Roger writes to ask:
I’ve been having discussions lately with a fellow who identifies himself as non-violent Anabaptist. He denies he is Emergent, but I’m not so sure. He is very involved in non-violent struggle against ‘the system’ – meaning capitalism and the status quo. He is also heavily into interfaith dialogue, environmentalism and social activism in general. When I have quizzed him about his theology he gave me a somewhat mysterious explanation that he believes that Christ has already returned and that the Spirit now works through us as Christians to bring about a radical socialist utopia by our own actions and strivings. Is this some form of amillenialism? Can you classify his theology?
Anyone who says that Christ has returned is called a “full preterist” (as distinct from a “partial preterist” who says that, e.g. the Revelation was fulfilled in AD 70) and has committed the “Hymenaean” heresy.
16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some (2 Tim 2:16-18).
A full-preterist might respond by saying that, it was true that Hymenaeus and Philetus were wrong, but that was before AD 70! There are three responses to this:
First, the epistles of John were likely written after the destruction of the temple. The best evidence and interpretation of the Revelation is that it was certainly written after AD 70. According to Colin Hemer (and, if memory serves, Greg Beale, Dennis Johnson, Steve Baugh, and Chuck Hill) it was written c. 93-94 AD. The epistles of John and the Revelation all anticipate the bodily return of Jesus (1 John 2:28).
Second, the post-apostolic early church taught the future return of Jesus. The early church suffered grievous and sometimes violent and bloody persecutions that are most difficult, if not downright impossible, to square with the notion that Christ has already returned. The early church confessed in the Apostles’ Creed and in the Nicene Creed, creeds which confess the holy catholic faith, that we look forward to the visible, bodily return of Christ. To deny the catholic faith is heresy.
Third, this doctrine that claims that Christ has already returned is guilty of a heretical Christology. The Scriptures teach that Jesus ascended in the same body in which was conceived, born, obeyed, suffered, and died (Acts 1:11; Heb 2:17; 4:15; Col 3:4). According to this form of full preterism (and every form?) Jesus isn’t truly human any longer. The Jesus who ascended had a local, visible, humanity. Glorification does not change that truth. Glorification is not deification. His humanity doesn’t become immense or ubiquitous or invisible. The catholic faith is that the true humanity of Jesus is inseparable from his deity but it is distinct and unconfused with it (e.g. Athanasian Creed, Definition of Chalcedon).
Finally, the notion that Jesus has already returned isn’t a-millennialism at all. This is more like chiliasm gone amuck. It’s a highly over-realized eschatology tied to a leftist (I guess) social agenda. A-millennialism holds that the millennium is not a “golden age” or a literal 1000-year period but the age in-between the first and second advents, during which the gospel is preached to all the nations, after which Christ shall return bodily, in glory, visibly to consummate his kingdom and judge the nations. See Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism.