Finding roots and gems in old theologies

Finding roots and gems in old theologies February 2, 2012

For the past month I’ve been immersed in nineteenth century theology: Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Ritschl, Hodge, Catholic Modernism (Blondel, Loisy, Tyrrell), Troeltsch, Dorner, Bushnell. It isn’t the first time, but this time I’m reading more primary texts and writing about these almost forgotten theologians.

One thing I’m finding confirmed is my long-standing opinion that there’s really nothing new in “contemporary theology.” That’s one reason I chose historical theology as my primary field of research and teaching. Every time I hear that there’s a “new thing” afoot in theology or church life or among Christians I easily find how it’s not really new at all!

For example, “relational theology” is all the rage now in certain theological circles. It’s a catch-all phrase for viewing God as affected by what happens in the world. It’s a reaction against strict classical theism that says God is simple substance, pure actuality with no potentiality, absolutely immutable, etc. Process theology is one form of it, but there are more “conservative” forms as well. (Open theism is a form of relationship theology.) I wish they would read Isaak August Dorner! In his three essays on divine immutability he completely overturned classical theism without denying God’s essential sameness through time. He made a strong distinction between God’s “ethical immutability” and God’s changing experience in relation to the world (which he regarded as an expression of his ethical character as love). Dorner clearly also influenced Barth’s doctrine of God as “He who loves in freedom.”

Dorner’s “progressive incarnation” idea struck me immediately as similar to, if not identical with, Norman Pittenger’s neo-Antiochian Christology in The Word Incarnate.

Bushnell’s idea of all language, and especially God-talk, as symbolic and metaphorical anticipates many postmodern ideas about language and theology. (Fortunately he did not take it to the extent that, say, Sallie McFague takes it.)

Troeltsch’s historicism foreshadows “religious pluralism” (e.g., John Hick). He even talked about an “Absolute” that transcends history and religious diversity that is very much like Hick’s “The Real.”

Catholic Modernism paved the way for the “Nouvelle Theologie” that created Vatican 2 and found expression in de Lebac, Rahner and von Balthasar. But even much of the Modernists thought was influenced by Newman, a previous Catholic thinker.

Kierkegaard, of course, sounds like all kinds of dialectical Christian thinkers from Barth to Peter Rollins!

When I was reading Hodge, of course, I almost thought I was reading Grudem or David Wells!

So to what conclusion does all this lead me? There are new ways of expressing old ideas, but most “new ideas” are, at core, recycled old ideas–repackaged, updated, sometimes reconstructed. But it’s very difficult to find anything truly new.

Did the nineteenth century see anything truly new come about in Christian theology?

Well, the whole idea of a “secret rapture” among fundamentalists is totally new in about the 1830s. It first appeared in circles associated with Edward Irving, the pre-Pentecostal Presbyterian preacher in Great Britain.

(That was meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek as most believers in the “secret rapture” think true believers have always believed it!)

Sure, there were some new developments in theology in the nineteenth century, most of them not particularly helpful (because they were somehow related to modernity–as accommodation to or over reaction against it). Schleiermacher’s idea of religion as “the feeling of utter dependence” was relatively new, although it stood on the shoulders of Pietism and Romanticism. Dorner’s idea of progressive incarnation seems new even if it parallels Nestorianism.

But what’ s really new in twentieth century or twenty-first century theology? The God-is-dead movement (that is still alive with certain radical postmodern theologians)? Perhaps. But, of course, that was heavily dependent on Nietzsche, Hegel, Feuerbach and Blake!

Show me something claimed to be “new” in twentieth or twenty-first century theology and I’ll show you its roots in nineteenth century (or earlier) theology.

Now, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m sure many would say it is. I’m not making a value judgment here. I’m just being descriptive.

My point is that perhaps we need to go back and rediscover nineteenth century theology; at the very least it will help us understand and put contemporary theology in perspective.

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  • Joe Canner

    How would you characterize recent efforts (Peter Enns, for example) to re-evaluate in a more reasonable way the historical and archaeological findings that led to radical criticism and attempts to eviscerate the Scriptures? For me, it has been a very refreshing development (even if not entire novel) that we can look at the implications of these findings carefully without having to to throw out Scripture, and without having to reject the evidence out of hand because of an a priori commitment to strict inerrancy.

    • rogereolson

      Horace Bushnell, allegedly the “father of American liberal theology,” was opposed to “radical biblical criticism” even though he didn’t believe in inerrancy. There were voices raised against radical biblical criticism (e.g., Baur and Strauss) when it first raised its head and ever since. I doubt anything new is being said now, although perhaps some new archeological discoveries are relevant to the contemporary discussion that weren’t available a century ago or more. The problem with radical biblical criticism (e.g., Bultmann’s) is its presuppositions. Bushnell pointed that our over a century ago. He was a supernaturalist and accused the radical critics of operating out of an anti-supernatural world view.

      • Robert

        I’ve started to read Sparks’s “God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Biblical Criticism.” One of the arguments he makes is that, although there are indeed certain aspects of “liberal” biblical criticism that are driven or constrained by naturalistic assumptions, this is not always the case and is too often used as a convenient ad hominem argument to dismiss biblical criticism.

        Basically, if you take a broad brush and say that the conclusions of biblical criticism are all (mostly, etc.) simply artifacts of naturalistic assumptions, then you can dismiss such criticism out of hand as being nothing more than materialistic naturalistic bias. That’s the same basic argument against evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory is nothing but an artifact and outgrowth of (atheistic, materialistic, naturalistic) assumptions, and that if you set aside those assumptions, then evolutionary theory (biblical criticism) is nothing but a shaky house of cards.

        I’m not going to re-produce Sparks’s arguments. But his basic thesis is that this often is simply not true and not intellectually honest. Many biblical critical conclusions are based on the same basic methodology that shapes other historiographical work and which has been used to, e.g., successfully decipher various “dead” languages. And if you take the time to work through those arguments to their conclusions, it requires considerable interpretive heroics (special pleading) to explain them away.

        Again, I’ll leave it for Sparks to advance those arguments in detail, b/c I’ve not mastered them myself. But I found him pretty credible and compelling, at least as far as I’ve gotten.

        • rogereolson

          I think there are two types of higher criticism of the Bible–those based on naturalistic assumptions (e.g., Bultmann and Perrin) and those not based on naturalistic assumptions. The problem is, it’s harder to come up with names of those practitioners of higher criticism (form, redaction, etc.) who explicitly hold a supernatural worldview.

          • N.T. Wright?

          • rogereolson

            A lot of what I read in Wright reminds me of Wesley!

  • ME

    I’ve read a lot of Kierkegaard, and love it. Besides Barth, what 20th or 21st century theologians have been strongly influenced by the great Dane?

    • rogereolson

      Many! Brunner, of course. Reinhold Niebuhr, Rudolf Bultmann, every existentialist theologian is at least indirectly influenced by K. About a year ago I was reading a lot of John Caputo and recognizing the influence of K. all over the place in his writing even though Derrida is his muse. I’d say Peter Rollins is influenced by K. I’d say K. is one of two or three most influential Christian thinkers of the modern world.

      • Robert

        Donald Bloesch

        • rogereolson

          I’m sorry. What’s he the answer to? I’ve lost track of the ins and outs of the discussion.

          • Robert

            Theologians who drew on Kierkegaard and/or explicitly acknowledged his influence on their work.

          • rogereolson

            Okay, now I remember. You mentioned Bloesch as a theologians influenced by K. Yes, indeed. He was. And K. was influenced by Pietism. There’s a new book about K’s Pietism. When I was reading Garff’s magisterial biography of K. I was surprised to learn the depth of Pietism’s influence on K’s father and on him. His father was a supporter of the Copenhagen Pietist society. (It couldn’t be called a church for legal reasons.) I would go so far as to say that K. is the single most important thinker for understanding 20th century Protestant theology.

      • ME

        Thanks! I don’t think I’ve read any of those you mentioned, but, from the very little I do know I have a negative opinion of Niebuhr (strongly negative!) and Derrida. K wrote with “two hands” so to say. I love most the things he wrote from the ideally Christian point of view and suspect Niebuhr and Derrida were more influenced by what K wrote with his “other” hand. Just an uninformed guess, though.

  • Robert

    I think it’s a good thing 🙂 If you think about, e.g., salvation, you have inclusivism, restrictivism, universalism. I mean, as an example, what else is left that isn’t in some respect derivative?

  • Brian


    It’s interesting to see how the hottest “new” trends in theology aren’t so new. Now my question deviates a little from your article, but I am pretty sure that all “new” forms of heresies (with a capital “H”) have their roots set in early heresies. Now, my question is, is it possible for new heresies (with a capital “H) to just pop up? If this isn’t the case, is heresy (with a capital “H”) defined only by the early church’s creeds? (For example, the Nicene Creed) Or is it actually possible for new heresies (ones that the early church may not have addressed) to pop up onto the theological scene?

    • rogereolson

      I guess I’d have to hear an example to decide. But I can’t think of any new ones; they all seem to be new versions of old ones. Now, if we step outside of Christianity, of course there are lot of invented religions–religions simply invented by entrepreneurs. In virtually ever case, they are just new, eclectic expressions of old traditions such as gnosticism. Don’t ask me to name any; some of them have batteries of lawyers that sue people who mention them in a negative way. But they’re pretty easy to spot.

  • Sean

    Funny–I’m presently reading Schleiermacher (TCF) for the first and last time in my life. While there is an occasional gem (or at least shiny stone) amidst the mounds of problems and the work explains a lot of what happens later–my goodness, is his prose ever impenetrable! (And I say that as someone who enjoys reading Barth’s CD as a morning devotional!) It makes me wonder how much his recognition as brilliant is actually deserved or if people concluded that simply because he’s so difficult.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, he’s difficult to read. No doubt about it. But he’s worth wrestling with just because of his influence on later theology.

  • Holdon

    “Well, the whole idea of a “secret rapture” among fundamentalists is totally new in about the 1830s. It first appeared in circles associated with Edward Irving, the pre-Pentecostal Presbyterian preacher in Great Britain.”

    That it first appeared in Irving circles is a myth, not historical. And that it was totally new has been debated as well. But “new” has various meanings, so you could be right. It was never really a secret since Paul wrote: “I don’t want you to be ignorant brethren….” .

    • rogereolson

      I stopped believing in the “secret rapture” when I studied Paul’s eschatology closely for myself. There’s not even a hint of it there. As for how and when belief in it arose, read The Incredible Cover-Up by Dave MacPherson.

      • Holdon

        “As for how and when belief in it arose, read The Incredible Cover-Up by Dave MacPherson.”

        I suspected as much, that you would rely on that source. But it isn’t a good source. Nor was his’ a “new” discovery. Something similar was uttered a long time ago and refuted then as well. See:

        Paul never said that the rapture would be “secret”. He plainly told the Thessalonians that he didn’t want them to be ignorant and then explained the rapture. I don’t know who came up with calling it a “secret” rapture. I suspect it came rather from the opponents as the proponents allude to them calling it such in the 19th century.

        • rogereolson

          I didn’t say MacPherson’s discovery was “new,” did I? But I am convinced by it. As a historical theologian, I cannot find any reference to a pre-tribulation rapture, secret or not, before the originating events MacPherson talks about. Can you? Name a Christian biblical scholar or theologian before the 1830s who believed in such. I do not know of any. The issue isn’t “secret” or not; the issue is “pre-trib” or not. However, all the people I know who write about a pre-tribulation rapture describe it in ways that could rightly be called “secret” meaning Jesus does not appear to everyone in that event.

          • Holdon

            “As a historical theologian, I cannot find any reference to a pre-tribulation rapture, secret or not, before the originating events MacPherson talks about. Can you?”

            I certainly don’t want to discredit you as a “historical theologian”, but you should be aware of at least these fragmentary indications of a pre-tribulation rapture view much earlier than 1830:
            “For God’s saints and elect will be gathered to him prior to the coming tribulation” from:
            “For the wrath of God always strikes the obstinate people with seven plagues, that is, perfectly, as it is said in Leviticus; and these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of the midst.”

          • rogereolson

            You provide two quotes and the URLs for their sources. Would you please cite the exact locations in those books where those quotations are found?

          • Holdon

            Sorry thread maxdepth was reached I guess; so can’t append/reply to your latest question.

            But you can find the first quote on line 11th and 12th from the top. And the second quote under “from the fifteenth chapter”.

            I personally don’t attach too much importance to such statements. Scripture provides surer guidance like for instance Rev 3:10. (remember that the Spirit speaks to all the churches)

          • rogereolson

            So you are claiming that Rev. 3:10 provides “sure guidance” that there will be a pre-tribulation rapture? Here’s what it says: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” That’s pretty slim evidence for a doctrine of a pretribulation rapture! It doesn’t say anything about Christians disappearing, etc. I believe 2 Thess. 2 proves that the “rapture” (the Lord’s coming and our being gathered to him) will not happen until the “man of sin” is revealed, etc., etc. That was also clearly what Irenaeus believed (and he was Polycarp’s disciple who was John’s disciple).

          • Holdon

            ” It doesn’t say anything about Christians disappearing, etc.”
            You’re right about that. All it says is that the faithful Christians will not share the fate of the rest of the world. And heaven would of course provide such a place.

            ” I believe 2 Thess. 2 proves that the “rapture” (the Lord’s coming and our being gathered to him) will not happen until the “man of sin” is revealed, etc., etc. “”

            The very fact that “our being gathered to him” is mentioned distinctly from the “Lord’s coming”, and the strong plea from Paul that the Thessalonians should not be so disturbed or deceived! as if the day of the Lord was already come (present) should be sufficient to dispel any notion that they should wait for the man of sin to be revealed. Exactly the contrary is his reasoning. Christians are to wait for the “gathering”, not the day of wrath for the rest of the world.

            But I don’t want to drag this out, here. God bless!

  • What are the historical roots of liberation theology?

    • rogereolson

      I find “the preferential option for the poor” for in Rauschenbusch’s writings. And the there were the Zealots and the Fraticelli and Thomas Muntzer and many groups throughout Jewish and Christian history that advocated and practiced revolution against injustice and oppression.

  • Bev Mitchell

    What is really new in the last 100 years is our understanding of the nature of the biological and physical world, along with phenomenal advances in our understanding of the facts of history and archaeology. All these new discoveries have their various interpretors, of course, but the mountain of new facts is enormous – major truths have come to light and they are very different from what was known in the past. Many of these new truths have yet to find there way into general evangelical thought and theology/interpretation of Scripture. If we hold to the idea that theology is faith seeking understanding, which I take it means starting with a solid faith and then considering all truth as from God, and considering it seriously, there is much work to be done. 

    Fortunately, many are hard at work on this front. Unfortunately, many evangelical leaders, inside and outside the academy, prefer to spend their time ignoring or severly criticizing this work – or re-dissecting/defending age- old positions with little reference to modern advances. As you say, there is little new when one considers the scope of theological positions taken through the centuries. What is very new is the good fruit yielded by recent secular studies that can be used to support/elaborate various of those positions that were once more speculative. 

    Even in working together, generally creed-afirming Christians reveal a reluctance to be as cohesive as they should be. Consider the following, four multi-authored books. While the scope is very broad, they are all very Christian works and strongly related at various levels. Yet, there is practically no overlap among the 67 authors.

    The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis
    John Polkinghorne ed. 2001
    11 authors

    The Bible Tells Me So
    Richard P. Thompson and Thomas Jay Oord eds. 2011
    32 authors

    The Art of Reading Scripture
    Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays eds. 2003
    13 authors

    Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible
    Marcus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance eds. 2008
    11 authors

    • rogereolson

      The sheer amount of theology being written and published these days is staggering. Who can keep up? Yet, as I approach books like these I’m prone to think I won’t find anything all that new in them (except new packaging and new evidence). The basic theological views and arguments seem to be recycled.

  • Rob

    Question. At what point would you say that theologians in the U.S. and Britain stopped reading the contemporary philosophy of their own language? 19th century? 20th century? Seems as though many of the ones you mention were well-read in the 19th century German philosophy and that their theology is unintelligible apart from it.

    • rogereolson

      To be sure, Germany became the “Mecca” for theologians from all over the world, probably beginning in the early 19th century. All American and British theologians who could traveled to Germany (and later Switzerland) to hear Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Tholuck, then Barth, et al. I’m not sure that Hodge was all that influenced by German theology; he traveled in Germany and met leading German theologians and heard them lecture, but he was more influenced by Reid than by them. Bushnell was mainly influenced by Coleridge. Without doubt, however, German language philosophy and theology has led the way in modern theology (for better worse).

  • DRT

    Buddy Jesus is new 🙂

    • rogereolson

      I’m not sure about that. The language may be new, but think about Zinzendorf’s talk about Jesus as “our little lambkin” (and friend).

  • Bev Mitchell

    I need to become a better proof reader – “find their way” not “find there way” – sigh!

  • Fred Smith

    Your reading of the 19th Century is a bit “one-sided”–diverse as these theologians were they were very much in the “classical liberal” wing of 19th Century theology. Important work was done by such men as John L. Dagg, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, Charles G. Finney, A. A. Hodge and Augustus H. Strong, to name a few. Many of these were Calvinists, but not all (but then, Calvinism was a leading intellectual movement in the 19th century). Every one of them had an influence on the life of the churches, often across denominational lines, at least as much so as the classical liberal theologians on your reading list.

    • rogereolson

      Especially the conservatives you mention would deny introducing any new ideas. In fact, at the celebration of Hodge’s 50th anniversary of teaching at Princeton he famously declared that during that time no new ideas had been taught at Princeton. Finney? Even his “New Measures” were anticipated by Whitefield and Wesley and certainly by the revivalists of the Cane Ridge Revival. But my main point was that contemporary (late 20th century/early 21st century) theology doesn’t seem to have anything new to offer. My point was that today’s “trends” in theology seem to bed recycled from the 19th century. Also, I included some non-liberals in my list of 19th century theologians. Dorner was not a liberal.

  • Donald Bloesch had an intersting idea in his volume on the Church in his Christian Foundations series. He wrote that the emergence of sects and cults, and the emphasis of second order truths to first order status, is a result of the Church not fully living up to her high calling in a holistic sense. In other words, where there is a deficiency in the life and thought of the Church, the tendency is to overcompensate with some ‘new’ movement or ‘new’ school of theological thought.

    • rogereolson

      Bloesch was a good Pietist (in the best sense of the word). He tought that spiritual vitality was first and doctrine second (without in any way making doctrine unimportant). His early books on evangelicalism modeled for me what it means to be “generously orthodox.”

  • As an aside, Emergent Christianity could then be understood (in a GOOD sense) as a blend and re-constitution of all the old radicalisms of liberal theology, radical criticism, evolutionary theory, liberation theology, etc, (please name some more examples!) that were improperly digested by orthodox Christians (fundamentalists and evangelicalists being the modern-day equivalent of reactionary digestion!). Further, I’m not including gnosticism or new age thinking as these are illegitimate expressions to the true Christian heritage. As such, the Biologos organization (including people like Peter Enns, John Polkinghorne, etc) and popular/centralizing speakers like Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, etc, (again pls name some more names that come to mind here) are contemporary Christianity’s re-constitutionalists blending versions of the old v. new streams of Christian thinking into better Christian expression when met by non-orthodox thinking.

    I’m not saying that today’s more popular emergent speakers are doing the best job of this. But that they are taking old radical ideas and submitting them for further rigorous examination and exportation back into the church’s philosophies of ministry and worship (similar to Bloesch’s view of expression of the church’s non-holism while maintaining faith’s vitality as primary and secondary to any theological position). In a way, we are seeing a synthesis of 19th C. modernisim with late 20 C. postmodernism. Of liberal with orthodox into various mediating positions. A blending and reconstitutionalism that is beginning to live under the electic name of “Emergent Christianity.”

    What do you think?

    • rogereolson

      Well, I think it depends on which “emergent” or “emerging” person one is reading. I do worry that SOME are simply recycling old style liberal theology. Others are trying to be orthodox and evangelical in a new way. The one I know best and have read the most is Brian McLaren who everyone thinks is the main spokesperson for the movement. (Which is not to say all emerging or emergent people agree with everything he says!) Whenever I read one of Brian’s books my mind is constantly thinking “Oh, that’s what such-and-such a theologian said in the 19th century” (or 20th century). I haven’t really seen anything new in any of it. Which is NOT to put it down. I’m not making a value judgment there. It seems to me to be a new recipe of old ingredients. Take Horace Bushnell, for example. I’ve been reading a lot of him lately. He was all about reconstructing the very foundations of Christianity (“progressive orthodoxy”) as well as most Christian doctrines. By “foundations” I mean the ideas of what doctrine is. I read Bushnell and I hear echoes in the past of so many postmodern/postliberal/postconservative Christian thinkers.

      • At this point I don’t consider Brian a main voice of Emergent Christianity (and when I met him in the early days I wasn’t alarmed by anything he was then saying). Tony Jones? Well he thinks he is EC’s main voice. Rob Bell? My impression is “No. He doesn’t want it.” Peter Rollins? No again. They and others are part of the cachophony of voices lending to this progressive movement but not in any concerted way except by their own spirits of insight and (mostly) disenchantment with status quo Christianity today….

        So then, asked differently, besides the major theo/philosophical themes mentioned above, what other themes do you see that have currency in today’s generation along with neglected themes that have been forgotten or put off to the side (in interested of “holism’)?

        Secondly, by connecting themes to names (or vice versa) what names are commending our attention by way of their vocalism about such themes (or past neglected themes)?

        • rogereolson

          I don’t know if this answers your question, but one theologian with whom many young evangelicals (or postevangelicals) are enamored is Stanley Hauerwas. Right now I am reading his latest book (I think it is his latest) War and the American Difference. I am certainly NOT saying that Hauerwas has nothing new to say, but having read so far the Preface, Introduction and Part One I’m constantly saying to myself “That sounds familiar….” (NOTE! I am not accusing H. of plagiarism; I am only saying that his ideas do not seem all that new to me. He doesn’t claim they are, either. But I think many young, disillusioned evangelicals and postevangelicals think Hauerwas is saying new things.) As I read my mind kept going back to THE POST AMERICAN that began about a three year run of publication beginning in 1971. It turned into Sojourners and then, I think, lost some of its original bite. Look at some of the covers and posters of the original Postamerican magazine at google images. It was radical stuff–for evangelicals in the early 1970s. I won’t go into all the parallels here but just say that they are truly amazing. I really wonder to what extent Hauerwas was influenced by the early Sojourners (“young evangelicals”) group (Jim Wallis, John Alexander, Donald Dayton, Thomas Finger, et al.).

          • Thanks. I’ll follow up on all of this. Am definitely in agreement that there’s “nothing new under the sun.” Just a re-hash to a new generation of non-historians lost in their own rhetoric and ideas. What makes it cool is that people are actually engaging and what is cooler still is the opportunity to lend direction and ideology to those who are open and searching. Thanks again.

  • Angel

    Just ran across this eye-catching discussion about journalist/historian Dave MacPherson’s research. I have several of his books including his 300-page work “The Rapture Plot” (which I obtained at Armageddon Books and which can also be borrowed via inter-library loan) which has loads of documentation showing that one of Darby’s disciples, after Darby’s death, subtly made many changes in early Irvingite and Brethren papers which resulted in Darby being falsely credited with the essence of dispensationalism and especially the pretribulation rapture. The object was to take credit for the same rapture belief away from Irving and his followers (who clearly taught it before Darby did) and give it to Darby posthumously (which obviously was successful – note the many who assume that Darby was the “father” of dispensationalism!). This has to be one of the greatest unknown and untold religion stories ever! I dare not say who the revisionist was because I don’t want spoil things for readers; MacPherson’s book reads like a detective story; most, including many researchers, probably cannot come close to guessing the plotter’s name before delving into the “Plot.” MacPherson, who says he has focused on pretribulation rapture beginnings for several decades, has quite a number of web articles including “Famous Rapture Watchers” (note how Rev. 3:10 was interpreted before 1830), “Deceiving and Being Deceived” (which thoroughly refutes the desperation claiming to find pretribulationism in Pseudo-Ephraem and Morgan Edwards), “Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrets,” a colorful version of “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” etc. Concerning the exchanges above between rogereolson and Holdon, the evidence I have noted would certainly support rogereolson, hands down! Sorry about that, Holdon.

  • Malcolm

    The Real Morgan Edwards

    by George Wilson

    In 1995, in a 24-page booklet on 18th century pastor Morgan Edwards, evangelist John Bray claimed that Edwards taught a pretrib rapture in his 1788 book titled “Two Academical Exercises….”
    Those echoing Bray include Thomas Ice who wrote “Morgan Edwards: Another Pre-Darby Rapturist.” Edwards’ 1788 work can be found on the internet.
    In order to claim that Edwards held to pretrib, candidates for the I-can-find-pretrib-earlier-in-church-history-than-you-can medal – including Bray, Ice, LaHaye, Frank Marotta etc. – have intentionally covered up Edwards’ “historicism,” his belief that the tribulation had already been going on for hundreds of years. (How can anyone in the tribulation go back in time and look for a pretrib rapture?)
    Here’s proof of Edwards’ historicism and its companion “day-year” theory which can view the 1260 tribulation “days” as “years.”
    On p. 14 Edwards described the Ottoman Empire (which was then already 400 years old) as the Rev. 13:11 “beast.” On p. 20 he defined “Antichrist” as the already 1000-year-old “popery” and the “succession of persons” known as “Popes” – his other Rev. 13 “beast.” He necessarily viewed Rev. 13’s 1260-day period as 1260 literal years in order to provide enough time for his two “beasts.”
    On p. 19, while discussing “the ministry of the witnesses” of Rev. 11, he allotted “about 204 years” for their “years to perform” – years impossible to fit into a 3.5-year period!
    What about Edwards’ rapture? On pp. 21-23 he wrote about “the appearing of the son of man in the clouds, coming to raise the dead saints and change the living, and to catch them up to himself….The signs of Christ’s appearing in the clouds will be extraordinary ‘wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines,’ &. (Matth. xxiv. 6-8.)….The signs of his coming, in the heavens will be ‘the trump of God [I Thess. 4:16], vapor and smoke, which will darken the sun and moon [Matt. 24:29],’…and also cause those meteors called ‘falling stars’….
    Right after his combined rapture/advent (!), Edwards said: “And therefore, now, Antichrist…will…counterfeit the preceding wonders in heaven…causing ‘fire to come down from heaven’….And that godhead he will now assume, after killing the two witnesses….Now the great persecution of the Jews will begin…for time, times, and half a time….”
    Thomas Ice’s article on Edwards (see first par. above) quoted only the first 27 words in the above quotation, ending with “to himself.” This sort of unethical revisionism is constantly employed by many pretrib defenders.
    Not only had most of Edwards’ historicist tribulation occurred before his combined rapture/advent, but his Antichrist kept raging for 3.5 years even after the Matt. 24 signs! No wonder his tutor advised him to correct his thesis!
    To read Edwards’ complete work, Google “[PDF] Two Academical Exercises…”
    For more info on Edwards, Google “McPherson Page” (click on a reproduction of “Cover-Ups”). Also Google “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by historian Dave MacPherson.

    [I spotted the above fascinating item on the never boring web. Any reaction to it? ]