Pretribulational Theology in Dispensationalism–Two People of God
You have probably been wondering for quite some time on what basis people hold to the Pre-Tribulational rapture theory, within Dispensational/Pre-millennial Theology; in fact I bet you lost sleep over this very question last night ;-). In reality, I would suggest, that even though most doctrine is waning in North American Evangelical churches, that if pressed, what informs people’s views, hermeneutically, politically, and even ethically, is still informed by the method of biblical interpretation that funds Pre-Tribulational theology (by the way, if you are ‘Pre-Trib’ you will also be Dispensational and Pre-Mil). And so, I still find it highly relevant to engage with this issue, at least at the and for the popular level; which is where most Christians live on a day to day basis (I realize that Christian academics, by and large, completely repudiate all of this stuff, and so for them, and in their world, this stuff is boring and even beyond passé—and so just realize, scholar guy or gal, I am not writing this for you, but I hope you read along and contribute too 🙂 ). So without further lead in, let me quote one of the most well known classically oriented Pre-Tribulational thinkers from its formative Dallas Theological Seminary past, J. Dwight Pentecost; here, in a nutshell, he is giving a sketch of how a Pre-Tribulational adherent becomes an adherent, hermeneutically (or through the way they do biblical interpretation). He writes:
[P]retribulation rapturism rests essentially on one major premise—the literal method of interpretation of the Scriptures. As a necessary adjunct to this, the pretribulationist believes in a dispensational interpretation of the Word of God. The church and Israel are two distinct groups with whom God has a divine plan. The church is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament. This present mystery age intervenes within the program of God for Israel because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah at His first advent. This mystery program must be completed before God can resume His program with Israel and bring it to completion. These considerations all arise from the literal method of interpretation. [J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, 193.]
Obviously, when Pentecost says all of this ‘arise[s] from the literal method of interpretation,’ he obviously has something in mind; a certain way to be “literal,” in fact a wooden-literalness, that is literal right up until the point that being literal makes absolute non-sense (i.e. when Jesus says he is the ‘door’, he obviously does not mean a literal wooden door). One oversight with this, though, is that being “literal” in biblical interpretation (and in the way the NT authors are), does not cash out in the way that Pentecost and Pretribulationist presume that it does. But we will deal with this later.
So for the Pretribulation position, it becomes quickly apparent, that the ‘church age’ we currently inhabit, was more like an after-thought, or plan B for God; and the nation of Israel and her salvation as His covenant people have always been God’s plan A (and still are). Ironically, dispensationalism, in its classic and revised versions, sounds a lot like the ‘Open’ theology and theory of God (that God does not have determinative knowledge or causation of the future, that God’s knowledge and act is contingent upon the contingencies of creation and the world); but I digress. So in order for God to get back to His original plan A, He needs to finish up with His plan B (the church), get us out of here, and get back to His real business, with dealing with His earthly Covenant people, the Jews.
This is problematic, biblically, on many fronts. We will have to engage with this further at a later date.