David Green is, to the best of my understanding, a Hyper-Preterist, someone who believes that all of the Biblical prophesies were fulfilled by 70 A.D. with the destruction of the Temple. This includes, strangely enough, the resurrection of the body. “Futurists,” reasonably enough, point to 2 Timothy 2:16-18, but the Green’s response is that this verse is pre-70 A.D., and that it’s just one passage. In fairness to both sides, there were some futuristic prophesies which were fulfilled in 70 A.D., and there were others which are yet to come, and it’s not always easy to tell which is which (and frankly, some may fall into both camps). But the hyper-Preterist position is just ahistorical. For at least 1800 years (by Green’s own admission), the doctrine wasn’t taught.
Called to task by Kenneth Gentry on the absolute novelty, and lack of historical support of hyper-Preterism, Green responds by proving far too much:
“As for the argument that the church couldn’t have been wrong about eschatology for about 2,00 years (or more accurately, about 1,800 years), Gentry is yet again using a Roman Catholic argument. How could the Reformers have been correct about ‘forensic justification by faith alone’ when the post-apostolic church NEVER taught that doctrine until about the year 1500? According to Gentry’s fallacious reasoning, Reformed Theology must be an unbiblical and damnable heresy. Gentry’s argument (’Hyper-preterism’ is new in church history. Therefore it is false.) brings the Reformation down like a house of cards. ‘Forensic justification by faith alone’ was just as ‘new’ in the 1500’s as ‘hyper-preterism’ was ‘new’ in the 1800’s.”
Exactly. And Green even calls to his support one of the finest scholars of the Reformation, the Calvinist Alistar McGrath, who in his book Iustitia Dei describes the Protestant doctrine of justification as solely forensic as a “theological novum.”
Forensic justification means you go from being labelled “damned” to “saved” because you become covered by the Blood of Christ. In addition to this, every post-Apostolic Christian we know of who wrote on justification considered justification as regenerative as well: that you actually had your sins washed away and were a new creation in Christ. Luther, the author of this view, said that Christ’s merits were like snow on a pile of dung (that’s us). Or put another way, the Protestant view is of a clean shirt put on over a dirty shirt to hide the filth. The Catholic/Orthodox view is of a dirty shirt washed clean in the Blood of Christ. In both, you go from having a dirty to a clean shirt, but only in one are you actually freed from your sins.
Here’s McGrath (I’m showing it as pg. 215 here):
“The significance of the Protestant distinction between iustificatio [justification] and regeneratio [regeneration] is that a fundamental intellectual discontinuity has been introduced into the western theological tradition through the recogonition of a difference, where none had previously been acknowledged to exist. […] Despite the astonishing theological diversity of the late medieval period, a consensus relating to the nature of justification was maintained throughout. The Protestant understanding of the nature of justification represents a theological novum, whereas its understanding of its mode does not.”
So we all agree more or less how we’re justified (by Grace, through faith), just not what it does. And that debate over what it does was settled until Luther. As in, everyone believed the same way. As in, modern Protestants are in the weird position of trying to justify everyone in Christianity being wrong before on a vital issue (at the very heart of the Gospel, according to most Protestant apologists), while denying the possibility that everyone in Christianity is wrong today.
This, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter. If you accept the proposition that everyone throughout history to a certain point was unaware of one absolutely vital element of Christianity, how do you stop continuing revelations? What possible defense can there be to open the door up enough for Protestantism as a legitimate schism / step forward, but keep it closed to all future schisms / steps forward?
It certainly does seem to me that those defenders of what can loosely be called Protestant orthodoxy are, indeed, calling down the Reformation like a stack of cards when they (sanely) appeal to history and Tradition as the only sure means of preventing theological chaos. This is, interestingly enough, not a new phenomenon. The Anglicans, in trying to stop the radicals who eventually killed King Charles I (also the head of the Church of England), appealed to arguments which sounded rather Catholic, and it was the delight of persecuted Catholics to point this out incessantly. I’m just continuing our storied tradition of pointing out the obvious: you can’t have it both ways. Either the Greens of the world are right with their new and improved Christianity, or the Catholics of the world are right with their original.