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DEFENDING THE “SECRET” RAPTURE

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  11 Comments

In response to an article I posted on-line, I received the following anonymous response:

“Because, you deceiver, no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists like yourself. You have created a straw man. knocked it down and proved nothing.”

I would use this response to point out the emotional nature of commitment to dispensationalism. This anonymous response was not an intellectual challenge to my blog, but an emotional outburst against it. I am not mistaken; I am a “deceiver.” What is worse, it was mistaken in its foundational point! The writer claims: (1) “no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists,” and because of this alleged fact (2) “you have created a straw man.”

Dispensationalists employ the term “secret” for the Rapture.

Please consider the following in reply:

The largest selling book of the 1970s, and one of the largest selling Christian books of all times, was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Church. In the 1970s it sold over 9 million copies, and though quite dated now, it is still on the market and has sold over 28 million copies worldwide. As a consequence, it has influenced millions of Christians. In that book dispensationalist mega-bestseller Hal Lindsey states on pages 142–43:

“Another reason why we support the idea that the Rapture and the second coming are separate events is that the second coming is said to be visible to the whole earth (Revelation 1:7). However, in the Rapture, only the Christians see Him — it’s a mystery, a secret. When the living believers are taken out, the world is going to be mystified.”

Thus, one of the most influential dispensational authors uses the term, despite the anonymous writer declaring that “no-one” ever called it a secret rapture.

Major theologian Robert H. Gundry wrote The Church and the Tribulation, in which he classifies himself as a “dispensationalist” (p. 28).  He is also called a dispensationalist in Thomas Ice and Tim Demy’s book, When the Trumpet Sounds: “Gundry, who is not only premillennial but also dispensational…” (p. 239). While discussing 1 Thess 4:16–17, Gundry refers to the secret rapture in his book: “The ‘shout,’ ‘voice,’ and ‘trumpet’ have led some posttribulationists to mock at a secret, pretribulational rapture…” (p. 104).

Dispensationalism requires that the Rapture be “secret”

We also find that the very theological construct of the Rapture entails that it be “secret.” According to the dictionary, the first meaning of “secret” is: “done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others” (Dictionary.com). The second listed meaning there is: “kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged.” This is precisely how the Rapture must be characterized. Note the following.

Consider major dispensationalist theologian Charles L. Feinberg. In his book, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, p. 287 he distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming by noting:  “The coming of the Lord Jesus for His own will not be seen by the world, whereas His visible appearing will be seen by all when He comes in power and great glory with His holy angles” (emph. mine). By definition, this Rapture coming is secret, for it “will not be seen by the world.” It is “done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others” (“secret,” Dictionary.com).”

Another important dispensational theologian is Paul D. Feinberg. He is contributor to the debate book by Gleason Archer, et al., The Rapture: Pre–, Mid–, or Post–tribulation?). In that book he, too, distinguishes the Second Advent from the Rapture similarly: “The return of Christ is preceded by great upheaval, distress, and signs that alert one to its occurrence. Neither the trial nor the signs are to be found in the Rapture text…” (p. 157–58; emph. mine). Thus, it is “secret” as far as the world is concerned for it is “done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others” (“secret,” Dictionary.com).”

Another extremely popular dispensationalist is Tim LaHaye’s. In his Prophecy Study Bible (at 1 Thess. 4:13) he provides a chart of “Comparisons between the Rapture and the Glorious Appearance.” In that chart, item five is: At the Rapture “Only His own see Him”; whereas in the “Glorious Appearance” (the Second Advent) “Every eye will see Him.” Thus, a major distinction between the Rapture and the Second Advent is that the Rapture is not seen by those who are not believers. Is this, then, not “secret”? Is this not “done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others” (“secret,” Dictionary.com)?”

Norm Geisler in his Systematic Theology: Church, Last Things presents a similar chart to LaHaye, where he contrasts the “Rapture” and the “Second Coming” (p. 623): Under the “Rapture” column we read: “only believers see him.” Under the “Second Coming” column we read: “all people see him.”

John Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy, speaks of the Rapture as a secret event, though without using the express term:

“It is probable, however, that just as atmospheric clouds received the Lord when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9) and as He will come in the ‘clouds of heaven’ at His return to the earth, so here also at the rapture the church will be enveloped by the atmospheric heavens and thus be taken out of sight of men on earth. There is no indication, however, that residents of earth will be able to see church thus rapture.” If the residents of earth do not see it, is it not — by definition — “secret”? Is it not “done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others” (“secret,” Dictionary.com)?

However, on p. 136 Walvoord expressly allows the concept:

“The revelation indicates that the event [the Rapture] will take place in a moment and apparently that the earth and its inhabitants are left undisturbed. The Scripture does not use the term ‘secret rapture,’ and there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear at the time of rapture. On the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole.” So then, he admits that “the Scripture does not use the term ‘secret,’” but he argues for its secrecy, nevertheless. After all, he declares “there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear” and notes “on the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole.” He has worked his way around the “problem” that the adjective “secret” is not applied to the rapture in Scripture, by declaring that it is, nonetheless, secret!

Then two paragraphs later Walvoord writes: “A survey of the major Scriptures dealing with the second coming reveal an entirely different picture than the rapture. In Matthew 24, it is indicated that the second coming of Christ will fill the heavens with glory and will be ‘as lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west…. In contrast to the rapture, the second coming will be a visible event which both saved and unsaved will see” (pp. 136–37; emph. mine).

Conclusion

Like it or not, dispensationalism requires a “secret” rapture. And dispensationalists can and do use the term. I created no straw man; nor did I deceive anyone. I do admit, however, to having not much emotion about the whole matter, unlike my adversary.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

11 responses to DEFENDING THE “SECRET” RAPTURE

  1. Kevin Evans July 16, 2012 at 6:30

    Dispensationlists are so emotional about their secret rapture doctrine. Anyone who dares to teach anything else would be labeled a deceiver. I am still waiting for them to show me one verse in the Bible that teaches this doctrine. Just one verse would suffice.

    • Kevin Evans July 16, 2012 at 6:30

      I will also add that Hal Lindsey and others have a penchant for calling postmillenialists and dominionists false teachers. I read his The Everlasting Hatred. In that book he called certain non-dispensationalists false teachers, because their view of the modern state of Israel is radically different from his. According to their eschatology, only dispensationalists are true Christians.

    • Dispensationalism is a theology built on eschatology. It pivots on the 1948 creation of the state of
      Israel. This is why there is such an emotional reaction when anyone criticizes national Israel, or suggests that the Church is true Israel. If the Church-Israel distinction goes, so does their entire faith.

  2. Rebuild America’s Biblical Worldview July 16, 2012 at 6:30

    Dr. Gentry, I think you meant to say Hal Lindsay’s book was titled “The Late Great Planet Earth” instead of “The Late Great Planet Church.”

    Good article. The references are abundant. It seems like this should be such an obvious internal inconsistency between the theory and those who write books based on the theory.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 16, 2012 at 6:30

      Oops. You are correct. I worked on “The Late Great Planet Church.” Lindsey worked on “The Late Greate Planet Earth.” I was having deja vu and amnesia at the same time.

  3. Aha……Finally, now I know the SECRET of PreTrib Dispy…..!!!
    Thanks Ken for its full disclosure.

  4. Lindsay’s book is Late Great Planet Earth not church. That was Jerry Johnson’s work

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 16, 2012 at 6:30

      I have had several keen-eyed readers point out my typo. You folks need to go into textual criticism! 🙂 Or perhaps I am a clever marketer using subliminal advertising to promote the video! In fact, yesterday I saw a subliminal advertising executive just for a second.

  5. Throughout my years I have studied many of the so-called great Bible scholars. In doing so I discovered that rather than basing their works on facts, most is based upon opinion and speculation.(with a couple of verses thrown in here and there to supposedly prove their point.)
    If people would study the Bible instead of those such as Tim La Haye and Hal Lindsey they would be much better off. Of course now we have even a bigger problem with those teaching interfaith commonality. Islam is not compatible with the Judeo-christian faith as so many are now proclaiming.

  6. Dr Gentry,

    Any word of your commentary on Revelation? I read the small book and have anxiously awaited the publication of the full thing.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 19, 2012 at 6:30

      I am aiming to finish by the end of the year, or shortly thereafter. Lord willing!

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