Friday, May 18, 2012

Is Bryan E. Lewis a Full Preterist?

This is a response to the podcast from Bryan E. Lewis, Am I a Full Preterist? A Statement from Bryan E. Lewis.

*** Please note: I have great respect (and I am quite jealous!) for Bryan as he pursues academic training at Vanderbilt Divinity School. This post is a critique, but it is intended to be conveyed with respect and love. Of those within the FP movement, there is no question that Lewis is the one with whom I have the most interests in common with scholarship, not unlike Sam Frost as a trained and theologically and exegetically conversant partner for dialogue before he returned to orthodoxy. I will hopefully continue to dialogue, and look forward to following Bryan's evolution.

Why are we discussing Bryan E. Lewis?
Bryan is an interesting figure who has attracted the attention of full preterists and orthodox/consensus defenders alike. What separates him from the thousands of other students beginning graduate coursework is the fact that Bryan himself comes out of the heretical "hyper-preterist" or full preterism (FP) movement and he is attempting to maintain that perspective as he delves into academia. He received his bachelor's in theology  from Amridge University, a Churches of Church (CoC) institution. Bryan is now (Spring, 2012) beginning graduate work at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Has he produced anything for peer review?
Lewis has recently started his post-graduate work but has released some papers from his time at Amridge University. He has exhibited a knowledge of the writings of Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st century (see the overview paper produced for his undergraduate work posted on his website as well as mentions within his other papers posted on Orthodox Wars).

Has James Metzger produced anything?
No. I am a layman and elder who digests scholarly works for fun. I especially enjoy the research on 2TJ apocalyptic texts as well as the historical Jesus, which is why I attempt to bring the opinions of scholarship to those within both the FP and partial-preterist camps. I have no Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, or other Semitic language training, and digest knowledge solely through English-language books and lectures available online. I am only qualified to speak at all where I accurately reflect the work of (especially modern) published scholars. My personal opinions are worth nothing on an academic scale, but hopefully I properly reflect those who are respected within scholarship. I disagree strongly with both the FP and ('modern') partial preterist perspectives in favor of scholarly consensus.

Why should I be interested in Bryan E. Lewis, again?
Lewis would be the first FP scholar, assuming he completes his academic work at a reputable school while maintaining the fundamentalist perspective of FP. Those who have been most influential within the FP movement are not scholars, but mostly (former) pastors from the CoC, notably Max King, Don Preston, Jack Scott, and William Bell, most of whom received pastoral training from CoC institutions. In the podcast, Bryan has in mind this group as the prime representatives of "responsible full preterists", but they are not scholars, and do not pursue academic peer review or scholarly publication. They are primarily popularizers, more careful in their presentation than the less educated web personalities. (Sam Frost represents a former full preterist with post-graduate credentials from a Reformed perspective.)

Is serious scholarship compatible with the beliefs of "full preterism"?
Lewis has yet to address the fact that the fundamentalist presuppositions of full preterism/"covenant eschatology" are incompatible with critical scholarship. Full preterism assumes, sine qua non, that OT and NT expectations must be fulfilled historically in the events involved with the 1st century siege of Jerusalem by the Romans (otherwise they would not be FP). This belief is bolstered by the multiple statements in the NT where the authors expect the return of Christ/arrival of the Son of Man within the lifetime of the authors and their audience. The broad consensus of scholarship agrees with this analysis of NT expectation, but none would think that this should have a bearing on the critical investigation of the fulfillment of the writings. More on this below.

What should we note from the recent podcast, "Am I a full preterist?"
In the podcast, Bryan notes four beliefs that he holds in common with full preterism that are in direct contradiction with what the broad consensus of scholarship believes the NT 'teaches'. Bryan says,

1. "...I continue to not believe that there will be a consummation to history." (32:30)
2. "I do not believe ... in a future visible physical manifestation of Christ, a second coming." (32:56)
3. "I do not believe in a future final judgment of all men and nations." (33:25)
4. "[I] continue ... to not believe in a future bodily resurrection and transformation of all believers." (33:48)

Noteworthy here is that Bryan is at irreconcilable odds with scholarship on these points concerning the beliefs of the Christian authors and the Jewish 2TJ sources that most influenced their perspective. Consummation, judgment, and resurrection were persistent and powerful themes, as even a cursory survey of the scholarship bears out, and these expectations are enhanced tenfold within the movement of early Christianity and apostles such as Paul. The belief in resurrection within particularly Palestinian 2TJ is strongly attested and the evidence from within the NT corpus is without a scholarly remonstrant. So, Bryan has clearly decided to maintain a "hyperpreterist" ideology against the consensus of scholarship. And this is what makes the subsequent statement by Lewis quite curious. Bryan says (34:04),

"I have no theological bias in the mix. ... I am from a Neo-Orthodox perspective, or a Historical Jesus perspective, a historical-critical idea or method..."

Bryan has admitted that he believes, against academia, in the four statements above. So on what basis can he say, "I have no theological bias"? The only reason he takes the stance he does is because of the theological bias he brings with him into his academic pursuit. He is not deriving any FP theology from scholarship. No one does. One does not scientifically pursue the study of ANE texts, from without FP, and fideistically determine what the fulfillment of them must have been. On the contrary, full preterists generally come to their understanding the same way Bryan did, not from an academic or critically informed perspective, but because "full preterism really seemed to provide an answer" (8:39) to the theological dilemma perceived in the NT text and highlighted by the likes of Schweitzer in the early 20th century.

So Bryan's real dilemma is reconciling his fundamentalist/concordist beliefs in FP (similar notions are of course evident in orthodox theology) with the methods of critical scholarship.

At some point, as Bryan pursues academic training, he will have to actually confront the consensus arguments of Jesus and apocalyptic scholars that have come to starkly different conclusions. However, I am optimistic given Bryan's propensity toward the academy, reflected in the current post-graduate pursuit, and believe that in the end his desire to be faithful to the method of the scholars will force him away from his theologically aberrant perspectives, which would bring him back to within striking distance of orthodoxy. And from there he can choose, as other scholars have, faith (after Bauckham, Hurtado) or skepticism (so Ehrman).

So, keep up the good work, Bryan, and I look forward to reading more on your full engagement with modern critical scholarship.

James Metzger

Clarifying addendum [provided as a subsequent post at RCM]:

On the points of disagreement between Bryan and scholarship, I am not asserting that critical scholars personally believe in items like the consummation of history or the resurrection. My point is that they broadly agree that the NT authors as well as Pharisaic Judaism and much of the apocalyptic strand within 2TJ believed these things. Some of the scholars are orthodox, some are 'liberal', and some are skeptics, but that does not concern us (for my discussion above). I am raising the issue of what scholarship has published/contended about the beliefs of the 1st century church and the NT authors because that is where FP's have made claims that I do not believe stand up to scholarly scrutiny, and this is an issue Bryan in his study will be intimately aware. And I look forward to him addressing the arguments of the scholarship on (the authorial intent and community interpretation of) texts like Dan 12 and 1 Cor 15, where academia is currently quite united.

Thanks again.

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