I read with considerable interest Carl E. Olson’s essay on the apocalyptic
fever of Tim LaHaye’s vast readership (“ No
End in Sight
,” November 2002). Mr. Olson’s description is more charitable
towards this religious spasm than is mine. However, he makes one grotesque blooper
when he identifies Fuller Theological Seminary as a “longtime dispensationalist
stronghold.” Where has Mr. Olson been for the last three decades and more? George
Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism
points out in close detail the abandonment of this temper in the early days
of Fuller, and as a consequence the seminary (of which I am an alumnus of the
second entering class) has been the chief critic and opponent of dispensationalism.



David H. Wallace
Newport Beach, California



While Carl E. Olson needs
to rethink a few details in his revisionist account of the history of dispensationalist
thought”including the role of Fuller Seminary”he does score some interesting
points against the movement’s popularizers. I wonder, though, whether there
isn’t some reason for at least a little bit of generosity in assessing what
these folks are getting at.




Olson makes much, for example, of the fact that
dispensationalism’s popularity “does not exist despite its pessimism, it feeds
off it.” Fair enough. But why is that such a bad thing? Dispensationalism
emerged in a late“nineteenth“century cultural climate where liberal Protestants
and many Roman Catholics were enamored of the myth of inevitable progress. The
magazine that still calls itself the Christian
Century
was founded during that period on the conviction that the twentieth
century would indeed be a “Christian century” where humankind would see
significant new manifestations of peace and righteousness in the world. In
contrast, the dispensationalists were predicting a century of widespread
warfare and oppression. Which group of Christians best prepared their offspring
for the century that was to come? If a Reinhold Niebuhr can be praised for
encouraging Christians to incorporate a good dose of pessimism in their
historical expectations, why should dispensationalists be criticized for
feeding a bit on a pessimism that is already there?




Furthermore, whatever our aesthetic and theological
misgivings about the Left Behind
phenomenon, we do the Christian community no favors by failing to take an
honest and sympathetic look at the underlying apocalypticism to which such
novels respond. Indeed, the basic concerns of dispensationalist popularizers
are not all that far removed from the popular Roman Catholic fascination with
the apocalyptic themes associated with, say, the Fatima prophecies.




Now that Carl Olson has let off some steam about the Bible
prophecy industry, maybe he can relax a bit and take on the assignment of
calmly exploring the deeper hopes and fears that lead so many Christian people
to buy Tim LaHaye’s novels. And while he is at it, he might also pay some
attention to the way in which many of his fellow Catholics ponder the
apocalyptic details provided by shepherd children who tell the world what they
have learned from Marian apparitions.



Richard J. Mouw
President and Professor of Christian Philosophy
Fuller Seminary
Pasadena, California



Carl E. Olson’s sarcastic hatchet
job on premillennial dispensationalism
implies that John Nelson Darby of
the Plymouth Brethren invented futurism and the idea of the imminent return
of Christ. He does not acknowledge that many of the Church Fathers were millennial
(Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus). Augustine’s anti“apocalyptic amillennialism
killed futurism, but it was revived by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Joachim of
Fiore, and the Jesuit Francisco Ribera (1537“1591), who believed the Anti­christ
would conquer the world in a future three“and“a“half“year epoch. The Jesuit
Manual Lacunza (1731“1801) was an ardent literalist and very premillennial.




In John Tombler and Hubert Funk’s The Raptured: A Catholic View of the Latter Days and the Second Coming
(the authors are professors at Seton Hall and the book bears the imprimatur of
Bishop John Doughty), we have adherence to the return of the Jews to Palestine
in the end time and a rapture of the Church. The Puritans and the Continental
Pietists were premillennial and believed in a national return to Palestine.
Scripture would seem to indicate that great numbers of both Jews and Gentiles
who defy the Anti­christ and will not take the mark of the beast will be
martyred (Revelation 13).




Mr. Olson’s study is filled with factual errors (Fuller
Seminary”a center of dispensationalism?). I wonder if his book will treat
Marian eschatology and the Fatima prophecies. How about the marvelous
apocalyptic novels by Michael D. O’Brien (published by Ignatius), which, like
LaHaye, purport to give plausible scenarios for end“time events? Please lighten
up a little, dear Carl Olson. After all, Jesus advised us to pray that we might
be able to escape the end“time wrath (Luke 21:36).



David L. Larsen
Lincolnshire, Illinois



Carl E. Olson’s critique of
dispensationalism
is an article of the type that is long overdue in the
pages of a respected theological journal. I have long wondered why serious Christian
thinkers, Catholic and Protestant alike, have not given more time to debunking
this errant eschatological scheme.




Olson is correct in saying that “dispensationalism’s discontinuity
with centuries of Christian teaching is being exposed.” However, while this may
be increasingly apparent to those who devote a great deal of their vocational
time to the serious study of those teachings, it is not so apparent to the
millions of unsuspecting Christian laity who, having been so taken by the
writings of Lindsey, LaHaye, et al., often dismiss those “centuries of
Christian teaching” as “traditions of men.” Such a dismissive attitude toward
Christian orthodoxy, fueled by a supposed adherence to “biblical literalism,”
is an obstacle to genuine unity in the Body of Christ. It must be overcome
through a concerted and sustained effort not only to expose the errors of
dispensationalism, but also to present the Truth in such a way that its message
of hope and the ultimate triumph of righteousness will silence all the
scoffers.



(The Rev.) James A. Gibson
Marshallville United Methodist Church
Marshallville, Georgia



Carl E. Olson replies:




First, I thank Mr. Wallace for pointing out my lamentable
gaffe regarding the doctrinal persuasions of Fuller Theological Seminary. I
suppose it is not as bad as Tim LaHaye’s statement that the Catholic practice
of “burning candles” is a sign of apostasy, but it is regrettable, and I
acknowledge my error.




Professor Mouw alludes to problems with “a few details” in
my article and Mr. Larsen states that my study is “filled with factual errors.”
Unfortunately, neither of them provides actual examples (save my reference to
Fuller, but one error does not warrant the descriptive “filled”). In addition,
they emotionally chastise me for being emotional about this topic. Since we
appear to be at a standstill on that front, I’ll focus on the facts.




Prof. Mouw refers to my account of dispensationalist
history as “revisionist.” How so? Again, no examples are given. Regardless, I
do agree that nineteenth“century dispensationalists reacted against liberal
Christian movements““as my article indicates, the movement has always been
reactionary. And it is true that predictions by nineteenth“century
dispensationalists of a century of warfare and oppression came to fruition. But
being correct about some details does not legitimize the underlying theological
premises of the movement, namely, its low ecclesiology and fatalistic view of
history. There is a significant difference between saying man is fallen and
prone to warfare, and saying that mankind is completely depraved, absolutely
doomed, and destined for a rapidly approaching cataclysm. I would suggest that
neither naive liberalism (as it existed in the late 1800s) nor despairing
dispensationalism prepared their offspring well for the twentieth century.




A more proper perspective, embraced by the Catholic Church,
the Eastern Orthodox, and many Protestants, is that man is wounded by sin, but
is still capable of good. History is neither an inevitable progression to
utopia nor a fatalistic spiral into destruction, but a path filled with
conflict between good and evil. Today’s secular idealist declares, “There is
nothing to fear,” and popular dispensationalists state, “There is much to
fear!” Meanwhile, the voice of reason agrees with our Lord, “Be not afraid!”
Pope John Paul II, of course, uttered these words at the start of his
pontificate.




The Left Behind
books undeniably tap into a deep well of “underlying apocalypticism,”
especially if by that we mean the natural human desire to have certainty and
assurance in a world that is filled with chaos and sin. This yearning reveals
itself in many ways, including, as Prof. Mouw notes, various Catholic movements
that sometimes fail to understand private revelation in the context of public
revelation and Church teaching. The fact that there are pessimistic and
apocalyptic“minded Catholics does not prove anything about dispensationalism,
but says much of the dangers of straying from the norms of Scripture,
Tradition, and authoritative teaching.




My book Will
Catholics Be Left Behind?
(to be published this spring) does address in
detail the reasons why books such as the Left
Behind
novels sell so well and why forms of dispensationalism continue to
be so popular in America. It is difficult to gauge the numbers, but I have no
doubt that the percentage of conservative Protestants who embrace some form of
dispensationalism is far higher than the percentage of Catholics who adhere to
apocalyptic visions based upon Marian apparitions. After all, the best“selling
nonfiction book of the past thirty years is Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), and the Left Behind books are the all“time best“selling works of Christian
fiction. Sales of Catholic books with apocalyptic themes pale in comparison.




Mr. Larsen’s letter begins with an ad hominem attack and
then regresses from there. I did not, in fact, imply that Darby invented
futurism. Rather, I stated that Darby “constructed the premillennial
dispensational system,” which is a specific and unique form of millenarianism
and futurism. Mr. Larsen makes the mistake of equating millennialism with
dispensationalism, when the latter is actually a particular type of the former.
Yes, many of the early Church Fathers were millenarians, and so were some later
Catholics and Protestants. But the early Church Fathers never embraced the
central premises of dispensationalism, including the radical dichotomy between
Israel and the Church and the resulting two peoples of God, one earthly and one
heavenly in nature and mission.




Several Catholics throughout history have proposed unique
end“time scenarios. The Catholic Church has rejected many of these ideas, both
implicitly and explicitly. Some of Joachim of Fiore’s ideas were officially
condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council, while Lacunza, a renegade Jesuit who
held to a form of the pre­tribulational Rapture, was openly at odds with the
Church on many counts. What the Catholic Church has officially taught is that
“the Church must pass through a final trial” and will do battle with the Anti­christ
(see Catechism of the Catholic Church
§675). The Church has also clearly rejected all forms of millenarianism
(whether secular or religious), describing such attempts as “falsification[s]
of the kingdom” ( CCC §676).



Mr. Larsen seems to think that I am opposed to any
speculation about the last moments of the world. In fact, my biggest concern
with dispensationalism is its misuse of Scripture in the service of seriously
flawed forms of Christology and ecclesiology. These, in turn, result in a
sensationalized eschatology that often relies on fear, anger, and vengeance to
motivate and move adherents.



Finally, I thank Pastor Gibson for his kind remarks. He
asks why serious Christian thinkers so often ignore dispensationalism. I
believe it is because they misjudge its tremendous influence and impact on
millions of Americans, they do not understand the underlying premises and logical
conclusions of the dispensational system, and they believe it is a fringe
movement on its deathbed. I hope that my article and book might correct some of
these misconceptions.



The Turning of the Tide



In “ Abortion in the Tides of Culture
(December 2002), Frederica Mathewes“Green considers mainstream society’s increasingly
intolerant attitude toward drunkenness and speculates that our society may analogously
reject abortion and the other aspects of the sexual revolution eventually as
well, not so much as a result of our preaching, but simply because people may
eventually realize that the assumptions and lifestyle of the sexual revolution
do not in fact lead to happiness. Her optimism is well founded. The same God
is the author of our natural intellect as well as revelation, as classical Catholic
theology so often reminds us, so we should not be surprised if what the Church
teaches makes wonderful sense also just from a purely natural point of view
and people end up doing what the Church recommends, not because she recommends
it, but just because it is the most sensible thing to do.



Artificial contraception is a case in point. In my oh“so“politically“correct
neighborhood here in Los Angeles, where Republicans do not even figure on the
ballot, the new craze seems to be natural family planning”“fertility
awareness.” The Bible of the movement, Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility , made the local best“seller list
and presents artificial contraception as a gigantic female“exploitation
industry and the ultimate form of male domination of women. Written from a
purely secular perspective, the book even speaks of the advantages of periods
of abstinence for a relationship as a means of rekindling the romantic feelings
of courtship and experiencing afresh the joys of the honeymoon. The tide may
very well be starting to turn already”perhaps even despite us”so let us not
lose Christian hope.



Robert Rakauskas
Los Angeles, California



Many thanks to Frederica Mathewes“Green for an insightful
analysis
of the current cultural shortsightedness with respect to abortion
and related life issues. The comparison with earlier attitudes towards alcohol
consumption is particularly apt.



However, there are at least two crucial differences between
that earlier generation’s casual treatment of alcohol consumption and our own
culture’s easygoing approach to sex. These suggest that the latter may be more
difficult to dislodge over the long term.



The first of these revolves around what Michael Ignatieff
has recently termed the “rights revolution.” The repeal of the Eighteenth
Amendment was not primarily effected by the argument that prohibition in some
fashion violated the inalienable right of citizens over their own bodies or
that it infringed on a supposed constitutionally guaranteed equality of
beverage choices. Prohibition was reversed because of the federal and state
governments’ prudential judgment that it had been a practical and social
failure, spawning organized crime and making criminals of ordinary, otherwise
law“abiding citizens.



Fast forward several decades to the 1960s and ’70s. The
sexual revolution and the associated abortion license were immeasurably
facilitated by a culture now preoccupied with what Mary Ann Glendon has
famously termed “rights talk.” In this context a series of judicial decisions
concerning obscenity, freedom of expression, and, most notoriously, abortion
itself has effectively elevated these new “rights” to the status of an
orthodoxy from which dissent is increasingly not tolerated. However much
pressure was placed upon people to wink at excessive drinking in the past,
nondrinkers and moderate drinkers were not generally threatened with legal
action for telling the truth about alcoholism or for “discriminating” against
alcoholics in hiring and housing.



It is, of course, possible that the society of our
grandchildren will have seen through the rights fixation of the current
generation, along with its casual treatment of sex. But, given the development
of liberalism over the past two centuries, this would seem to require a
deliberate act of the will contrary to long“unfolding and deep“seated
historical trends.



The second difference concerns the role of the churches. In
the first half of the twentieth century no church bodies would have considered arguing
that drunks are “cool.” Even the most theologically accommodating denomination
could hardly have gotten away with endorsing excess in this area. However,
today the major church bodies, with few exceptions, have simply caved in to the
wider culture on sex and life issues. If the courts and the media have led the
way, the churches have followed in lock step, doing little more than to parrot
uncritically the preaching of the former.



David T. Koyzis
Associate Professor of Political Science
Redeemer University College
Ancaster, Ontario, Canada



Frederica Mathewes“Green replies:



Mr. Rakauskas’ words are very encouraging. And if members
of the cultural avant“garde are questioning contraception, can questioning
abortion be far behind? In several ways it seems the rising generation is more
self“disciplined, moral, and responsible than we Boomers, and I put a lot of
hope in them as well. When the Boomers’ long toga party is over and they’re
changing our Depends, they’ll have their work cut out for them.



Professor Koyzis’ argument is certainly well“founded. I
guess I take hope from the statistics showing, over the last five to seven
years, that people in their late teens and twenties are much more pro“life than
older generations”each year, the freshmen surveyed in the UCLA poll of incoming
college students are more opposed to abortion, and more in favor of premarital
chastity. I’m hoping that this trend will continue until it reaches critical
mass, though it may well remain invisible as long as older people, who are
largely pro“choice, control the media outlets. It’s anyone’s guess what the
reason for this change is. I would suggest that it’s due to an awakening to the
real pain that promiscuity and abortion entail; others might say that it’s
actually based in “rights talk,” that young people identify with aborted
children (as of this January 22, anyone under the age of thirty could have been
aborted) and see abortion as an attack on their siblings and classmates, rather
than a matter of women’s self“determination.



The Pause that Refreshes



The pause between the second and third sentences in the Hail Mary does not
represent, as Randy Boyagoda says (“ Halfway
Through the Hail Mary
,” December 2002), the moment “when God took human
form,” when “the Word has become flesh.” That event happened, of course, at
the Annunciation, marked by the first sentence in the prayer. At the Visitation,
evoked in the second sentence, Mary was already the mother of Elizabeth’s Lord
(Luke 1:43) and ours”within the first trimester of his life among us.



The pause before the turn of the prayer comprises Christ’s
Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension”everything that we recall in the other
thirteen, er, eighteen Mysteries of the Rosary”as well as two thousand years of
his life in the Church since then. The pause links those mighty moments in time
past with the two moments in time that we ourselves are guaranteed to
experience.



Jerome Colburn
Champaign, Illinois



Randy Boyagoda replies:



Jerome Colburn is not the first individual to point out to
me the scriptural and biological flaws with my suggestion of precisely “when
God takes human form.” He’s correct to indicate that Mary would already have
been the “mother of Elizabeth’s Lord and ours” prior to the time and space
between the second and third sentences of the Hail Mary, and his alternative
suggestions for the significance of the pause are perceptive and convincing.



My initial intention in proposing the pause as the
paramount moment of change was to stress a participatory action that indicates
our reverence for and wonder over the most blessed event in human history as we
pray the prayer. Suggesting that the Incarnation takes place in the pause is in
harmony with the logic of the prayer when considered in precise poetic, and
more general theological and scriptural, terms. That we address Mary as the
Mother of God only after that pause in part inspired me to think of the prayer
in this mode; the blessed absence constituted by the Word becoming flesh (John
1:14) seems perfectly to fit into that pause in the middle of the prayer,
especially in poetic terms, though of course, the theological and biological
take final precedence. Thanks to Mr. Colburn for his astute response.



The Meaning of Celibacy



I read Maximos Davies’ “ Celibacy
in Context
” (December 2002) with some puzzlement. The article seems to hinge
on the idea that the Latin Church and its people are unaware of the difference
between monastic celibacy and mandatory celibacy for the secular priesthood.
This distinction is made in presenting the difference for the place of celibacy
within the Eastern Orthodox Church in contrast to the Latin Church. I am puzzled
because the current discussion on priestly celibacy within Roman Catholicism
consistently locates the debate in the context of the diocesan, or secular,
priesthood. In a church rich with religious orders, it is peculiar for someone
to write as if the Roman clergy and laity did not know the difference.



It is my understanding that the current debate preserves
monastic celibacy within the religious orders, just as it does for the Eastern
Church. The raising of the question of celibacy is particular to the diocesan
priesthood. For that manner of priestly calling, many call for “optional
celibacy.” No one is calling for such an option for religious orders. That
would negate the whole concept of living in religious community. While there
may be some lack of literacy on this issue for average churchgoers, they
usually catch on quickly when the difference is pointed out. It does not seem
as if Father Davies credits the Latin Church with knowing itself. And that is
indeed peculiar.



MaryEllen O’Brien
Chicago, Illinois



Maximos Davies replies:



If I understand the question Ms. O’Brien raises, she read
my essay as suggesting that celibacy as a concept
was in question in the Latin Church. I doubt this is so, and in any event that
was not my point. That point is simply this: celibacy must be treated less like
one possible lifestyle and more like the basic Christian discipline that it is.
Only this will prevent the pool of mandatory celibates”no matter how large or
small that pool may be”from becoming a marginal and increasingly irrelevant and
isolated ecclesial group.



It is of course none of my business whether the Latin
Church allows married men to be ordained to the diocesan priesthood. If it
wishes, by all means let it impose the most radical form of celibacy only on
monastics and religious. This is not my concern. What I was trying to argue in
my article was this: the celibacy to which some are called by special vocation
and the chastity to which all are called by baptism are not two distinct
things. They are essentially linked, and if one goes then both may well be
lost.



I certainly do believe that the Eastern Churches have very
clearly maintained the link between celibacy or, if you prefer, chastity, and
baptism. They have done this by retaining the very clear connection between
celibacy and monastic life which is simply the life of all the baptized lived
to its radical conclusion.



Whether or not this idea, with all its ascetical
implications, has been so clearly realized in the culture of the Latin Church
is something that might be worth a debate, but it is not one in which I
intended to engage when writing my article. If Ms. O’Brien can agree with me
that celibacy or chastity must retain its essential meaning as a common
baptismal vocation before it can be embraced by anyone in its most radical
form, then I hope that in whatever other way my article may have puzzled her we
may at least agree in fundamentals.



The Radical Brownson


Apropos “ Orestes Brownson and
the Truth About America
” (December 2002), it is not surprising that Brownson
is neglected today and, as Peter Augustine Lawler writes, has basically been
forgotten. It seems to me that the reason he is neglected is that”even though
he has many things of value to say that are radical in the sense of getting
to the root of the matter”he often goes too far (is “radical”) in the sense
of reaching conclusions that are too extreme in fact and that lose their practical
value in application.


For example, as Mr. Lawler points out, Brownson makes some valuable comments
when he emphasizes the importance of the solidarity and interdependence of humans
and what naturally follows from that, but it seems to me that Brownson then
goes too far in concluding that “civic virtues are themselves religious virtues”
and even that “he who dies on the battlefield for his country ranks with him
who dies for his faith.” (Even though the latter statement pleases me, as an
old infantryman, both statements seem to me to border on the heretical.) How
could these statements be true? Does it mean that loyalty equals faith and good
citizenship equals charity? Brownson justifies these ideas by using the gospel
saying that “no man who does not love his brother can love God.” He seems to
be equating dying for your country with love of your brother, which, while it
might be true in some cases, is clearly not true in many others.


When we look at Brownson’s writing on education, we find the same faults. His
basic principles are worth keeping in mind. He points out the close relationship
of education and virtue”“bad education is worse than none,” “virtue without
intelligence will only fit the masses to be duped,” and “the more you extend
intelligence, unless you extend the moral restraints and influences of the gospel
at the same time, the more you sharpen the intellect for evil.” However, he
goes on to criticize, at some length, the failure, as he saw it, of education
of his day”which he says is based on Protestantism”to teach the necessary virtues
and concludes with the exaggerated statement that “only in the bosom of the
Catholic Church can this [moral education] be found.” He seemed to be saying
that the American system of public education would necessarily fail unless Catholic
teaching was taught as an integral part of the curriculum. This was not possible
or practical in his day nor is it in ours under the kind of Constitution we
have. Brownson’s conclusion has no chance for implementation and that is why
it, and suggestions like it, have been ignored.


James J. Guthrie
Lowell, Massachusetts


Peter Augustine Lawler replies:


Mr. Guthrie is right to wonder whether Brownson sometimes doesn’t go too far.
But on the question of Catholic education, Brownson is surely right that only
the Catholic (roughly, Thomistic) tradition of thought properly integrates intelligence
and virtue into a single view of a good human person. Protestants tend to favor
virtue and disparage reason, and secularists or progressivists are all for reason
or science but can’t think properly about either the foundation or the proper
inculcation of virtue. Brownson didn’t favor abandoning our constitutional separation
of church and state, but his hope was that Americans were ready to be convinced
to convert to true religion.



Correction


In a letter to the editor
that appeared in the December 2002 issue
, I wrote in support of my former
pastor, Father Bob Kealy. Unfortunately, in that letter I erroneously hypothesized
about the allegation against Fr. Kealy based on hearsay information circulating
in the parish.


I understand that Fr. Kealy has chosen not to make statements about the allegation
and to deal with it within the realm of Church procedures. I incorrectly implied
that Fr. Kealy admitted to the allegation. This was not based on any personal
knowledge, but on hearsay that I have now learned was unfounded. Furthermore,
my statements about Fr. Kealy’s alleged abuse of alcohol many years ago were
not based on any personal knowledge, but were simply my supposition from the
information that had been passed on. From my personal experience, as emphasized
in my letter, Fr. Kealy has always conducted himself in an exemplary priestly
manner.


In the present highly charged environment, the mere announcement that there
has been an accusation unfortunately leads even admirers of a priest to make
erroneous assumptions and accept hearsay. That too is a cause of concern. Too
often good priests are presumed guilty until proven innocent, and while their
lawyers advise them not to make any statements and their church processes drag
on, their hard“earned reputations suffer irreparable damage.


I am sorry that my previous letter contained these errors. Fr. Kealy has suffered
grievously as a result of the allegations made against him and the resultant
publicity. In my attempt to speak out for him, I have made a bad situation worse.


John T. McEnroe
Winnetka, Illinois