strong in the Reformation
of classic Preterist
power of the history book
expectation and World War I
with overview slide
This approach assumes that the work of
John is a more or less continuous prediction of the history of events affecting
the church. (One of the false objections raised against
it is, “where’s the rest of world history?” This book was meant to be understood; can you imagine the puzzle that Aztec
history would have been in prophetic
writing before 1492? God is not the
author of confusion.) As such, it is a continuation of the early (not contemporary) Preterist viewpoint. It says, “these events will happen.”
It also therefore carries the burden of
saying when they will happen, and what those symbols mean in historic events.
The viewpoint rose in the early Reformation (it would have been death
to have held this point of view during the
Inquisition!) and was strongly held by a number of great figures, including
Martin Luther and Isaac Newton (who wrote
more theology than he did physics). It
was, until the twentieth century (and
indeed until the last half of that) the dominant form of interpretation of
Its rise starts with the Reformation. The Reformationists, reading the works of
the early church fathers, picked up their
method and extended it to account for history since then. This quite naturally led them into the conclusion that the Roman Catholic church -- more
particularly, the papacy -- played a large and evil part in history.
The theory itself might not have prevailed had it not been for an
atheist: John Gibbon. He wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Suddenly, all
the dates of the Roman Empire were at the
fingertips of every Bible scholar -- and variations on this theory exploded
into existence. You did not have to be a professor of theology at a university with
a large library to interpret this book;
you just needed Gibbon, perhaps one
other history since then, and your Bible.
Its “demise” (it is by no means dead, but
it is no longer the dominant interpretation) came about not by theological reasoning but by elements which affected its
First, many of its most popular authors -- writing at a time when
dense, complicated prose was popular -- were
in the middle to late 19th century.
Some of them made the assumption that the Millennium was almost upon us (we take the history we have, match it to
all of Revelation we can -- poor technique, but understandable. Everyone wants to
know the date of the return.) The
expectation of the common Christian in late
Victorian times (i.e......, the English speaking world) was that the
millennium was just around the corner. What was just around the corner was World
War I. Some of the events in that war
-- the communist revolution in Russia; the fall of the Ottoman empire and the
taking of Jerusalem, all in 1917 -- should
have served as startling confirmation of the method. Instead, people asked, “what Millennium?” (Interestingly, those who propound this method now place
the Millennium at a much later date, such as about 300 years from now -- and many now are premillennial
Second, the authors of the “futurist” theory belonged (at that time)
largely to churches which were not “mainstream.” The theory arises out of
dispensationalism; such churches
typically did not see themselves continuously
connected with the early church (as, say, a Lutheran would). They were open to the radical method of establishing God’s kingdom; they were open to other radical methods, too
-- like broadcasting on the radio. “Fringe” churches broadcast long before
“mainstream” ones took it up in earnest.
To this day, the bulk of religious
broadcasting is fundamentalist in tone.
•Finally, the writers of the historicist
theory in this century have tended to be, for reasons that escape me, dull. There is no
historicist equivalent to Hal Lindsey.
Kindly note one thing, however: not one of these arguments has anything to
do with whether or not this interpretation
is correct. It may be
correct (IMO); it is not popular.