On May 5th, 2001, Gary North released an article on the Internet entitled "Full Preterism": Manichean or Perfectionist-Pelagian? North introduced the article saying that it was going to be the appendix to his upcoming commentary on First Corinthians. As the title suggested, his point was that preterists are either Manichean or Perfectionist-Pelagian.
Since preterists deny that the Bible teaches an "end of history" and since they deny a yet-future "final judgment," they must either believe that sin and righteousness will continue on Earth forever, or they must believe that sin on Earth will eventually be annihilated by means of progressive sanctification. As North understood that most, if not all, preterists today reject Perfectionism / Pelagianism, he dedicated most of his article to condemning the preterist doctrine of sin and righteousness existing on Earth forever, calling that doctrine “Manicheanism.”
Essentially, North's argument was this: Preterists believe that sin and righteousness exist on Earth forever, which is the damnable heresy of “Manicheanism.” Preterists, therefore, must be excommunicated.
In July, 2001, I responded (on the Internet) to North's article.1 My response was entitled Gary North: Postmillennial or Neo-Manichean? In that article, I basically argued that the preterist doctrine of sin and righteousness existing on Earth forever is neither “Manicheanism” nor “dualism.”
“Manicheanism” (which was a “dualistic” religion) taught that sin and righteousness both existed from eternity past and that they are therefore “equal and opposite forces.” Preterists do not believe that doctrine. Preterists believe that even though sin continues to exist on Earth for eternity-future (or at least into the unknown eons of time), the Church is increasingly victorious over sin, “world without end,” through the blood of our High Priest. The doctrine of the eternal, Christological victory over sin in history is not negated by the continued existence of sin in history.
On September 29, 2001, Gary North responded to my article (and to Walt Hibbard's article. See Footnote 1.) with a “revision” of his original article. North's new article is entitled, DUALISM'S DOCTRINE OF THE ETERNALITY OF EVIL: A CRITIQUE OF HERETICAL PRETERISM.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this “revision” concerns the word “Manicheanism.” The word no longer appears in the article, nor does any variation of the word. Many of its instances were deleted along with their surrounding contexts, and all the other instances of the word were replaced with the word “dualism.” What is remarkable about this omission is that nowhere in North's revised article does he acknowledge, imply or hint that he had ever mentioned the concept of "Manicheanism" in his first article.
In other words, North silently rescinded his public accusation against preterists that they are “Manicheans,” even though the main message of his original article was that preterists are Manicheans, and even though he called preterists “Manicheans” about thirty times in his article, and even though his article was probably read by hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians on the Internet (through Gary North's autoresponder which distributed the article via e-mail, and at The Preterist Archive).
Question: Would it not be appropriate now for Gary North to publicly confess that he inaccurately accused preterists in public of being “Manicheans?” Even if preterists are damnable heretics, does this give one a license to wrongly accuse them and then to pretend like the accusation was never brought forth?
It is possible that Gary North will never forthrightly confess his inflammatory mislabeling of preterists as “Manicheans.” In his revised article, he explains that his “original intent” in writing his first article was to “force the hand of …a few [preterists] to defend their heresy forthrightly in public.” (DUALISM'S DOCTRINE OF THE ETERNALITY OF EVIL: A CRITIQUE OF HERETICAL PRETERISM, Heretical Preterism) Apparently, this means there was a method to North's madness. It seems his “original intent” was to falsely accuse preterists of being Manicheans in order to “force” them to deny the charge by defining what they really believe by contrast.
As we know, North believes that preterists are worse than Jehovah's Witnesses and that they should be excommunicated. If North is correct in that belief, does that mean he has the liberty to inaccurately demonize preterists in public, for whatever purpose? Does Gary North believe he has immunity from the Law (Deut. 19:18-19; Prov. 25:18) when dealing with heretics? If he offers no public confession of his false accusation of "Manicheanism," we can safely infer his answers to these questions.
In North's previous article, after discussing Manicheanism, he quoted the entire texts of I Cor. 15:50-55; Rev. 20:7-15 and I Thess. 4:13-18 and offered various thoughts related to those texts. After that, he went on to quote creedal statements. In contrast, in his revised article North almost immediately launches with the Creeds. His discussion of them is lengthier and his quotes are more numerous than in his original article.
This rearrangement of North's arguments indicates what preterists have been maintaining: That the bulk of the evidence against preterism lies in the Creeds; that the Scriptures must take a "back seat" if there is to be any authoritative word against preterism.
North's main argument in his revised opening section is that creeds are inescapable, and that they are necessary tools used for screening, judging and sanctioning. To my knowledge, there are no “reformed preterists” who disagree with this.
Preterists do not deny that preterism is a serious or major departure from the creeds. Yet preterists still consider themselves to be members of the historic, Creedal Church. Why? Because preterists deem creedal futurism to be a nonfatal historic error. Therefore, preterists do not call for creedal abandonment, but only creedal revision (of eschatological statements).
Since serious, nonfatal errors can exist and have existed in the historic Church, futurism could conceivably be such an error. Therefore, it must be "the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures," Who is "the supreme Judge" in the futurism / preterism controversy (WCF, Chapter I, Section X). It follows then that it is vanity for North and all others to base their defense against preterism primarily on Church-tradition, and then only secondarily on the Scriptures.
Accordingly, when North dealt with Scriptures in both of his articles, he for the most part skimmed over them with a broad brush and made assertions about them based on the presupposition that the timing and nature of creedal eschatology is correct. North's comments on biblical passages are theological and not exegetical. Instead of exegetically demonstrating how he derives futurism as opposed to preterism from Scriptures, he quotes large blocks of Scripture and then presents a system, appealing loosely to the Scriptures cited.
One could just as easily respond to North's theological system with another theological system, but that would be equally unproductive. What would be helpful is if North and the other pseudo-preterists would begin to seriously exegete Scripture in their fight against preterism.
In my response to North's first article I began by defining “Manicheanism.” Now let us define “dualism”:
“Dualism” has many usages, but in relation to the issue at hand, it is essentially the doctrine of the past eternality of both good and evil. Whenever the Church condemned someone for being a "dualist," this was the root doctrine that was being condemned. A dualist teaches that good and evil are co-eternal (i.e., from eternity past), and are therefore co-equal. In dualism, good and evil are “equal and opposite forces.”
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore....
The ancient Manicheans resolved the dualistic conflict by having good and evil eternally separated at a futuristic “eschaton.” As I pointed out in my previous response, Gary North adheres to the same basic futurology as the Manicheans. For most futurists, whether Manichean dualists or Gary-North-style Postmillennialists, the story is the same: A radical discontinuity brought about by a universal conflagration, followed by absolute errorlessness in every sense of the word.
As we know, preterists do not believe in the "past eternality of evil" (dualism), but they do believe in the "future eternality of evil" on Earth. Preterism could be considered "dualism" in an operational sense if preterism also maintained that sin is equal ("parallel") to righteousness, and that sin and righteousness are in a cosmic “stalemate.”
However, that is simply not the preterist view of sin, or of history.2 Nor can it be. For Scripture explicitly teaches the “heretical preterist” worldview:
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore....
Isaiah taught the eternally increasing victory of the Church in history. This is sheer preterism. The Scriptural teaching of the never-ending increase of Christ's government on Earth in history is not "dualism."
The notion that “preterism = dualism” has been more than sufficiently invalidated, yet Gary North has refused to respond to the main Scriptural and logical arguments that were presented, whether in my article or in Walt Hibbard's article. North's primary “response” was to silently remove his false accusation of “Manicheanism” and to adjust it into a false accusation of “dualism.”
"The Lord says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.' The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, 'Rule in the midst of Your enemies.' Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.' The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses, He will shatter the chief men over a broad country. He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up His head. (Ps. 110:1-7; cf. Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17,21,24)
Psalm 110 is the most quoted prophecy in the New Testament. This may be because it gives the most succinct summary of the reign of the Messiah in Scripture. According to this prophecy of David we see that:
1. Christ was going to sit at God's right hand and reign as Priest.
2. God was going to stretch forth Christ's scepter so that He would rule in the midst of His enemies.
3. Christ's rule was going to continue until the Parousia, at which time God and Christ came with the saints, and Christ's enemies became a "footstool" for His feet.
4. Then Christ was to continue to reign "forever" as Priest.
Is this prophecy fulfilled? Was only part of it fulfilled? Does point number three refer to the destruction of Christ's old-covenant enemies who were subjugated in A.D. 70? Or does it refer to a judgment at "the end of time" when sin will no longer exist on planet Earth?
To determine whether or not point number three will only be fulfilled at a sin-exterminating "end of history," we need only to answer a question regarding point number four:
What does Christ Jesus do as "Priest forever?"
He saves sinners:
...Because He abides forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:24-25)
How long does the priestly ministry of Christ continue? For as long as Christ "always lives." For as long as the New Covenant continues. In other words, "forever." Christ's priesthood is permanent.
How long then does the Christian Age (the Age of the priesthood of Christ) continue? Forever. How long then do sinners continue to be born? Forever.
Is it any wonder then that the Gospel is called the "eternal Gospel?" (Rev. 14:6). The ministry of Christ and His Church is an eternal ministry in which the nations enter into the Holy City and receive "healing" "every month," "year to year," "forever and ever." (Zech. 14:16; Rev. 21:24-26; 22:2,5,14) And those nations that rebel against Christ are without the City, (Rev. 21:27; 22:15) suffering deprivation, remaining separated from His Presence. (Zech. 14:18)
This biblical / preterist worldview is simply not dualism. The wicked do not subsist under some "eternally preexistent principle of evil" whereby they may be regarded as "parallel" to the righteous. The righteous, on the other hand, are clothed with the eternally preexistent Righteousness of Christ. Those who are without are not "equal and opposite" to those who are within the City. The "dogs" outside the City are not a threat to Christ or to His Church. Rather, the ever-increasing City is the threat to those who are without, until they kiss the Son and take refuge in Him. (Ps. 2:12) In short, the endlessly increasing dominion of the righteous over the wicked is victory, not stalemate.
As I pointed out in my response to Gary North's first, unrevised article, his defense against the preterist worldview was, in spirit, non-postmillennial, even Gnostic. His revised article is unchanged in this regard. He continues to characterize the Messianic (Christian) Age as an age in which God's people are in need of "deliverance from history," because they remain under the curse of Satan, sin and death.
One might expect a "Hal Lindsay" or a "Jack Van Impe" to put forth such arguments, but it is unexpected when they come from the postmillennial camp. To further undo North's chillingly satanic and conspiratorial view of the Kingdom of Heaven in history, let us hear the traditional teaching of that great "partial preterist" defender of Orthodoxy, St. Athanasius:
For now that He has come to our realm, and taken up His abode in one Body among His peers, henceforth the whole conspiracy of the enemy against mankind is checked, and the corruption of death which before was prevailing against them is done away. For the race of men had gone to ruin, had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to meet the end of death. (Athanasius' On the Incarnation of the Word, Section 9 Verse 4; cf. I Cor. 15:21-26)
...The Devil, that tyrant against the whole world is slain. ...No more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, 'I am the life'; so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice. (Athanasius' The Festal Letters, Letter IV. No. 3,4)
For He raised up the falling, healed the sick, satisfied those who were hungry, and filled the poor, and, what is more wonderful, raised us all from the dead; having abolished death, He has brought us from affliction and sighing to the rest and gladness of this feast, a joy which reaches even to Heaven ....How must all [of Heaven's] hosts joy and exult, as they ... look ... on the enemy who lies weakened, lifeless, bound hand and foot, so that we may mock at him; 'Where is your victory, O Death? Where is your sting, O Grave?' Let us then sing unto the Lord a song of victory! (Athanasius' The Festal Letters, Letter VI. No.9-12)
In stark contrast to the wise Athanasius, what is Gary North's answer to Paul's rhetorical question? "Where, O Death, is your sting?" This is North's answer:
The sting of Death is here, now, in the Kingdom of Christ, throughout all history, until the end of time.
Why would a Christian believe such a doctrine? Jesus said that those who believe in Him will "never see death." (Jn. 8:51) They "will never die" (Jn. 11:26). Heb. 2:14-15 says that Christ's death caused the Devil to cease in his power over death, and that Christ thereby freed believers from their fear of death. I Jn. 3:14 says that believers "have passed from death into life," and Rev. 21:4 reiterates that for those within the City, "there is no longer any death."
So why would a Christian believe that the Christologically redeemed Kingdom of God in history is beset with the curse of Satan, sin and death?
There is only one answer: Because his eyes do not see a state of non-biodegradable errorlessness in the universe. And this has caused him to either flatly deny the fulfillment of many prophecies of Christ, or to change the fulfillment of many prophecies of Christ into "Yes and No."
As I pointed out in my response to North's first article, if preterists are "eternal Manicheans," then North is a "temporary Manichean." Now that he has made his adjustment from Manicheanism to dualism, the same line of argument holds true: If preterists are "eternal dualists," then North is a "temporary dualist."
According to North, dualism is the eternal coexistence of sin and righteousness on Earth. Therefore, according to North's definition, futurism teaches a "temporary, operational dualism," because in futurism sin will continue to exist on Earth until God miraculously exterminates it at "the end of history."
But this is according to the equivocal definition of "dualism" that North uses to attack preterism. In reality, the existence of sin does not imply its equality, parallel or stalemate with righteousness (i.e., dualism). We know that North understands this, because he is expecting the Christian Age to eventually blossom into the glorious "Millennial Age," and this before the miraculous extermination of sin from Earth. Would we ever hear Gary North referring sarcastically to the future Millennium as "some hope" for the Church on Earth, or as an age in which sin and righteousness will be in an "equal-and-opposite" stalemate, or as an age that will be characterized by the curse of Satan, sin and death?
Why then does Gary North insist on characterizing the unending increase of God's Name and of Christ's government in history as the unending curse of Satan, sin and death? There is no rational explanation. North judges his "Millennium" by a different standard of measure than he judges preterism's eternal age of the ever-increasing government of Christ. For North, the former is a glorious and enduring victory, and the latter is "some hope." North makes no sense on this point. His argument seems more designed to inflame than to explicate truth.
Abstaining from painstaking exegesis in favor of broad-brushing over large blocks of Scripture won't do it. Abstaining from painstaking exegesis in favor of expounding on tradition (the Creeds) won't do it. Abstaining from painstaking exegesis in favor of trying to force-fit preterists into the mold of certain ancient heresies won't do it.
If preterists are ever to be universally and authoritatively excommunicated, then sufficient evidence against the teaching must be presented. Where might this evidence be found? In Scripture? If so, the world awaits the painstaking exegesis from the preterist-haters.
Irenaeus exegetically refuted the Valentinians. Tertullian exegetically refuted the Marcionites. Athanasius exegetically refuted the Arians. Augustine exegetically refuted the Manicheans, Donatists and Pelagians. Countless saints painstakingly exegeted Scriptures in refutations of damnable heresies. They were very effective.
Gary North pointed out in both of his articles that the Apostle's Creed is more clearly anti-"heretical preterist" than it is anti-Arian. This assessment of the Creed is accurate. However, if the Creed accurately elucidates the Bible's eschatology, then the Bible should also be more clearly anti-preterist than it is anti-Arian. But this is a problem for the creedalists. Where are the Scriptures clearly anti-preterist, as are the Creeds? Or where is an exegetical treatise of a modern-day Augustine or Athanasius "contra preterism?"
If heretical preterism is a "lofty thing" that has been "raised up against the knowledge of God," (II Cor. 10:5) then the creedalists are obliged to use "divinely powerful ...weapons" for its "destruction." (II Cor. 10:4) Their front-line weapon of offense must be the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). Using the Word of God as a backup weapon if the Creeds don't do the trick won't defeat preterism, even if preterism is falsehood.
Therefore then, if preterism is false, let Scripture prove it false. And if preterism is true, let Scripture prove it true. May our creedalist brothers be given the grace to let the Scriptures so speak.
Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21)
1. In August, 2001, Walt Hibbard also responded to Gary North's article. His response is entitled: A Courteous Response to Dr. Gary North's Vitriolic Essay: "Full Preterism": Manichean or Perfectionist-Pelagian?
2. When Gary North discreetly ceased calling preterists "Manicheans" in favor of the more generalized term "dualists," he implicitly conceded that he is unable to categorize preterists into any specific, early dualistic heresy. Yet even the generic term "dualist" does not fit, since preterism does not teach the implicit "Deity of evil," which was characteristic of every dualistic heresy that was ever condemned by the Church. Back to The Preterist Cosmos Homepage
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