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Looks Like We've Been Left Behind ... Again
Lessons from the Camping rapture scare
Most Americans dread Monday mornings, but it’s safe to say that no one is languishing more this morning than Harold Camping. The 89-year-old Christian radio broadcaster
San Francisco Chronicle
yesterday that he had “a really tough weekend.” Camping created a media firestorm with his prediction Jesus would return and the world would end last Saturday. The “rapture,” as it’s known among Christians, didn’t happen, as both Camping and the world are still very much here. But the whole debacle leaves us wondering what, if anything, we can learn from this.
[WATCH: Gabe Lyons addresses rapture scare on Good Morning America.]
If you grew up in evangelical homes like we did, rapture-talk isn’t new to you. Evangelical pastors preach sensational end times sermon series, while their churches put on fear-inducing apocalyptic experiences during Halloween. The sense of urgency generated by this trend in American Christianity has created armies of evangelizers and hordes of Christian teens rushing to get that magical first kiss. They need to beat Jesus to the punch.
In such a context, so-called “prophets” thrive. Who could forget Hal Lindsey’s 1970 best-selling book
The Late, Great Planet Earth
or his follow-up,
1980s: Countdown to Armageddon
, that predicted, “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it”? Of course, California mega-church pastor Chuck Smith also
Jesus would return “before the end of 1981”? And what about controversy-prone Pat Robertson’s rock-solid “guarantee” that the end of the world was coming in October or November 1982? None of their predictions panned out, and for a time it seemed that Christians had learned their lesson.
Harold Camping apparently did not. He first predicted that the end would come in 1994, but when Jesus stood him up, he changed his calculations to May 21, 2011. Laughable as it seems, Camping’s “prophecy” drew a following much like the predictions of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Stories of believers who made devastating financial sacrifices to get the word out about the impending May 21 rapture have flooded the Internet. The
Colorado Springs Gazette
on a woman who paid $1,200 to buy advertising space on bus benches to help get the message out.
New York Daily News
of Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent $140,000 of his life savings on an ad campaign warning the world of the prediction.
Stories like these make the comical Camping situation terribly saddening. Saturday came and went, but Jesus didn’t. Now thousands of apocolypt-o-philes have to return to their jobs to face the ridicule of friends and co-workers. Camping will likely recalibrate and move forward like he did in 1994, but we can only wonder how many of his disciples’ faiths are in a shambles today.
Is this merely another slow news media blip that wasted our collective time or can we learn from such an embarrassment and tragedy?
It seems this charade provides both Christians and the watching world with a teachable moment. Christians need to recognize that fear-based conversion tactics may work on young children, but they rarely resolve rational thinkers’ long-term concerns about faith. Those who went running for the rapture must now sit to wrestle with the serious questions that plagued them before. We must learn that it’s easy to rile people up with future headlines of destruction, but it’s better to inspire people with God’s will for our lives in the present.
When Christians succumb to thinking that sees escape as the answer to the world’s brokenness, we know we’ve taken a wrong turn. Jesus didn’t shrink from talking about future realities, but it’s hard to ignore that he spent the majority of his life restoring brokenness, rather than running from it. Christians often become so focused on the afterlife that they stop investing in their current life. Harold Camping will have done us all a favor if this serves as a wake-up call to Christian escapists and fear-peddlers.
The often-skeptical watching world must also understand that most Christians thought this was a crock, too. As the reports of the rapture scare rolled in, we too shook our heads in embarrassment. On Saturday, most believers didn’t dress up in white robes and wait for Jesus in their front lawns. We ran errands, bathed our children and laughed with friends. The hysteria generated by this fringe group shouldn’t distort non-believers’ understandings of the Christian faith.
Fortunately, a new generation of Christians are shedding the end times obsession for a faith that focuses more on Christ’s calling on our lives in the here and now. They still hope for a day when Jesus will fully restore this broken world, but they are working to promote human flourishing and the common good in the meantime. As these Christians come of age, we can only hope this rapture scare will be the last one we’ll see.
Harold Camping told the
he was “flabbergasted” that Jesus was a no-show, but we weren’t. We’ve seen predictions like this many times before. Now that we’ve all been left behind by another ordinary weekend that didn’t turn out to be the last days, let’s reconsider how to make meaning out of our present ones.
How interested are you personally in end times prophecy? What did you think of the Harold Camping situation?
Editor's Note: The artwork above was produced by Tim Bower Illustration.
This article first ran with
Washington Post's "On Faith."
We should learn to trust Scripture...no man knows the hour or the day. If we'd just concentrate on what we ARE called to do as followers of Christ...Go and Make disciples...we'd be better off and the global community in general would be as well. We should stay focused on the goal of following Christ's mandate to do the things He did and to Love God and Love Others. The rapture and it's timing will happen exactly when God wants it to.
Nicely written article. As to my own response, every time I catch myself wishing for Jesus to come back and restore this broken world, I remember that we are His hands, we are His feet, and we are the ones who need to work the restoration in His name. I believe that is the way in which Jesus will return to earth.
Remember that in almost every case of Biblical prophecy, the fulfillment of that prophecy did not look like anyone expected. The return of Christ will probably be no different in this respect.
This could have been a well-written article, as Gabe and Jonathan have done before. Unfortunately, it disappoints with cheap shots and lack of nuance. For instance, they write: "Evangelical pastors preach sensational end times sermon series, while their churches put on fear-inducing apocalyptic services during Halloween." The implication: To be evangelical is to use fanatical methods. Please. I and millions of other evangelicals and leaders gladly ascribe to evangelical tenets without being married to these methods. To place everyone in the same boat is simply irresponsible. A simple "Some" at the beginning of that sentence - at least some kind of qualifier - is more than called for. Q can do better.
Secondly, let's not pit our cultural mandate (being restorative people who strive for human flourishing) against our gospel mandate (being people convinced of the gospel and its urgent implications lasting into eternity). Because some have been out-of-balance doesn't mean that the pendulum must swing wildly to the other side. We can walk and chew gum at the same time ... and we should be able to do the same in our Christian testimony. Let us strive to be a blessing to the world we live in, and yet always ready for the life to come. That includes making others aware of the eternal reality, even though we don't know the day or hour. I'm concerned that as a "new generation of Christians are shedding the end times obsession", they may be shedding an awareness of the end times at all. Let's not let irresponsible predictions of the future blind us to the reality of its coming.
I very much agree with the article. However, a quote from C.S. Lewis keeps coming to mind that seems to offer a good perspective on such things:
"If you read history you will find the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next . . . it is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in [affecting this one]. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither." - C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.
Thanks for your comments. I feel like I need to address some of your concerns.
First, the sentence to which you refer would have been tighter with a "some" at the beginning in hindsight. Of course, the "some" is assumed in the sentence construction. No serious reader would think that we are stating that all evangelical pastors globally are preaching these sermon series, etc. If I were to write, "African tigers stalk their prey" you might argue that only "some" do. You could point out that some African tigers live in captivity or even that young ones in the wild feed off the meat brought by their parents. You'd be right, but the sentence would not be false. It would just be less precise.
Also, you assume too much when you say, "The implication: To be evangelical is to use fanatical methods." Not only is that never implied in this piece, it's not even hinted at. We state that the evangelical context makes itself susceptible to these sorts of situations. Of course, we are not the first to point out that evangelicalism--especially in its independent, low church expressions--is naturally open to such things. Many scholars have made the same arguments.
Lastly, I think we need to point out that the gospel mandate was not in question in this article. To assume otherwise is to read into this piece something that is not there. What was being discussed was not Camping's gospel preaching, but rather his apocalyptic predictions. As I read this piece, I don't see any such tension built between the cultural and gospel mandates in scripture, both of which we would recognize.
Thanks again for your comments.
The following is just a poem- weird... maybe... but observations upon a dream last night (as is often the context of my personal poetry). The dream involved watching the creation unfold- Holy Spirit above the waters etc... man's depravity and fallen nature, God's covenants (the old and Christ written upon the heart), the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and our alertedness... as "We Wait" for His return... I'm no theologian- just a back-slidden misfit who has NEVER marched to the beat of "the church"- only, The Christ. I DO profess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour-to the glory of God the Father... I pray to re-establish trust of other believers- primarily, its "leaders" (amongst the southern baptist convention in particular).
As I await that glorious sleep and/or the division of that temporary sky; I endeavor to live as authentic a "Way-Follower" as possible- I'm not perfect, just forgiven etc... I know that despite the misinformation of the misguided- "...all things work together to the good of those who love the Lord..."
"We Wait..." by Matthew H. Thomason
Thumbs wrench into deepest red, hollowed, clay and toothless skull. Time began with eyes gouged- clinging, dangling bulbous orbs split upon the ethers of vaporous sky and fathomless depths- sphere upon sphere- the Holy pilgrim phantom dancing upon the Piper's haunted commands... "Let there be light!"
Apparition dissolved, miracles absolved, anger brewing, hatred stewing as fists pounded their fervently emptied worship upon the sun. Sadness imbued, Earthward attentions subdued, utter depravities renewed- upon the Creator's furrowed and angered brow rested the tensious flaw and superior salve-
"Thou shalt NOT..." quakened and trembled lips. Asleep upon the sustination of selfish respites and the decadent fruits of embattlements, wars and histories- Mankind curled warmly- intoxicated slumber- the downe-feather, silken rouse of his own demise.
Love, rendered useless, bows His head in grief and hope. Soldiers, priests and heathens saught approval and delight in the brutal entrapment and annhialation of Perfection and Majesty. The sun wept. The stars turned hasty retreat. The Earth shook and spewed forth her disdain. Death verified upon the head of a spear- blood and water flowed, mingling down- darkest, thickest, crimson curtain torn- ripped at the seams of fearful and apprehensive hypocrites.
Guarded, vibrant explosion of the inexplicable- a young woman bore witness to the newly tendered, furtive and voluptuous garden. Angels soothingly harkened to melodious victory upon the Piper's most exqusite, un-Earthly and enchanting instruments. Purity took flight to prepare the feast... and in glorious chamber of grace and mercy; we wait...aye, we wait...
This video was showcased by the Documentary Channel last week:
I keep thinking of the person portrayed in the film and wonder how he's doing. Is he still searching? Has he perhaps abandoned the hope of finding true salvation? Maybe in the process he did. I wonder.
"By their fruits ye shall know them," I've been thinking today.
The fruit of Camping:
One very big, wrong prediction, and all the consequences of that. But I wouldn't accuse him of scare-mongering. Having listened to him for many years, I see a strikingly calm fellow who on his programs responds to aggressive callers with calmness and deliberation.
Family Radio itself, too, even while telling of horrors to come, kept and keeps a peaceful sound going, without any of the suprasegmental and non-verbal features of alarmism. Even the billboards, I could easily imagine a much more fear-inducing design.
I see a man who's volunteered full-time for 50 years doing a job so big, I wouldn't want to do it if you paid me. One of his neighbors called the Campings "hardworking people". In fact, Family Radio's financials show an outstanding loan *from* him to Family Radio.
I see a man who has lived way past a normal lifespan and still has his most of his faculties. Usually in our culture, this calls forth a sense of awe and the question, "What's your secret?"
The fruit of atheist and allied opponents:
Mocking. Jeering. Ridicule. In at least one case, severe vandalism. The mocking reached such a high level that it actually rose to the level of partying on Saturday night.
I've heard him called awful names, some obscene.
All this from people who claim to adhere to critical thinking and reason.
I'm a born-again Christian concerned with making myself a better human being. I want to be more peaceable, rational, loving, patient, and more, because those are the "fruit of the Spirit". So which of these two schools do you suppose I'd choose to learn more from?
Answer: I'll remain a Family Radio fan. And I'll blithely ignore anything they say about Last Things.
I've lived 65 years, most as the member of evangelical churches. I've heard the rhetoric described in your piece and my response as always been and is now: "We will meet the Holy God of the ages. It may be when He comes to earth or when I die. Either way, I will have to answer for the way I have responded to Him while He gave me life on this earth. That should be our main concern."
I agree Pat... just a youngin here : ) Yes Sir. (Steve) We all need to feel important, have a purpose (scriptural), serve a greater good than ourselves (especially as Christians and at any and all ages [I really love reading about the lives of Moses, Abraham and others' for whom God had PLENTY of work, particularly in their latter years...])...
So, yet another superfluous observation here- (of which I am personally and HIGHLY responsible)- DISCIPLESHIP. hmmm... the Holy Spirit is tenderizing my heart right now as I type, cloudy-eyed and tearful... with utmost sincerity... Jesus, please forgive me- Lord, break MY heart...break OUR hearts... help us to comprehend and effectively communicate the love you have...the love you so freely gave, the depth, heighth, breadth of that love... keep us searching even beyond the 1st gaze of our newborne sight into your literal face on "that day"- your eyes... Lord, help me to pick myself up by the boot-straps and get on with that simplicity you provided... Upon acceptance of Jesus Christ; I pledged to love YOU with ALL my heart, soul and strength- to love my neighbor as/and myself... please don't let me fail...help me burst through obstacles with the force and intensity of eternal storm- with the strength, gentility and grace of a placid mountain lake...Lord please allow me to recognize every moment with which to love any and ALL others- provide and educate- the rules are simple, Father... let me NOT complicate with irrelevant bunk... Help me to be ever vigilant in my responsibilities to YOU come your return or my death. Help me to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, heal the sick, share the Gospel message. Help me to love those you have set in authority, help me to be obedient, patiently and righteously subservient and re-kindle my passion for other believers...Lord, please... if I don't love others... I'm not worthy of YOU- may it be that I'm ever forgiving, compassionate, "slow to anger, abounding in love" and willing to accept correction- iron to iron I am yours Father God... In Jesus' name I pray without ceasing...
I have to agree with the commenter, Micheal, that we shouldn't be pointing fingers from our left hand to try and make a point about the wrongful use of our right hand. If we are truly one body then the same blood flows from the left to the right hand.
Jonathan I appreciate what you are doing at Q but there is a subtle "us against them" mentality with Q and evangelicals that I sense, and like Micheal said; I think Q can do better than that. I'm sure the evangelicals are as guilty or more of this kind of judgmental inspecting of the "other" hand and I'm sorry for that but I think if Q is going to rise higher they must take the higher road and then you will get support from both hands.
Now to your question, If I am interested in end times prophesy; yes, as it pertains to the word of God, but I am also interested in a balanced life and a balanced approach to reading the word of God.
I do not know Mr. Camping so I can only speculate about how he was misled, whether he is a false prophet and listened to the wrong voice in his head or just someone who didn't lead a balanced life and simply had to many voices in his head. But either way there will always be Mr. Campings and dysfunctional immature misfits to follow them. The media is all to willing to sensationalize anything that will make Christians look simpler and less educated and that is just a fact of Christian life. But one Thing I know is that God is not surprised by people like Camping and even thou we might feel that Camping has damaged the cause of Christ, God has the power to convert that negative energy into his own power grid and bring new light into areas of darkness. God refers to us as sheep and It is important to read the word of God so at least we are not just dumb sheep that will follow anyone but sheep that recognize the voice of the Shepard who is our Lord and follow without hesitation.
None of us knows when the world will end (Jesus said so in the Bible)
I look at Harold Camping and I wonder what on earth possessed him to risk everything, his life savings, his reputation....everything....if he was wrong.
Then it dawned on me: God. God possessed him.
Harold Camping's media air strike was commissioned within all modern parameters: A news story has to be apocalyptic for EVERYone to pay attention.
Good news? We opt out. Local broadcasts have known this for years: "if it bleeds, it leads". Human interest stories are tacked onto the end of the newscast like a passing thought.
How does an 89 year old man battle the powers and principalities who shape our perceptions through electronic media?
So. As things stand today in 2011 I would say Harold Camping achieved a miracle.
For an instant in time, he put the word God in front of the minds of more non-believers than anyone else has done in history. (billions)
It’s not the end of the world. Of course not.
It’s the end of the world as we've known it.
Hans, in his comment above, reminds us of C.S. Lewis' observation that the most effective Christians are those whose eyes are on heaven. What is it, then, to have our eyes on heaven? Jesus taught that the Kingdom is available here and now. How do we seek it? Am I dead, or am I alive in this moment? Am I fully living in connection with Him, so that His love guides what I say, think, do? These are questions of living.
Martha, if our priority is on serving God who we cannot see then we must acknowledge that another spirit realm exists and is good for us to ponder. The essence of faith lies in the hope and confidence of the unseen. To meditate on a God in heaven who we believe is this magnificent Creator and conductor of the cosmos. To worship this all powerful, unfathomable being, and to be aware that we are but foreigners of this physical plane, a mere wisp of vapor compared with eternity. With anticipation of our spiritual abode with our loving heavenly father that will last forever is what I think C.S. Lewis was referring to when he said to have our eyes on Heaven.
In Mathew 19:21 Jesus said "if you want to be perfect then go and sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me". I think Jesus is telling us to be concerned about others while at the same time to be focused on where our priority and purpose should be. Then he reminds us that "where our treasure is there our heart will be also".
Mathew 6:19 Jesus says "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy".
Ralph Waldo Emerson says it this way "All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen"
Our "beings" are complex, partly physical and partly spiritual and to be fully alive we need to live successfully in both worlds. God has formed us to worship him, that is our real purpose and yet we cannot be like him if we don't actively love our fellow man.
In my opinion one of the most beautiful things of the Christian faith is when we surrender our lives to a God we cannot see and continue to pursue him, he in turn gives us the freedom to pursue the life of our dreams by loving our fellow man as only we can do, each in our own unique way.
To have our eyes on heaven is not to deny this life but to fulfill it.
Inga bubba chubba
In the '70s and d80s, Harold Camping was the soul of orthodoxy and careful handling of the Bible and Christian doctrine. Sitting in an old chair, with a threadbare "Mr Rogers" sweater and a beat up Thompson Chain Study Bible, he received calls from every type of false religion and gently but firmly pulled them back to the evangelical center. A garden variety Dutcn Reformed Calvinist, and solidly evangelical, he was the anti-cult. Especially on point here is that he would never let anyone try to set a date for the second coming. Then, in the late 80s or early'90s, he began to say some off beat things with regard to a dating the Bible system, and at about that time we moved to a part of the country that had no Family Radio stations, and moved on. Then the 1994 business made us sad and gave us a cautionary tale to tell. And now of course, Mr. Camping has really gone off the deep end. What a shame for him, what a shame for his followers, and what an embarrassment to the Faith.
Mr. Jeff Nelson (via your response to Martha)- wonderfully conveyed. There is much to ponder there... thank you.
Yes, Jeff Nelson's comment is wonderful. Thank you for your thoughts.
As a Catholic Christian, I believe the Church will be a "raptured" i.e. taken up to meet the Lord, at His Second Coming, (not in some secret coming which would make the 2nd Coming mentioned in the bible, actually a 3rd Coming.) However, the rapture it won't be like anything Harold Camping or others of his ilk predict. The "Rapture" doctrine is very new, only being taught since the 1800's. Which is evident of the need for One Church and One authority guided by the Holy Spirit to lead us into Truth and keep us safe from error. That said, I find many of the comments here intelligent and very thoughtful and I even agree with quite few. But we can't just trust "Scriptue" alone, for that's what Harold did, and so many others do who don't want any authority other than 'themselves.' Therein lies the danger of 'going off the deep end." Jesus built a Church, His Church and He promised to never leave it. It never could have gone off the rails or become 'fully corrupted' by men, or Jesus would be a liar. Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church,to instruct her and lead her into ALL TRUTH. Therefore His Church must still be around, and it is! But it's not just a nebulous body of 'believers' who all believe their 'own way' and thus make truth "relative." My 'rapture' could happen tonight on the road in a car accident or in my sleep, as it came to my sister-in-law last month, who lost consciousness in her sleep and never regained it, dying 4 days later. It's best that we prepare for our OWN meeting with Jesus our Judge, for we all have to give an account to Him but we know not the day or hour, month or year! So it's best to let HIM take care of the 'end of the world' and not focus on that, but as Pat so wisely wrote above: "Either way, I will have to answer for the way I have responded to Him while He gave me life on this earth. That should be our main concern."
God bless you.
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