Pile #6 “Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”” by Carl Olson

1 Jan

Will Catholics be “left behind”: a Catholic critique of the rapture and today’s prophecy preachers Carl E. Olson. San Francisco : Ignatius Press. 2003.  395 p. Includes bibliographic references. [on title page “Modern Apologetics Library”]

The original review can be found here: “Will Catholics Be Left Behind?” http://www.amazon.com/review/R2T3SRJBJZSPNX/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

The End-as-Beginning

The end of November each year marks a turning point in the life of the Church and the world as a whole: as we come to the end-as-beginning of another year, Christians look forward to the yearly celebration of the Coming of the Lord as the Babe of Bethlehem and prepare ourselves through the Season of Advent (the New Year begins on 1 Advent for Christians), while also looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ in Glory and the World-To-Come. Traditionally also, this is a time for the preaching of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell as it relates to the individual. And a rich source of material for such preaching is to be found in the final book of the Christian Bible, The Revelation to John.

This is especially true of Evangelical preaching and popular fiction about the end times ( in particular the recent “Left Behind” series co-written by Tim LaHaye), which is more likely to tie events in Revelation to contemporary world events.  A popular movement within Evangelical Christian circles which typifies this style of preaching is Dispensationalism with its watchword question “Will you be left behind when Christ comes to rapture His Church?” This is a question not usually addressed, or even asked by Catholic Christians, who  are more likely to ask,

“Why the Rapture?”

Answers are not always to easy to come by though, at least from a Catholic perspective, most of the material comes from the plethora of  seminaries, authors, blogs, church websites, publishers and nearly all of that is slanted toward the acceptance of Rapture Theology. This is not to say that no references exist to help the  concerned Catholic (or indeed other, concerned non-Catholic Christian) who wants to know a little more about this Rapture and Bible Prophecy movement, especially when they want a second, or third opinion about it. In this regards, Carl Olson’s Will Catholics be “left behind? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s Prophecy Preachers fills a niche, and offers an answer, as well as an answer to the answer to the question above.

Olson, an Evangelical  convert to Roman Catholicism, is a former editor of the Catholic periodical Envoy and also free-lances for various other Catholic publications.  The book was written, in his own words because “the Rapture, and belief in the Rapture, is the heart of a unique and complex view of the Bible, the world, the Kingdom and Israel, and the end of Time” (p13) that is at odds with Catholic (and historical mainline Protestant) theology, and  is not to be taken as an isolated doctrine. That is why it is important to understand, and to critique, the rapture.

The book can be divided into two sections: part one  (chapters one through six) gives an introduction and history of the rapture and it’s surrounding theology; while part two (chapters 7-10) provides a critique of the same from Catholic principles. An introduction, glossary of names and of terms, notes, and a lengthy bibliography of primary sources pointing to further information on the topics covered in the book frame the work as a whole.

So, What’s In a Rapture…

In the introduction, Olson shares his own faith journey and interaction with Rapture theology, as well as his motives for writing “Will Catholics Be Left Behind”.  Chapter one brings us into the world of the Rapture and modern Bible prophecy movement, as well as summarizing the confusion that Catholics often display when presented with rapture teachings, Chapter two provides an overview of the recent popularity of “Left Behind” and other media treatments and begins to analyze the theology behind it, Then in chapters 3  we are introduced to the literalist method of scriptural interpretation as applied to both the Book of Revelation and the Prophets and the Bible as a whole, as well as a brief history of interpretation of the Book of Revelation through the centuries.

Chapters 4-6 bring the focus to the movements and personalities of this theology through the  twin lenses of Dispensationalist-Milllenarianism. Chapter 5 and 6 especially give a history of key movements -offering a brief overview of end-times teachings from the Church Fathers on up to the late twentieth century with special attention to British and American writers- and personalities -such as William Miller, John Nelson Darby, Cyrus Scofield (of the Scofield Reference Bible) Hal Lindsey, and Tim LaHaye (of the Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels)-, as well as  clarification of many terms used in teaching and commentaries -explaining the differences between pre-, post, and mid-tribulation; and pre-, post- and amillennialism.

With chapter 7, Olson begins the critique from Catholic principles, concentrating on what Olson says are the three main areas of disagreement between Dispenseationalists and other forms of Christianity: the relationship of Old Testament Israel and the Church (chapter 7), the interpretation of the Scripture (a literal-reading only approach versus a more nuanced understanding) and “Bible Prophecy” with its constant mandate  to match current world events with the events of “prophecy” as it relates to the End Times and its influence upon the believers who accept such views (chapter 8); and the Rapture itself -the notion of believers being caught up and removed from the world scene before the Second Coming (chapter 9).  He ends the book with a chapter giving the Catholic view of the end times (chapter 10).

In their own words

Although Olson himself as he admits, was raised in a Fundamentalist home in expectation of the Rapture, he draws very little upon personal experience in his critique, focusing instead on dispensationalists’ own writings as primary source material, on passages of disputed scripture, as well as documents from Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and prominent theologians.

Obviously, Olson writes from the perspective of a committed Roman Catholic, but much of his criticism would be agreeable to Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and the other mainline Protestant churches.  His book is helpful in understanding the popularity of End Times fervor among our Evangelical and Fundamentalist brethren: sympathetic yet not afraid to point out fundamental errors in method and effect. At the same time, his reliance on written sources only without engaging in dialogue can come off as standoffish, which has never been his intention.

The book can appear to be more of a negative critique, than a real engagement with Rapture theology, especially when the final chapter is the sole location where the positive understanding of the End Times, from a Catholic perspective is put forward yet it is helpful to keep in mind that Olson is not writing a scholarly text, but a popular introduction for Catholics. One [Amazon] reviewer has criticized Olson for not including a discussion of Catholic ‘private revelation’ and Catholic ‘end times prophecies’ when giving the Catholic teaching of the End Times (1), but this shows a misunderstanding of the role of private revelation: private revelation is not to be construed as adding anything to doctrine -any such teaching does not belong to the Deposit of the Faith. but is only useful for confirming or illustrating teachings of the faith, and must not contain anything contrary to faith or good morals.(2)


  1. http://www.amazon.com/Catholics-Behind-Modern-Apologetics-Library/product-reviews/0898709504/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar  “Catholic “Double-Talk” at it’s Finest”, accessed on 07/08/2012
  2. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13005a.htm  “Private Revelation”, accessed on 07/08/2012

My next review will be Africa and the Bible, by Edwin Yamaguchi, so until then my friends, Keep Reading!


One Response to “Pile #6 “Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”” by Carl Olson”

  1. Irv March 9, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    [Thank-you, Piles… Just wondering if you’ve seen this. I bumped into it on the web.]

    (This article reveals research that’s No. 1 on the “hate list” of millions of “fundy” Christians
    because it shows that their idolized “rapture” belief – the inspiration behind Lindsey’s and LaHaye’s all-time bestsellers – is only a 19th century invention and that credit long given to John Darby should go to a long unknown 15-year-old girl in Scotland!)

    Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart !

    “church” RAPTURE “church”
    (present age) (tribulation)

    In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretribulation) rapture in the Bible – and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
    Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” (1979) says her view resembles the “partial-rapture view” and Lindsey’s “The Rapture” (1983) admits that “she definitely teaches a partial rapture.”
    But there’s more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only “spiritual” Christians in the rapture and “unspiritual” ones left behind to endure Antichrist’s trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists “pretribulationists”!
    Margaret’s pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those “filled with the Spirit” would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who’ve been repeating more than researching, have noted “Church” in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven’t known that all partial rapturists see “Church” on earth after their pretrib rapture (see above chart), they’ve wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
    In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving’s journal “The Morning Watch” (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual “Philadelphia” raptured before “the great tribulation” and unspiritual “Laodicea” left on earth.
    In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called “father of dispensationalism” even though he wasn’t first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the “Christian Herald.”
    Pretrib didn’t spring from a “church/Israel” dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a “church/church” one, as we’ve seen, and was based only on symbols!
    But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and “Jews” would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only “Jews” would face the Antichrist!
    As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church “going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews.” And he didn’t clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 “man child…caught up” symbol he’d “borrowed” (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
    For related articles Google “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by D.M., “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online) – a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.

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