Thursday, May 26, 2011

Camping At The End Of Time: Some Reflections And Reactions (OK OK a rant)

"Saturday 6:15 am. up too early still it's not the end of the world..." this was my (somewhat) witty facebook status for May 21st 2011. It was partly because I was amazed that I was up so early on a Saturday morning (and on line) and a response to Harold Camping's failed prediction that the world would end on May 21st, starting with massive earthquakes here in New Zealand.

Camping of course had predicted the end of the world once before and after that date failed to bring this about has replied that he'd made an error in his maths. Now he is saying that because of God's mercy the end has been postponed till October 21st. we did have a spiritual judgement apparently on May 21st.

Sometimes being a Christian means having to deal with a real 'cringe factor'. In this case its like having your family judged by that eccentric old uncle that every one know to ignore at family gatherings.

Here are some thoughts from me on this whole event.

1. Camping seems to have based his predictions of a secret code he discovered after 50 years of studying the bible. This really is more akin to a new Gnosticism or even a cabalist approach to scripture rather than a hermeneutics that wrestles with understand the plain text. It shows a preoccupation with dates and the future rather than understanding scripture in its context and how it is to be applied today. Such things maybe spectacular and make for good ratings for TV or radio (you just have to look at the string of Apocalyptic films being produced by Hollywood) but they put Biblical scholarship on the same fanciful and speculative level as 'the Di Vinci code'.

2. In a newspaper article I read on Camping, it stated that camping believed the church had already been judged and God was no longer using it in his activity in the world. This is a sure sign that Camping and his followers have head off on the road to being a cult. It means Camping no longer has to pay attention to or consider what others think. He has set himself up as the authority. However understanding scripture is a communal activity. While it is the role of someone who believes God is speaking to them to say it, it is really up to the community of faith and church to desern its truth. You could say that Biblical scholarship like other academic endeavours should be open to peer review. if you write off other opinions you loose the ability to hear what the spirit is saying to the church.

3. Camping has been able to spread his predictions and mount a campaign round the world. I was amazed to see "May 21st End Of World" posters up in New Zealand. Admittedly I just thought they were clever (well not really that clever) adverts for a new radio station starting on May 21st. However by bypassing being in a community where there is mutual accountability and being able to simply broadcast what you think without that discernment process happening has mean that Camping has been able to disseminate his material beyond the chance for people to react and respond and has therefore get financial support. This is a dangerous situation and one which is now reaping, at least in my mind, warranted ridicule.

4. We live in times of turbulence and rapid change: Times of uncertainty that have peeked peoples fears and ponderings about the end of the world. In Biblical prophecy terms people have been wrestling with the significance of the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948. We have lived with the spectre (for the first time in history) of the possibility of world end through nuclear holocaust. Scientists speak of impending doom, with such issues as climate change. We are still living through a time of when the world has and the Christian faith has suffered from PMT (That's pre (and now post Millennium Tension). remember Y2K and the apocalyptic speculations based round a computers inability to deal with the date. As i said before we seem to want to entertain ourselves with TV shows about catastrophic natural disasters and movies about alien invasion and world ending possibilities.

Along with that is the movement of the Christian faith in the western world from being in the centre (think Christendom) and from holding sway and power in society to being more on the edge and marginalised (even in that last bastion of Christendom the US) has caused some peoples minds to think 'the end is neigh' Camping speaks into that loss of power and status, at least for some a with supposedly an authoritative voice.

5. There is a misunderstanding of Biblical Prophecy that I think underpins this whole Camping thing. I have always maintained that biblical prophecy is about telling forth God's word rather than God's word fore-telling events. Instead of pointing to a soon coming chance to 'stop the world I want to get off' it invites us to radically engauge with what is going on in the world and look at living a different way, a Kingdom of God response' to everything. One of the things that the Apocalyptic literature in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament do is provide a cosmic perspective to help people suffering from oppression and persecution seeing that God is till in control and that God's purposes will triumph in the end. It is to give encouragement to keep going, keep living, and keep loving ones enemies and one another with Christ like love.

6. I am concerned about the whole approach to evangelism that says " get right with God before you die", or as we've seen with the camping media campaign get right with God because the end is neigh. I don't read that in the gospels or New Testament. Jesus invites people to come and live a new way, to be God's new people and while there is an eschatological expectation in the early church the focus was always on the last one on Jesus Christ crucified rather than faith in Christ as an insurance policy for times to come. I know that is a sweeping statement, but I would say 'get right with God before you start living', the focus being on following Jesus as the way to live in a way that makes the possibility of a new world a reality

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