A Review of 'The Blessed Hope' by George E. Ladd
Article contributed by www.walvoord.com
The appearance of this important volume on the return of the Lord just at the time of the completion of the study of “Premillennialism and the Tribulation” will be of such special interest to readers of Bibliotheca Sacra that it justifies an interruption of the series for this review. Dr. George E. Ladd, Professor of New Testament History and Biblical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, in this his second book in the field of eschatology, ably presents a spirited defense of posttribulationism. According to Dr. Ladd himself, “The central thesis of this book is that the Blessed Hope is the second coming of Jesus Christ and not a pretribulation raptures” (p. 11, italics his). Dr. Ladd is recognized as a New Testament scholar and on occasion he has contributed articles to Bibliotheca Sacra. In offering this review, no personal criticism or discourtesy to the author is intended. The reviewer is convinced that the arguments of the book do not sustain adequately the posttribulational position, but Dr. Ladd is entitled to be heard. He has marshaled with unusual force the traditional arguments for the posttribulational theory. It is not too much to say that this is one of the best studies in support of posttribulationism which has appeared in book form for some time and will probably strengthen the cause of posttribulationism in contemporary conservative theology.
A number of important assumptions are basic to the point of view presented. While Dr. Ladd plainly champions posttribulationism, he explicitly assumes the premillennial interpretation of Scripture. This is clear from this volume (cf. p. 13), as well as from his earlier work, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God. The principal appeal is made to the Scriptures themselves which are everywhere considered infallible and authoritative. Dr. Ladd stands with the conservative theology of orthodoxy, and it would be most unfair to charge him with theological liberalism. It should be obvious that liberal scholars do not debate pretribulationism versus posttribulationism. Though the premillennial point of view is assumed, the dispensational interpretation of Scripture is rejected. The view is advanced that the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament have a dual fulfillment, i.e., both in the church and in Israel. In this regard, his point of view is similar to covenant theology in its definition of the kingdom of God and the church. In contrast to covenant theology, however, the futuristic interpretation of the Book of Revelation is held which, Dr. Ladd states, was promoted by Darby and his Plymouth Brethren associates after centuries of neglect. His rejection of a clear distinction between Israel and the church as well as opposition to other dispensational teachings undoubtedly is a major causal factor in his rejection of pretribulationism. This is recognized by the fact that the author spends an entire chapter refuting dispensationalism as a step in his argument against pretribulationism.
The arguments for posttribulationism are presented on a high level of courtesy to opponents. This is quite in contrast to Alexander Reese’s The Approaching Advent of Christ, and some other posttribulational books, which heap invectives upon pretribulationists. Dr. Ladd almost overdoes his courtesy to opponents, going so far as to omit references to persons and works with which he disagrees, thereby making impossible any tracing of quotations or allusions. A few unfortunate quotations fall below this standard of courtesy. Though less comprehensive than some older works and tracts, this volume, nevertheless, provides a solid basis for examination of the posttribulational view. It is evident that the author is concerned with the charge sometimes made by pretribulationists that posttribulationism is a departure from true Biblical interpretation. He endeavors to demonstrate instead that posttribulationism is a time-honored doctrine dating from the early fathers and held by men of God through the centuries. His point is that pretribulationism is an unproved innovation based upon inference alone.
The author states as his purpose in writing the book: …this book is sent forth with the earnest prayer that it may be used by the Holy Spirit to bring a better understanding to a difficult subject and to promote Christian liberty in the interpretation of prophetic truth” (pp. 13-14).
The first third of the book is devoted to the historical argument for posttribulationism, somewhat of an anomaly for a work featured as a “Biblical study.” He endeavors to prove that a posttribulational return of Christ was the historic hope of the church from the beginning. An extended chapter devoted to “The Rise and Spread of Pretribulationism” traces pretribulationism to the Plymouth Brethren movement in the early nineteenth century. The argument is designed to prove (1) that pretribulationism was unknown until the nineteenth century; (2) that honored men of God have been posttribulationists; (3) that pretribulationism started as a heresy and not through sound Biblical studies. The familiar point is made, with thorough documentation from eight of the early fathers or writings, that pretribulationism was unknown in the early church and never appeared in any form until it was made known in a special revelation given to an erratic individual, Edward Irving, about 1826. Dr. Ladd claims that it was immediately accepted by Darby and his associates and widely proclaimed.
Posttribulationists will find in this section of the book a forceful and comprehensive statement of one of their best arguments. As Dr. Ladd himself concedes, however, “Let it be at once emphasized that we are not turning to the church fathers to find authority for either pre-or posttribulationism. The one authority is the Word of God…” (p. 19). It should be clear that citation from eight fathers over a period of three hundred years is not unquestionable proof that the entire early church was posttribulational. The historical argument is more of a psychological than a theological one. Truth cannot be proved simply by counting scholars, even ancient ones. Dr. Ladd is obviously selective and considers only the facts which support his thesis.
While the evidence supports the conclusion that some of the fathers were posttribulational, the discussion does not sufficiently account for the doctrine of imminency as it appeared so commonly in the early church. Pretribulationists who are familiar with the early fathers have never claimed that they were explicitly pretribulational. The fact is that the early fathers were not at all clear on many details of their eschatology and, though their premillennialism seems firmly established, most contemporary premillenarians would disagree with many features of the eschatology of the early church.
A fair statement of the facts seems to be that some of the early fathers were explicitly posttribulational, that is, they regarded the tribulation as future and the coming of the Lord as following the tribulation. It seems also clear that none of the early fathers were explicitly pretribulationists as there is no extant writing which develops this subject in the way it was later explained by Darby and his associates. In many respects, the theology of the early church was immature and it took centuries of controversy to settle the major points of theology. It should be obvious that a difficult matter like pretribulationism would not be settled in such a context. In the fifth century, when the early church had established its theological basis sufficiently to deal further with eschatology, there was already so much departure from premillennialism that there was no valid basis for such discussion. It remained for the Protestant Reformation to restore the authority of Scripture and for others later to restore premillennialism and futurism as a whole, including a proper doctrine of the church. This context was essential to the pretribulationism of the nineteenth century.
In describing the rise of pretribulationism, Dr. Ladd rightly devotes considerable attention to the return of futurism which includes the teaching that the great tribulation is still future and that most of the Book of Revelation is prophecy rather than history. Pretribulationism in its modern form is traced to a series of meetings beginning in 1825 from which the Brethren movement developed. Dr. Ladd attempts to divide prophetic interpretation into two types, “the traditional futurism, and Darbyism or Dispensationalism” (p. 41). He endeavors to show that from the beginning there was severe disagreement on the pretribulation issue and quotes B. W. Newton and S. P. Tregelles as contending sharply against the pretribulational followers of Darby.
Pretribulationists will regard the charge of Tregelles that pretribulationism had its sole origin in an “utterance” in Edward Irving’s church as unfair. Whatever similarity there may have been between the teachings of Darby and Edward Irving, it is hardly sufficient to account for the wide acceptance of pretribulationism by the Plymouth Brethren. A better explanation is that the rise of futurism and the return to solid Biblical studies and literal interpretation of prophetic Scriptures, which characterized the Brethren movement, led to the pretribulational teaching. Ladd’s attempt to explain away the widespread acceptance of pretribulationism is a weak section in his book. He claims pretribulationism was accepted as a reaction to postmillennialism. It is rather that pretribulationism was based on exposition of the Scripture and was attended with spiritual power and blessing as it was proclaimed.
Dr. Ladd is correct in asserting that pretribulationism did not receive unanimous approval. It was to be expected that some leaders would follow posttribulationism. Most of the chapter on “The Rise and Spread of Pretribulationism” cites those who abandoned pretribulationism for posttribulationism. The argument is designed to demonstrate that pretribulationism does not stand up to careful study. The evidence given, however, makes it clear that in each instance there had never been a clear understanding of the true basis for pretribulationism. They were obviously superficial followers of pretribulationism. The attempt to show that there was a trend away from pretribulationism in the last two centuries, however, is eloquently refuted by his own presentation of the wide acceptance and current vitality of the doctrine. If pretribulationism was unknown before 1825 and has become widespread in the last two centuries, it is evident that no trend toward posttribulationism is thereby established. The logic of his argument that some outstanding leaders have abandoned pretribulationism for posttribulationism is, of course, faulty. On the same basis, one could prove that modern liberals are right in their rejection of orthodoxy. It would follow also that Philip Mauro, whom he cites as giving up pretribulationism, was also right when he abandoned premillennialism entirely and became its outspoken critic. If a departure from an accepted doctrine is its own justification, then unbelief and apostasy are justified and faith refuted. There is no scholarly evidence to support a trend either toward or away from pretribulationism. Even if a trend could be established, it would not prove the trend correct.
The historical treatment concludes with evidence showing that the fundamentalist movement within the Northern Baptist Convention was not specifically either premillennial or pretribulational. Dr. Ladd as a Baptist evidently resents the charge that posttribulationism is a violation of good Baptist doctrine. In this he is correct, for the historic Baptist church has never been identified specifically with either view, though premillennialism and pretribulationism have been the majority view among contemporary Baptist fundamentalists.
The lengthy consideration of the historical background of pretribulationism is summarized by the author as proving three things: (1) that the early church was posttribulational; (2) that pretribulationism “arose in the nineteenth century among the Plymouth Brethren whence it came to America…” (p. 61); (3) that “many devout men who first accepted this teaching were later, upon mature study, compelled to reverse themselves and admit they could not find this doctrine in the Word of God” (p. 61). As has been pointed out, pretribulationists do not claim that their teaching was specific in the early church but rather that the questions involved were not formally considered by the early church. The teaching of the Plymouth Brethren on the pretribulation rapture was a refinementof the doctrine of the imminence of the Lord’s return which had been held in one form or another from the beginning. The fact that some men who first embraced pretribulationism abandoned the doctrine is offset by the many equally devout and scholarly men who were won over from the other position to accept the pretribulational hope of the Lord’s return. It is certainly significant that pretribulationism is widespread today and is found particularly in those who have specialized in the study of the prophetic Word among premillenarians. The fact is ignored by the author that the real reason for pretribulationism is the rise of literal and futuristic interpretation of prophecy. He himself admits plainly that the historical argument is by no means final, but that the real question is what the Bible teaches.
The remaining two thirds of the book is devoted largely to Biblical argument. Dr. Ladd begins the Biblical study with consideration of the vocabulary of the blessed hope, namely, the three Greek words, coming or presence (parousia), appearing (epiphaneia), and revelation (apokalpsis). The argument assumes that these three words must refer to one event only, namely, the second coming after the tribulation. The meaning of these words, along with many other technical terms such as Day of the Lord,
The common expressions “first coming” and “second coming” of Christ illustrate the necessity of describing which coming is meant. If it is justifiable to use the same word, coming, for the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem and for His return to the earth, there is no valid reason why the same word could not be used for the rapture before the tribulation and the coming after the tribulation. The argument presented is that the fact that these important words are used both of the rapture and of the coming of the Lord after the tribulation proves that they must be one event. For instance, his contention regarding the word coming
His argument is, therefore, an obvious begging of the question, that is, assuming what one is trying to prove. If the Scriptures were attempting to present a rapture before the tribulation and a coming after the tribulation as well, what other words could be used than the words coming, appearing, and revelation? At the rapture Christ evidently comes for His church, appears to them, and is revealed in His glory to them. At the second coming to establish His kingdom after the tribulation, He also comes, appears to the whole world, and is revealed as King of kings and Lord of Fords. To argue from these common words, which in themselves are not doctrinal, is fallacious reasoning whether used by the pretribulationists or posttribulationists. It is strange that in this chapter dealing with these expressions Dr. Ladd takes no note whatever of pretribulational objections to this argument, nor does he attempt to counter the apparent conclusion that he is assuming what he is trying to prove. The pretribulational point of view is certainly not obscure or unknown, as it is stated in one of its common forms in the Scofield Reference Bible (p. 1212, note). the rapture. The first explicit reference to the rapture is found in John 14:3, a passage which says nothing of a preceding tribulation and which states plainly that the immediate destination of the church after the rapture is heaven, not the millennial earth. The Johannine passage along with 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which are generally recognized as the three main passages on the rapture, all have this characteristic, namely, that there is no mention of preceding tribulation, nor is there mention of an earthly reign of Christ immediately following. A natural question is why Dr. Ladd, in presenting a chapter which deals specifically with the rapture, ignores these passages. The answer is not hard to find—they do not teach posttribulationism.
In this chapter also the argument is presented that inasmuch as there is a specific resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20, and this resurrection is obviously posttribulational, it would lead to the conclusion that the church must also be resurrected at this time. The idea that the first resurrection can be in more than one stage is rejected categorically. However, according to 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, there are three stages (tagma) of the resurrection of saints: Christ the first, those at His coming second, and those at the end third. Even Tregelles admits 1 Corinthians 15:24 is not the resurrection before the millennium—but the one after it (The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, pp. 104-5). Matthew 27:52-53 is another “stage” of the resurrection. That saints are not all raised at the same time is not “inference.”
Dr. Ladd sees the church in Revelation 20:4 as sitting on thrones in distinction to the martyred dead of the tribulation who are also raised at the same time. He seems unaware here of the very common pretribulational explanation of this passage, namely, that the Old Testament saints are raised at this time and that only the church, the saints of the present age, are raised at the rapture. While pretribulationists are not agreed on this and the followers of Darby generally have interpreted the rapture to include all saints, the fact is there is no Scriptural proof that the Old Testament saints are raised at the rapture (For further discussion of this point, see Bibliotheca Sacra, 113:3-5, January, 1956). The pretribulational objection to this chapter is that the author does not prove that the rapture is after the tribulation. The very fact that the rapture is never mentioned in any clear passage dealing with the coming of the Lord after the tribulation would certainly leave the door open for the pretribulational view. Dr. Ladd’s objection that pretribulationism is an inference is offset by his own admission that posttribulationism is also. Some posttribulationists will probably be critical of this chapter inasmuch as the author passes by a number of the standard arguments for posttribulationism based on Scriptural terminology such as are mentioned by Alexander Reese and others (cf. Bibliotheca Sacra, on “Posttribulationism,” 112:289-303, October, 1955, and 113:1-15, January, 1956).
Having presented the point that the rapture before the tribulation is purely inferential, Dr. Ladd raises the question in the next chapter as to whether this inference is valid. He concedes at the outset: “We will admit that even if Scripture did not explicitly affirm a pretribulation rapture, it is possible that the totality of Scriptural data would demand such a conclusion; and in this case, it would be a valid inference” (p. 89). In the discussion which follows, a comprehensive refutation of arguments commonly used by pretribulationism is attempted. Such arguments are presented as coming “for” and “with” the saints, and the contrast between the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord. He also considers the argument concerning the removal of the Holy Spirit based on 2 Thessalonians 2 and the necessity of an interval between the rapture and the second coming. The writer tends to agree with Dr. Ladd that emphasis on the “for” and “with” in relation to Christ’s coming is not conclusive in itself, though whatever force the argument has is in favor of pretribulationism. Dr. Ladd, however, misunderstands the pretribulational argument based upon the Day of the Lord and the Day of Christ. Pretribulationists do not insist that these terms in themselves prove a pretribulation rapture. It is rather that in the usage of these terms there seems to be a distinction. The Day of Christ seems to be identified with the rapture as a specific event while the Day of the Lord seems to include the tribulation and the millennium or an extended period of time. It would be rather tenuous to claim solid proof for pretribulationism, however, based on the terms alone. Readers will have to judge, also, whether Dr. Ladd’s treatment of 2 Thessalonians 2 regarding the removal of the Holy Spirit is a satisfactory explanation. Actually he admits divine restraint is in view—essentially the pretribulational position. Buried as minor points under the removal of the Holy Spirit are such subjects as “The Teaching of the Revelation,” “The Twenty-four elders,” “The Use of the Word ‘Church’,” and “The Marriage of the Lamb.” It is not clear what relationship this has to the principal head, “The Removal of the Holy Spirit.”
A major criticism and one of great significance is that he attempts to answer in scarcely more than a page the important question of the usage of the word church. He admits that it is not found in any tribulation passage. The assertion that the word “church” is never used in the Book of Revelation “to designate the Church in its totality” (p. 98) is quite beside the point. The burden of proof is on the posttribulationist to prove that the church is in the tribulation. Dr. Ladd, like most posttribulationists, passes over this point hurriedly because posttribulationists have no answer to this difficulty in their system. They lack any positive proof that the church—the ecclesia—is ever found in the tribulation period. This key doctrine of pretribulationism is left with an utterly inadequate treatment, while pages are devoted to indecisive questions.
An extended discussion is devoted to proving that the marriage of the Lamb in Revelation 19:6-9 is an explicit proof of a posttribulational rapture. Ladd pins his entire argument that the church must be in view in Revelation 4—19 , even though it is never mentioned, upon the fact that pretribulationists believe that the church appears in Revelation 19 without the use of the word church. He states: “If the argument is sound that the ‘saints’ of Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6 ; 17:6 ; 18:24 who suffer at the hands of Antichrist are not the Church because the word is not used and because we are on Jewish ground, then the bride of 19:6 cannot be the Church because the word is not used; the people involved are called saints (v. 8 )” (p. 99).
The fallacy of this argument should be evident. The text refers to “the marriage of the Lamb” and to the “wife.” It is on this ground, not the use of the word saints, that pretribulationists find the church in this chapter .
The main point of Ladd’s argument, however, is that the marriage is announced as a future event. As pretribulationists think of the marriage as being connected with the rapture, he concludes that the rapture must occur at this point, i.e., after the tribulation. As a New Testament scholar, Ladd no doubt is acquainted with the facts relating to a Hebrew marriage which make his entire position untenable. As Lenski and others have pointed out, a Hebrew marriage has three stages: (1) the legal marriage consummated by the parents of the bride and groom; (2) the groom goes to take his bride from her parents’ home; (3) the wedding supper or feast. Most Greek scholars take the Greek word gamos, translated “marriage” in Revelation 19:7, to mean “wedding feast.” With the exception of Hebrews 13:4, this is the uniform meaning in the New Testament. Ladd himself alludes to this in referring to the event as “the marriage banquet” and “marriage supper” (p. 99). It should be clear, then, that if the marriage supper is in view here, the wedding has already been legally consummated and the bridegroom has already come for his bride. As applied to the church, Romans 7:4 indicates that legally the church is already the wife of Christ. At the rapture, Christ will come for His bride. At the return to the earth, the wedding feast will be held. On the basis of generally accepted facts of a Hebrew marriage, there is no scholarly ground for the point Ladd is attempting to make on the basis of Revelation 19. The wedding feast is future, but the previous two stages are already accomplished in Revelation 19.
Most damaging to the effectiveness of this chapter is the fact that he passes over the tremendously important pretribulational argument for the necessity of an interval with almost no discussion. He makes only two points; first raising the question, “Where does the Word of God say that the saints are to be rewarded before Christ returns in glory?” (p. 103). He then argues that seven years would not be enough to judge two hundred million living Christians. He computes this would require that each Christian be judged in only one second as seven years amount to two hundred million seconds. This is an argument that borders on the ridiculous. He assumes that God has the same limitations as finite man.
Most surprising in his argument is the fact that one of the most important pretribulation arguments for the necessity of an interval is not mentioned at all (cf. Bibliotheca Sacra, 112:97-104, April, 1955). Pretribulationists have often pointed out that if every living saint is raptured at the time of the second coming this would in itself separate all saints from unsaved people and would leave none to populate the millennial earth. One posttribulationist, Rose, in his book Tribulation Till Translation, faces this problem. He pictures the rapture as occurring forty days before the second coming of Christ to judge the nations in Matthew 25. During these forty days a new generation of believers comes into existence—the sheep—and eventually populate the millennial earth. While the explanation of Rose does not commend itself, he at least makes an attempt to face this difficulty in posttribulationism. One would judge from his silence that Dr. Ladd has no answer for this basic pretribulational argument. While the chapter on the whole is a good presentation of the posttribulational argument against pretribulationism, its major difficulty is that it does not meet the more important pretribulational arguments and on crucial questions is either silent or indecisive.
Readers will find the sixth chapter on the word “Watch” an interesting presentation of posttribulationism. The argument is based on various Greek words used in the New Testament which indicate the attitude of watchfulness. Dr. Ladd holds that they do not necessarily carry with them the idea of the imminency of the Lord’s return. The argument attempts to show that all references to watching have the glorious appearing of Christ at the end of the tribulation in view (p. 112). Once again the logical fallacy of making a general word a technical and specific word is used. The important point is that each of the various exhortations to watch for the Lord’s coming has its own context. In some cases the context has to do with the return after the tribulation, and obviously refers then to people living at that time. The context in such instances makes clear, as in Matthew 24—25 , that watching for the Lord’s return has special pertinence after the signs appear. By contrast, however, where exhortations are found to look for the Lord’s return, and the rapture is clearly in view, no signs are given, but rather the believer is exhorted to look for the Lord’s return itself (cf. John 14:3; 1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Thess 4:13-18). While pretribulationists have perhaps overdone the argument based on these exhortations, the use of similar expressions for expectancy of the rapture and of the Lord’s return after the tribulation does not prove that the two events are one and the same. While much of the material in this chapter will be of interest, it falls short of demonstrating its conclusions.
In the discussion of the question of whether the church can experience the wrath of God, Dr. Ladd rightly concludes that the church cannot experience divine wrath, though the church may experience tribulation. The argument passes over, however, the main point in the distinction as it is commonly presented by pretribulationists. Once again the real issue is avoided, rather than faced. The point is not that the church will escape the wrath of God, but that it will escape the time of the wrath of God, as it is stated to the church of Philadelphia: “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev 3:10, italics added). As it is indicated, in 1 Thessalonians 5, we belong to the time designated as “the day” in contrast to “the night” in which the wrath will come. That the wrath of God is only at the end of the tribulation is refuted by the fact that it is mentioned in Revelation 6:17, that is, early in the period. That the church will experience tribulation throughout its course is conceded by all pretribulationists. The question is whether the church will go through that specific time designated in the Scriptures as the great tribulation. It is noteworthy that Dr. Ladd does not deal adequately anywhere in his volume with the great theme of the tribulation though he evidently accepts a literal view of it. The characteristics of judgment in that period are such that they will affect both saved and unsaved, namely, such judgments as earthquakes, pestilence, war, famine, and stars falling from heaven. His argument that God will save the church in the tribulation like He saved Israel out of the judgments which fell upon Egypt is its own refutation. No Israelites died in the plagues. By contrast, as Dr. Ladd himself admits, the tribulation will feature the most awful massacre of saints which has ever occurred.
An entire chapter is devoted to the dispensational problem, and the statement made is correct, that pretribulationism is an outgrowth of dispensationalism. Dr. Ladd shares the viewpoint of B. W. Newton, however, that dispensationalism is “the height of speculative nonsense” (p. 130). It will be clear from this chapter that Dr. Ladd does not understand dispensationalism. He defines dispensationalism as “the method of deciding in advance which Scriptures deal with the Church and which Scriptures have to do with Israel, and then to interpret the passages concerned in the light of this ‘division’ of the Word” (p. 130). To Dr. Ladd, then, dispensationalism is an entirely unjustified method of interpretation and is superimposed upon the Scripture arbitrarily. This, of course, is not true, nor is it fair to define dispensationalism in this summary manner. The dispensational interpretation of Scripture is rather the outgrowth of literal interpretation inasmuch as there are differing rules of life in different periods of the progressive revelation of God. Rather than spiritualize these differences, dispensationalists regard them as being pertinent to the age in which they belong. Thus a Jew under the Mosaic covenant was commanded to bring his lamb of sacrifice, something a Christian never has to do who has the one sacrifice in Christ. Under the law, Sabbath breakers were to be stoned, while under the present dispensation no one would think of stoning one guilty of misusing the Lord’s day. Dispensationalism is a method of solving these primary problems of interpretation and is far from an arbitrary assumption.
In view of the low value put upon dispensationalism, it is to be expected that the author would not appreciate the force of the dispensational interpretation. He shows repeatedly a misunderstanding of dispensational teachings. He concludes from his study of dispensationalism that the great tribulation is exclusively Jewish and not occupied with the church. Perhaps pretribulationists have not made themselves clear, but the great tribulation, even though it does not deal with the church, is not exclusively Jewish, as it also comprehends the times of the Gentiles. Obviously the fourth world empire is dominated by Gentiles and not Jews, and the saints who are won to the Lord in the tribulation time are from every tongue and nation. Dr. Ladd has therefore set up a straw man when he assumes that the great tribulation is exclusively Jewish according to the dispensationalists. Much of the detail that follows in this chapter is based largely on Dr. Ladd’s misunderstanding of dispensational arguments and should afford little difficulty to one who understands this position. This chapter, though it deals with the most strategic issue of the entire book, is probably the weakest chapter. It certainly is not a cogent discussion of the real issues relating to dispensationalism.
The concluding argument of the volume deals with “The Blessed Hope.” The opening point is that we should not be so concerned about pretribulationism as to neglect our defense of the Lord’s return itself which is disputed by the modern liberals. Dr. Ladd especially denies that posttribulationism is “a step away from the Word of God toward liberalism” (p. 139). His argument is that such eschatological questions as these do not concern liberals at all and are discussed mostly by conservatives. While his argument is valid in part, it is still true that premillenarians who are pretribulational are immune to modern liberalism. He is right that pretribulationists should not press this point beyond its proper limits.
In this chapter, the author spends some time refuting an unnamed author who uses Titus 2:11-14 to illustrate how expectancy of the Lord’s return leads to godly living. Dr. Ladd denies that the main force of the passage has to do with the Lord’s return, and he also denies that the passage deals with the rapture. It does not seem to have occurred to Dr. Ladd that the glorious appearing here could very well be the rapture rather than the second coming, as it has only believers in view. However, pretribulationists themselves are not agreed on the interpretation of this passage. While pretribulationists have the best of the argument when it comes to the practical application of the truth, Dr. Ladd is undoubtedly correct in his viewpoint that even a posttribulational return has a beneficial effect upon those who believe it. The argument that posttribulationism actually gives a better incentive to gospel preaching is presented in accord with the view that Christ cannot come until the gospel of the kingdom is preached to the whole world (Matt 24:14). He cites several missionary leaders in support of this point and goes so far as to quote Dr. Oswald Smith as referring to pretribulationism as “a dangerous heresy” (p. 150)—an unfortunate libel of pretribulationism. Though Dr. Ladd presses his argument beyond the Scriptural facts, undoubtedly he is correct that posttribulationism in itself does not remove missionary incentive and pretribulationists should not assume the role that they are the only ones who are concerned with the Lord’s return in a practical way. Many will agree with Dr. Ladd’s closing plea in this chapter for more tolerance in this matter of pre-, mid-, and posttribulation rapture.
In the conclusion, a summary of the argument as presented in the preceding material is given. In a word, he holds “that the contemporary inference of two aspects in the second coming does not have the explicit confirmation of Scripture” (p. 167). Dr. Ladd insists that the burden of proof rests on the pretribulationist, as if the posttribulationist has no burden of proof. He concludes with this appeal: “Neither pretribulationism nor posttribulationism should be made a ground of fellowship, a test of orthodoxy, or a necessary element in Christian doctrine. There should be liberty and charity toward both views. That which is essential is the expectation of ‘the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ’“ (p. 167).
The volume, taken as a whole, is a worthy presentation of the posttribulational argument, and will serve the purpose of gathering together in very readable form many of the reasons which have supported posttribulationism through the centuries. It is the reviewer’s opinion that the main reasons for pretribulationism are practically untouched by this volume, but it is nevertheless the best posttribulational book to appear for some time. Dr. Ladd is to be especially commended for the high standard of courtesy which characterizes the volume. The reviewer continues to believe that “the blessed hope” is the imminent return of Christ for His church, not the hope of resurrection after martyrdom in the great tribulation. The daily expectation of the Lord’s return for His church is a precious hope for those who “love his appearing.”
(Premillennialism series to be continued in the January-March Number, 1957)
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.