November 13, 2004

Will Catholics be "Left Behind"?

Author: Carl E. Olson | First published 2003 | Amazon

I first heard about this book on Slacktivist, who's been doing a slow critique of the Left Behind books. When I saw it in a bookstore, I grabbed it, and it was well worth buying.

I was moderately concerned that the book would be so focused on Catholic doctrine, only some of which I share, that I wouldn't finish it. As it turns out, Olson does an excellent job of weaving Catholic ideas with other Christian ideas and critiques pre-millenial dispensationalism from a wide variety of perspectives. Every time I thought he was heading into a theological thicket I found myself pleased a few pages later as he found a new angle of discussion.

While the book focuses on rapture theology and the "end is near" churches that thrive on it, it does an excellent job of explaining how this focus takes fundamentalism far from being the literal reading of the Bible that it claims to be, and examines a number of issues that have always left me wondering how this set of beliefs could be called "Christian." Setting aside the Sermon on the Mount because it isn't meant for Christians today alway struck me as completely strange, but Olson explains how its supposed application only to the Kingdom arose. Olson cites both Cyrus Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible is a key dispensationalist text, and critics of dispensationalism, to show the impact of this conclusion.

My favorite part of the book comes near the conclusion, when he notes how the escape of believers is supposed to exempt them from the perils of the tribulation, and how sadly this contrasts to the history of suffering and martyrdom in the early church, a display of bravery that some of its successors would apparently rather avoid. As Olson puts it, "appealing to fear is appealing to base human nature, but it does not encourage Christians who are suffering and facing death today." (336)

Olson's also written a lot more on the subject.

Posted by simonstl at November 13, 2004 04:53 PM