Friday, May 25, 2007

Coming Soon, Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying its Lessons Today, Michael Barber: A Book Review

While reading Robert Sungenis study Bible, The Apocalypse of St. John, I picked up a copy of Michael Barber's book, Coming Soon, Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying its Lessons Today. I saw the book mentioned on the internet, and wanted to see what it was all about. In the preface, Barber tells us that the book is based on a Bible study he taught in California, where he saw a great interest in the Apocalypse. The book is oriented to Catholics who are not familiar with the Book of Revelations (including study questions). In a light and amusing manner, the Introduction leads to the advice to "Read the Book, Don't Wait for the Movie". This is after reviewing some of the current popular takes on Apocalyptic themes. In this section Barber promises to take the reader verse by verse through the Book of Revelation. He states:

Rest assured: The Holy Spirit inspired human authors of Scripture, and He helps us understand Scripture as the Faith is passed on through the life of the Church, particualrly in her liturgy and in her teaching authority

This implies that Barber will use the magesterium as a guide for understanding the Apocalypse. Still in the Introduction under the heading "Keeping it Simple" he states:

Whenever anyone attempts to explain a book like Revelation, readers often wonder whether the interpretation that is laid out can be backed by credible sources or whether it is simply the result of the creativity of the author. Recognizing that other faithful Catholics who strive to be faithful to the Church might come up with different interpretations of Revelation, I have done my best to provide extensive support in the endnotes...

So one may ask who these credible sources are? What are these "different" interpretations of Revelations? It is clear that the Church has historically taught the amillenial view of the Apocalypse (i.e., Apocalypse concerns the Church age- starting at the Cross and ending at the Second Coming and New Heaven and New Earth). But unfortunately this is not the interpretation Barber chooses to use. It is clear that he is using the view espoused by Scott Hahn (based on Euginio Corsini's The Apocalypse: The Perennial Revelation of Jesus Christ). In fact several of Dr. Hahn's books are referenced (as well as Corsini's). The book itself is dedicated to Scott and Kimberly Hahn, and is published in Steubenville, Ohio by Emmaus Road (a division of Catholic's United for the Faith). Now I am not being critical of Dr. Hahn's speculative theology. It is clear that there is a lot of room for interpretation of the Apocalypse, but a book aimed at uninformed Catholics on the Apocalypse, at least in my opinion, should start with the Church's well established view, not some modern and novel (though perhaps interesting) interpretation.

The first thing I did to review the book was start with Robert Sungenis' advice- see how the author handles chapter 20 (see The Apocalypse of St. John book review). This is key to understanding how the author places the Apocalypse in time, by understanding how the author handles the Millennium. This occurs in chapter 13 of Barbers Book, entitled "The Perennial Millennial Question". Therein he states (p. 243):

Traditionally Catholics have understood the "1,000 year reign" as referring to the age of the Church...the thousand years is understood symbolicaly...from the time of His [Christ] first coming to the time of His second coming. Satan is restrained...This view is well attested to in the Fathers of the Church.

He then goes on to state:

I whole-heartedly affirm this view. Nevertheless, I think we can add to this view. As stated, the interpretation laid out here understands the Millenium in terms of the Davidic Covenant.

This lost me immediately. He states that he will use credible sources to back up his interpertation. He states that the Fathers uphold the "age of the Church" view (amillennial)- clearly one cannot find more credible sources. He states that he whole-heartedly affirms the Church view. But he chooses to teach uninformed Catholics a novel teaching. He does not "add to the view" [of the Church], but rather replaces it with a novel teaching.

There is no Scriptural or Church support for the binding of Satan in the Old Testament, while there is ample evidence in the New Testament. Similarly there is no Church support for a Davidic Millennium in the Apocalypse, while there is nothing but support for a Catholic millennium, which starts at the cross (with the binding of Satan) and ends at Christ's second coming.

The book also promises to apply the lessons of the Apocalypse today. If the established Church view is that Satan is currently bound in the pit, and the beast and the false prophet are wandering the earth deceiving the nations as agents of the dragon (Satan), one would think this might a useful piece of information for Catholics of today to have. While trying to relate the Apocalypse to the Mass (as Barber does) may be appealing and actually appropriate, this can be done without changing the basic eschatology of the Apocalypse as traditionally interpreted by the Church. The main lesson should be 'keep faith, Christians, resist the deceptions which you are daily bombarded with on TV, newspapers, advertisements, political movements, etc. Watch that your children understand this so they are not deceived'. Instead Barber ends up drawing some generalized allusions from lessons learned 2000 years ago in the collpase of Israel. While I do not want to state what Barber's intent was, this seems to be a "Precious Moments" view of the Apocalypse and current state of the Church, which somewhat ignores the intense spiritual battle the Church and world are currently mired in, and effectively places us 2000 years after most of the challenging times (though Barber does teach the final judgement).

I ended up reading through much of the book, but did not complete it. I was personally disappointed in the approach Mr. Barber took in trying to reach uninformed Catholics who "ought to begin in the Scriptures with a Gospel or the Book of Genesis". I really think it does a disservice to write a beginning book on the Apocalypse for Catholics which does not teach the traditional Catholic view. Though the book was nicely written, entertaining, and probably did a reasonable job capturing Scott Hahn's views, I cannot recommend it for the reasons stated.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Apocalypse of St. John, The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Volume II, Robert A. Sungenis, Ph.D., A Book Review

I just finished Robert Sungenis' new Study Bible on the Apocalypse. I had a lot of questions regarding what it was all about and how it should be interpreted. There appears to be a number of interpretations out there. Robert chose to write the book based on the traditionally accepted Catholic amillenial interpretation, with likely date of writing in the 90's A.D. Robert does explain some of the other interpretations and their ramifications. The basic advice he gives when assesing another book on the Apocalypse is to see how the author interprets Chapter 20:

In light of the above discovery, one of the most important passages in the Apocalypse, and the one passage that will directly set the boundaries for the interpretation of every other passage in the Apocalypse, is Chapter 20. In fact, one can immediately know which of the half dozen interpretive schemes an exegete has chosen for his analysis of the Apocalypse by turning first to his treatment of Chapter 20. It is the exegetical cornerstone for the rest of the book. The main reason for its importance is that it is the only instance in the Apocalypse where the time period "a Thousand Years" or "the Millennium" is mentioned. An exegete must first decide:

· Whether the Thousand Years is a literal or symbolic time period.
· When the Thousand Years begins and ends.

Similar to the many plausible interpretations of John 3:5, the Thousand Years of Apocalypse 20:1-6 has a variety of options. If one interprets the years as a literal time period, he has three possibilities for its placement in history: (1) the past, (2) the present or (3) the future.

After some more explanation, Robert then outlines six common schemes for interpreting the 'thousand years'. These include:

1) Past/Literal
2) Present/Literal
3) Future/Literal
4) Past/Symbolic
5) Present/Symbolic
6) Future/Symbolic

Which he relates to different Biblical events- especially the first and second coming of Christ. Some people choose a literal time from David's reign until the the coming of Christ (or the destruction of the temple), i.e., #1. Many protestant's choose #3, i.e., Christ literally rules for 1000 years after his second coming, etc. The Church, solidly starting with Augustine and through the current Vatican Catechism, have traditionally accepted #5- present symbolic. Though some early fathers held #3, the Church has stated that it "can not be taught safely" (Pius XII).

The importance of the thousand years is that this is the time period in which Satan is bound (in the bottomless pit), and during which the two beasts "deceive the nations" in his stead. In the standard Catholic interpretation, this symbolic thousand years (i.e., a very long time starting at the first coming) is the Church age. Basically, prior to Christ's sacrifice, Satan was able to stand between God and man. It was basically impossible for man to attain salvation. This is why the saints of the Old Testament had to wait in Hades for Christ's sacrifice. At Christ's sacrifice, Satan was defeated, and bound in the bottomless pit. This was God's plan to recover from Adam and Eve's failure in the Garden. This plan was written on the scroll with seven seals, and only the Lamb of God was worthy to unseal the plan and carry it out. And carry it out he is doing, now, in the Church age. At the cross Satan was defeated, but it was not over. Satan was bound in the bottomless pit to allow the Church time to evangalize and spread the gospel to all mankind. Though bound, Satan was still able to act indirectly through his intermediaries- the two beasts. These agents of Satan have acted throughout Church history creating wars and in various ways deceiving the nations. Those who are sealed by God (baptized) have grace to stand firm against the beasts (though not all do), but many who are not will be deceived and follow. For a short while just prior to the second coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead, the dragon (Satan) will be released again from the pit to wage war against the Church. The book says of the beasts:

In Ap 13:14 John says that the pseudo-lamb will demand "bidding them make an image for the Beast which was wounded by the sword and yet lived." We might compare this to similar instances recorded in the Old Testament...John may purposely be trying to stir up these Old Testament scenes in our minds in order to indicate the goal of the Second Beast. After he has deceived the world with pleasantries and pseudo-miracles, his main goal is to have the people give their full allegiance to the First Beast, for he is the one with the seven heads, the brains and muscle behind the Dragon’s [Satan bound in the pit- Mark] false gospel. We could say that each of its heads symbolizes some form of intellectual control over the world. One head could represent worldly philosophy. A second head could represent world politics. A third could represent world finance. A fourth might be atheistic science, etc. This is not to say that these disciplines are evil in themselves or detrimental to man, but only that any discipline that does not incorporate Christian principles at its foundation is essentially anti-Christian or atheistic, and thus will be used against Christianity. Whatever means the first Beast can use to draw people away from the Christian Gospel, he will use. He knows, of course, that the most productive means of swaying them is by intellectual persuasion, the same technique he used against Eve in the Garden of Eden.

In turn, the people of the world "worship" the Beast by sacrificing themselves to its cause. In practical terms, for example, they sacrifice their families to divorce and adultery; their babies to abortion; their bodies to drugs, alcohol and pornography; their homes and property to usury and unjust taxes; their souls to godless art and music; their minds to anti-Christian philosophies and sciences, etc. So successful is the campaign of the Second Beast to bring the people to worship the First Beast that, as John says: "and the whole earth followed the Beast with wonder" and "they worshiped the Beast, saying, ‘Who is like the Beast and able to wage war with him?’" (Ap 13:3-4).

Standing against the beast:

The only institution that will be waging war against the Beast is the Church, and particularly her faithful members. But the Beast will do his best to silence them, either by persecution or death. As John writes in Ap 13:15: "to cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain." In the history of the Christian church, persecution from the world has been the norm. The bloodthirsty emperors of Rome, many of whom deified themselves and required worship from the populace, dominated the first three centuries. After the fall of Rome, the Muslims came into power in the 600s, persecuting and killing Christians for the next 800 years. Afterward, numerous man-made movements sought to replace Christianity as the dominant authority of the world, including the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Communism, Capitalism, Deism, Nihilism, Nazism, Masonry, Militarism, Scientism, and Pan-Religionism. They all played their part in ridiculing and trying to stamp out Christianity wherever and whenever they could. In the last century, there has been more persecution of Christianity than at any time in history, thus, the onslaught of the Beast has not only remained, it has increased, preparing the way for the loosening of Satan for his "little time" (Ap 20:3). This is the reality of life, and John is telling it to us in the starkest of terms. If mankind, perchance, is in a time of peace and there is no persecution in our little corner of the world, this is highly unusual, for such havens do not last very long before they are overtaken by the Beast.

And of the "Image of the Beast":

In Ap 13:15 John tells us that the Second Beast "gives breath" to the image being worshiped. The Second Beast even makes the first "speak." Obviously, this is no ordinary image. Such bodily animations symbolize that the image of the Beast will be an active, functioning, multiplying and growing entity. The image of the Beast will articulate its ideas and have the power of persuasion. Practically speaking, we can see this power of persuasion in the world today as the "image" propagates its anti-Christian message through books, newspapers, magazines, computers, internet, music, art, architecture, movies, television, billboards, speeches, lectures, pamphlets, stamps, memorials, money, libraries, schools, colleges, universities, institutions, merchandise, etc. Almost all of these mediums are anti-Christian at the core and all "breathe" and "speak" as the "image of the Beast."

These brief excerpts make it clear that the traditional Catholic view indicate that we are currently in a spiritual battle against the minions of Satan, and that the "world" is really stacked against the Church and its spreading of the gospel. This is inconvenient for some who want to reach out to the world or who do not want to have trouble with the world. Relegating the Apocalypse to some past event (i.e., Jewish history through Christ's first coming) becomes a more convenient package for such purposes. Fortunately Benedict XVI, who is open to some dialogue, states he wants to do so in "The Spirit of Truth".

The book is 536 pages, which includes the text of the Apocalypse (RSV), plus verse by verse commentary explaining what all the symbols mean. Following the standard Catholic interpretation, the Apocalypse is broken into seven dramas (seven being highly symbolic nunber). Each drama starts with the first coming of Christ and ends with the second coming. Each drama is the same story told from a different perspective. Related Old Testament prophcies- especially Daniel, but also Ezekial, Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, and others and New Testament prophecies are worked in as appropriate.

I highly reccomend this book to all who truly want to understand [what we do know] about God's plan, and how it is actually carried out on earth and in heaven in the current age.

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