A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 2 – "The Origins of the Secret Rapture"

Gribben, in chapter 2, begins to present for us the historical backdrop for a belief in a “secret rapture.” I am finding more and more that Gribben is an extremely faithful historian who works hard to prevent his biases from influencing his historical narrative. I think my sole concern in this chapter is the designation of “secret” rapture!

Gribben presents for us the history of the adoption of a pre-tribulational rapture in the life of the church. Gribben traces its mainstream adoption of the doctrine to John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. He discounts the repeated negative assertions that it was originally developed in the ecstatic utterance of Margaret Macdonald, but instead, brings a newer twist (at least to this reviewer), of an origin in a French Roman Catholic sect! Gribben though rightly acknowledges that when and where a doctrine develops is not really the issue but simply if one faithfully derives that doctrine from the Word of God. He may disagree with the theology of a “secret” rapture, but still is honest in this assertion.

He argues against those (including the generally good Systematic Theologian, Robert Reymond), who continue to misunderstand dispensationalism despite the arguments of its best theologians. Gribben cites Charles Ryrie and his groundbreaking Dispensationalism Today as representative of those who continue to oppose those who label dispensationalism as a movement that teaches more than one way of salvation. My one question is, why do those who interact with dispensationalism always interact with Ryrie’s original 1965 edition (which Gribben notes is older) and does not reference his updated 1995 edition? If Ryrie is one of dispensationalism’s best theologians should we not be following even his most up-to-date work?

Gribben’s history of the “secret” rapture is fascinating. The political origins, which most certainly seem right, of the rapture doctrine really force those of us who adhere to a pre-tribulational rapture to argue for our doctrine from a purely exegetical and theological approach. If one is looking for a more detailed look at the history of dispensationalism especially as it was developed by Darby check out, Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992).

Gribben concludes the chapter dealing with the qualms that some of evangelicalism’s heavy hitters make about the so-called anti-intellectual nature of Fundamentalism’s pre-tribulatinal, premillennial theology. Of course, any fringe group in any movement can be charged with anti-intellectualism. Truly, Fundamentalism as a whole, in its key theological leaders and schools, was hardly anti-intellectual. They simply were not as involved socially as those who are complaining about them. This thinking on the part of the Fundamentalists was surely influenced by their eschatology, but not solely. Regardless, Gribben is right to note that the major problem in modern evangelicalism is not the pre-tribulational, premillennial theology of many, but the weak view of the gospel!

Gribben is an excellent writer who makes history incredibly interesting. I am looking forward to continue reading this book. It has been encouraging to see Gribben, who does not take the position I hold, treat the position with respect. And I continue to agree that the view of the gospel presented in the “Left Behind” theology and modern evangelicalism, requires a tremendous reappraisal!

I continue to recommend this book to those engaged on all sides of the “dispensational” debate, to those engaged in the ministry, but even more so, those in the pews who are reading these bestselling “Rapture Fictions.”

7 Responses to A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 2 – "The Origins of the Secret Rapture"

  1. Jon Edwards says:

    Don’t overlook “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” on Google which reportedly is the best little summary of pretrib history anywhere. Thanks for your most interesting blog. Jon

  2. allenmickle says:

    Dave MacPherson has been countered by a number of individuals over the history of the pre-trib rapture and has never adequately answered them. Crawford has the best brief history of the pre-trib rapture so far in his book that I have ever seen. It is not biased for or against which is not as much as Dave MacPherson can say in his blatantly anti-pre-tribulationalism.

  3. Jon Edwards says:

    If MacPherson hasn’t answered his critics in his own book The Rapture Plot and in his internet articles, why have leading evangelical scholars commended his research? For their responses see engines like Google and type in “Scholars Weigh My Research” and also his article “Deceiving and Being Deceived.” Jon

  4. allenmickle says:

    I checked out your material. All of the leading “evangelical” scholars are non-pre-tribulationalists. Are there any pre-tribulationalists that commend his research?

  5. allenmickle says:

    As well, giving a list of approving scholars does not actually prove that MacPherson has answered all the objections to his research. That’s really avoiding the issue. I could give you a list of scholars that approve of other people’s research, would that prove its the best research? Hardly.

  6. Jon Edwards says:

    Allen, I’m shocked at you. I’m shocked that you are part of the school started by noted posttrib, amill leader T. T. Shields – one of my biggest heroes. Also, I recall former leader Eric Gurr favorably reviewing MacPherson’s earlier book “The Incredible Cover-up” in one of your school’s publications. MacPherson has answered his critics. In his 300-page book “The Rapture Plot” he has appendices answering the claims for Manuel Lacunza, Pseudo-Ephraem, and Morgan Edwards, among others. As you may know, Gundry’s 1973 book “The Church and the Tribulation” stated that Irving was likely the pretrib originator and that Macdonald was not teaching pretrib. What you and many others may not know is that Gundry, after seeing MacPherson’s evidence about Macdonald, went to the (unusual) trouble of having Zondervan delete what he had originally stated about Irving and Macdonald and substitute only favorable comments about her while crediting MacPherson. Gundry’s changes began appearing in the December, 1980 reprint and have continued since then. And if you think that Gribbin (noticeably influenced by extremely-Darby-biased Stunt) has said anything significant about the pretrib origin, why don’t you share the supposedly wonderful evidence re the Jansenists and Lambert that not even Stunt seems to want to share with the world? Why not reveal what MacPherson has actually offered as evidence while answering the Lacunza, Pseudo-Ephraem, and Edwards claims (and much else also) instead of relying of shaky second-hand sources? Do you want us to begin believing that Canadian schools are NOT better than American schools? (put some smilies here!) Anyway, Lord bless (just has to give my two cents). Jon

  7. allenmickle says:


    I really do not want to get into this. We find here at TBS, even while the school is essentially Coventantal and Amillennial, that eschatology is the most speculative area of theology and therefore that there is little issue for me being a dispensationalist being on staff. We believe a measure of charity is necessary in areas of eschatology. Also, you need to get clarified a little. At the end of Dr. Shield’s life he had become a premillennialist (a historic fact found in his book “The Doctrines of Grace”).

    Second Jon, that is not the focus of the post anyway. It is to interact with Gribben. If you do not agree with Gribben’s views on the history of the rapture then perhaps you should blog about how MacPherson has done such a better job. :) I am not interacting with MacPherson but with Gribben.

    Regardless, I hold to a pre-tribulational rapture because of exegetical/theological reasons. Something can be theologically newer and still be correct.

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