Saturday, September 29, 2012

Recycled Left Behind & the Magisterium

Catholic apologist Carl Olson has noted that the first Rapture film was called "A Thief in the Night" and was produced around 40 years ago. His premise - which is somewhat compelling at face-value - is that LaHaye & Jenkins borrowed some ideas from Salem Kirban's earlier novel. Essentially, Olson wants to throw a little mud at the system that undergirds the LB novels.

I'm very interested in how Catholic apologists justify their beliefs because I was born into the system and eventually left it. Likewise I'm especially interested when a "born again Catholic" or a so-called former dispensationalist has something to say against his old system. What I look for is an exposition of Scripture; what I generally find is polemics. Carl Olson co-authored a book with Sandra Miesel called "The Da Vinci Hoax". Out of all the rebuttals that came out debunking Dan Brown, I felt theirs was the best - even better than Witherington's effort. He also penned the book "Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?" and written articles such as "Five Myths About The Rapture".

Several other authors have responded to the popularity of the LaHaye-Jenkins novels. The formats are similar - point to people like Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye as if they're representative of the dispensational system and note their personal shortcomings. Then allude to the Margaret MacDonald, John Darby and Cyrus Scofield symbiosis - and especially note dispensationalism's "newness". But never engage in a text by text rebuttal of higher dispensational scholarship.

Olson is no different. His book appears academic at first glance. To a large extent that's because of its prolific references and anti-dispensational citations; not because of any textual exposition. Olson classifies himself as an ex avid-prophecy student. On page 13 of his "Rapture" book he states:

"From an early age I learned the principles of this theological system, called dispensationalism, developing a keen interest in the signs of the "end times" and those passages of scripture that I believed unlocked the door to the future."

Despite this diligence he states:

"The film brings to life the dispensational view of Matthew 24:36-44—one will be taken and one will be left—assuming the Rapture of believers takes place before seven years of tribulation … coming without warning, like a thief in the … well, you know..." [That would be "night".]

Aside from John Hart, Arnold Fruchtenbaum and perhaps a handful of other pretribbers, most dispensationalists believe that the "ones taken and ones left" portion refers to judgment. Olson's tone was mostly irenic in his book but allows cynicism and scorn free reign in his article:

"Beginning in the 1830s with John Nelson Darby (the father of the Rapture), dispensationalists like William Blackstone, Scofield, Dwight L. Moody, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles Ryrie, Lindsey, and Kirban have been claiming that the Rapture will occur in their lifetimes or within "this generation" (Lindsey's favorite phrase). However, if readers learned a bit of the history of the Rapture, they might not be so prone to fall for it in all its various forms — especially as recycled, warmed-up, Left Behind leftovers. While "Bible prophecy "experts" like LaHaye continue to miss the mark about the future, the Left Behind books have, in a way, fulfilled the words of Scripture in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.""

Whenever polemicists line up Hagee, Falwell or Van Impe, I picture a smug bully who always picks on the weakest kids on the block then boasts how tough he is. It's ironic that, while Olson demonstrates a capacity for understanding the Old Testament literally, he never expounds the classical passages used by dispensationalists. On page 215 he states:

"Many dispensationalists focus upon the nation of Israel, viewing its reemergence as a prophetic sign. Yet Scripture is not so concerned, in the end, with Israel as a nation as it is with Israel as a people - a people following after God and having his law written on their heart (Jer 31:33)."

Yet a little further from vs 33, we read:

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day, And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name:  "If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever." Jer 31:35-36 (See also Amos 9:14-15 etc)

Scripture does, indeed, focus strongly on Israel as a future nation. God has an invested interest in that nation, contrary to Olson's assertions. He rests upon "magisterial documents" citing, for example, the Lumen Gentium (p 220) and a few supersessionist texts that are typically taken out of context (e.g. Rom 9:67; Rom 10:12 & Gal 6:16).

Olson's logic often confuses but perhaps that's just me. On page 256 he says:

"However, as we have seen, Augustine did not teach that the Church is the Kingdom of God "in an allegorical sense", but in a very literal way: the Church is the Kingdom of God."

The inevitable track of Olson's argument is: never mind that Augustine doesn't believe there will be a literal physical expression of the Kingdom of God in the millennium as outlined in numerous Old Testament texts. It is now being "literally" fulfilled in the church, hence, this isn't allegory! Actually, it is a literal allegorization of the physical aspects of the kingdom. This sort of circular reasoning is rife throughout these books.

Most Catholics who I've dialogued with seem more familiar with dogma or their Catechism than Scripture, and appear to have little exposure to rebuttals. Apologists like David Currie, Carl Olson, Scott Hahn and Paul Thigpen claim to have high regard for Scripture and even accuse dispensationalists of neglecting it - yet they insist that Scripture cannot stand alone. Olson argues that believers need Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium to navigate the confusing landscape of Scripture and its interpretational pitfalls. Thigpen especially admonishes Catholics to consult their Catechisms.

Their view is that the Catholic Church is the Apostolic Successor, ever-present throughout the centuries in an unbroken line. On the other hand, the protestant churches have doctrinal differences because of the Reformation Breakaway. So Catholics may read their Bibles but they should default to the Catechism, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium for the final word.

Olson notes that: "While sola scriptura is appealing, especially in our individualistic culture, it is practically flawed and theologically lacking. (p 274)" Over the next page he cites "Catholic Dossier" where Madrid writes: "Scripture alone, as the tragic history of Protestantism has shown, becomes the private play toy of any self-styled 'exegete' who wishes to interpret God's Word to suit his own purposes. The history of Protestantism, laboring under sola scriptura, is an unending kaleidoscope of fragmentation and splintering."

On the same page, Olson cites Acts 17:10-12 and insists that it confirms the Catholic position because the process is that believers first receive the word (from an authorized source) and then go to Scripture. This assumes Catholic Apostolic Authority, but that's not the context of the verses and he misses the point. He notes the New Testament wasn't in existence but fails to realize that this has implications for Luke 24:25-27 and Acts 1:6-7. The disciples were expected to understand a literal reading of the OT prophecies sans the benefit of the RCC. The Bereans checked the spoken word with the Scriptures available to them to see if it tallied up.

In Scott Hahn's Forward to David Currie's "Rapture" book, he chides fundamentalists for their tendency to "read each text in isolation from other texts and from the larger context of Sacred Tradition, including the ancient Israelite prophetic traditions." Currie later states that he wants to primarily examine the Bible's teachings on eschatology. He affirms that: "Scripture remains a completely reliable authority for faith and practice (p XV)". Yet he admits that Revelation was only accepted into the canon by some of the church fathers once Augustine "conclusively" demonstrated that it did not have a millenarian slant (p 451).

Some of Olson's responses to Charles Ryrie's "The Basis of the Premillennial Faith" and "Dispensationalism" are odd. When Ryrie points to the premillennialism of some early church fathers, Olson notes their "unanimous teachings about the nature of the Eucharist" and a host of other teachings. I'd add that most also adopted the error of Replacement Theology (p 121) which is one reason why "historic premillennialists" who insist on using the ECF to debunk the pretrib rapture should be wary. At one point Olson makes the astounding observation that: "Early Church Fathers of the premillennialist persuasion believed that the Church would go through the tribulation" (p 123). If anything this demonstrates that there wasn't a sophisticated consensus on eschatology.

Yet if the ECF were so unanimous in doctrine while being the beneficiaries of Apostolic Succession and Magisterium then why were some of them premillennialists; why was amillennialism eventually (and uniformly) adopted by the church and what influenced it?  Well, I'd suggest reading Dr Ron Diprose's "Israel and the Church - The Origin and Effects of Replacement Theology".

I agree with those who say the Reformation didn't go far enough. One reason why "Protestantism" has so many doctrinal differences is because they retained Catholicism's hermeneutical baggage after removing the Magisterial Harness. This is why so many supersessionist posmtil and amil scholars cannot interact in a face-value fashion with OT texts that speak of a future for Israel in a millennial setting. See Alva McClain's "The Greatness of the Kingdom".

Dispensationalism doesn't stand or fall on Olson's inferences about the origin of the sub-plots in the Left Behind books, or Lacunza, Darby and anyone else he might care to mention. The edifice rests on Scripture, not tradition. Catholic apologists need to get back to Sola Scriptura regarding Israel, the church and the millennium before they can attempt to seriously refute a pretribulational rapture. As it stands, the rapture is merely used as a scapegoat by these people for defending Catholic dogmas.

More later.


Michael Henderson said...

Excellent! Read the Servant Songs of Isaiah 42 and 49. While reading them focus upon what the Lord says about a future Israel in which all the nations will stream to them in one way or another. When you do you will continue to see that the future of Israel and Rom. 11:25 make sense. This is what all of the anti-rapture folks cannot see or choose not to see. They believe the Church is the end-all and that Israel the nation is toasted no more to be but a memory in God;s eyes. May He in His grace open them widely.
God Bless!

mac said...

Thanks for dropping by, Mike.

You're quite right. Rom 11:25 is the logical extension of the OT. But it doesn't fit the worldview of the supersessionist so he has to somehow reason around it.