In a recent and rather long, written “debate” with Full Preterist leader and teacher Don K. Preston on Facebook, it has become clear to this theologian that Mr. Preston advocates a different version of Jesus than espoused by the Church.
First, some preliminary remarks. Mr. Preston teaches a view of Eschatology (or “end times” thought) that is called, Full Preterism. That is, every single prophecy that can be called a prophecy in the Bible is fulfilled within the generation of Jesus’ original hearers and followers. The culmination of this was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (and their alliances) in 66-70 A.D. Much can be said about the importance of this event for biblical interpretation of prophetic events and has been said. However, by and large, the message Preston brings is rejected within Christendom because it does not do justice to the “purpose of God” (Ephesians 1.11), which is seen as encompassing all human history from beginning to end. Preston utterly rejects the idea that the Bible anywhere speaks of the end of history or time. All Christian theology that has come down us and being worked out even today is based on the notion that time and history will end with the Jewish-Christian hope of a new heavens and a new earth (Christianity in Jewish Terms, 2000, Westview Press, xx).
It may seem entirely strange, indeed “bizarre” as one leading theologian put it, that someone professing the Christian faith would argue for such a proposal, but argue it they do. Although there appears to be no groundswell among its adherents, one would not get that from their constant appeals to the “success all over the world” they claim. This claim is not the point of my article. It’s the doctrine of Jesus. For Preston to make his claim, which in and of itself is outside the pales of orthodoxy for Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodoxy and mainline Evangelical communities, he has to redefine the nature of the Son of God as is commonly understood and believed.
First, then, allow me to define the Nature(s) of the Son of God (or, the Logos – Greek for “Word”). I will utilize three references so as to show complete unity of doctrine on this matter from Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and mainline Protestant (Evangelical) churches. First, the Creed of Chalcedon (451 A.D.): “We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body.” It’s this last part that I wish to point out, “reasonable soul and body.” This is the Christ that Christians “confess” and believe. This is what is reflected when the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed states, “Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.” “Was made man” means, “a reasonable soul and body.” Greek orthodoxy expresses the same sentiment, and the Westminster Confession, following this tradition-based-on-Scripture does the same, “On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.” The phrase, “with which also he ascended into heaven” is to be noted. Thus, from this brief consideration Jesus, who is worshiped and confessed by the one, Holy Church is a man with a reasonable soul and body, with which body he ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father. The God-Man, Two Natures, One Person. Preston flatly denies this, and as we shall see, mocks it.
Now, to be fair, Preston acknowledges that the Son of God, the Logos, the Eternal, Uncreated Son, who is God the Son, became a human being (“flesh”) and had, had, mind you, a body. However, this body was “shed” at his ascension recorded in Acts 1, and what remains of his human “nature” is not that which is “of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures. Wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord.” As of the “substance” with us, Preston changes this. The “nature” of Christ as it presently regards his humanity is merely the retaining of the “knowledge and understanding” (memory) of his days in the flesh.
In the “debate” with Mr. Preston I pressed him over and over to answer a question concerning this matter, “did the man, Christ Jesus, die twice?” Preston would not answer the question but rather went on with pointing out my inconsistencies about all matters eschatological. In other words, Eschatology, as we shall see, controls the entire doctrinal catalogue of Christian Theology proper. Everything is read through the lens of Full Preterism. It’s not that I cannot answer Preston on exegetical matters concerning Eschatology, it’s that in my view, Christology is more important than Eschatology. If we can’t get WHO we worship correct (Christology), then it matters not about WHAT he has done or will do (Eschatology). Mormons also say, “Jesus is Lord”, but when you ask them, “Who is Jesus” you get an entirely different answer than you would from the Church. For Preston, this is not so important as is the matter of Eschatology. If you get Eschatology wrong, then you get all the other doctrines wrong (and, he admits, as we shall see, that the Church has, basically, got it all pretty much wrong because her Eschatology is, pretty much, all wrong).
Allow me to let Mr. Preston speak for himself. “I want everyone to pay particular attention here. We have Mr. Frost offering this: “I could care less who you think Babylon is….but, “who do you say that I am?” THAT’S fundamental to me. FAR more important than your eschatology. But, if your eschatology gets you to deny the Continued Incarnation of our Holy Lord, then it is WRONG, period, end of story.”” Yes, I wrote that. I do not care what Preston thinks concerning his identification of Babylon in Revelation 17. I do care about the identification of Babylon, just not his, and I note that (which he takes to mean that I have no care at all about who Babylon is in Revelation 17, but that’s not what I said, even in his quote from me!). From my quote, Preston goes on: “Folks, here we have a man openly– overtly- scoffing at Biblical doctrine and truth. Scoffing and MOCKING the importance of properly understanding the identity of Babylon! Sam Frost does not care who Babylon was, in spite of the fact that I have shown, the coming of the Lord, the judgment and the resurrection were to occur at the destruction of Babylon! So, to mis-identify Babylon is to miss- to negate- to pervert, the Biblical narrative of eschatology! But, Mr. Sam Frost does not care! Instead, all he cares about is MOCKING the Biblical, exegetical arguments about the heavenly existence of Jesus.” Again, that’s not what I am “mocking” (actually, I am not mocking anything). I said, I do not care what Preston thinks about his interpretation of Babylon, not about who Babylon is (I have my own opinion on that). But, Preston is right on this matter: I do care about the mocking of the present heavenly existence of Jesus, who I worship. Correct.
Preston continues, though, and watch the slide into even greater exaggeration: “HE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT ESCHATOLOGY, AS LONG AS HE CAN HOLD ONTO HIS PRECONCEIVED, MISGUIDED, BUT, CREEDAL!!!- VIEW OF JESUS STILL POSSESSING A PHYSICAL, BODY OF BLOOD, FLESH AND BONE! It is truly a sad day when a man openly says he does not care about what the Bible says about the subject that is mentioned more times than any other subject– eschatology!” (his words are capped by him). From “I do not care what you (Preston) think about Babylon” to “Frost does not care about who Babylon is” to “Frost does not care about what the Bible says about Eschatology.” Somehow, Preston thinks himself of such great importance that to not care what he thinks about a topic is not to care at all about that topic (Babylon), to not caring at all about the entire subject matter (Eschatology) of which that topic is contained! I can’t make this stuff up.
I’ll let all of that slide, for Preston is prone to self-importance. In this last quote he admits that my position is, in fact, “creedal.” Thus, my position, which is in full creedal agreement with the Holy Church, Greek, Roman and Protestant Evangelical on this matter of Jesus’ heavenly existence is “misguided”. Further, Preston writes, “Mr. Frost says that I MOCK, the doctrine of Christ and his body. No, Mr. Frost, I simply reject your distorted view of Christ’s body.” My “distorted view of Christ’s body” as it is in heaven is “creedal”. Therefore, by strict logic, the creedal view is “misguided”, “distorted” and to be “reject[ed].” This is as clear as an admission as one can get: Preston’s Full Preterism rejects the creedal doctrine of Jesus’ continuing Incarnate body.
Mr Preston does indeed mock the Christian position: “It means that the coming of the King of kings, was not to be– and was not– the physical, literal, coming of Jesus as a 5′ 5″ man in a body of flesh, blood and bone descent out of heaven on a literal cloud! The NATURE of the parousia– and the RESURRECTION– is fully established and it repudiates Mr. Frost’s position.” In other words, the confession of the Church is that Jesus will return bodily at the end, when he will destroy all rule, power and authority and raise the dead at the last day, bodily. I say, “bodily” because the doctrine of the Continued Incarnation of the Lord is bodily. That is why it is added in some Christian creeds, “and we believe in the bodily, visible return of the Lord.” Preston mocks this bodily Jesus, rejects its very idea, and scorns those who hold to it: the Church. Now, it is hypothesized that Jesus, while on earth, had weight, height and occupied space (in theological terms, localized, spatial, limited). The Logos, however, although dwelling with the “reasonable soul and body” of the man born of the Virgin Womb, is , was, and always will be, God, Omnipresent, without locality, dimension or weight and height. Two Natures, One Person, the God-Man (as expressed by the Holy Church). There is the man, Christ Jesus, who is also, presently, “the man from heaven” (and keep in mind, Man, as defined, is a “reasonable soul and body”). But, for the sake of argument, let us say that this Hebrew was 5’5″ tall. Let us say, with all conjecture (I might be off a foot or an inch or two, but that’s irrelevant), that this is the man the Disciples saw ascend in a cloud. For Preston, this man is no longer at all in any way, shape or form, that man “with a reasonable body and soul” any longer from that point onward. The Church believes that he is. Has always taught that he is. That he, a man, a priest, a king and Lord entered into the Most Holy Place and redeemed his people. That he, a man, is also, God, the Logos, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, two natures, One Person.
Now, to be fair, Preston does state, “I have never- ever- denied that Christ has a body in heaven.” What body? What other “body” would it be? It can’t be the Logos, for the Logos, in and of Himself, God, may He forever be praised, has no body. The only “body” the Logos has was added at the Incarnation of our Blessed Savior in the conception of his mother’s womb. That’s the only body mentioned in the Bible: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it…” (John 19.40). Maybe he got another body at his ascension. I digress. Preston never explains or defines what this “body” is. In another place he wrote, “And, the Logos– who had taken the form of man, the body of flesh- did not die when he divested himself of that flesh.” Thus, whatever “body” Christ has “in heaven”, it isn’t the same body he had on earth! Now, this gets back to the original question I posed for Preston: did Jesus, the man, die twice? He never really answers that explicitly. In a round about way, he says that the Logos “did not die” when he “divested himself” of the flesh Jesus had while on earth. But, “divest himself” is simply a way around saying that Jesus “died” again. Preston calls it “divested” flesh, and I call it “dead flesh.” A separation of soul and body is, well, for all ordinary folks, “death.” Jesus “died” when he “gave up his spirit” on the cross. The Logos, of course, did not “die” (let’s hope not, since the Logos holds all things together in creation!). But, that was never my question. I didn’t ask, “did the Logos, die?” But, in divesting himself of the flesh, the man Christ Jesus, of a reasonable soul and body, died….again. Once at the cross, and another at the Ascension.
Apparently, Preston equates the Logos (the Divine Nature, God the Son, Eternal, Uncreated) with the Man, Christ Jesus (created, incarnate, with a reasonable soul and body). The Logos “became man” and the result of this was the Two Natures, Divine, Eternal, and Human, created. In other words, the Creeds state that the two natures are “distinct” with a “hypostatic union” yet not “co-mingled.” The Man in heaven is with a reasonable soul and body and is the Logos, Eternal, Uncreated, God. Just so that I am clear, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) states, “Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection” and he ascended to the right hand of the Father “where he…is seated bodily” (Part 1, Art. 6, 659-663). I can hear the remarks now coming from the Full Preterists that I am quoting the Catholic catechism. Well, yes. The catechism here expresses what the Westminster Confession states, the Belgic Confession states and what is found in literally all mainline churches in their “doctrinal beliefs.” It is not the intent of this paper to prove such assertions from the Bible (the catechisms and confessions of each particular church has what are called “scriptural proofs” supplementing these propositional assertions). My intent is to point out what the Church believes in unity over and against what Preston believes (rather, what his Eschatology forces him to believe).
If I may add a little more from W.G.T. Shedd, whose Dogmatic Theology (3 volumes – 1888-1894) has long been considered a classic. The human nature the Logos took upon himself, and in this nature “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2.7), was fully human, “a real substance having physical, rational, moral and spiritual properties” (Vol 2, 289). Jesus Christ is, thus, One Person with Two Natures, fully human, fully divine. To deny this is to deny the teaching of Scripture. Jesus “died, was buried, and was risen.” The man, Christ Jesus. The Logos did not “die” and was not “risen” from the dead from the standpoint of the Divine Nature. From this a question has arose. Is the human being, Jesus, present wherever the Logos is present? That is, is the man, Christ Jesus, omnipresent? No. The man is present in heaven, local and spatial. But the hyspostatic union of the Divine and Human natures are not separated, though distinct, so that “Christ’s deity never is present anywhere in isolation and separation from his humanity” (327). Shedd’s illustration is suffice: a man partaking of the Eucharist in London enjoys the Presence of the Divine Nature in his soul. The Divine Nature is conjoined with the Human Nature, which is in heaven and not in London. “This conjunction of both is equivalent to the presence of both” (327). In other words, Shedd respects the Divine Nature (Eternal, Uncreated, God the Son) and the Human Nature (Man, reasonable soul and body, will and conscience, created, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven). The very idea of Jesus “taken from you” (Acts 1.11) and “must remain in heaven” (Acts 3.21) is in relation to the man, Christ Jesus – spatial, distant. Obviously, millions of pages have been written on this matter, and I cannot do justice here to this doctrine other than asserting that this is what the Church believes, historically and presently.
As our debate continued, Preston attempts to answer my question, “Did Jesus die twice?” So that I am fair, read his own words: “The Transfiguration vision was the vision of Christ’s parousia, but, the Transfiguration is an utter rejection of Mr. Frost’s idea that Christ will come in his Incarnate body.” He will not come in it because, as we already quoted, he “divested himself” of it. Again, “Every description of the parousia is a total repudiation of the idea that Jesus will one day come out of heaven as a 5’5″ Jewish man in a body of flesh, blood and blood.” In somewhat confusing fashion, Preston writes, “But, if believers now go to heaven when the die, they patently do not need biological, physical bodies of flesh, blood and bone, that Mr. Frost says Jesus MUST HAVE, in heaven!
“Mr. Frost, how is it that “billions of believers” have died and gone to heaven without biological, physical bodies of flesh, blood and bone, and yet, Jesus cannot be there unless he has a biological, physical body of flesh, blood and bone? (BTW, folks, did you notice Mr. Frost scoffing at the idea of the Logos “learning” the experiences of sympathy, empathy, i.e. the human experiences? Hmm, wonder why the author of Hebrews said “though he were a son, YET LEARNED HE OBEDIENCE THROUGH THE THINGS THAT HE SUFFERED”? Per Mr. Frost, the Logos did not even need to put on the flesh to experience and “learn” because he was omniscient.” This is an amazing admission. The Logos, apparently, needed to “learn” something. This shows the considerable intermingling of the Natures of the Logos (condemned as heresy). The human nature “grew in wisdom and stature” was “born” and “died.” The Logos is the unification of two natures, not a transmutation of one nature into another. “The properties of the Divine Nature cannot be either destroyed or altered” (Shedd, 266). The Logos is the Person, the God-Man, who, by the human nature (incarnation), acquired the human experience of suffering, thirst and death.
Preston goes on, “I am arguing that although the Logos divested himself of the form of God– he put off the form- morphe– of God, but, he did not die although he DIVESTED himself of that form of God!” Again, in biblical theology, the Logos, who is God the Son, divested Himself of no such thing in and of Himself as God. By the Incarnation, the human nature, equal with God because of the union of the two natures in One Person (Logos), emptied himself (“made himself nothing”). The Logos is the God-Man (God first, Man second). The Logos took upon Himself, without any alteration of His Diety consisting in and of Himself, the human nature of Man, and this Nature “emptied himself” (did not rely upon, but was made fully man), and is now “exalted” to the right hand of God. The Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, God, was not “exalted” (for He is eternally exalted with the glory of the Father), but the human nature was exalted, the Man Christ Jesus, of a reasonable soul and body.
In a more explicit way, Preston writes, “Mr. Frost, if the Word could DIVEST HIMSELF OF THE FORM OF GOD, WITHOUT DYING, please tell us why the Word, after the resurrection, and at the entrance into the Glory that he had with the Father before the world began – could not divest himself of the body of flesh, blood and bone– and still maintain the full knowledge, the full experience, the full empathy and sympathy “gained” by his Incarnation– the putting off of the form of God.
Are you going to tell us that the Omniscient Word would forget and forfeit the knowledge, the understanding of the “days of his flesh” because he divested himself of that form? (BTW, those days were past when the Hebrews writer wrote those words, Mr. Frost).” This admission is in denial of what we have discussed thus far. Apparently, the Logos, as he understands it, ceased being “in the form of God” while in the “days of his flesh.” The Logos put off that form and took on himself another form, a human form, temporarily. After his earthly life, the Logos sloughed off the human form and took back on the form he had in the beginning. In other words, one form was exchanged for another form and then re-exchanged into the original form of God. This is in complete and utter denial of the One Person, Two Natures, Divine and Human. Now, after having divested himself of the human form, all that the Logos now has in heaven of that former form is memories. This is not the God of the Bible. It is not the God the Church worships. Even if we were to emphasize the passages of Jesus coming on the clouds of heaven, he says, “you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” The Logos is eternally the Son of God, uncreated, and the Son of Man, created together. Two Natures, not one Nature (God) and some memories (former son of man).
Now, this passage, scrutinized beyond all scrutiny in the early church for two centuries before it codified our faith in the Christological affirmations, recognizes that Paul here is using the Greek term “form” (morphe) for “nature.” It is also recognizing, utilizing all that the Scripture has to say on this matter, that the Logos is God. The Second Person of the Trinity. This Person “took upon” himself the nature of a servant, and this servant, Jesus Christ, counted equality with God as graspable. Yet, this man emptied himself within his human nature of any such reliance so that, in union with the divine, unalterable, unchangeable nature of the Logos, he became fully man, relying on the power of God as would any of us would. His human nature, the man Christ Jesus, did this. The Logos (who is two natures) on one hand was lowly, meek, and a servant, and on the other was God, omnipresent, omniscient. Hardly was God’s “form” divested as it relates to the Divine Nature of the One Person. But, this is what Preston has explicitly stated. Thus, in his view, the Logos ceased being God for a time, became a man for a time, and then became God again with human memories of the days of his being man. As for the man, Christ Jesus, he also ceased to be except for the memories the Logos “maintains” while he was a man. Having these memories allows for Preston to say that he still has a human dimension to him, but he won’t call it “human nature” which is defined as a “reasonable soul and body.” Folks, this has been attempted before and the Church roundly rejected it from all four corners of the earth.
Now, and finally, why does Preston place himself at such odds with orthodoxy (he writes, “I make no claim to being “orthodox” since, orthodox basically means to run with the crowd, whatever the crowd deems to be correct at that time.”)? We have already noted that Preston’s eschatology drives every other doctrine he entertains. Every prophecy, including any coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead, the complete perfection of the saints, etc. are all fulfilled in AD 70. Now, what happens when you have Jesus, the man, raised bodily from the dead and ascending bodily into heaven as a man? Well, passages like “he has been taken from you” and “he must remain in heaven” take on a wholly different idea. It localizes the human being, Jesus Christ. It also defines the nature of Redemption and Resurrection: body and soul. By sloughing off the body of Jesus, and his human nature for that matter, Preston can then argue for an entirely invisible resurrection of the dead and an entirely invisible coming of the Lord. He can argue for an entirely invisible transformation of the living when He comes as well. He must do this because he knows that these events did not take place in AD 70 on any visible scale. Bodies were not raised, the living were not transformed (glorified) and no one saw a 5’5″ Jesus coming on clouds (and never will). By effectively changing the nature of the eschaton discussed in the Bible from visible to invisible, Preston can effectively argue his case that all prophecy was fulfilled on the basis of several passages in the New Testament that speak of that generation, the destruction of Jerusalem, coming again on clouds in judgement, etc. In doing so, even passages that speak of raising the dead in 1st Corinthians 15 is made invisible, as well as Jesus putting an “end to all rule, power and authority”. Yes, even so far as saying that the last enemy, Death, is abolished at that time, too. For, you see, death is not physical, but covenantal. Death is merely separation from God in terms of justification. Since Jesus now justifies believers, death is now abolished. Sorry for you folks having to attend funerals with the misguided hope of resurrection and end to death.
This very strange theory Preston has of the Logos is entirely incompatible with the inspired record. Yet, it is one that is needed in order for his eschatological musings to have any validity. Thus, in order to follow Preston, one must not only abandon his Christology for another, but his Eschatology for another and in the end, neither is Christian except in name only. I urge the reader to ponder these considerations in order to understand that Full Preterism is not just another eschatology, but is a serious error that jostles all the other received doctrines of the Church.