The Great Tribulation, Past or Future?

Dispensational theologian Thomas Ice joins with covenantal/preterist theologian Kenneth Gentry to debate the timing of the Great Tribulation. Ice defends the position that the Tribulation is yet future, while Gentry supports moderate preterism which teaches that the Tribulation is past, having come in and around the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They each write two chapters presenting their views and one chapter rebutting the position of the other.

While the stated purpose of the book is to provide “a condensed introduction to and an overview of the basic issues,” the book is nevertheless highly technical and would only be recommended to those serious about the difference between the two camps. The book is far too complicated and intense for me to offer a blow-by-blow review, but I will mention two matters. First, the preterist position relies heavily on its interpretation of Matthew 24:34. “This generation” according to Gentry, is the generation hearing Jesus preach the Olivet Discourse. If this is so then all the prophecies found in the discourse must now be past and were fulfilled in AD 70. Ice believes, with most pretribulationists, that “this generation” refers to those who are alive when these events start to be fulfilled, i.e. the generation alive after the rapture of the church and at the beginning of the reign of the Antichrist. The interpretation of this one verse is the watershed issue in the debate.

Secondly, both men recognize that many of their interpretative differences stem from different approaches to hermeneutics. Ice uses standard grammatical/historical hermeneutics, leading to a literal understanding of prophecies. Gentry, on the other hand, champions what he terms “‘spiritual’ interpretive methodology” which sees more symbolic meaning in the prophetic passages. How one approaches the texts at hand hermeneutically will obviously determine the resulting interpretations. Both men are highly critical of the other’s hermeneutical methodology and with good reason. As one reads the two views, as well as the rebuttals, you sometimes wonder if the two men are even reading the same Bible. The confusion does not lie in the biblical texts but in how they are approached hermeneutically. (For the record, I side with Dr. Ice’s position.)