Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The “Secret” Rapture Revisited

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In response to a previous blog titled "The Loud Verse and the Secret Rapture," 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. He does not assert that I am argumentatively mistaken, but rather charges that I am morally a "deceiver."

What is worse, my respondent's objection is fallacious. Indeed, it is mistaken in its foundational, over-riding, singular 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."

Please consider the following in reply:

Dispensationalists employ the term "secret" for the Rapture

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 Earth. 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 this 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.

Another best-selling dispensationalist who uses the term is Dave Hunt. In his book Whatever Happened to Heaven? he writes on page 303:

"The rapture as expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4 seems to be a private event involving the church only, and unseen and unknown to the world. . . . The actual event seems to be a secret experience only by the church."

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–tribulational?). 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)."

Perhaps the most popular and influential dispensationalist today is Tim LaHaye. 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 the church thus rapture."

But now, 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, though "the Scripture does not use the term ‘secret,’" he argues for its secrecy, nevertheless. After all, he declares "there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear." And he 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).


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 not having much emotion about the whole matter.