Blomberg: Progressive Dispensationalist or Historic Premillennialist?

Chad Knudson pointed out a new book from Baker Academic, A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology. It’s edited by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung.1

Here’s the first paragraph of the book description:

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century American evangelicalism, particularly at the popular level, has been virtually saturated with the eschatology of dispensational premillennialism. The distinctive teachings of that system, in particular its affirmation of the pretribulation rapture of the church, have become so pervasive that many evangelicals would be hard pressed to identify an alternative approach. Popular novels that disseminate dispensationalism to a wider readership have only furthered that trend.

This piqued my interested because Blomberg has been one of the main voices for progressive dispensationalism, and I was under the impression that most, if not all, progressives still held to a pre-trib rapture of the church. Historic premillennialists do not.

So either my assumption that progressives hold to pre-trib is incorrect, or Blomberg has apparently changed his position to align with historic premillennialists. I guess it’s possible that Blomberg edited a book that defends a position he doesn’t hold to, but that seems unlikely to me. [Update: Or I'm confusing Craig Blomberg with Craig Blaising. Oops!]

I did some quick digging on progressives as pre-tribulationists, and here’s what I came up with (italics added):

Mike Stallard, “Progressive Dispensationalism”:

Fifth, progressive dispensationalists do not consider the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture to have great significance. To borrow Saucy’s expression, the timing of the rapture of the Church is not ‘a determining touchstone of dispensationalism.’ This does not mean that progressives have abandoned the pretribulational rapture. To this point they hold to it on exegetical grounds. However, they view the whole issue as minor in comparison to traditionalists who often consider it crucial to the outline of God’s purposes.

Robert L. Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 6:1 (Spring 1995): 79–80:

Progressive Dispensationalism differs from Dispensationalism in a number of ways, one of them being in not viewing the time of the rapture to be as crucial. . . . For the most part, progressive dispensationalists believe in a rapture prior to the future seven-year tribulation, but they do so in a rather tentative fashion. Their system could dispense with this doctrine without altering their position significantly.

Ibid., 95:

The difference in hermeneutical methodology summarized above explains why PD is less clear-cut in its support of a pretribulational rapture of the church as well as of a number of other longstanding distinctives of dispensationalism.

Progressive Dispensationalism,” Wikipedia:

Progressive and traditional dispensationalists hold to many common beliefs, including a distinction between Israel and the Church, a future pre-tribulation rapture, a seven-year tribulation, and a millennial kingdom, of which the rule of Jesus Christ will be centered in Jerusalem.

(Yes, Wikipedia is last for a reason, and, no, I didn’t edit the article and add this statement myself.)

Where there is agreement is that the pre-trib position is far less important to progressives. Where there’s a little disagreement is whether all or only some progressives hold to a pre-trib rapture (compare Stallard’s statement with Thomas’s “for the most part”).

Perhaps it was originally true that all progressives still held to a pre-trib rapture, but given their nonchalance toward the issue, it was only a matter of time before they started abandoning that point. Just a guess.

Can anyone point me to a self-proclaimed progressive who is also a self-proclaimed post-tribulationist?

The rapture position aside, there are still some noteworthy differences between progressive dispensationalists and historic premillennialists (particularly, (1) the relationship between Israel and the church (2) and the future of Israel as a nation) that make me wonder about Blomberg’s present views.

Thoughts? Am I missing anything?

Well, I might have just found the missing clue. Here’s the rest of the book description (italics added):

The contributors to this volume provide a thoughtful alternative. They present compelling arguments for historic or classic premillennialism—a position widely held throughout church history (and popularly advanced in the writings of George Eldon Ladd). An introductory chapter examines the differences within premillennial eschatology and considers reasons for the widespread popularity of dispensationalism in the twentieth century. This is followed by biblical, theological, historical, and missiological studies that reexamine classic premillennialism, particularly with regard to its understanding of the return of Christ.

The authors, all respected scholars in their fields, present arguments for a return to an eschatological theology that was widely held for many centuries. Their engaging studies should be of great interest to evangelical readers—both in the academy and in the church.

I think Blomberg wrote the introductory chapter, so perhaps he is just giving an overview of the issues and not necessarily aligning himself with the position of the book.

What’s your theory? (Or where am I off?)

For a related discussion, see this four-year-old thread at the PuritanBoard: Historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism?

Update: A friend just pointed out where I was way off. I was confusing Craig Blomberg with Craig Blaising. Oops! I even thumbed through Bock’s and Blaising’s book on PD when writing this post. Ugh. Sorry for the unnecessary confusion.

Footnotes

  1. The chapters are by Craig L. Blomberg, Oscar A. Campos, Sung Wook Chung, Helene Dallaire, Donald Fairbairn, Richard S. Hess, Don J. Payne, and Timothy P. Weber.

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12 Responses to Blomberg: Progressive Dispensationalist or Historic Premillennialist?

  1. AJ Gibson August 5, 2008 at 7:56 pm #

    I think that Robert Gundry could safely be classified as a progressive dispensationalist. He’s post-trib.

    Here’s a guy that calls himself a progressive and a post-tribber: http://www.geocities.com/~lasttrumpet/.

  2. Phil Gons August 5, 2008 at 8:48 pm #

    Thanks, AJ. Do you happen to know where Gundry calls himself a progressive dispensationalist? Apparently some people don’t think he is one.

    Progressives’ view of the Church is similar to Robert Gundry’s posttribulational teaching. . . . Gundry argues, as progressives argue, against the traditional view that the Church is a mystery entity not revealed in the Old Testament.” John Brumett, “Does Progressive Dispensationalism Teach a Posttribulational Rapture?—Part II,” Conservative Theological Journal 2:6 (September 1998): 319–20.

    I infer this from the way Brumett compares Gundry to progressives as if he’s outside—though similar to—them.

  3. AJ Gibson August 6, 2008 at 7:56 am #

    I don’t know that he would call himself one (probably not), but what does one call a post-trib dispensationalist? :) Part of the problem is that PD is hard to define. Many who fit the bill choose not to identify themselves as PD even though they really are closer to the PDs than to the traditional dispensationalists. For example, anyone arguing for a present aspect of the kingdom (and especially the Davidic kingdom) or for a present fulfillment of the New Covenant in the Church would fall on the PD side of things even if they don’t wish identify with the term (BJU type dispensationalists generally fall into this category).

    So it seems to me that PD has failed to jell as a homogeneous movement. The term was coined in the late 80s/early 90s by a group of dispensationalists who realized that they had moved a bit away from their traditional dispensationalist roots. Many nominal or “fringe” dispensationalists have gotten on board with the term but many have not (for various reasons). Also, a few who would more naturally fit the category of historic premillennialism choose to identify with PD. Therefore, it’s difficult to identify progressive dispensationalists. I find it helpful to see PDs as those who are still fundamentally dispensational in their hermeneutic, but who seek to emphasize the present, partial (progressive) fulfillment of OT covenants in the Church.

    A further difficulty is the confusion over the difference between PD and historical premillennialism. Some have thought that the rapture issue is the key difference between the two, but that’s simply not the case. The differences are far greater. In general, PDs still hold to a basic dispensational hermeneutic while historical premillennialists usually adopt a non-dispensational (covenant-liek) hermeneutic. Thus, PDs are much more likely to emphasize a future key role for national Israel in fulfillment of OT promises, while HPs are more likely to adopt a more “covenant” view of the relationship between Israel and the church and of the future of ethnic Israel.

    I am very interested to read Blomberg’s and Chung’s book to see how they compare to (for example) Ladd’s version of HP. HPs like Ladd are much more like amillennialism in their overall hermeneutic and approach to scripture than. I’m wondering if Blomberg, et al. will take a mediating position between PD and and Ladd’s form of HP or if they will follow more directly in Ladd’s footsteps.

    Interesting stuff.

  4. Neal P August 7, 2008 at 11:53 pm #

    Blomberg’s comments on the parable of the tenants in his Matthew volume in the New American Commentary are explicitly supercessionist. His views may have changed on the subjevt since then.

  5. Wilson Hines August 11, 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    Very interesting. I am what, at least, I would consider an “old fashioned” Independent Baptist. If my brethren knew what I believed (a few think they do) on eschatology and textual criticism I would be hung from the rafters. On the eschatology note, I have studied the pre-trib/pre-mil camp for over 17 years and until a couple years ago, I was firmly in with it all. I haven’t necessarily switch to a preterist or partial preterist camp, but I will say I am looking over the river harder and harder.
    I am a firm believer in something almost heretical to many “fundamentalist.” I would rather be called a Historical Christian, than a fundamentalist. Not because the “f” word has a bad connotation, but when you say your a “HC” Christian, you kind of take some things right out of the way, ie. pretrib. As best as I can remember, about 135 years ago or so was the first talk of that type of eschatology. But, then again, there are some things in the Bible that we could easily see happening in this age, but 150 years ago they would think it would be preposterous.
    Oh who knows…I am still young (34) and I still need to finish Bible College and get a masters somewhere. Maybe that will sort it all out for me.

  6. Jon August 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    Relevant articles on Google would include “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Walvoord’s Posttrib Varieties – Plus,” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” and “Deceiving and Being Deceived” (by historian Dave MacPherson). Interesting books thoroughly analyzing pretribulation rapture theology and comparing it with the Greek NT include “The End Times Passover” and “Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation” (both by media personality Joe Ortiz of Joe Ortiz Associates). Some great reading! Jon

  7. MarkH September 3, 2008 at 8:35 am #

    Hi Phil,
    I’m a progressive dispensationalist – been one for 16 years now. Concerning the pretribulation rapture, I hold to it, and I know that all of the professors at Dallas Theological Seminary hold to it. Every year all the Dallas Seminary professors – which obviously includes PDs – must agree to and sign the doctrinal statement, which is pretrib. Based on my experiences, I would say the vast majority of PDs hold to the pretrib rapture because I know of only two online exceptions – and one of those is Tim Warner. Tim is rather unique in his combination of views, which is fine, but many of his views also aren’t held by the vast majority of PDs out there.

    Regarding the “less emphasis” of PDs on the pretrib rapture, the whole point is to not make it a test of fellowship with other Evangelicals. It doesn’t mean PDs do not hold convictions or don’t care. Some dispensationalists in the past have sought to make pretrib a litmus test, and PDs think that kind of litmus test is uncalled for.

    Regarding progressive dispensationalism and historical premillennialism, they just aren’t the same. Many people have also confused historical premil and dispensationalism. But they aren’t the same either. And they aren’t the same for the same reasons that PD and historical premil aren’t the same.

    First, historical premils do not hold to a pretribulation rapture. As Walvoord wrote, not all dispensationalists are pretrib, but most of them are. And pretrib is not an option found outside of dispensationalism. But PDs do hold to it.

    Second, historical premils such as George Ladd hold that the Church has replaced Israel in regard to the future promises. Dispensationalists on the other hand hold that these future promises are to Israel. So the historical premil millennial kingdom doesn’t have any particular geographical center. However the dispensational millennial kingdom will be centered around Israel and especially Jerusalem, where Jesus will reign.

    So PD beliefs are dispensational, and hold to the dispensational perspective of the millennial kingdom and not the historical premil version.

  8. J. Edwards February 16, 2009 at 7:54 pm #

    What a full meal, but if there is still room for a bit of dessert, the menu does offer some Google items such as “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Chuck Missler – Copyist,” “Dolcino? Duh!,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Walvoord’s Posttrib Varieties – Plus,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Thieves’ Marketing,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun),” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by DM, “Hal Lindsey’s Many Divorces,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” Sorry, no after-dinner mints. No tipping, please. J. Edwards

  9. Andy October 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Good discussions. MarkH, I’m a historical premillenialist, and I don’t believe in that the church has replaced Israel. In fact, are you sure that Ladd did? I’m not completely sure on what Ladd says on Israel and the Church, but I know he made a big deal about the church not being the kingdom. Do you think this may be another distinction between historical premillennialists and others: the Church is not the kingdom?

  10. Dan Smith November 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Concerning Gundry; I had an e-mail correspondance with him, and he confirmed to me that he leans P.D.

    I myself am somewhere between P.D. and covenantalist.

    I wish someone would HONESTLY review Gundry’s book, “The church and the tribulation”. I know that Walvoord wrote a book in response, but after reading Gundry’s open letter in response to Walvoord’s book, I wonder why there is not more scholarly debate. Gundry has made the most scholarly defense of Post-trib that I have found, with Ladd being a close 2nd.

    On this issue, I challenge anybody to produce an inductive bible study lesson, in which they can lead someone into a pre-trib rapture, without adding extra biblical commentary. Just simple observation, interpretation questions. This is exactly what caused me to switch from pre-trib to post-trib. I produce inductive studies for a men’s bible study, and tried to produce such a study from Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse. I couldn’t do it with simple observation/interpretation questions. It fails utterly.

    Then I read Gundry, and it was like I was reading something that I had actually written, as his words repeated my thoughts.

    I know that this is not an essential. But I cringe when I read that people hold to pre-trib on exegetical grounds. I don’t mean to be offensive.

    Phil, I have enjoyed your contributions on the Logos blogs, BTW.

    Blessings.

  11. PreMill Guy June 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    I emailed Darrell Bock a couple of years ago and, according to him, and he would know, by definition progressive dispensationalism requires the belief in pre-millenialism and the pre-tribulation rapture. We are all free to label ourselves whatever way we’d like, but it doesn’t mean our self-given label is accurate. Like Gundry, many of us have progressive dispensationalist sympathies, but that doesn’t mean we’re progressive dispensationalists, even if we call ourselves one.

  12. Carl October 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    I think of the festshift given in honor of S. Lewis Johnson, by John and Paul Feinberg. We see disp. and covt.
    folks come towards a middle ground, fully grasping the doctrines of grace. It was encouraging how much common
    ground all parties had in the ongoing debate. hope this helps!

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