Book Write-Up: Instigators of the Apocalypse

Kevin Timothy O’Kane.  Instigators of the Apocalypse: How Those with False Interpretations of the Book of Revelation Influenced Wars and Revolutions in the History of Western Civilization.  Kevin Timothy O’Kane, 2014.  See here to buy the book.

Kevin Timothy O’Kane has degrees from Bethany Bible College and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  In Instigators of the Apocalypse, O’Kane argues that certain views of the Book of Revelation have had profoundly negative consequences.  Essentially, O’Kane adheres to a futuristic and premillennial approach to biblical eschatology, one that waits for Jesus to return and set up a millennium of justice and peace.  Throughout history, however, there have been prominent strands of Christianity that have emphasized human effort in setting up the millennium or in preparing the way for Jesus.  They believed that the faithful needed to challenge the one they believed was the Antichrist, that they had to set up a golden age before Christ returns, or that they had to convert the ends of the earth to Christianity to prepare the way for Jesus.  The historical result, O’Kane argues, has been persecution, violent political conflict, and oppression.  O’Kane extensively discusses the role of eschatology in the history of Christianity, and also within aspects of modern-day Islam.

Overall, O’Kane makes his case effectively.  I do not think that premillennialism necessarily entails love for enemies, whereas postmillennialism and amillennialism have to entail hatred for enemies.  My impression is that there is a desire for divine punishment in some of the works that O’Kane would identify as premillennial (i.e., the Book of Revelation), and there are beautiful things about love for enemies in works that, according to O’Kane, contain a problematic eschatology (i.e., Augustine).  Notwithstanding this, I tend to agree with O’Kane that there are practical differences between waiting for Christ to return to set up the millennium, and people feeling that they have some role in initiating the apocalypse or the millennium themselves.  At least those with the former approach will be more likely to wait for God to judge their enemies rather than trying to do so themselves!

At the same time, I would say that there can be negative consequences to futuristic premillennialism, and positive consequences to postmillennialism.  Futuristic premillennialism can influence people not to care about doing anything to address the problems of their world, since Jesus will come back and fix things anyway.  Postmillennialism, on the other hand, can encourage a concern about social justice.  O’Kane appears to acknowledge this in a few places, as when he talks about Savonarola’s passion for justice for the vulnerable, and when he briefly critiques John Nelson Darby for encouraging Christians to have a passive approach towards the world.  O’Kane would have done well, however, to have included a larger discussion of this issue.

Another criticism that I have concerns O’Kane’s approach towards the church father Irenaeus.  O’Kane states that he favors an eschatology more consistent with the thinking of Irenaeus, and he notes that Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the apostle, indicating that this church father “stood as a link in the apostolic tradition and interpretation.”  But, even when drawing from Irenaeus in speculating about who the Antichrist could be, O’Kane does not interact with Irenaeus’ statement that the Antichrist will come from the Israelite tribe of Dan, or Irenaeus’ apparent belief that the end times related somehow to his own historical context, in which the Roman empire was relevant (Against Heresies 5.25-26, 30).  If Irenaeus’ eschatology is somehow authoritative for Christians, should not these things be addressed or engaged, even if they may pose difficulties when one attempts to apply Irenaeus’ eschatology to today?

There are many positive aspects to O’Kane’s book.  O’Kane is a compelling narrator when it comes to history.  While his historical details may sometimes be a distraction from his thesis about eschatology, they do provide background information, and they would be useful to those who want to learn or to teach history.  While O’Kane’s endnotes contain a few oddities or things with which I disagree (i.e., possible speculation about an original Sumerian book of Enoch, and asking if a prominent Catholic bishop’s acceptance of homosexuality is leading the Catholic church to a libertine attitude towards sexuality, like that of the Nicolaitans), O’Kane in his endnotes is, overall, very scholarly and judicious.  He engages and critiques liberal scholarship, evaluates historical claims, and discusses interesting topics, such as congregationalist and episcopate models of church governance in early Christianity.  Those who want a critique of Candida Moss’ Myth of Persecution may find O’Kane’s discussion to be valuable.

Overall, as one who is interested in eschatology and Christian history, I am glad to have read this book.

The publisher sent me a complimentary review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

UPDATE: O’Kane sent me a thoughtful response to my review and has given me permission to publish it here.  See here to read his comments.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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