I have found that summer is a good time to read Christian biographies and autobiographies. Let me recommend one that I have enjoyed – Half a Century, The Autobiography of a Christian Servant, by A. C. Gaebelein.
Arno Clemens Gaebelein (1861-1945) was one of the most influential teachers of pretribulational premillennialism, especially in the early part of the twentieth century. When the first generation of American dispensationalists had passed on to their reward—James H. Brookes (d. 1897) for example—Gaebelein, along with C. I. Scofield, bridged that first generation with the teachers of pretribulational premillennialism in the middle of the twentieth century—L. S. Chafer, Alva J. McLain, John Walvoord, and the like.
Gaebelein was a member of the Methodist Church in his early ministry, and later, disheartened by the theological liberalism that was captivating that denomination, separated from it and ministered as an independent Bible teacher the rest of his life.
The first part of his ministry focused on the evangelism of Jews. It was during this time that Gaebelein became a premillennialist. Previously, he “had followed in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy the so-called ‘spiritualization method.’ Israel, that method teaches, is no longer the Israel of old, but it means the Church now” (20). His study of the Old Testament prophets and his contact with Jews brought about his eschatological conversion.
Large numbers of Jews came to hear him. Often, there would be someone in the congregation who would interrupt Gaebelein with a trick question. Once, a Rabbi, for example, brought up the fact that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, and therefore could not be a high priest. “To be a priest he must be of Levi,” the Rabbi proclaimed. Gaebelein answered him by quoting in Hebrew Psalm 110:4: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” “And then I told them,” writes Gaebelein, “that their ancient and scholarly Rabbis had interpreted this verse as meaning the Messiah, that Messiah would be a Priest and a King” (27-28). Gaebelein was competent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Arabic.
Later in his ministry, Gaebelein mainly ministered in Bible conferences, especially focusing on Bible prophecy. He founded the Sea Cliff Bible Conference in Long Island, New York, after the Niagara Bible Conference ceased meeting. Gaebelein also edited the monthly journal, Our Hope, and published many books.
So, did I whet your appetite for more? This book is available on Amazon for about $8.50, used, of course. This is a fun book to read, and it will fill in a lot of details for its reader concerning the development of dispensationalism in the first half of the twentieth century.
Larry Pettegrew is the Provost and Dean of STS and Professor of Theology. To learn more, visit his faculty page.