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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Memo from Lord Foulgrin

"Don't attempt to refute Christianity when you can dilute it with anything and everything else. This is how we emasculate the message. Convince him the Carpenter is an enlightened master, in a line of spiritual teachers who went to the East and studied with gurus before working with His disciples. Commend Him as a great mentor. Damn Him with faint praise." ~ Lord Foulgrin

I doubt there's ever been an occasion when I've walked into any Christian section of a bookstore and haven't seen Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Yoga of Jesus" or Deepak Chopra's "The Third Jesus" innocuously nestled among the Christian books. I was once a member of the late Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship and Edgar Cayce's Association for Research & Enlightenment. Cayce, Chopra and Yogananda all deny that Jesus was the Christ. Their "Jesus" was a man just like us who attained the "Christ Consciousness", and so could their audience.

The problem, of course, is that it's a lie that leads the unsuspecting to the very gates of hell. And that was what the demon Foulgrin was getting at. Having spent time "searching" in the New Age and still dialoguing with some of these people in an effort to help them understand the gospel, Foulgrin's comments are particularly germane for me.

I was initially leery about reading Randy Alcorn's book "Lord Foulgrin's Letters" because it is based on C S Lewis' classical "Screwtape Letters". How can you improve on a classic? I had seen the book at Barnes & Noble and picked it up several times while debating whether I should buy it or not. I finally relented when my wife was looking for suggestions to buy me a birthday present.

I love C S Lewis' original work but I don't feel disloyal in the least when I say "Foulgrin" is great. I read the 197 page book in one day, I liked it so much. Alcorn is a lover of Lewis' works as well and gives due credit to him. Lewis even gets a cameo mention in "Foulgrin". And though he borrows from Lewis' format, Alcorn does add extra features. The book has a network of characters while the reader is granted insights into the demon targets' lives.

One of Alcorn's characters is a Reverend Braun who strongly reminds me of the Episcopal Bishop in Lewis' "The Great Divorce". In "Long Live Our Man in the Pulpit" we get to see what type of clergyman Braun is. He considers the message of the cross and blood to be "simplistic". And during one service he asks, "Pray with me now to the heavenly parent, whoever you may conceive him or her to be." In short, he's just the type of preacher that Foulgrin hopes for and another memory from my past.

Alcorn has done an excellent job and delivered some great insights. The book is worthy of a look.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's not about the movie!

Predictably, the spate of violence and tragic deaths after the attacks on American embassies in the Middle East has been blamed on an anti-Islam video. My friend Rev. Sizer has a post up on it already and I watched several Washington officials force that same angle out. I saw the expression on Jay Carney's face as he dutifully delivered his lines - he'd make a lousy poker player.

I wonder how long it will take before Israel incurs some of the liability.

But no, it's not about the movie; it's all about the rioters and their Islamist beliefs. There are several anti-Islamic videos on YouTube and elsewhere - they've been there for years. Why perpetrate this violence now? These attacks were obviously orchestrated to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11. The enablers may well sense that the current U.S. administration is kowtowing to the Muslim Brotherhood. The MB has never made its intentions for Shari'a Law and a regional caliphate a secret. Why invite them to the White House and pretend that they're proponents of Democracy? Well, I guess that's politics for you. Everyone knows the "real" truth -they just can't admit it.

What's sadly missing from this narrative is a united Muslim leadership condemning the violence. But apparently al-Qaeda flags flying over U.S. embassies and American deaths aren't enough to warrant a protest.

Fred DeRuvo has posted Newt Gingrich's thoughts HERE. It's a worthwhile read.

Jamie Glazov's 3-part interview with three former Muslim women "How Islam Ruined My Life" is revealing. As an aside - if you do watch them - note the books on the shelf in the background. Glazov is a Christian and some of the books are from the dreaded "Left Behind" fiction series! Hopefully that won't offend the sensibilities of any non-pretrib viewers ;-)

What we Christians need to do is pray for peace in the Middle East. We need to pray for Muslims trapped in Islam, for the Jews, the Christians in the area and for the Christian missionaries reaching out with the Gospel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hatred within Israel?

Well, it didn't take long. I see Stephen Sizer couldn't resist but post the following story "Why are Christians the target?" on his blog:

The Christian community awoke this morning, Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to discover with horror that once again it is the target of forces of hatred within Israeli society. In the early hours of the morning, the door of the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery in Latroun was burnt and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls....keep reading

What he failed to note was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's quick condemnation of the deed:

"Those responsible for this reprehensible act need to be punished severely. Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among the most basic foundations of the State of Israel."


The paramount difference between this incident and Christian persecution in other countries is that it is not condoned in Israel. It's sad that some make it a career of highlighting Israel's sins while largely ignoring Christian persecution under Islam, where it is too often encouraged.

Persecution of Christians: July, 2012