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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Blogger Laurence Gonzaga said...

This was the topic of the 6th Annual Catholic Biblical Conference here in Riverside, CA last year... It was on Revelation or the End Times... I went to the Central California Eucharistic Conference instead with Fr. Mitch Pacwa... Great time...

PS- I wish I would have learned something, if it werent for such a small media technician brain, :-(

Friday, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The early church fathers nearly all believed in a some sort of 1000 year period (for instance St. Justine Martyr). St. Augustine is the reason for the novel amillenial view becoming predominant over the literal view. He spiritualized the 1000 year period, without reference to what it literally was. Without a literal references for Revelation's writings, spiritualization can take on the beliefs of the "Left Behind" believers, who clearly don't understand the book. Authorities who can't deal with the literal meaning, and make appeals to persons no longer available as authorities aren't authorities, they are whiners, whose appeal will go unanswered. When you go spiritualize the text like amillenialists do, you start getting people spiritualizing other parts of the Bible, for example Hell: "Hell is a metphor, not a real eternal punishment" -- That is how these false doctrines get started... Poor understanding of the literalness of the scriptures (this isn't a reflection on St. Augustine) and poor understanding of what reasonable Church teaching is, and you have a new group of heretics. We need to root people in what the author meant before they spiritualize the meaning. Amillenialism is consistent with a 1000 year period that ended about the time the Church was formed. Either the period 1003 BC, (entrance of the ark in Jerusalem) to 2BC (Nativity of Christ) or to 70 AD (temple destruction) less the Babylon Captivity (70 years) fulfills this. If you can come up with a better 1000 year period let's see it. Otherwise you can spiritualize the Davidic Kingdom BC to the David Kingdom ruled by Jesus. I think that's what St. Augustine and other amillenialists do, they just didn't explicitly tell anyone what the 1000 year period literally was (if they even know). Since the only view the Church has actually explicitly taught not viable is the premillenial futuristic view of the "Left Behind" types and the view espoused by Barber/Hahn et al is incompatible with the "Left Behind" view, we can use it to show that they have concocted an incorrect spiritual interpretation (esp. given Rev 1:1). Preterists who spiritualize history and amillenialists are actually on the same page, amillenialists just don't know it. Amillenialism isn't the only theology the Church allows on this issue, and treating the early Church Fathers as if they don't exist is shameful.

Thursday, July 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By far the best book I have read on the subject is The Book of Destiny by Fr. Herman B. Kramer. Written between 1930s and 1950s

Never read anything else that comes close to his analysis.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007  
Blogger James Rinkevich said...

And St. Augustine view of the 1000 years has never been defined as the only or even the best way to interpret the text. The view being espoused by Hahn/Barber et al was actually an original interpretation by a Catholic monk. Protestants have furthered the theory but often loose the spiritual exegesis that should be performed on the literal events, which often creates gaps in the their theories.

Sunday, October 28, 2012  

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