Saturday, May 28, 2011

Vicissitudes of Life

“Later, as Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his followers came to be alone with him. They said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that it is time for you to come again and for this age to end?” Jesus answered, “Be careful that no one fools you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and they will fool many people. You will hear about wars and stories of wars that are coming, but don’t be afraid. These things must happen before the end comes.
Nations will fight against other nations; kingdoms will fight against other kingdoms. There will be times when there is no food for people to eat, and there will be earthquakes in different places. These things are like the first pains when something new is about to be born.
Then people will arrest you, hand you over to be hurt, and kill you. They will hate you because you believe in me. At that time, many will lose their faith, and they will turn against each other and hate each other. Many false prophets will come and cause many people to believe lies. There will be more and more evil in the world, so most people will stop showing their love for each other. But those people who keep their faith until the end will be saved. The Good News about God’s kingdom will be preached in all the world, to every nation. Then the end will come.”
Matthew 24: 3 – 14 (NCV)

In the last month or so there have been countless dissertations written in response to the controversial “Love Wins” book written by Rob Bell. In one instance there was a more than 21-page response dissecting every detail of Bell’s ‘irresponsible’ theology, and the negative and dangerous impact it would have on well meaning Truth-seekers. Rob was labeled a “dangerous heretic” and those of us who tried to suggest that, regardless of his theological position on heaven and hell, he had a lot to say worthy of consideration, were almost similarly labeled.

I was appalled to read a commentary that boldly declared, “Love doesn’t win Jesus does….” Huh? Did I miss the fine print somewhere? Doesn’t the Bible declare that God is Love? Doesn’t it emphatically state that Love covers a multitude of sin? Isn’t the Bible abundantly clear on the notion that to find eternal life you must “Love God, and love your neighbor?” If these statements are true, and indeed they are, then how does love not win? Nevertheless, some people I greatly respect in ministry sounded the alarm as to the danger that Rob Bell posed to the Gospel message. Some suggested that if he was wrestling with his own personal demons from his childhood, he should keep that wrestling to himself and not write a book about it.

And so it was that Rob Bell was consigned to the scrapheap of heretical irrelevance. Now fast forward a few weeks, and out of the woodwork comes crawling an old ‘adversary.’ The infamous Harold Camping, 89 years old, returned with his ‘doomsday prophecy’ regarding the end of the world. Harold had previously, dutifully informed a watching world that our end was slated for 1994. Since 1994 has come and gone, it’s pretty apparent that Harold miscalculated. However, “newer evidence” has assured him that this time he’s right. So confident was he in his mathematical calculations about the end of the world (the apocalyptic judgment spoken of in the Book of Revelation) being on May 21, 2011, that part of his multi-million dollar advertising campaign stated “The Bible guarantees it.”

Sadly for Harold and his agenda, May 21, 2011 has come and gone and, just like back in 1994, we’re still here. But strangely the critics who annihilated Rob Bell for his ‘misguided’ theology are noticeably quiet. Why? Are they simply selective about whom they vilify and castigate as a heretic? Or does the measure of the potential damage play a part in determining whether someone is worth writing about? In case they’ve missed some of the fallout from Harold’s ‘prophetic’ insight, let me highlight a few instances. And, oh, by the way, before I talk about the fallout from Harold’s pernicious prophesy, let me share his response to his “error in calculation.”
Harold is purported to have said, “Through chatting with a friend over what he acknowledged was a very difficult weekend, it dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, May 21 had instead been a “spiritual” Judgment Day, which places the entire world under Christ’s judgment. The globe will be completely destroyed in five months when the apocalypse comes. But because God’s judgment and salvation were completed on Saturday, there’s no point in continuing to warn people about it….The fact is there is only one kind of people who will ascend into heaven…if God has saved them they’re going to be caught up.”

So I ask you, who is more dangerous to Truth seekers, Bell or Harold? Harold states that, since the spiritual apocalypse happened on May 21, there’s no longer a need to evangelize because it’s too late for anyone who didn’t respond to the gospel before then. For the next five months until the actual apocalypse, there is no more room for salvation so it’s pointless to spread the message. Bell on the other hand, calls us to engage community in a sacrificial manner and let the love of God shine through us because “love always wins.” Yet the critics vilified Bell and are silent about Harold? I don’t get it!

Allison Warden helped organize the billboard and postcard campaigns as well as other media promotion for the May 21 rapture date in cities across the US through a website called “We Can Know.” Warden declared, “If May 21 passes and I’m still here, that means I wasn’t saved. Does that mean God’s word is inaccurate or untrue? Not at all.”

In January, an MSNBC article declared, “Marie Exley would have liked to start a family. Instead the 32-year-old Army veteran has less than six months left, which she’ll spend spreading a stark warning: Judgment Day is almost here.” The article further stated, “In August (2010) Exley left her home in Colorado Springs, Colo., to work with Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio Worldwide, the independent Christian ministry whose leader, Harold Camping, has calculated the may 21 date based on his reading of the Bible.” Finally the article says, “Exley, who said her beliefs have alienated her from most of her friends and family hopes that it is not everyone who hears her message who will mock it, and that even people who dismiss her now might still come to believe.”

Kevin Brown, a Family Radio representative, said conflict with other family members was part of the test of whether a person truly believed. “They’re going through the fiery trial each day,” he said.

Josh Ocasion, who works the teleprompter during Camping’s live broadcasts said he enjoyed the production work but never fully believed the May 21 prophecy would come through. “I thought he would show some more human decency in admitting he made a mistake,” he said in response to Camping’s statement about his miscalculations, “We didn’t really see that.”

When asked about all the devout followers and believers who had sold and given away houses, cars, and property, Camping responded, “We’re not in the business of financial advice, we’re in the business of telling people there’s someone who you can maybe talk to, maybe pray to, and that’s God.” In case you underestimate Camping’s influence and authority, you should know that in 2009 his nonprofit reported in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets in excess of $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.

Maybe the most painful story I read is the story of the Haddad family. Abby Haddad Carson left her job as a nurse so she and her husband, Robert, could go on mission trips to “sound the trumpet.” They stopped working on their house and saving for their kid’s college education. Grace Haddad, their 16-year-old daughter says, “My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven. At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.” Grace and her two other siblings have struggled to make sense of their shifting world, torn between their love for their parents and their need to understand this strange worldview.

And the stories go on and on. We could write a book on the hurt, pain, and destruction caused by Harold Camping’s message. But even after his “miscalculations” he remains stoically committed to his version of truth. He assures us that it’s too late for anyone else to get saved. If this isn’t a blatant heretical position, I don’t know what is, yet the Bell critics are silent, as if Bell’s position has done more damage for the cause of Christ than Harold’s. So look again at Matthew 24. You’ll notice that there are four prevailing themes that feature strongly in Jesus’ discourse about the end of the age. Deception, wars, famine, and death. Whose message unwittingly promotes these themes, Bell’s or Camping’s? You decide.