Carl E. Olson, Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”? (1)

olsoncatholics.jpgOlson, Carl E. Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s Prophecy Preachers. Modern Apologetics Library. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2003. 424 pp.

Table of Contents

Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”? An Introduction (p. 11-22)

Part One – The Story of the Rapture … and So Much More

1 The Parousia, the Rapture, and the End Times (pp. 25-49)
2 Catholics and the Left Behind Phenomenon (pp. 50-68)
3 A Book of Confusion or Revelation (pp. 69-112)
4 The Millennium: How Long Is a Thousand Years (pp. 113-140)
5 Millenarianism: Early Church to John Nelson Darby (pp. 141-165)
6 Dispensationalism and the Rapture in America (pp. 166-203)

Part Two – A Catholic Critique of Dispensationalism

7 The Kingdom, the Church, and Israel (pp. 207-240)
8 “Bible Prophecy” and Interpreting Scripture (pp. 241-285)
9 Unwrapping the Rapture (pp. 286-340)
10 Conclusion: The Catholic Vision (pp. 341-357)
Glossary of Key Terms (pp. 359-366)
List of Key Persons (pp. 367-371)
Selected Bibliography (pp. 373-390)
Abbreviations (pp. 391-392)
Acknowledgement of Sources Cited (pp. 393-395)
Index (pp. 397-424)

Introductory remarks

I have decided to include Carl E. Olson’s Will Catholics Be “Left Behind,” even though I do not agree with those hermeneutical and doctrinal arguments that are distinctively Roman Catholic. As a Roman Catholic, Olson makes frequent use of Roman-Catholic teaching, especially on hermeneutics and eschatology.

Carl E. Olson, a Master in Theological Studies (2000), was raised as a Fundamentalist and dispensationalist, but converted to the Roman Catholic Church in 1997 (see more here).

Olson writes in a clear, journalistic and – sometimes quite broad – style (for a succinct analysis and challenge of the dispensational hermeneutics, see Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists).

In Part One Olson gives an account of the historical and theological context of the dispensational phenomenon of our time. In Part Two we find a (more) systematic assessment (although Olson does offer some evaluations in Part One). In this post I concentrate on Part One (see here on Part Two).

In general, Olson gives a decent introduction to the history of dispensationalism, to the more important dispensational authors, and to their religious thinking. He also introduces many pieces of secondary literature, which is very helpful for those who will go more deeply into the whole subject. Olson quotes extensively, except from LaHaye and Jenkins’s Tribulation Force, which subtly attacks Roman Catholicism; Olson did not get permission to quote; p. 57 n. 12). Olson’s book is heavily annotated.

Part One

Chapter 3

In my view, Chapter 3, which attempts to outline an interpretation acceptable to Roman Catholics, would benefit from a rewrite. Too much material seems irrelevant to the main argument of Olson’s book. To me it seems more like Olson’s essay on a Catholic interpretation of Revelation.

Even in this chapter, Olson launches severe criticism of the world view of the dispensationalism, comparing it to what David Chilton sees as  pessimism. In fact, Olson cites David Chilton many times, which surprised me because Chilton is a postmillennialist, not an amillennialist, nor a Roman Catholic. Many non-dispensationalists disagree with Chilton’s “optimistic” postmillennialism as well as his theonomic ethics. It may very well be that (some popular) dispensationalists tend “toward a kind of gnosticism in its communication of truth,” as Mark Noll asserts in a passage that Olson quotes (p. 95 n. 56). Whether or not the world view of the ancient Jewish apocalyptists is really similar is another matter. To me, however, it seems fair to describe the dispensational perspective as follows:

These [apocalyptic] elements bear a remarkable similarity to the popular dispensationalist perspective, which asserts that only dispensationalists can understand the book of Revelation, that life on earth is mostly pessimistic, and that there is little reason for working within history to better the earth and the state of humanity. (p. 95).

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 surveys the three main millennial views, but I would suggest other introductions (e.g., Bock [ed.], Three Views on the Millennium). I do not not agree that “ecclesiology is the cornerstone for eschatology” (p. 140). More important is Christology and soteriology.

Chapter 5 and 6

Chapters 5 and 6 are very informative. The phenomenon of dispensationalism is quite strange. Fear and money are two aspects that play a significant role. Fear plays an enormous role in the dispensational communication. And the many books and films etc. is big business.

Olson’s summary of Part One

Concluding Chapter 6, Olson summarises the core features and tendencies of dispensationalism as follows: Dispensationalism is “a reactionary and defensive movement,” motivated by “fear of apostasy, dislike of liberal methods of biblical interpretation, and conviction of impending doom.” Olson and others argue that the dispensationalists also desire “to escape the world and its troubles”. Nevertheless, people are convinced that the dispensational teaching is biblically correct: “a pretribulational Rapture, a seven-year Tribulation, and a thousand-year millennial Kingdom on earth.” Most dispensationalists are resistant to “reasonable dialogue,” according to Olson. Seemingly, dispensationlism makes sense of what is happening in the world, confirms the prophecies of the Bible, and it introduces a certain indifference to culture and politics (pp. 201-203).

Read part 2 here.


  1. I read all of Olson’s book. My conclusion is that anyone who could possibly still believe in Dispensationalism after reading this book, didn’t read it very closely. I thought his case against dispensationalism was very compelling, very thorough and 100% convincing.

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