Pretribulationalism Just Can’t Be: No, Says the ‘Theology of the Cross’

A new friend of mine, Lawrence (Larry) Garcia—senior pastor of a church in the Phoenix, AZ area (I lived there once, my brother still does!), called Academia Church—has just started a series of posts (here & here) in an area that I am known for writing on as well. It is rather idiosyncratic to American Christians (Evangelicals) to be focused on this topic the way we are, but even recognizing it for what it is, it is still something that has largely shaped my life and hermeneutics; and so I still talk about it, once and awhile. Anyway, this topic is a very narrow point, embedded within the broader topic of eschatology (understood in a certain way). What I am beating around the bush about is the topic of what is often referred to as Tribulational Theology. I am not going to endeavor to get into explaining what this all is, I will just expect that the reader is familiar enough with this already.

What Larry has begun covering are the hermeneutics and development of the Pre-Tribulational understanding of the Tribulation (held by Dispensationalists). He is noting how many younger Evangelicals have turned away from this teaching for something meatier (so to speak). For something that is more historically rooted in the Christian tradition, and something I would argue is much more exegetically (and thus biblically) faithful; many younger Evangelicals (who even think about such things) are turning to a Post-Tribulational view (and this might take expression as a Historic/Covenental Premillennialist [which is now my position], or as an Amillennialist [which was my position for about the last year]—full disclosure, I grew up as a classic Dispensationalist, became a Progressive Dispensationalist in College, and then later moved to where I am now).

I just came across a quote from Craig S. Keener that illustrates why many younger Evangelicals are making this turn; i.e. because Pre-Tribulational theology ultimately cannot be substantiated from the text of Scripture (yikes!). Here is Keener:

[A]nother danger in reading biblical texts is that we read our modern doctrinal agendas into them. For instance, some writers have sought to distinguish a pretribulational rapture from a postribulational second coming by arguing that Jesus “comes in the clouds” at the Rapture (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17) but touches down on earth at the Second Coming (Zech. 14:4). Whatever one’s view of that doctrine, an argument based solely on such a distinction inevitably fails. Most of the texts about Jesus’ return in judgment do not mention the detail of him landing on earth; further, most of the texts about Jesus’ coming with clouds refer plainly to his coming visibly to the entire world, as here ([Rev.] 1:7; cf. Dan. 7:13; Mark 13:46; 14:62). Nor ought we to read other modern doctrinal controversies into texts that were not written to address them. John writes not as a modern theologian but as a prophet and pastor, encouraging suffering believers and exhorting complacent ones. [Craig S. Keener, The Revelation NIV Application Commentary, 75.]

Obviously this is not a technical/critical commentary (Keener has plenty of those), but it still is noticing a serious argument against pretribulationalism. Jesus is coming again, that is the Good News! But the idea that He is coming to “Rapture” us out and away from serious tribulation; well, just does not measure up in the experience of most Christians in the world, nor most of all in the experience of God in Christ Himself. Pretribulationalism is countered most by a proper and Christian (and Pauline) Theology of the Cross!

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for alluding to my current work. I am glad I have you as a conversation partner as I attempt to clarify why we are making this important and necessary shift in our reading of ancient apocalypses and our understanding of the complex eschatology (but not as complex as disp.) of the NT.

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  2. Thanks, Larry. I always enjoy interacting around this topic of consideration. And you are right to note the complexity of Dispensationalism’s innovation. This is another smaller reason I have moved away from it; i.e. because I have employed Occam’s razor and found that there are simpler ways to make sense of the data of scripture in this regard than the layers of imaginative ideas that dispensationalism needs in order to function.

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