—that a biblical prophetic prediction (his proof text, Jer. 18:7–
10) is sure and certain in order to prove that all such predictions are
unsure and uncertain. Pratt does not realize that his position removes
all certainty from the very text he is using to prove his position.
Predictions versus Threats
As we can see, Pratt’s view is logically invalid at its exegetical inception.
But let us move on through the rest of his chapter and take a look at the
first specific example he gives of his notion that God’s prophetic predictions
usually failed to be fulfilled as they were written (152). His first
example is 2 Chronicles 12:5 (129), where the prophet Shemaiah said to
Rehoboam and to the leaders of Judah,
This is what the Lord says, You have abandoned me; therefore, I
now abandon you to Shishak.
As a result of this prophetic word, Rehoboam and the leaders of
Judah humbled themselves, and God did not destroy them through
Shishak but only caused them to be subject to him (2 Chron. 12:7–8).
Thus God did not abandon them to Shishak even though He said He
abandoned them to Shishak.
The second example Pratt uses for his prediction-failure doctrine
(130–131) is Jonah 3:4:
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he
cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
As we know, because the city repented, Nineveh was not overthrown
(Jonah 3:7–10). Thus God did not overthrow Nineveh even
though He said that Nineveh would be overthrown.
Pratt’s conclusion when he puts Jeremiah 18:7–10; 2 Chronicles
12:5–8 and Jonah 3:4–10 together is that “true prophets often predicted
things that did not happen” (131).
While Pratt says that his view is “complex” (122), the cause of the
complexity (i.e., of his error) is surprisingly simple. His primary exegetical
mistake is reflected in his use of the word “prediction” (127–
131). Pratt acknowledges that the two prophetic utterances above were
“threats” of judgment. Though Pratt calls Shemaiah’s prophetic message
a “prediction” (129), Pratt nevertheless acknowledges that it was
“just a warning from God . . . of judgment that might come” (129–130).
Pratt misses the fact that if the prophetic word of Shemaiah was “just a
warning,” then it was not a prophetic “prediction.” There was therefore
no failed “prediction.”
Though Pratt says that Jonah made a “prediction,” he acknowledges
that the “prediction” was actually “a threatened judgment” (130–132).
Jonah was called to “preach” (warn/threaten) not to make a prediction.
There was therefore no failed “prediction.”
Incidentally, Pratt says that God delayed His predicted judgment
of Nineveh as a result of the repentance of the people (132). But there
was no delay, even as there was no prediction. Rather, God “relented
concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon
them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). The judgment that came upon
Nineveh some generations later was unrelated to the judgment that
God threatened in Jonah’s day.
These passages of Scripture in no way show that a prophet of God
ever made a “prediction” that failed to come to pass. These were not
“predictions” at all. Even though Pratt acknowledges that these and
many other such words of the prophets were merely threats/warnings
or offers of blessings, he spends his chapter equivocating, calling those
threats and offers “predictions” when they were not.
This is the source of Pratt’s confusion and the confusion he is sure to
cause his readers. When Pratt said that “true prophets often predicted
things that did not happen” (131), what he should have said is that God,
through the prophets, often threatened to do things and offered to do
things that He did not, in the end, do. This biblical and Reformed truth
is a far, far cry from Pratt’s doctrine that God prophetically “predicted”
things that did not and will not ever come to pass.
Contrary to Pratt, whenever prophets of God actually predicted
things, those things happened —100% of the time. How Pratt can put
the “warnings” and “offers” of the Bible in the same category as the predictions
of the Second Coming, resurrection of the dead, and judgment of all
men is mystifying.
On page 137, Pratt says,
From the viewpoint of hyper-preterism, the predominant
purpose of predictions in the Scriptures was prognostication.
Hyper-preterists assume that prophets intended to give foreknowledge
of things to come.
I am truly surprised that Pratt’s editor Keith Mathison allowed
these sentences to pass inspection and to be sent to print. Obviously
one of the main purposes of a prediction was prognostication. “Prediction”
means “prognostication.” And obviously the prophets intended
to give foreknowledge of things to come. Who could possibly
What Pratt should have said in the first sentence is that the predominant
purpose of prophetic messages (threats of judgment and offers
of blessing) was not prognostication. And what he should have said
in the second sentence is that not every prophetic message contained
foreknowledge of things to come.
On the thirteenth page of Pratt’s chapter, he finally reaches an actual, predictive,
decretive prophecy (not merely a solemn threat/warning or offer):
Speak to Zerubbabel governor of Judah saying, I am going
to shake the heavens and the earth. And I will overthrow the
thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of
the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots and their riders,
and the horses and their riders will go down, everyone by the
sword of another. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will
take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, declares the
Lord, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen
you, declares the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:21–23)
According to Pratt, the fulfillment of even this prophecy was conditioned
upon the obedience of the people. And not only that, says Pratt,
the prophecy failed to take place as it was written: “ . . . [T]hese things
did not happen to Zerubbabel. He never became the king over God’s
people, and the nations around Israel were not destroyed. Why was
this so? It was because the postexilic community failed to be obedient
to the Lord.” The disobedience of the people, according to Pratt, caused
the “postponing” of the fulfillment of the prophecy (133).
First of all, when God says, “On that day, declares Yahweh of hosts,
I will,” the decretive nature of the prophecy is established. There is no
condition, implicit or otherwise, in the prophecy. The prophecy was
sure to be accomplished as it is written, Pratt notwithstanding.
As for Pratt’s claim that Zerubbabel “never became the king over
God’s people,” the prophecy says nothing about Zerubbabel becoming
the king over God’s people. It says only that God would make him
“like a signet ring.” This could possibly mean that Zerubbabel became
highly esteemed and exalted in the sight of God. And/Or the promise
to Zerubbabel could have been meant to refer to Christ, who was born
of the seed of Zerubbabel, who was of the seed of David. Either way,
there was no “postponing” of the prophecy.
But as is often the case, the biblical answer is the obvious answer,
and it is missed because it does not fit the futurist paradigm. The
prophecy of Haggai 2:6–9, 21–23 was fulfilled, in a “typical” sense, in
the lifetime of Zerubbabel. In about four years (“in a little while”) after
the prophecy was given, God overthrew all the nations, (He “shook the
heavens, the earth, the sea and the dry land”) and the desire or wealth
of all nations came, and the temple was filled with glory (with gold and
silver). (Compare Haggai 1:15; 2:10 and Ezra 6:15.)
This all took place when Darius King of Persia overturned Israel’s
enemies, who for years had been preventing the rebuilding of God’s
house. Darius decreed, “May God . . . overthrow any king or people who
lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem”
(Ezra 6:11–12). Darius forced Israel’s enemies themselves to pay the full
cost of the rebuilding, as well as the full cost of all the daily, priestly
services (Ezra 6:8–10).
The military and political power of Israel’s enemies was overthrown.
They had tried to turn the king against Israel (Ezra 5), but God turned
their own stratagems against them. He made them subservient to His
people, taking their own wealth for the building of His glorious, earthly
house. God had thus “moved heaven and earth” to keep the covenant
that He had made with His people through Moses (Ezra 6:18; Hag. 2:5).
The prophecy of Haggai 2:6–9; 21–23 also foreshadowed the fulfillment
of the better promise (Heb. 8:6) that was fulfilled in Christ’s generation.
Israel’s building of the greater, earthly house in Zerubbabel’s generation
was an example of the building of the true, heavenly “House” in Christ.
Within perhaps only four years (“in a little while”) after Hebrews
12:26 was written, God overthrew all the nations. He “shook the heavens,
the earth, the sea and the dry land.” The desire of all nations came,
and God’s Temple was filled with Glory.
This happened when God overturned His kingdom-enemies who,
in their persecution of the church, had furiously resisted the construction
of His new covenant temple (Eph. 2:21–22; I Peter 2:5). Despite
the rage of the enemies, God enlisted countless multitudes of them to
build His new House (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; Rev. 5:9); and the enemies
who resisted to the end were crushed, and were cast out of the kingdom
in AD 70 (Matt. 8:12; 21:43; Lk. 13:28; Acts 4:25–28; Gal. 4:30; Rev. 3:9).
God “moved heaven and earth” to keep the covenant that He made
with His elect through the blood of Christ. Now the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit dwell eternally in the universal church, which is the new
covenant House of promise (Jn. 14:23; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 2:21–22; 3:17; Col.
1:27; II Peter 1:19; Rev. 3:20; 21:2–3). Through the power of the eternal
gospel, the desire of the nations flows into “the more perfect tabernacle”
today and forever (Heb. 9:11; Rev. 21:26–27), and God Himself is its
unfading Glory (Rev. 21:23). Amen.
Pratt’s Three Failed Eschatons
In the last thirteen pages of his chapter, Pratt descends into an exegetical
abyss from which, sadly, he never returns. On pages 141–143, he says
that, according to Jeremiah, the beginning and consummation of the
eschaton (the Last Days), the culmination of history, the restoration of
Israel and of the Davidic throne, the rebuilding of the temple, and the
defeat and gathering of the Gentiles were all supposed to take place after
the Babylonian Exile in about 538 BC. Pratt says that the prophets of that
generation expected that the eschatological hopes of Israel would be imminently
But alas, according to Pratt, Daniel observed the alleged “failure” of
the supposedly imminent restoration of all things that Jeremiah allegedly
predicted. Daniel, in the prophecy of “the seventy weeks,” allegedly revealed
that the fullness of the eschaton, which allegedly should have happened
in Daniel’s lifetime, was allegedly postponed/delayed for about 490
years “because of a lack of repentance” (144–145, 147, 149, 152).
However, according to Pratt, about twenty years after Daniel received
that prophecy, the blessings of the eschaton were “offered” yet
again through the predictions of Haggai and Zechariah (520–515 BC).
But evidently, there was again insufficient repentance for the predictions
to be fulfilled (146–147).
Then according to Pratt, five hundred years later in the New Testament
era, the consummation of the eschaton was “offered” again
(meaning predicted but not promised, in Prattian usage). But “the lack
of repentance within the covenant community caused an indefinite delay
of Christ’s return” (149).
Apparently there was no “Daniel” this time around to tell anyone
there was going to be a delay (as though Daniel ever suggested a delay in
the first place). There was however the writer of Hebrews, who said in
about AD 66 that Christ would “not delay” in His Parousia (Heb. 10:37).
But that must have been one of those “failed” predictions.
Pratt comments on Acts 3:19–20:
Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away,
in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of
the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for
you. . . .
According to Pratt, Peter was saying that the imminent Second
Coming was a “conditional offer.” If those who were listening to him
repented, then there was a “hope”/“possibility” that it would happen in
their lifetime (150–151).
This interpretation however can be quickly dismissed. The Second
Coming in Christ’s generation was neither “conditional” nor an
“offer” nor a mere “possibility” that was contingent on human behavior.
The contingency was the elect being saved, and that work was of
the sovereign Spirit, not of man. Therefore the eschaton was going to
be fulfilled in the last days of the old covenant age no matter what men
would do to resist God’s purpose. There was absolutely no way to stop
the fulfillment of the Second Coming and resurrection of the dead in
the apostolic generation, Prattian contingencies and postponements
On page 134, Pratt says, “When a sign accompanied a prophecy, it
showed that God was very determined to carry out what the prophet
had predicted.” However, the prophetic time statements of the New
Testament were accompanied by signs. Yet Pratt claims that those
prophecies were all altered by human contingency.
Pratt says on page 135 that “when God adds an oath to a prophetic
prediction, it raises that prediction to the level of a covenantal certainty.
Pratt gives as an example, “There as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign
Lord . . . ” (Eze. 5:11). Yet when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself says,
“Truly [Amen], I say unto you,” in regard to the timing of His Parousia
(Matt. 16:28), Pratt for some reason does not count Jesus’ promise there
as “a covenantal certainty.”
Pratt says on page 137 that the question of timing always remains
open in prophecies with oaths. Evidently, Pratt has never read Revelation
10:6: “and [the angel] swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who
created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it,
and the sea and the things in it, that there shall be delay no longer.”
Later in the apostolic generation, Pratt says, the apostles had to deal
with the unexpected delay of Christ’s return (despite the oath in RevelaOpenness
tion 10:6), and the Christian community was beset with “discouragement”
as a result of that delay (151–152). How Pratt knows about this
delay definitively within his system of contingency and ambiguity is a
mystery he does not solve. But, Pratt continues, Peter did not give up
hope, because he knew that God was showing great patience, not wanting
anyone to perish but desiring “everyone” to come to repentance
(152). And according to Pratt, this has been going on now for about
2,500 years, since the days of Daniel. Thus ends Pratt’s notable chapter.
The last thirteen pages of Pratt’s chapter certainly do not merit any
further refutation. His arguments are transparently wrong. The eschaton
was never scheduled to arrive in 538 BC in the time of Daniel. Nor was it
supposed to arrive in about 520 B.C. in the time of Haggai and Zechariah.
Nor was it merely “offered” conditionally in Christ’s generation.
If Pratt is correct, we must ask: Has the eschaton been “offered” at any
other times since the first century? Was it “offered” again in 1843, as per
William Miller? Was it “offered” again in 1988, as per Edgar Whisenant?
Was it “offered” again in 1994, as per Harold Camping? Were those the
failed predictions of men, or the failed predictions of God? Who can say
one way or the other with any certainty, in Pratt’s “Openness Futurism”?
It may seem difficult to imagine how someone who is a Doctor of
Theology could believe and teach such incredibly unbiblical things.
But the reason is apparent if we paraphrase Pratt’s argument: “Hyperpreterists
think that prophecies are fulfilled as they were written. But
according to my futurist paradigm, prophecies were not fulfilled as they
were written. I know they were not fulfilled as they were written because
they were not fulfilled as they were written, according to my futurist
paradigm. Therefore, hyper-preterists are wrong when they say
that prophecies are fulfilled as they were written.”
Circular arguments, ad hominems, and question begging, oh my!
Preterism, in contrast, walks by faith. If it appears that a divine prediction
was not fulfilled when and how God said it would be fulfilled,
then it is our interpretation of the prediction, not its fulfillment, which
must be called into question. Amen.
Pratt and Openness Theology
Pratt’s eschatological error is not merely one of many perfectly acceptable
options within futurism, as Mathison suggests in his chapter.
Pratt comes dangerously close to Openness Theology in every one of his
analyses of prophetic utterances and in every argument he uses against
preterism. Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Open Theists
can see the source material for Pratt’s arguments. If his arguments
were not directly reproduced from Sanders and Pinnock, he has clearly
drunk from the same well as those men.
According to Pratt, even if Jesus Himself bluntly declared, “Verily I
say unto you, I will return in August of the year AD 70,” that would not
mean that His return actually occurred when He said it would (122).
His return could still be in our future, because His church could have
failed to repent and be faithful, and this “human contingency” could
have caused Him to delay His return for two thousand years, or even a
Who knows? Human contingency could also have caused Him to
change the way the promise of His return was supposed to be fulfilled.
Maybe He originally meant for His return to be fulfilled literally but
then human contingency caused Him to fulfill it spiritually, or vice versa.
In Pratt’s paradigm, even the eschatological predictions of Jesus and
the New Testament writers become ultimately meaningless.
Pratt’s notion that we can have no confidence in Jesus’ predictions
and time statements is the same contingency-based, changing-mindof-
God nonsense of the Openness heretics. Pratt asserts that he is not
of the same cloth as these men, yet he seems to channel John Sanders as
his primary source without ever citing him. Pratt’s language could have
been pulled out of Sanders’ The God who Risks. In fact the very categories
of possible fulfillment that Pratt advocates appear to be lifted from
that very book. Let us compare the statements in Sander’s Openness
volume to the same categories and modes of prophetic interpretation in
Pratt’s so-called “Reformed” response to preterism.
From Sanders: “A prophecy may express God’s intention to do
something in the future irrespective of creaturely decision.” He uses
Isaiah 46 as an example (Ibid., 51).
Sanders here expresses what Pratt calls “sworn predictions”
(WSTTB, 131). For Pratt these prophecies take the form of divine oaths
(135). For both Sanders and Pratt this category of prophecy includes
those things which God has said he will do and which will come to pass
as God said they would. Pratt is arbitrary in classifying prophecies in
this category, automatically assuming any prophecy preterists claim as
being fulfilled could not possibly fit into this category.
From Sanders: “A prophecy may also express God’s knowledge that
something will happen because the necessary conditions for it have
been fulfilled and nothing could conceivably prevent it.” He uses Pharaoh
and Moses as an example (51).
Sanders here expresses what Pratt calls “confirmed predictions”
(WSTTB, 131). For Pratt, as with Sanders, these predictions are accompanied
by specific words calling God to the outcome or by certain
signs that show nothing could conceivably prevent the fulfillment of the
prophecy (134). It is impossible to determine why the clear words of
Jesus and of the New Testament writers about the imminent Second
Coming and resurrection and judgment of the dead do not constitute
From Sanders: “A prophecy may also express what God intends
to do if certain conditions obtain.” He uses Jeremiah 18 as an example
Sanders here expresses what Pratt calls “conditional predictions”
(WSTTB, 131). Pratt says: “There are many examples in the Bible of
situations where the contingency of human choice made a difference in
the fulfillment of a prophetic prediction” (129). By “difference,” of course,
Pratt means that even though God prophetically “predicts” an event, man,
through his choices, can cause the “failure” (152) of that divine “prediction.”
Notice for Pratt who acts, and who reacts after God issues a divine
“prediction.” In reality, as we’ve already stated, conditional if/then prophecies
(such as Isaiah 1:9–20) are not predictions at all. They are warnings
From Sanders: “The typical prophecy expresses God’s intention
to act a certain way, depending on what his creatures decide to do”
(TGWR, 53). He uses Jonah as an example.
Sanders here expresses what Pratt calls “unqualified predictions”
(WSTTB, 131). He states that even though these prophecies use unqualified
language they are not necessarily fixed in stone. And just like
Sanders, he uses Jonah as an example. According to Pratt, Jonah gave
a prophetic “prediction” and God caused the fulfillment of the “prediction”
to be delayed (131). But again, as Pratt himself admits, such “predictions”
are not predictions. They are warnings/threats and offers of blessings.
There can be precedent in the Reformed community for Pratt’s and
Sanders’ four-fold division of prophecies, but only with the understanding
that not all prophecies are predictions. Pratt’s contention that actual
“predictions” (not merely prophetic warnings and offers) of God can
be thwarted by human actions has absolutely no place in Reformed or
Reformed preterist theology.
Lastly, only the Openness theologians make any claim that the New
Testament prophecies of the Second Coming are contingent, or not
necessarily to come about as stated. There are disagreements about
what is stated, but never disagreements in the Reformed community
about whether they are actually to be fulfilled as stated. Pratt departs
from the Reformed tradition in his application of contingency to prophetic
predictions, and especially when he applies contingency to the
New Testament predictions concerning Christ’s Parousia.
House of Cards Divided
Pratt’s deconstruction of Deuteronomy 18:22 leads to a morass of sophism
in prophetic interpretation. He tears the foundation out from under
any eschatological claims whatsoever, not the least of which are those of
his fellow contributors. There is no reason to claim postmillennialism,
amillennialism, premillennialism, or any form of prophetic ism if Pratt is
correct. His chapter throws the entire remainder of the Mathison book
into the vast shifting ocean of subjectivity. If prophetic predictions can
be fulfilled in any way, or in no way at all, as Pratt claims, then we have a
plurality of possibilities, with no possibility of a unified argument of truth
versus error. Biblical prophetic predictions become vain babblings and
worthless because we cannot know with certainty if fulfillment has occurred,
or even if it will ever occur.
Faith becomes arbitrary because we can never know with certainty
which of the things God has predicted will come to pass and which are
destined for the trash heap of unfulfilled predictions due to human-enacted
contingencies. If we cannot fully know which divine predictions
may reach fulfillment and which ones need not be taken seriously, then
how can we put our faith in any of God’s predictions?
Pratt’s argument invalidates all the anti-preterist arguments of his
co-authors. For instance, Gentry criticizes preterists for the way we see
prophecies concerning the resurrection fulfilled (28), while Pratt tells us
that it is possible that prophecies can be fulfilled in ways that actually
contradict the prophecy as it was written. If Pratt is correct, then Gentry
cannot be confident that the prophecies concerning the resurrection
of the dead will be fulfilled as they were written.
There can be no real hope because we cannot tell with certainty
which prophecies of God constitute a promise/oath and which do not,
and we cannot tell with certainty what historical contingencies may or
may not obtain to prevent any given prophecy from being fulfilled. Will
there be a resurrection of the dead? Who knows? In the Prattian paradigm,
we can only wonder what human actions may alter the timing or
completeness or nature or even the existence of fulfillment.
Will Christ return literally and physically on a cloud, as argued by
the authors of WSTTB? Or will human contingencies cause Him to
alter the fulfillment of His prediction and cause Him to return in the
form of a great teacher in the Middle East? Was Mohammed the Second
Coming of Christ? Did Mohammed reflect a change in the Second
Coming due to human actions? Who can really know for sure in Pratt’s
horrific contingency paradigm of uncertainty?
Charles Hill asks:
How could it possibly be that the very people who were
taught about the consummation of redemptive history by
the apostles, and who lived through this consummation,
missed the great event when it happened? (105)
Likewise, Doug Wilson says that if preterism is true then:
. . . the apostles spent a great deal of time preparing the
early church for a world-shattering event, but then, when
it happened, the early church completely missed it. (276)
If we believe Pratt, then the result is even worse than what Hill and
Wilson are saying about the historical implication of preterism. If Pratt
is right, then it is possible that the consummation has been fulfilled
in a radically different way than the prophecies themselves predicted.
The consummation could have been totally and absolutely missed on
a wholesale level because it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the actual
prophecies. Within Pratt’s paradigm, we are necessarily left forever
wondering if this event or that event was the fulfillment, or if the fulfillment
will ever happen at all.
What Pratt refrains from stating explicitly is that human contingency
can alter the fulfillment of a prophecy so much that those who
read the prophecy could be unable to recognize its fulfillment when it
happens. Prattian contingencies make the fulfillment of prophecy absolutely
uncertain. The consummation of redemptive history could be
fulfilled in any way at all. The wording of the predictions is irrelevant.
Mathison says that, “if Scripture can be trusted, the visible return of
Christ is something that literally remains to be seen” (188). In Mathison’s
view, God will certainly do what He prophetically predicted He
will do. Pratt’s view, in contrast, makes Scripture a jumble awaiting human
actions to sort out what can be believed.
It is time to stop believing in theological pluralism as anything
more than a temporary stopgap. It is time to reject the idea of
the equal ultimacy of incompatible theological positions. Premillennialism,
postmillennialism, and amillennialism are theologically
incompatible. God cannot be pleased with all three. At
least two of them should be discarded as heretical, if not today,
then before Christ comes in final judgment. (A Defense of (Reformed)
Amillennialism, Prof. David J. Engelsma)
Preterists know why the three incompatible eschatological positions
are tolerated in the Reformed community. They are placeholders
for the biblical truth of preterism. When the truth is allowed to
replace these flawed systems of theology, then eschatological unity can
If there is no agreement as to what eschatological truth is, beyond
two or three points, how can there be certainty that preterists are
wrong? If preterism is error, where is the certainty of the truth which
shows it to be so? The lack of unity in message, methodology, and interpretation
of prophecy makes any Reformed response to preterism not
only tentative and incomplete, but premature.
WSTTB is a source of comfort to me and to other preterists. The
manifest inability of scholars within the Reformed community to organize
a coordinated, logical, and non-contradictory argument against
preterism is telling. Their eschatological house is divided and falling,
just like the Papal See fell under the weight of the truth of the Protestant
WSTTB shows nothing other than a disoriented theological base
that men are desperate to maintain. I cannot judge their hearts, but
I can judge the system for what it is. Some of the best minds of the
Reformed futurist community came together and no two of them can
agree on even the fundamental questions of the nature of prophecy,
how prophecy is fulfilled, which verses apply to past events, and which
(they claim) apply to yet future events.
In the end, Pratt reveals the crack in the Reformed, eschatological
House of Usher. The willingness of Pratt’s co-authors to unite with his error,
and with each other’s errors, in order to ward off the persistent challenge
of preterism is resulting in the sure and imminent fall of futurism.
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds
blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its
fall. (Matt. 7:27)
that His prophetic predictions can be thwarted by the will of man.
that “in some circumstances, prophesied judgment can be averted” (163).
Mathison avoided Pratt’s error. Mathison did not say, “In almost every instance,
God’s predictions have been averted.” Later in his chapter however,
Mathison implies that Pratt’s view is actually a viable option, saying that preterists
have “failed” to consider it (181).
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