Monday, December 12, 2011

Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty

Well it has been a long break since receiving my last “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” spam but I got another one last night. They invariably begin by saying something like - “Interesting and informative blog” – and then suggest Googling the familiar diatribe. The Google searches lead to polemic sites run by preterists and/or posttribulationists who rely heavily on Dave MacPherson’s material. The better part of wisdom suggests ignoring it; however, wisdom isn’t one of my strong points.

Last year someone sent me a link to a 2009 article on Joe Ortiz’s blog. The headline read:

“Dave MacPherson Finds Note of Rapture Vision by Margaret MacDonald - Copy of Handwritten Note by Woman Who Introduced the Pretribulation Rapture in 1830 is Found!”

Directly below the blurb was a photocopy of that note which contained the following words:

nothing: So that two shall
be in one bed, the one taken

and the other left; because
now will the wicked be re-
vealed with all power, and

signs, and lying wonders,

The inference was that this was new and incriminating evidence that Margaret MacDonald was really a pretribulationist and that Darby really did get his idea from her, contrary to his claims to have discovered it through studying Scripture. However, the red-flag is obvious. There’s nothing about a pretrib rapture mentioned in the note above and it isn’t new evidence. Moreover, it is actually an edited portion of an existing document.

Here are the relevant details they left out:

“I felt that those who were filled with the Spirit could see spiritual things, and feel walking in the midst of them, while those who had not the Spirit could see nothing - so that two shall be in one bed, the one taken and the other left, because the one has the light of God within while the other cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven...I saw the people of God in an awfully dangerous situation, surrounded by nets and entanglements, about to be tried, and many about to be deceived and fall. Now will THE WICKED be revealed, with all power and signs and lying wonders, so that it it were possible the very elect will be deceived - This is the fiery trial which is to try us. - It will be for the purging and purifying of the real members of the body of Jesus; but Oh it will be a fiery trial. Every soul will he shaken to the very centre. The enemy will try to shake in every thing we have believed - but the trial of real faith will be found to honour and praise and glory. Nothing but what is of God will stand. The stony-ground hearers will be made manifest - the love of many will wax cold.”Margaret also stated that:

“The trial of the Church is from Antichrist. It is by being filled with the Spirit that we shall be kept.”

You can read the full version of Margaret’s vision HERE and HERE

It is people like Ortiz and MacPherson who are being dishonest and spreading malicious gossip.

Further reading:

A review of The Rapture Plot

Given that there's a broken link to Dr Stallard's site, here is his review in full:

This work is a popular renewal of the claim begun two decades ago concerning the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture. MacPherson believes that the doctrine of the “secret rapture” (the two-phase Second Coming or what has come to be called the pre-trib rapture) originated with a deluded teenage girl named Margaret MacDonald. She was a member of the Irvingites, a cultish band of unorthodox Christians centered in London who practiced visions. In fact, the claim is that the pre-trib doctrine originated with one of the visions received by this girl. The main thesis of the book, the so-called “rapture plot,” is that dispensationalists have been covering up this origin because of the embarrassment it would cause their position. They have consistently maintained that the pre-trib doctrine originated with John Nelson Darby and have sought to downplay the fact that he borrowed it from the Irvingites. The implication is that, since this doctrine originated with a deluded teenage girl and since dispensationalists have sinfully covered this fact up, then indeed the pre-trib doctrine itself is suspect and cannot be held to be the truth.

The book begins with a chapter on preliminary considerations and discussions of the earliest teachings of the pre-trib rapture from MacPherson’s point of view. The second chapter focuses on Margaret MacDonald and attempts to show her involvement in not only creating the pre-trib doctrine, but also participating in occult practices. Although he does not say so directly, MacPherson uses this section to leave the impression that pretribulationalism is of Satanic origin. Chapter three discusses the Irvingites in general, including the influence of Margaret MacDonald upon them.

Chapters four through six turn to Darby himself. Chapter four tries to catalog chronologically the development of his thoughts. In chapter five, the later writings of Darby are explored with the conclusion that Darby was a historical revisionist of his own earlier experiences. Chapter six, entitled “Pre-PlotPracticing,” begins to call into question the integrity of William Kelley, an early Brethren editor of Darby’s writings.

Chapter seven carries the title of the book itself. Here MacPherson evaluates William Kelley (d. 1906) in detail as to his alleged revision of Darby. The next and final chapter attempts to show the continuing influence of Kelley’s rewriting of Brethren history. MacPherson spends most of his time dealing with the claims of the pretribulationist R. A. Huebner. It is this concluding chapter which may reveal MacPherson’s motivation for his vitriolic attack on the pre-trib position. He comments that “during the 18thand 19th centuries genuine revival during the First and Second Great Awakenings swept two continents before pre-trib dispensationalism emerged and extinguished the flames” (p. 234). MacPherson adds five appendices, including one attempting to refute the recent claims that a pre-trib rapture can be found in Morgan Edwards (ca. 1788) and in Pseudo-Ephraem (374–627 A.D.), an early Syriac church father.

One is hard-pressed to find good qualities in the argumentation of MacPherson’s work. However, the detailed bibliographical information concerning original sources will aid the historian wanting to study nineteenth century eschatological developments. MacPherson, as a former investigative reporter has done a good service to us in this area. Unfortunately, blinded by his rush to a preordained conclusion, his analysis of those sources is clouded by a hateful style which prevents much of what he says from being taken seriously. For example, beginning on page 91 he concocts a fictional conversation between himself and a dispensationalist to make points rather than interacting with detailed complaints with his own view. Although he does interact in other parts of his book to specific complaints, the disingenuous presentation here undermines his credibility. Another example is his labeling of Ephraem (the Syriac father in question concerning the writing of Pseudo-Ephraem) as a “Catholic” (p. 268), as he probably knew the connotation it would bring to his largely Protestant audience.

As to the details of his argumentation, several questions emerge from reading the book, many of which have to do with methodology. First, MacPherson has not dealt adequately with the debate over whether the Irvingites were pre-trib, partial-trib, or post-trib. His chapter on Edward Irving and his group totally ignores the fact that the group by means of visions and prophesying believed that they were living in the last three and one-half years before Christ’s return and dated that period from January 14, 1832, to July 14, 1835. The Irvingites were historicists in contrast to the developing futurism of the Darbyites. It is amazing that a historian would totally overlook the impact of this teaching while discussing documents during the time leading up to the alleged Second Coming. 

Second, MacPherson’s book shows the absence of any historical work involving followers of Irving and Darby on the Continent. There are emerging studies especially focusing on Geneva and the development of separatist movements in that region. Of special note would be the Darbyite Émile Guers who pastored in Geneva. His books La Future D’Israël (pub. 1856) and Irvingism and Mormonism (pub. 1853) aid understanding of the development of Darbyism prior to its supposed rewriting by Darby and Kelley. Furthermore, he shows the large wedge between Irvingism and Darbyism that existed as early as the 1830s. So for the conspiracy to be true, more players have to be added whose weight combines to increase the likelihood that the conspiracy did not take place! This conclusion is bolstered by the historian Barron H. de Goltz (Genve Religieuse au Dix-Neuvime Sicle [pub. 1862]), who attacked separatist movements like Darbyism and Irvingism. He also characterizes the great gulf between the visions of the Irvingites and the Scripture readings of the Darbyites.

Third, MacPherson’s book amounts to an ad hominem attack. He suggests that the pre-trib position is wrong through guilt by association. However, even if Margaret MacDonald had a vision of the pre-tribrapture, that does not invalidate the doctrine. It does not guarantee that she was the originator. At best, his view should be held in a preliminary fashion. Fifty years from now, after competent scholars have done the historical work for a little studied area, the one holding his view may find himself embarrassed. However, even the fact that Margaret MacDonald clearly gave a pre-trib vision is not at all a ready conclusion. 

Fourth, MacPherson does little detailed analysis of those sources which support his thesis. Men like Robert Baxter and Robert Norton are automatically accepted as credible. One must ask MacPherson, “Are sources only valid when they agree with his thesis?” This is seen in his handling of the Pseudo-Ephraem material. He appears to accept Paul Alexander as the expert on Pseudo-Ephraem although Alexander is a non-evangelical who would not be studied in the nuances of eschatological readings from the various evangelical viewpoints. To expect him to present a summary involving rapture timing nuances is too much to ask.

MacPherson’s thesis has been rejected by many competent scholars who are not pre-trib. Men like F. F. Bruce, John Bray, Timothy Weber, and others have found his conclusions untenable. MacPherson misleads his reader by mentioning F. F. Bruce as a good friend of his without letting the reader know that Bruce, a Brethren scholar who rejected pre-trib, totally discarded the rapture plot idea (p. 40). The fact of the matter is that the real test of whether the pre-trib rapture is correct doctrine is not its historical origin but its exegetical support from the Bible. MacPherson’s book provides no help in this area.

Reviewed by Mike Stallard, Associate Professor
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

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