A few weeks back I attended the annual ETS meeting in San Diego. The first unit I took in was on “The Future of Progressive Dispensationalism.” The session I heard was by Bruce A. Ware entitled, “The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism (PD).” Ware is a pretribulational progressive dispensationalist. One of the principles of PD that he articulated was, I am summarizing, the notion of not making such a sharp distinction between OT prophecies to Israel and the church’s involvement with those prophecies (to be sure, the church and Israel are rightly two distinct entities). For example, he mentioned how traditional dispensationalists in the past have posited two new covenants (and I would add, posited two future comings of Christ, one for the church and one for Israel). The new covenant for the church, they would argue, is different than the one prophesied as the new covenant mentioned in Jer 31 because the latter was “made to Israel.”
Ware argued that this was an invalid principle because you cannot necessarily conclude that an OT prophecy that was made to Israel excludes any involvement with the church—which I agree. Well, you can imagine what I was thinking!
So I asked the following question to him in the Q&A after his talk. The room was packed standing-room only, even going outside the door. I noticed key PD and traditional dispensationalist theologians were in the room. So this was my opportunity to make a major point.
I raised my hand and prefaced my statement before my question. I stated that the most common and fundamental argument for pretribulationism has been the ecclesiastical argument, which argues that since Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy was made to Israel in Dan 9:24–27, therefore, the church must be raptured before the seventieth week, for God does not work with the church and Israel at the same time.
Then I asked, Dr. Ware, to be a consistent pretribulationist and a progressive dispensationalist, would you agree according to your hermeneutical principle that you articulated in your talk that PD pretribbers cannot use the ecclesiastical argument to support pretribulationism? In other words, a PD cannot state, for example, that an OT prophecy made to Israel rules out any involvement for the church, while at the same time arguing for a pretrib rapture based on the fact that Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy was made to Israel.
When I asked this question (and made my point), I felt that a lot of pretribbers in the room was taken aback because they have not been challenged on this key point. Ware responded that I was right. He conceded my point, certainly to the chagrin of pretrib traditional dispensationalists in the room. Ware also said that he has never used the ecclesiastical argument for pretribulationism and that he would use other arguments to support pretribulationism. That was fine. But my point was made and signaled to pretrib dispensationalists that to be a PD you cannot use this principle consistently, while using the ecclesiastical argument to support pretribulationism.
I wrote on this point in my forthcoming book. Here is an excerpt:
What these statements by revised dispensationalists imply is that if God’s dealings with the church and Israel overlap, then the foundation of pretribulationism is breached—and by extension their doctrine of imminence is undermined. In fact, Ryrie laments that progressive dispensationalism teaches a dispensational overlap of God working with both Israel and the church at the same time. Expressing his fear of the implication for pretribulation theology, he says, “One can well ponder what will happen to the pretribulation Rapture teaching in years to come.” Ryrie feared that because progressive dispensationalism taught that God works with Israel and the church at the same time, then that would undermine the ecclesiastical argument for pretribulationism. That is, if God works with Israel and the church at the same time in this present period, then what would preclude from reasoning that God could work with them in the future during the 70th week of Daniel? Thus Ryrie warns: “The minimizing of a clear and consistent distinction between Israel and the church results in ignoring the great prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9:24–27.” Ryrie was correct in his forecast, because twenty-five years later many progressive dispensationalists today are affirming the prewrath view.
 Ryrie, “Update,” 25.
 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 176.
For related articles on this topic, see the following: