Saturday, 30 January 2016

Unveiling the Apocalypse, by Emmett O'Regan

Emmett O'Regan, Unveiling the Apocalypse: Prophecy in the Catholic Tradition, 2011 Seraphim Press, Belfast

There are not many readily available Catholic books on eschatology or Bible prophecy, so in a sense this Catholic treatment of the field is rather welcome. However, it is unfortunately a rather awful book.

The author recognizes the value of Preterist interpretation of such things as the Abomination of Desolation and the identity of Antichrist, yet he sees a double layering of prophecy in Scripture. Thus even where a satisfactory preterist interpretation can be found, he then switches to historicist or futurist interpretation to provide a double fulfillment. There is a great danger of subjectivism in this approach and I think it is hermeneutically unsound. The book of Revelation is a letter written to seven first century churches. It was addressing their concerns. Why would the author of the apocalypse brought up topics of future history that had no relevance to the original readers?

O'Regan criticises Dispensational Premillennialism. Unfortunately, he advocates sensational and speculative interpretations that make the more sensible Dispensationalists at Dallas Theological Seminary look very balanced and intellectually respectable. The most bizarre of these is his conclusion that internet phones are the mark of the beast. This seems a radical conclusion. If this is so, are we to think that everyone who owns such a phone is damned, as the Revelation seems to imply the damnation of those who receive the mark of the beast? He has his reasons for arguing this conclusion, but could one not make a case just as easily, with equal technophobia, that wrist watches are the mark of the beast? After all people wear them on their hands, and they control and guide the actions of the wearer.

Aside from his criticism of Dispensationalists in the introduction, O'Regan does not interact very much with writers who interpret prophecy in a different fashion. There is also little historiography here. It would have been helpful for our author to put his interpretations into a bit more context by offering more of an overview of historical Catholic approaches to Bible prophecy.

O'Regan's message is one of doom and gloom, that we should be expecting the antichrist and the increasing power of Satan and evil in the world. Is this what a Christian should expect? If Christ has ascended on to His throne of glory and all authority and power is His, I would suggest that we should expect the triumph of the Kingdom of God in the world and the conversion of all peoples to Christ. The cosmic victory of Christ over the powers of evil must have some impact on history.

It is important to understand that the Bible does not view the last days as a short period of years before Christ returns. The Bible teaches us that the last days began with the coming of Christ. It does not give us any indication that this period can be subdivided into periods during which Christ or Satan has dominance, as O'Regan seems to think. We should instead see the steady victory of Christ and His Church unfold into history.

A great danger of the kind of Apocalypticism that O'Regan advocates is that it can lead to a distrust of the magisterium of the Church. If we are awaiting the antichrist, then any wobbly statement from the Pope or councils can be taken as a sign that the Catholic Church is being overcome by antichrist. This could lead to great confusion. In fairness to O'Regan, he shows the utmost loyalty to the magisterium of the Church, yet some readers could easily fall into the trap of reading prophetic events into the contemporary circumstances of the Catholic Church.

One difficulty in evaluating this book is the heavy use of private revelations. It's difficult to know what to do with these non-authoritative revelations. I do think some of the Fatima prophecies support an optimistic Postmillennial view. Are we going to see the conversion of Russia and an age of peace? Will Our Lady's Immaculate Heart triumph? Those thinks sound very optimistic.

I fear that a lot of Catholics who read this book will be unfamiliar with the field of Bible prophecy and are likely to be carried away by the alarmist apocalyptic speculations of the author. I would recommend readers to have a look at Protestant writers such as Kenneth Gentry, Keith Mathison and Douglas Wilson who take a Preterist and Postmillennial approach to eschatology. We cannot always agree with them on every point, but I think their approach is sensible and reflects the hope and optimism that should fill the hearts of Christians.

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