Prayer Without God

When I was in middle school, my Spanish teacher was diagnosed with cancer. Her husband was the Bible teacher. Both of her children were students. This was at a small, Christian school in Maryland, a close community of believers.
What was our response when we learned the terrible news of her illness? We prayed, of course. Not the typical prayers which had been a normal part of Bible class and Monday morning chapels, in which students took turns ticking off prayer requests from the general to the specific, but the real deal. A 24-hour prayer blanket was conceived, in which students, faculty, friends and family signed up for a block of time, all throughout the night, all throughout the next day, fervently pleading, imploring, fasting for weeks on end, for as long as it took.

Finally, the news came: The cancer was gone! She was healed! There was much rejoicing and outpouring of thanksgiving, hands were raised, hosannas were shouted. Those secular doctors with their secular science were completely befuddled! Yes, for all their highfalutin’ degrees and prestigious education, they could not account for this seeming miracle before their eyes, but we knew the score! Hallelujah, the God of Abraham had heard our prayers!

A week later the cancer returned with a vengeance and she was dead within 24 hours.

The idea of prayer had always caught in my maw as a Christian. I went through the motions because I felt I had no choice but to acknowledge its veracity, as it was a part of the package deal which came with salvation and eternal life, but there was nonetheless a logical component to it which always seemed lacking. Were we actually attempting tochange God’s mind about an outcome, and if so, how did that fit in with free will and God’s omnipotence and all the rest of it?

Following her death, it was explained that God had indeed heard our prayers, and that this was clearly a part of His orchestrated plan. Perhaps, somehow, her death might even lead others to Christ! Above all, we must continue to pray that God’s will be done.

In the decades following my deconversion and disbelief in God, what began as dissatisfaction with these pat answers to life’s tragedies turned to gilt-edged skepticism, followed by hostility for church-goers and church-elders.

However, now that I am an adult, after having assumed I was done with that holy enterprise, I now find myself sitting in the wooden chairs of a small, old Mennonite Church most Sunday mornings, taking part in the communal hymn-singing, the passing of the peace, the breaking of bread. My family and I bring food to share, ponder the sermons, and remain after service long into the afternoon.

Perhaps this anomaly can be explained with the cyclical shape that a life can take. Perhaps it is that I am married to a woman who is more spiritually-minded than I. Perhaps it is that there are just so many tropes which are familiar to me: the language, the rhythm, the underlying mythology of it.

It would be a mistake, however, to characterize my return to church as merely a return to what is familiar. Indeed, I often find myself outside of my comfort zone, listening to hard-hitting sermons about poverty, racial injustice and immigration rights. This is not the church I grew up in. Far from it. This is a church with a focus on social justice issues, seen primarily through the lens of Christ’s example. But that is not the fullest extent of the comfort zone which I find myself existing outside of.

The truth is, each Sunday that I attend, I must confront the fact that I simply do not believe in a God and probably never will.

The longer I’ve attended, the more at ease I’ve become with this realization about myself. Perhaps it’s being surrounded by people who are themselves comfortable with their beliefs which has made me more comfortable with my own. Or – more likely - it’s because the very real problems of the world as they are presented from the pulpit are larger than any mythology, more immediate than any supposition about the unknown.

There remains, however, the issue of prayer.

“It is now our time of sharing,” says the worship leader every Sunday, once the sermon has concluded. “Please share your joys, your concerns, your reflections on the sermon. When you are finished, say, ‘God of Grace,’ and we will respond with ‘Hear our prayer.’”

The congregation is small, and the wooden chairs arranged so that half the sanctuary faces the other half. One by one, individuals rise and speak of world events and local politics, money and violence, a conversation, a conundrum. The effects of the economy, the wages of war, all very real and immediate in a way I don’t get in the routine of my daily life

I now have a very humanist understanding of what is happening when people gather together to pray. I am no longer concerned with the logical implications of an omnipotent being’s mind being changed. Instead, I think about issues of human community. In real life, how often do we find a platform for expressing personal feelings so openly? How often are we able to express a terror, or a dream, not just with a spouse or a few close friends, but with an entire community?

There is solace in sharing personal burdens and personal joys. And there is responsibility in having the private lives of others opened up before you. This is what prayer has come to mean to me, and it is more meaningful to me than to suppose that an incorporeal entity is going to supernaturally intercede in our affairs.

I wish that I had appreciated this aspect when I had been younger, when my entire school hung on every bit of news concerning my cancer-stricken teacher, generously interpreting the slightest positive prognosis as something miraculous. Instead, I sat in the back of chapel, smug in my self-righteous certainty that I could see through this theistic illusion of prayer.

In many ways, I feel I was onto something. There was an illusory veil which I correctly saw through. My mistake, however, was that I stopped my introspection there, and did not consider that in life, there are veils behind veils, and truths behind illusions.

Presuppositionalist Pete - 1

Atheist Dan Barker Claims that Rape is A-Okay!

With an atheistic worldview, there is no absolute morality! You could just as easily murder someone as select a flavor of ice cream!

I hate this line of thinking, this argument from absolute morality, and I see it all the time. I was intrigued, then, when I saw on one of the many religious Facebook groups I belong to, someone posted this:

To which I responded:

But it made me curious to know what each of those above points were about. I decided to look up the last of them, to see what I could find. I just copied "Atheist Dan Barker says rape is not necessarily immoral in all situations" into Google and viola:

In fact, it even made, "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia."

A moral obligation? Not only could rape be moral, but it could actually be a moral obligation? I pictured an end-of-the-world scenario in which the last surviving man encounters the last surviving woman, and in five minutes he knows he will die from radiation poisoning and so this is the absolute last chance for the human population to survive, there is no time for romance or even a how-do-you-do? He must spread his seed NOW before... before... his heart goes, he falls to the ground, dead. Before him, the last woman stands shaking, shivering, the human race saved by an act of rape.

But my imagination runs wild. Surely it couldn't be that ridiculous.

Finally, I found the video in question, from which all of these accusations spring forth:

I wasn't too far off. Not only is it an end-of-the-world scenario, but it also involves aliens. What if aliens invaded the planet earth and told us that if Dan Barker didn't rape a 16 year-old girl, then they would slaughter all of humanity. Under that extremely hypothetical example, then yes, Dan Barker argues, rape would be the moral recourse.

I hate that he said this, mostly because it allows fundamentalists everywhere to now utter the words, "Dan Barker claims that child rape could be moral!" and more generally, "Atheists condone child rape!" and finally, "Atheists will rape your children!"

But mostly I hate that he said this because it's not true. The distinction I would make is this: Having to choose between two immoral acts does not make one of them automatically moral. Choosing to rape the girl in order to save humanity does not make child rape moral. At most, you could say it was the less immoral action. Although even that, I don't think is accurate. The most moral action, as I see it, would be to refuse, and in that, I actually agree with Barker's Christian fundamentalist opponent.

I thought Kyle Butt's follow-up questions revealed this. Would you rape a hundred girls? he asked. Would you rape a thousand girls? At what point would you refuse? When is it enough?

Barker seems to be simply saying, for whatever horrible thing you can imagine, such as rape, it is possible to imagine something worse, and a scenario in which you would have to choose between the two. I will grant him this,.but the lesser of two evils is still an evil.

Atheists should not be afraid to assert an objective, ethical foundation.It is okay to say that rape is wrong, absolutely, one hundred per cent of the time. Really. I give you my permission.

Tea and Biscuits with the Atheist Killa

Chad Elliot calls himself the Atheist Killa and has made over 100 YouTube videos, in addition to running a facebook page called "Creationism and the Origin of Life," on which he says he has defeated over 31,000 atheists.

What does it mean to defeat an atheist? It means the atheist has failed to answer the Golden Question.

The Golden Question is: 


What do these strange words mean? you wonder. 

SCPNCEU atheist is someone who believes "Something Can come from Pure Nothingness and then Create Entire Universe(s)." A STE atheist is one who believes "Space and Time are Eternal." Meaning, the universe has always been here, so it's pointless to talk about where it came from. So you have to choose one or the other.

He writes:

Although we would love to answer all your questions one by one and destroy each of your baseless nonsensical assertions individually, unfortunately for you, God teaches us not to throw pearls at swine...This means we refuse to waste our time with people who are not seeking real truth...Therefore before you do anything else, you must first prove your worth. If you do anything else, or try to comment anywhere on this page before doing one of the two options, you will be immediately banned for rule violation and we will accept that as another victory.

Unfortunately, no matter what you answer, he has a scripted response as to why that response was not logical. He then bans you, declares victory, so that his entire facebook page is filled with him talking to himself.

Here's an example of one of his videos:

The kind of attitude displayed in his videos, added to the fact that he writes in all-caps, has led to a lot of vitriolic responses.

As an atheist who is curious about religion, I was hoping to get past the vitriol and get off-script and find out who the Atheist Killa really is. I felt that there must be more to him than meets the eye, and in an effort for developing inter-faith relationships, I was excited that he was willing to answer my questions.

Did I succeed?


Tea and Biscuits with the Atheist Killa
A Conversation with Chad Eliot

I have a tattoo on my entire back of St. Michael killing a demon. But I don't kill them literally, only their hopes and dreams. The fact that no atheist can defeat me is proof of my dominance.

Why has atheism been your focus?

Because I can't stand dishonesty and quite frankly it disgusts me that people can be so pathetic!

But do you consider it to be a bigger threat to Christianity than other theistic religions like, say, Islam?

There is no threat to real truth (Christianity). Especially not from a 7-12% of fringe lunatics who cannot even be honest with themselves.

Why did you come up with the Golden Question?

It was developed to make atheists prove their honesty. I believe too many times people engage in discussions with people who aren’t seeking truth and then in the end it was all a waste of time and effort.

How often does someone make it past Phase 1?

No atheist has ever made it beyond Phase 1, but it does happen frequently in real life with Truth-Seeking Agnostics.

In real life? You actually get into these kinds of debates in person?

Yes, real life, ever heard of it? If you’re an atheist, you don’t know what “real’’means!

I was just surprised, because a lot of times, you know, people create online personas that don't necessarily reflect who they are in real life.

The Atheist Killa is not one of those people.

I see.

I debate people more in real life than online. Friends, family, atheist, people I meet outside my home, everywhere!

The thing you do online that a lot of people react against is the way you ban atheists after they can't or won't answer your questions, and then declare victory. I guess in real life you can't really just ban people, can you?

No, but I can humiliate them quiet easily and show their ignorance and cowardice. Those are what I call easy victories.

Can you tell me about a time that that happened?

What happened? I left them walking away thinking, “Wow, maybe he really just destroyed atheism because I cannot think of a way to beat him!"

Do you think that atheists and Christians will ever be able to work together to take on the challenges of the world? Is there any hope that the Atheist Killa may one day embrace atheists as his brothers and sisters?


Okay then. What’s one thing about the Atheist Killa that would surprise someone who knows you only from your videos?

That I am the nicest person you would ever meet!

Born-Again Preterist - Part Three

Part Three – The Future of Preterism
"The archangel totally blew it." - Vernon Klingman

Vernon: This brings me to what I feel is the greatest stake of all regarding the subject of prophecy, and it relates to the credibility of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. I should add that I find this veracity threatened not only by dispensationlism, but by all views that would place the coming of Christ in the future.

I'm sure you've heard of C.S. Lewis. Many in the Church consider him to be the one of the greatest Christian-thinkers of all time. While I also appreciate much of his work, I feel he didn't have a clue about how to defend the prophecies Jesus made concerning His return.

Notice what he said about Matthew 24:34, where Jesus promised to return before His generation passed away:

"It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement 'But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.' The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side."

So, C.S. Lewis is saying that Jesus made an embarrassing prophecy, but we should forgive Him for His error, because He was ignorant.

This is ridiculous.

SM: Next you’ll be telling me there’s no such place as Narnia.

Vernon: If Jesus made an error concerning when He would return, then He is a false prophet. And if He is a false prophet, my faith is in vain. And if my faith is in vain, I have no eternal life. This is the greatest stake of all, as I see it: the hope of eternal life.

Not all futurists share the opinion of C.S. Lewis regarding this matter. Many instead redefine the time-statements Christ made to avoid charging Him with error, so they can feel comfortable about a worldview they've already decided is true.

So, you might wonder, if preterism has led me to believe that Christ is a true prophet, then why would I care if other people don't understand His prophecies, so long as they're following Him?

The reason I remain passionate about this issue is that while Christians are playing around with Christ's words - or ignoring them because they think things will all just pan out in the end, or suggesting that the Church was actually anticipating two second comings, separated by thousands of years - their children are growing up. And they're encountering worldviews that challenge all this nonsense, and being exposed to higher scholarship that makes their understanding of Scripture look, well, silly.

SM: Christians looking silly? I don’t believe it.

Vernon: I’m afraid they’ll abandon their hope of eternal life. This is my chief concern. This is why I have dedicated myself to promoting a proper understanding of eschatology. I want everyone to see how the words of Christ were fulfilled so they will continue holding on to His promise of eternal life and pass this hope on to many generations to come. Because, while I believe that striving to make this world a better place is extremely important, I also believe that God wants us to continue walking with Him in the world beyond.

SM: Speaking of the generations to come, you have a few dozen children yourself. Have you ever had to have 'the talk' with them when they come home wondering why little Jimmy thinks Obama is the Anti-Christ, or when Johnny tries to get them to read the Left Behind novels because 'everyone else is doing it?'

Vernon: I figured since it was proving so difficult to convert people to preterism, I'd advance the cause through adopting and breeding.

We certainly have a full house. After my wife and I had four biological daughters, we adopted a little girl from Ghana, and then a little boy from there as well.

My kids really don’t have too much interaction with mainstream Christianity. We’ve hosted a church in our home for a few years now, and none of my kids have ever attended a Christian school. They have attended some Christian youth groups, but I don’t believe the subject has ever come up there.

So far, my oldest daughter has been the only one of my kids to have a conversation with a friend who didn’t like the idea of preterism, and this didn’t happen till she was in high school. I remember her being very upset that her friend so quickly dismissed the idea. I just told her to ask her friend questions about what she believes and why, and to do the same with me, so she could make up her own mind about the subject.

SM: What kind of feedback have you been getting from the facebook page?

Vernon: Overall, I've enjoyed administering a public page on preterism. I've found it very rewarding to help people find answers to the same questions that bothered me. I've also been very encouraged by all the likes and positive comments. It’s been great to see that I’m not alone in my convictions.

But there certainly has been pushback. I've been called a heretic, told my doctrine isn't Christian, charged with having no understanding, and outright mocked for my beliefs. Most of these attacks, however, come from people I don't know that well, or don't know at all, so I try not to take these things too personally.

My friends and family have been much more gracious toward me, even if they don’t really get where I’m coming from. I think it's because they can see my heart, and when we talk face-to-face, they can tell I've spent a lot of time studying the issue and they respect that.

SM: Is it fair to say that preterism is by-and-large more accepted by politically-liberal Christians?

Vernon: I’m noticing my page not only drawing politically-liberal Christians, but also libertarians and Ron Paul advocates. I think this is because the view appeals to people who question mainstream movements, people who don't just accept a leader and join a team, but actually think through various issues, though they apparently arrive at different conclusions.

I might also mention, the preterist hermeneutic is also quite appealing to liberal scholars and atheists. In fact, most liberal scholars and atheists agree with the preterist that Christ clearly believed He would return to establish His kingdom in the first century. The only difference is that the liberal scholar (such as Albert Schweitzer) and the atheist (such as Bertrand Russell) see His prophecies failing, whereas I see them being fulfilled.

SM: What's the next step for you?

Vernon: I don’t often think of that, as a preterist.

Currently, I’m working on a commentary on Matthew 24 that I hope to complete this year. This will be the fourth commentary I’ve written on a chapter in the Bible that concerns eschatology  (the other three are posted under the Notes tab of my facebook page). When I finish this commentary, I plan on polishing up all four of them and publishing them as an eBook. I've also considered producing an audio series based on these works.

Other than that, I don’t really have any big plans. I just want to maintain a presence on Facebook to encourage other preterists and help the futurists see the glory of all that God has done, so I can encourage them to have hope for this world and also for the world beyond.

SM: Is it possible you’re wrong about all of this?

Vernon: I believe we can't help but employ faith, regardless of the worldview we embrace. I define “faith” as a conclusion about something we cannot see, and since none of us can see beyond this life, it seems we have no choice but to exercise faith about what might follow, even if we believe that what follows is nothing at all.

Born-Again Preterist - Part Two

Part Two – What’s so Bad about Dispensationalism?
"I'm completely dedicated to preterism... even though there's really no future in it." - Vernon Klingman

SM: What drives dispensationalists? Is it just the sheer fantasy of it? Or is it a grand conspiracy by the church to keep their minions in a perpetual state of fear?

Vernon: I believe that it remains the dominant view in the Church due to its emotional appeal. It's exciting to think that you're living in the last days and might escape physical death by being taken into heaven. Who would want to give that up?

In fact, the most common response by far that I hear when I explain my position is, "Then where does that leave me?!"

It seems the majority of Christians are more concerned about what they get out of a view than the truth of it.

SM: How accepted is preterism in the Church, overall?

Vernon: It’s extremely rare.

This seems to be changing, though. Advocates of preterism have a much greater presence on the internet than they did five or ten years ago, and I'm finding that people are becoming more and more aware of the events surrounding A.D. 70. This is partly due to the increasing popularity of partial preterism.

SM: I’ve heard that term, but not known exactly what it meant.

Vernon: That’s actually how I began my journey to preterism. The books I mentioned earlier as exposing me to the preterist hermeneutic - that is, its interpretive method - actually present the partial preterist position.

The partial preterist is someone who admits that a great deal of prophecy was fulfilled in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem. In fact, they go so far as to say that "a" second coming took place before that generation passed away. However, they insist that "the" second coming is still future, and this is when the dead will be raised, the judgment will take place, and the physical creation will be renewed.

Now, as much as I'd also like to have my cake and eat it too, this just doesn't work. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any of the apostles distinguishing between a second coming of Christ that was imminent, and another one that would be thousands of years away. It is also unthinkable to me that the apostles could have been anticipating a second second coming when the first second coming had yet to take place!

Anyone who is honest with the text would have to conclude that the early Church was looking for one return of Christ to complete their redemption, and they were convinced that it would take place within their lifetime.

Perhaps the clearest Biblical preclusion of the partial preterist view rests in a comparison between Christ's teaching in the Olivet Discourse and Daniel 12. In these passages, we find both Jesus and Daniel foretelling of the time of the end (Dan. 12:4; Mat. 24:3), the great tribulation (Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:21), the abomination of desolation (Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:15), and the gathering of the elect (Dan. 12:2-3; Mat. 24:31). These parallels demonstrate that Jesus and Daniel were speaking of the same time and events. In fact, Jesus stated directly that He was discussing the things that Daniel had predicted (Mat. 24:15).

Now, Jesus taught that all these things, along with His coming in glory and the destruction of the temple, would occur before His generation would pass away (Mat. 24:1-34), and the partial preterist believes this was fulfilled. However, Daniel recorded that all these things, along with the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, would occur by the time the power of the Jews would be shattered (Dan. 12:2-7). Clearly, both of these prophecies were delimited by the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This means that all these things, including the coming of Christ to resurrect the righteous and the wicked, would occur by this time.

SM: I think we’ve established that this isn’t merely an academic interest of yours. What are the stakes, as you see them? Would you say that dispensationalism is actually harmful?

Vernon: In no way do I feel my discovery of preterism was limited to an intellectual conclusion, nor do I believe the study of eschatology in general is merely academic. As I’m sure you would agree, how we view the fate of the world impacts how we relate to the planet and our fellow human beings. So, I think the stakes here involve more than just a correct understanding, but also a correct way of life.

Ironically, dispensationlism hijacks the hope of heaven to send the world to hell.

SM: As a skeptic, I can see that as well. There was a story on NPR last year, about a couple with young children who had quit their jobs and budgeted out their money to the last penny to last them until May 21, 2011, when Harold Camping had predicted the end of the world.

That's an extreme example, of course.

But another example - and I don't think this is an extreme example at all, but generally mainstream - is the idea of interpreting current events in light of Revelation, so that you have George Bush being asked at a press conference how he thinks the situation in the Middle East ties in with the End of Days. I'd say a fair amount of his base believed that the war in Iraq and the threat of Muslim extremists is all in the Bible.

What's terrifying to me is that I think we - obviously! - need world leaders who believe that peace is possible, and is something the human race can reach towards. I don't see how you can earnestly claim to be seeking peace, while at the same time, your religious beliefs are telling you that God is bringing about World War III to usher in the end of days, and the planet is ultimately doomed. These people should have YouTube channels, not be in charge of foreign affairs.

Vernon: Dispensationalism tells people that Jesus is about to show up, so don't worry about this place. As J. Vernon McGee used to put it, "You don't polish the brass on a sinking ship." Such a perspective, as you've pointed out, can not only cause people to stop striving for peace on earth, it can even make them give up on their own lives.

While dispensationalism didn't cause me to abandon all hope for this world, it did contribute to my lack of concern for it. Caring for our resources was not a priority for me, nor was involvement in social issues.

SM: If nothing is known about the future, could we just as easily wipe ourselves out with nuclear weapons as colonize the galaxy?

Vernon: While the full preterist doesn't believe the Bible speaks to the fate of the planet or mankind specifically, he does believe it teaches that it's the nature of God's kingdom  to grow, so he generally has an optimistic outlook. However, that's not to say we couldn't experience some  major setbacks along the way.

When I became a preterist, and realized the planet was going to be around for a while, it made me want to be a better steward of the environment, and caused me to realize that investing in the lives of others, especially children, had tremendous value, as it would affect many, many generations to come.

Born-Again Preterist - Part One

The end is perpetually nigh!

Or so I've been told.

Growing up rather fundamentalist, I'd always assumed that the standard end-of-days narrative (Anti-Christ, rapture, mark of the beast, eating our babies for breakfast) was just part-and-parcel with a belief in God and Jesus and singing hymns, it all just went together. At some moment, people will just start vanishing before your eyes, and then immediately afterward, the president will announce that its high time we all get barcodes tattooed to our foreheads.

It's an easy belief to mock, and I was doing just that one day a couple of years ago, with a friend who is also a pastor, and he just said very matter-of-factly, "Oh, don't you know? Revelation actually refers to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD."

What? No, I didn't know that. How could I have grown up completely ensconced within the Christian subculture and never even heard of such a thing?

Not long afterward, a friend from facebook suggested that I 'like' a page done by a friend of hers, Preterism. Looking through the posts, I realized, aha, this was what my pastor-friend had been talking about.

I can’t say that I'm sold on it, but it at least opened me up to seeing that one could be a Christian who believes in the book of Revelation without necessarily constructing a bunker in their backyard.

The founder of the page is Vernon C. Klingman. He agreed to be my guinea pig.

Part One  - What Do You Believe and Why?

"When it comes to viewing eschatology, hindsight is 20/20.”
-Vernon Klingman

Vernon: Preterism is the belief that the second coming of Christ and its attendant events took place by the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The term “preterism” comes from the Latin word "praeter,” which simply denotes something is past. Those who hold this view of Bible prophecy are called “preterists.”

The preterist sees Jesus teaching that He would return before His apostles could personally preach to all the cities in Israel (Mat. 10:23), that He would arrive in His kingdom before some standing beside Him would die (Mat. 16:27-28), and that His coming would  coincide with the destruction of the Jewish temple that would take place before the passing of His generation (Mat. 24:34).

The preterist also sees Jesus teaching that His kingdom is not of this physical world (John 18:36), and that it would not come with observation, nor with people pointing at it, but that it would nevertheless be in our midst (Luke 17:20-21).

In light of these teachings, the preterist believes that the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 signaled the return of Christ to establish a spiritual kingdom in the unseen realm that is in our midst. The preterist also holds that anyone who believes that Jesus died for their sins and rose again, manifests this kingdom on earth, and will enter the fullness of it upon their passing from this life.

SM: Growing up, I was always attracted to The Book of Revelation and the end times myself. Everything about it sounded so fantastic: people vanishing in the blink of an eye, the mark of the beast... This was years before the Left Behind series, but I'm sure I would have eaten them up if they'd been around. I even wrote stories about superheroes dealing with the rise of the Anti-Christ!

I recall vividly our church having a meeting concerning the book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be In 1988, and I remember we had a speaker who had this whole system worked out wherein he added up the numeric value of the letters of Sadam Hussein's name…

When I grew older, though, I realized, wait… do I really believe all this stuff? It just seemed so crazy. It made for good fantasy - clearly - but was just too insane for me to take seriously anymore.

When I learned about preterism through your facebook page, it made the insanity of Revelation seem somewhat more grounded in reality, relatively speaking. I wonder how I would have reacted to it if I'd known about it at a young age.

Vernon: It is certainly not the view I was raised with either.

I grew up in a church like yours, that taught pre-millennial dispensationalism - the theology of the Left Behind series. This view asserts, among other things, that the coming of Christ is yet future, and that His kingdom will in fact come with observation and have its capital in modern-day Israel. So it's about as far from preterism as you can get.

I can remember staring out the car window as a child - I'm not exactly sure how old I was, but I know I was in elementary school - wondering if the prophet Daniel or John might be standing on the sidewalk in the spiritual realm, watching our family drive by, since I thought that some of their visions spoke of modern transportation. I can also remember sitting in a pew during "grown-up" church - I must have been about the same age - reading the Book of Revelation and praying to God that I would one day understand it.

As I got older, I continued studying prophecy from a dispensational perspective. I spent countless hours reading books and listening to sermons on the last days by teachers such as John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, and J. Vernon McGee. I had their system down.

However, as I entered my twenties, I found myself being increasingly bothered by the time-statements regarding the return of Christ.

As a dispensationalist, I knew how to pick them apart one by one, and explain how they didn't really mean what they seemed to say. However, as I continued encountering these statements, they began striking me as too numerous and too varied in their expression not to mean exactly what they clearly seemed to say: that the return of Christ had, in fact, been near: in the first century.

So I decided to explore other views of eschatology, that is, the study of last things. That's when I picked up Revelation: Four Views, by Steve Gregg. This book presented four parallel commentaries on the book of Revelation, all from different theological perspectives, including the preterist view. As I read the commentary from the preterist perspective, it so resonated with me that I found it difficult to keep reading the commentaries from the other views.

I think what impressed me most about preterism is how consistently it applied reasonable and logical principles of interpretation to the Scriptures. I knew that to properly interpret a book of the Bible, I had to consider its original audience, their culture, and the events of their day. However, it seemed that dispensationalism required me to abandon these principles when interpreting passages relating to last things. The preterist view, however, insisted that applying these principles to passages relating to eschatology was the key to understanding them as well.

After reading Gregg's book, I began reading the authors he cited in it, such as David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry and James Russell. While I certainly gained Biblical insight from these authors, and others, I feel it was the preterist view itself that truly opened up God's Word to my understanding. I believe it did this by motivating me to consistently apply proper interpretive methods to the Bible, and by encouraging me to just believe what Christ said concerning the timing and nature of His kingdom.

SM: It sounds like you're describing a born-again experience.

Vernon: I suppose, in a sense, it was. It certainly felt as though I had been blind, but could now see.

It's hard for me to imagine what my life would have been like had I not arrived at this position, but knowing my disdain for the ignorance and hypocrisy of the institutionalized Church, and my conviction to place my faith only in what is sound and reasonable, I'm not completely sure I would have continued in the Christian faith otherwise.