Of all the false doctrines that have troubled brethren in the last 50 years, perhaps the weirdest of them all is that known as “Realized Eschatology,” or “Covenant Eschatology,” or “Max Kingism.” In short, it avers that the Second Coming of Christ, the final resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the Final Judgment all took place in in the year A. D. 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem. Although this concept was first introduced in modern times in the denominational world in 1787 by James S. Russell, it was introduced to the Lord’s church in 1971, when C. D. Beagle presented this view to a number of preachers in Ohio. Beagle’s son-in-law, Max King, also accepted this teaching and began promoting it. He popularized the movement with the writing of two books: The Spirit of Prophecy (1971) and The Cross and the Parousia of Christ (1987). Because of this, the teaching is sometimes referred to as “Max Kingism.”
In more recent years, Don Preston has assumed leadership among the adherents of this doctrine. Based out of Ardmore, Oklahoma, Preston has pushed this doctrine through his website, books and printed material, and an annual event he calls the “Preterist Pilgrim Weekend” in Ardmore. While ostensibly still affiliated with churches of Christ, Preston no longer preaches regularly but devotes almost all of his time and efforts in more ecumenical directions in promoting his doctrine.
In March 2016, I was contacted by a preacher inquiring whether I would be interested in debating Preston in Ardmore in concerning this doctrine. I initially agreed; contact was made with Preston through a close friend of mine and brother in Christ, Shawn Mathis. Shawn is a former preacher and experienced businessman; he negotiated the terms of the debate for me with Preston. Shawn did an outstanding job in finalizing the agreement that was signed, and nailing down the propositions to be debated. Thus it was that Preston and I agreed to a two night debate on July 14-15, 2016, in connection with the “Preterist Pilgrim Weekend.” The propositions were: “Resolved: The Bible teaches that the Second (final) coming of Christ and the attendant resurrection of the just and the unjust, occurred at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.” Affirm: Don K. Preston; Deny: David Hester, and, “Resolved: The Bible teaches that the Second (final) coming of Christ and the attendant resurrection of the just and the unjust, is yet future, and will occur at the end of time.” Affirm: David Hester; Deny: Don K. Preston.
In preparation for the debate, I was fortunate to have a number of fellow gospel preachers to give me assistance. Several who had debated the subject in the past allowed me access to their notes. Additionally, I obtained three sources of information (which I cannot disclose at this time) from a preacher friend which proved to be crucial in putting together the line of argumentation I would use. Phil Sanders agreed to serve as my moderator and sit at my table; he proved to be invaluable with his advice, encouragement, and quick thinking. Kyle Massengale, who had sat at my table in 2011 when I debated Catholic theologian Robert Sungenis, helped from a distance with his strong suggestions and counsel. As the time for the debate drew closer, I felt more and more comfortable.
During the preparation period, an item of interest caught my attention. On his website, Preston posts a series of videos he calls “Morning Musings.” In them, he promotes and pushes his doctrine. The topic that interested me was on the Lord’s Supper. The advocates of the AD 70 doctrine have an insurmountable problem—if the Second Coming took place at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, then one is hard pressed to explain 1 Cor. 11:26: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” Either the AD 70 advocates take the Supper, and thus contradict their own teaching, not take it altogether and violate Paul’s clear command, or else change the Law of Christ. Preston chose the last option.
In his video series on the subject, he claimed that we cannot know how often the early church ate the Supper; he also said that while it is “appropriate” to take the Supper, we do not have to take it today. While Preston once believed and taught that the Supper must be taken every first day of the week, he does not believe that now. He then claimed that the mention of the Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 was not intended to be understood as advocating a universal practice, but only for Corinth. I knew that all of this would provide a major point of emphasis during the debate. Contrary to Don, we can know how often the Supper was taken—from the book of 1 Corinthians itself! Paul wrote, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…” (1 Co. 11:26). When did the Corinthian brethren come together? “On the first day of every week” (1 Co. 16:2); the same day they met in Troas in Acts 20:7. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” So, contrary to Don, we can know not only when the Supper was taken, and how often, but also to whom it applies—everyone living today. The fact remains, “till he come” in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is a death blow to his AD 70 theory. The Lord is yet to come, and we are still to take the Supper.
During the time I was in Ardmore for the debate, I was struck by how ecumenical the gathering was. Many of those who participated in the “Preterist Pilgrim Weekend” were not members of the church, but rather members of various denominational groups. Nevertheless, Phil Sanders and I were treated with respect and courtesy, which we returned in kind. We were shown hospitality on a personal level throughout the proceedings. Also, Cougan Collins gave us much needed logistical support and personal encouragement. He opened the building of the Lone Grove Church of Christ, where he preaches, for us to use in studying and preparing. Cougan is a very sharp and solid young preacher, and is doing a great job with the Lone Grove congregation.
Two things were immediately apparent as the debate progressed. First, Preston did not define his proposition. The first rule of formal debate (which we both signed) is that “the terms in which the question in debate is expressed, and the precise point at issue, should be so clearly defined, that there could be no misunderstanding respecting them.” Beginning with his first affirmative speech, Don did not follow that rule. I made sure in my responses that this would not go unnoticed. He later said that he did not want to “bore” the audience with defining the proposition; yet, he himself had defined his propositions in many other debates in which he had participated. As I said to Phil Sanders at one point (and said publicly during the debate), “If this had been a collegiate style debate with judges, Don would have been disqualified.”
Second, almost from the start Don claimed that the Law of Moses was in place—with God’s approval—alongside the Law of Christ for 40 years (until AD 70). This was an amazing assertion. Romans 7:1-6 blows that out of the water. A fundamental assertion in Don’s doctrine is that the Law of Moses was in force during Christ’s reign from Acts 2 until AD 70. However, Paul says that Christians—long before AD 70—were joined to Christ and not to the law. Don’s doctrine teaches that spiritual adultery was scriptural from Pentecost until AD 70! To be joined to a husband and to marry another involved one in adultery. If one is discharged from the law of the husband, one is free to marry again and this marriage does not involve adultery. To be joined to the old covenant, the old law, and to be joined to the new covenant (joined to Christ), involves one in spiritual adultery. Before one can be joined to Christ, one must be discharged from the law (Ro. 7:2, 6). Christians were already “discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held” (Ro. 7:6). They were “made dead to the law through the body of Christ” (Ro. 7:4). The death of Christ was involved in the removal of the law (Ep. 2:13-17).
For Preston’s doctrine to be true, one has to redefine words, phrases, and passages of Scripture. The approach he and his cohorts take is very much like that described in the book Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. In it, Alice meets with Humpty Dumpty, who is sitting on the wall. They engage in conversation, which quickly goes nowhere; Humpty Dumpty is using words very differently from Alice. After she challenges him, he gruffly says, “When I choose a word, it means what I choose it to mean; nothing more or less.” That is the approach taken by AD 70 advocates—the “Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutic.”
During my affirmative arguments, I presented 23 arguments for Don to answer. He did not seriously attempt to do so, claiming he did not have enough time. The audience—both online and in person—knows that he did not respond to them. A few times during the debate, he tried to use passages from Hebrews to bolster his doctrine concerning the Law of Moses. His efforts were easily demonstrated to be false. I chided him a couple of times by saying, “You’d better stay out of Hebrews; it’ll kill you.” He finally responded to that in frustration by saying, “I’ll slather all over Hebrews.” What’s interesting is that the word “slather” means “to use or spend in a wasteful or lavish manner.” Needless to say, after each night’s session, I felt very good about how things went. I believe that in the long term, this debate will do much good.
There is a link to the recordings of the debate, where you can watch it online. The password is PPWLIVESTREAM. Part of the agreement that was signed committed me to make a good faith effort to schedule another debate between me and Don in Montgomery, AL. At the time of the publication of this article, we have just agreed to have a second debate in Montgomery in 2017.
David is on the faculty of the F. Furman Kearley School of Theology at Faulkner University, where he also is Director of the annual Bible Lectures. David is also Education Director at Eastern Meadows Church of Christ in Montgomery, AL.