O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
There is a problem in the partial preterist world. They are slowly running out of “unfulfilled” passages of Scripture. It is not necessary to go into great detail, because any honest observer will admit that over the past 30 years "fulfillment" has been the course de jour. Beginning with passages such as Daniel 12 back in the 1990's and even up into the present day with Joel McDurmon's new book, Jesus vs. Jerusalem, partial preterist exegetes have slowly and methodically moved previous "non-negotiable" passages from the "future to us" category to the "fulfilled" column.
With every consistent step towards full preterism, the remnants of the scattered partial preterist herd eventually coalesce into the next seemingly secure shelter to find safety within the walls of "creeds" and "orthodoxy."
The latest such shelter seems to be Romans 8:19-21:
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (NKJV)
The argument is simple: the creation that Paul has in mind in this passage is the material universe. The claim is that salvation for the individual is complete in Christ, but the full benefits of that salvation won't be attained until a long gradual renewing of the material universe takes place. At that point, sin and it's effects will finally be removed from the material universe. "The creation [read material universe] itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
It is crystal clear that Paul is referring back to the Genesis account in this passage. In the conservative reformed world, the effort must be made to protect the young earth creation presupposition (and the futurism it breeds) by matching up the creation of Romans 8 and the creation of Genesis 1. Old earth scholars such as N.T. Wright, use this passage to protect their futurist "orthodoxy" in a slightly different way.
By defining the "creation" of Romans 8 as the material universe one can simply fulfill most, if not all, of the rest of the Bible and still hold on to some sort of yet future consummation. This greatly reduces the need to exegete any other yet future unfulfilled passages which allows the partial preterist to slide just inside the gates of creeds.
There is a strangeness to this view that few seem to notice. Does it seem odd that many who promote it insist that God created the universe in six literal days, yet they declare that the new creation, the new heavens and new earth, has been "under construction" for nearly 2000 years and counting? Or consider another oddity: They claim that Jesus' complete work of redemption is incomplete and ongoing even while claiming that Adam's first sin completely transformed the world overnight. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. Doesn’t young-earth partial futurism impugn the work of Christ and power of God as weak in comparison to what Satan accomplished in one brief interview? Who is the truly powerful worker in this scene?
Apparently the surrounding context, pronouns, and time statements included in this passage are not enough for some partial preterists to consider an alternative definition of the "creation" that Paul had in mind. What if Paul's "the creation" doesn't reference the physical universe at all?
In the rush to find shelter for their futurism, the partial preterist world has run smack dab into a far more sinister villain: UNIVERSALISM.
If Paul means that the entire physical universe (the creation) will be freed from the bondage of sin, then it necessitates that every single human being must be forgiven and redeemed in the end because human beings are a part of the material creation.
The problem is much worse for the reformed world. The Westminster Confession states that all the dead will be raised with self same bodies and the self same bodies of the non-believers will spend eternity in the torment of Hell.
How can Paul claim that the entire creation is freed from the bondage of sin yet some of that material creation will spend eternity paying the penalty for sin, in a Hell created by God? You see, a universal view of "the creation" leads logically to a universal view of salvation. And what about the devil? Wasn't the serpent in the Garden a part of the material universe? Is he going to be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God?"
Some could say that God creates a completely new material universe, but that contradicts Paul in Romans 8, not to mention the big problem that the original creation God cursed would never be redeemed, handing satan the final victory over God's original work. No, Paul says "the creation" is liberated from its bondage.
There is simply no logical way to argue against universalism when it is claimed that the entire physical/material universe will be delivered from sin.
There is a fork in the road for the partial preterist world. If they continue to rely on Romans 8:19-21 for their futurist hope, they will be forced to either stick with the YEC definition of "the creation" and accept the logical conclusion of universalism, or they will apply the consistency of Paul and the full-preterist, and interpret "the creation" as a covenant creation rather than the material universe. After all, there is no physical definition that can make sense out of Paul's claim elsewhere that believers in Jesus Christ have become a new creation. Paul's theology of creation in other passages should at least give us a hint at the proper interpretation of Romans 8:19-21.