Just to be clear, I am neither a Preterist nor a Unitarian

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I saw a comment on a Reddit thread which said that this blog “takes a conservative unitarian view of things”, adding, “It’s very well-argued.” I also get accused of being a Preterist from time to time, though not so much recently. I understand how the misunderstandings arise, but I want to make it clear that, as far as I am concerned, I am neither a Preterist nor a Unitarian. Call it disingenuous, but there you are.

The hermeneutic I work with is the narrative-historical one. It leads to a reading of the New Testament that emphasises the historical perspective of Jesus and the apostles, in continuity with Israel’s telling of its story. One consequence of this is that I relate a good chunk of New Testament “eschatology” to historical events—basically the catastrophe of the war against Rome and the eventual confession of Jesus as Lord by the nations of the Greek-Roman world. I also think that there is a final horizon of a final judgment and renewal of heaven and earth.

That looks a lot like some form of Preterism or other, I admit. My problem with these traditional systematic classifications is that they perpetuate an outmoded hermeneutic. They keep New Testament eschatology in a box of separate “theoretical controversy” when it should simply be the entirely realistic, forward-looking perspective of the historical community when faced with crisis. Although we probably cannot dispense with the term, “eschatology” is a false and misleading category. The same is true for its diverse subspecies.

All I object to is the obfuscation of the dominant political-religious narrative and the intrinsic historical outlook of the New Testament in the service of a later theological orthodoxy.

The narrative-historical method also foregrounds what I would argue is the dominant political-religious narrative about Jesus: he is the descendant of David sent to proclaim the coming rule of YHWH to Israel, who is rejected and killed by the authorities in Jerusalem, who is raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of YHWH to judge and rule over both Israel and the nations.

You could call that a Unitarian construct, but again that misses the point. What drives the New Testament witness is not some theoretical notion of the Trinity but the conviction that the God of Israel would sooner or later judge and rule over the formerly hostile, pagan nations of the Greek-Roman world. The dominant story about Jesus is the story of how that comes about.

But it is not the only story. There is a secondary, non-historical, speculative narrative, grounded in Jewish Wisdom thought, that associates Jesus with the creative activity of God (cf. Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1-4). As the urgency of the political-religious narrative subsided, and the Greek mind began to enquire into the nature of the Christian God, the Wisdom/Logos motif became the bridge to what we now know as Trinitarian orthodoxy.

That’s all fair enough. I have no quarrel with that. All I object to is the obfuscation of the dominant political-religious narrative and the intrinsic historical outlook of the New Testament in the service of a later theological orthodoxy. According to this leading narrative, as I see it, Jesus is not himself YHWH but is—exceptionally—given the authority of YHWH to judge and rule at his side. That puts me at odds with the early high christology people, but it doesn’t make me anti-Trinitarian. I just think narrative boundaries need to be respected.

I know you say you are not anti-Trinitarian, but I’m pretty certain you would say you are not trinitarian in the Nicene sense that most Christians have been told is orthodoxy.

With regard to christology, it seems Unitarian better describes you, but I suppose there might be other views associated with Unitarians that don’t mesh with your historical-narrative perspective.

I wonder if we need another category to differentiate early Christian views from later Christian views. (I know Hurtado talks about dyadic devotional patterns and a triadic shape to the God-discourse.) I just think it’s confusing when bible scholars use terms like “trinity” in very different ways.


Yes, terminology is a major part of the problem. I have no problem affirming the theological move that the church fathers made, but if we have to use the word “trinitarian” in relation to the New Testament, I would prefer to speak of a narrative trinitarianism: God’s purposes are achieved through a dramatic interaction between God the Father, his Spirit poured out, and his faithful and obedient Son, who to all intents and purposes became part of the reality of God when he was seated at the right hand of the Father. Then, as I say, this narrative was reinterpreted by means of the Wisdom/Logos motif.

Philip Ledgerwood | Thu, 10/12/2017 - 19:47 | Permalink

If beanbagfrog can’t accurately categorize you theologically, who can?

Well that’s interesting.  I am aware of your past dealing with being labeled a Preterist — personally I don’t have such a problem with titles and don’t mind people calling me one. I also think of you as a Preterist, but I don’t call you one because I know you don’t like the title-  but I don’t think I’ve ever come across you being labeled a Unitarian.   I guess I can see where someone who happened to have stopped by your site while you were putting out that series of posts dealing with the Trinity/Deity of Christ that seemed to strongly suggest that you were arguing a Unitarian position could jump to that conclusion.  Although, I guess, based upon those post, one could have also labeled you a JW. lol  Wouldn’t that be a hoot.

peter wilkinson | Mon, 10/16/2017 - 20:07 | Permalink

I always thought you were a narrative historical anti-rapture post pre-millennial tribulationist, but I could be wrong.