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.