Saturday, December 8, 2012

Carl Olson's Rapture Myths

In a previous post I indicated an intention to further pursue Carl Olson's comments on premillennial dispensationalism and the "rapturists". Specifically, I had in mind those he makes in his article Five Myths About the Rapture. However, I got tied up with a bunch of other commitments and ended up with a virus which has dogged me these past few weeks.  In the article, Olson gives his reason for writing his book. He wants to:

"...thoroughly examine premillennial dispensationalism, the unique apocalyptic belief system presented, in fictional format, within those books...[which] teaches that the "Rapture" and the Second Coming are two events separated by a time of tribulation and that there will be a future millennial reign of Christ on earth." 

These Myths according to Olson are:

1: "The Left Behind books represent a fringe belief system that very few people take seriously."

2: "Catholic beliefs about the end times are quite similar to those of Fundamentalists such as Tim LaHaye."

3: "The Rapture is a biblical and orthodox belief."

4: "The early Church Fathers believed in the Rapture and the millennial kingdom on earth."

5: "The Left Behind books are harmless entertainment that encourage Christians in their faith and help them better understand the Book of Revelation."

I don't want to labor point by point against Olson's so-called myths. It would be too tedious and result in a drawn out saga that nobody wants to read anyhow. But as an ex Catholic I do want to share some thoughts.

I left Catholicism as a teenager because I had questions it couldn't answer over a number of issues. The priests I dialogued with had no adequate responses to the problem of accepting evolution and the biblical implications thereof. The problem with Catholcism is that it doesn't derive its strength from Scripture - they eschew the idea of Sola Scriptura. In fact, like other apologists, Olson constantly refers his readers to the Catechism in his Rapture Myths article as an adjunct to Scripture.

An example of inconsistency in this matter is Paul Thigpen who warns his readers about "prickly debates over the true meaning of biblical Greek" (The Rapture Trap p 21) then over the page recommends Gundry's two books. Gundry relied heavily on his understanding of Greek Grammar to try to refute the pretrib use of Rev 3:10. And Patrick Madrid has resorted to comparing the Greek meaning of "until" in Mat 1:25 - out of context to other places where it is used - in his attempt to defend the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity.

Olson is correct that Catholicism's amillennialism is incompatible with the Left Behind theology. It's an irony, however, that David Currie (p 437 The Rapture) sees otherwise-hidden Eucharistic references in Revelation and misses its overt premillennialism and earthly kingdom teaching!

Regarding the Israel, the church and the millennium issue, Ron Diprose's "Israel and the Church" is prescribed reading (among others). On page 161 he notes that Augustine explained why he gave up a belief in a future earthly reign of Christ. On Rev 20:4-6 and referring to saints reigning with Christ on earth for a thousand years Augustine says:

"...this opinion would not be objectionable if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath will be spiritual...But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets...such assertions can only be believed by the carnal."

Olson asserts that nowhere in Scripture are two comings of Christ taught. Yet verses like Matt 24:21, 37-39; 1 Thess 5: 2-3; Rev 6:1-17 and Rev 19: 11 are contradictions that can best be resolved by a dual-phase future coming. How can anyone live casually in "peace & safety" prior to Rev 19 and Matt 24:31 if one takes Matt 24: 21-22 and the seal judgments literally and futuristic?

Furthermore, we see problems with a single-phase future Advent when we compare verses like Hos 5:15, Matt 23:37-39, Matt 24:36, 44, 50; 25:13; Luke 12:39-40 and Rev 1:7. How can Jesus' second coming be contingent on Israel's pleading for His return, and yet no one knows the hour and are taken by surprise by it? See especially Matt 24:36-39.

But the fact that Olson hasn't thoroughly examined premillennial dispensationalism is obvious by his statements. He asserts:

"LaHaye and others [point] passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, and Matthew 24 as clear evidence for the pretribulation Rapture (those passages make several appearances, for instance, in the Left Behind novels)." 

As noted before, Tim LaHaye (Ryrie included) did not teach the pretrib rapture from Matt 24 (some pretribbers do). Had Olson paid closer attention to LaHaye's "The Rapture" (p 92) he would have noted the context to be the Glorious Appearing at the end of the 70th week, not the rapture. In "Revelation Unveiled" LaHaye spells it out more clearly on page 103 where he explicitly states that Matt 24:27-31 is related to the Glorious Appearing, as distinct to the rapture.

A stunning gaffe by Olson is the following assertion:

"More importantly, dispensationalists give little attention to the rich Old Testament allusions or the first-century context of the Book of Revelation."

When I first became interested in eschatology my focus was on the premillennial-preterist debate. Contrary to Olson's claim, there is a wealth of material by dispensationalists addressing futurism, historicism and preterism. I have several books where a number of dispensationalists have responded to the likes of Chilton, DeMar and Gentry. In fact Mark Hitchcock debated Han Hanegraaff on the dating of Revelation and has written his doctrinal dissertation on the subject.

On the accusation that dispies fail to acknowledge "rich Old Testament allusions", one only has to read Arnold Fruchtenbaum's "Footsteps of the Messiah" to see that Olson is wrong. Dr Frucht draws from Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel on some of the Minor Prophets and shows that these contribute to elements of the book of Revelation. Tony Garland's "A Testimony of Jesus Christ" is another great resource (which can be read online) as is Robert L Thomas' 2 Volume Exegetical Commentary of Revelation. Furthermore, Randall Price offers a feast of study resources on his World of the Bible website.

Olson's concern that the Left Behind genre is hurting Catholicism is misplaced. I don't want to go into a tirade against the RCC but I think one major factor is that, while they do recognize Scripture, they give pre-eminence to Sacred Tradition; the Magisterium and their Catechism. They need to do this because various doctrinal dogmas have crept into the RCC that are not found in the Bible and cannot be justified by it (e.g. Mary's sinless state, perpetual virginity, Limbo, Purgatory etc).

It's saddening that my Catholic relatives will routinely offer prayers to Mary, various saints and sometimes deceased relatives before praying to the Father. It's also a pity that someone like Olson can co-author such a worthy response to Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" yet misrepresents dispensationalism so badly.

Further reading:


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