Preterism and the Gospels: Part 8, Eschatology Revisited

Let's go back to the claim I made in Part 1 of this series, the issue that prompted this series of posts.

Many have claimed that transcendence--believing in God--is inherently problematic. Consequently, the best sort of Christianity is a sort of religionless, death-of-god Christianity where the only healthy way to be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus who doesn't really believe in God.

In this argument all transcendence--belief in God--is bad transcendence--unhealthy, infantile, or prone toward violence. I'm very familiar with transcendence of this type having published a lot of research investigating these psychological dynamics and also having written a book about it.

And yet, as I once discussed with my friend Luke Norsworthy on his podcast, there are numerous cases of good transcendence. There are tons of examples where belief in God has had a humanizing effect upon people. In fact, I'd argue that this is the default situation with most religious believers. Not to say that faith makes people saints, just that, on the average, people find that their faith makes them better than what they might have been otherwise.

To be sure, there might have been other routes toward this betterment--a good self-help book, some meditation, a season in therapy perhaps--but still, faith has, by and large, made people better. Not better than others, but better.

So the issue is less about faith per se than why faith might, in some cases, go wrong, and horribly, horribly wrong at that.

What are the ingredients of bad transcendence?

As I argued it in Part 1 of this series, I think the number one ingredient that produces bad transcendence is bad eschatology, especially a hellfire and brimstone eschatology where God sorts the saints from the damned at the End of Time.

If that's true, if a hellfire and brimstone eschatology promotes bad transcendence, then we'd be keen to explore readings of Scripture that worked against bad eschatology.

And one of those readings of Scripture, I've been arguing, is a preterist reading of the Gospels.

This reading of the gospels has, by and large, been an odd and marginal part of my faith tradition. But this reading is becoming more and more mainstream, and you now regularly see it in the work of scholars like N.T. Wright.

Here's how the preterist reading improves upon the bad eschatology traditionally extracted from the Gospels.

First, according to the preterist reading all of Jesus' teaching about punishment and judgment--from the outer darkness to the fiery furnace to that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth--is pointed to an event within history. Judgment and "hell" are historical rather than metaphysical, this-worldly rather than other-worldly. Hell isn't a supernatural punishment inflicted upon disembodied souls. Hell is a reality in this world that affects us as we live day to day.

Second, according to the preterist reading this hell-on-earth isn't a product of divine wrath. Hell is a self-inflicted wound. A freely chosen path toward self-destruction. As Jesus declares in the gospel of Luke, when we do not "learn the things that make for peace" we walk ourselves toward annihilation. In the gospels, by opting for violence over peace Israel brought about her own destruction.

All this overcomes the bad eschatology where God punishes the souls of the damned at Judgment Day by throwing them into hell to burn forever. Jesus never taught or envisioned such a thing. We can, rather, turn our attention to the hell Jesus was concerned and warned about.

We can learn the things that make for peace. We can turn our backs on the suicidal and self-destructive thrall of Satan.

We can repent and believe the good news that the kingdom of God is in our midst.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply