This post continues Carl E. Olson, Will Catholics Be “Left Behind”? (1)
I do support the Roman Catholic ecclesiology. However, Olson offers a decent presentation of the dispensational ecclesiology. Classic dispensationalism is characterised by a radical distinction between Israel and the Church and their purposes (or destinies, cf. Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists). Modified dispensationalism has abandoned this distinction and thus undermined the entire dispensational system.
In Chapter 7, Olson argues that the Church is the New Israel (pp. 215-217). On the basis of an analysis of the Biblical and of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the church, Olson critiques the dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church in four points: It fails hermeneutically, it ignores that the New Covenant fulfils the Old Testament promises and thus establishes a New Israel, the Church. Dispensationalism subverts the Biblical ecclesiology. It also ignores that there is only one people of God throughout history (pp. 220-221).
I am not sure, however, that Olson is correct in claiming that this people is built “through a series of covenants.” The people of God is built by God’s promises that create the faith that justifies (see Romans 4). In fact, I would argue that the most important problem is that dispensationalism (as well as Roman Catholicism) decenters the doctrine of justification.
Olson correctly critiques the view of classic dispensationalism that the church is a mysterious parenthesis that does not fulfil any OT promises (pp. 221-226) and shows that the church is a continuation of the Old Testament Israel (pp. 226-232). Dispensationalism claims that Christ “does not rule as King” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 1986, p. 259, quoted pp. 234f). Olson shows that this is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament (pp. 235ff) and to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church (pp. 238-240).
In Chapter 8, Olson scrutinises the dispensational hermeneutics, which he rightly criticises. However, a large part of this chapter is, in reality, a defense of Roman Catholicism. Olson rejects Sola Scriptura as a non-Biblical and protestant belief and claims that the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church “has the final say in interpreting Scripture … because of the authority and guidance given by Jesus Christ” (p. 276).
Olson discusses the dispensational “literalness” in the view of the Four senses of medieval exegesis (pp. 276-282) and explains – with a concept from the Roman Catholic Dei Verbum – the character of the Old Testament prophecies as “pedagogy” (pp. 282-285).
Chapter 9 is devoted to the notion of rapture. Dispensationalists such as Walvoord and Ryrie admit that the idea of the rapture is derived from the radical distinction between Israel and the Church (p. 293). Olson asserts – in my view correctly – that “there is a striking absence of proof for the pretribulational Raputre” (296) i.e. the dispensational idea that the Church will be removed from earth before the Tribulation. Finally, Olson argues that the Second coming is not “imminent,” but will take place at an unknown time (pp. 297-302).
Olson emphasises how the notion of the Day of the Lord is a challenge for dispensationalism.
One serious problem for the dispensationalists is the reference to 1 Thessalonians 5 “the day of the Lord”. This term, also rendered as “the day of judgment”, is used in the New Testament to refer to the Second Coming and the end of time. (p. 297f)
Indeed. In fact, I think it is an obstacle to all sorts of premillennalism.
Olson argues against the idea that the church will escape the Tribulation (pp. 302-315) and discusses whether 2 Thessalonians 2 supports the idea of the pretribulational rapture (pp. 315ff). Here Olson quote a quite remarkable claim by Walvoord: “That the Spirit indwells all believers in the Tribulation is nowhere taught” (p. 316).
Olson sketches the two approaches that dispensationalists take to the historical fact that a pretribulational rapture is not taught before around 1800: denial of the importance of history or denial of the historical fact itself (pp. 325-330). He also discusses LaHaye’s fourteen arguments for the pretribulational rapture (pp. 331-335). Finally, Olson discusses the appeal that dispensationalism has (pp. 335-340).
Chapter 10 and the back matters
The concluding Chapter 10 is about “the Catholic vision.” The bibliography is categorised, which helps to overview the literature, but otherwise it is not as userfriendly as one might wish. The index is quite detailed. The short List of key persons consists mainly of dispensationalists.
Olson’s Will the Catholics Be “Left Behind” is a broad presentation of dispensationalism. Although I do not agree with the distinctive Roman Catholic arguments of the author, I think that he has shown that dispensationalism is not a sound theology. This is a sad conclusion in view of the fact that dispensationalism is as popular as it is.
The many overviews, quotes and notes makes this volume a helpful introduction, even for those who are not Roman Catholics.