December 3, 2020

Harold Camping, Plowboys, and the Peril of Jouissance

By Chaplain Mike

One of the books I am currently reading is David Fitch’s The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology.

(See Scot McKnight’s recent series reviewing this book.)

One of the concepts from Fitch’s book that rang true to me was that of jouissance. Jouissance is a French word with sexual connotations that has the broader meaning of a rather over-the-top sense of pleasure or enjoyment, especially the joy of being proved right over against an adversary. I have often heard and used the word “triumphalism” in a sense similar to this. Using the work of political theorist Slajov Žižek as a template for understanding the ideology of evangelicalism, Fitch says that much can be learned by paying attention to its jouissance.

Though we assert that our faith is defined by positive truths and values that lie at its core (for Christians, this is the person of Christ himself), our practice is often more shaped by what (or whom) we are against. The word “Protestant” is explicit testimony to this. In more recent times, fundamentalism was formed in reaction to higher criticism and the “social gospel.” Then, evangelicalism arose to correct anti-intellectual and world-denying practices in fundamentalism. Conservative evangelicalism in the past few decades arose in contradistinction to the decline of mainline denominations while also reflecting an increasing polarization in American society. Last fall we did a series showing how the “young, restless, and reformed,” along with “emerging” churches and “ancient-future” movements have flowed out of church-growth and culture war dominated evangelicalism as reactions to its deficiencies.

We often let what we are not and what we are against define us. And when we feel ourselves proved “right” over against the “enemy,” we feel jouissance, a triumphalistic sense of vindication. We stand with our foot on the enemy’s neck. We raise our flag and sing a song of victory. We mock the inadequacy of the enemy’s forces. We experience a burst of self-satisfaction that “proves” to us that we are right.

Harold Camping was wrong. We were right.

At Internet Monk, we had a little fun at his expense last week, fully anticipating this outcome. Since the failure of his “Judgment Day” prediction, the “I told you so’s” have come rolling in from all quarters. A few, to be sure, have expressed concern about the disillusionment of his followers and have reached out to them in various ways, but for the most part his failure has fed the comedians. The world has mocked. Many prominent Christians have called him a false teacher and have shown his prognostications to be off base and foolhardy, a sentiment with which I cannot  disagree. His teachings have been thoroughly discredited.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll admit I felt a rush of self-satisfaction. I gloated a little bit. I laughed and traded the common victory jokes.

What we may have failed to see, however, is the peril of joining the world in feeling jouissance with regard to this matter. For, like it or not, the world groups us together with Harold Camping. For many, it is not a big step from mocking Harold Camping to questioning and ridiculing evangelical faith itself. There may be a spectrum of folly, but we’re on it, at least in their minds. They see a man with a Bible making pronouncements and gathering enthusiastic followers. They see those disciples making “radical” choices based on teachings the world cannot grasp. Harold Camping and the whole “Judgment Day” thing may have been over the top, but it’s simply an extreme version of the evangelical faith.

Honestly, I can’t say I blame them.

As evangelical Protestants, we base the practice of our faith on the assumption captured by Martin Luther’s provocative (though disputed) statement: “A plowboy with a Bible knows more than the pope.”

  • What are the Harold Campings of the world but plowboys with Bibles?
  • What was John Nelson Darby, who “discovered” the pre-tribulation rapture, but a plowboy with a Bible? And wasn’t it “plowboy” C.I. Scofield who felt confident enough in his own ability to privately interpret the Scriptures that he published a “reference” Bible complete with his own notes advocating an entire novel system of doctrine?
  • What was Ellen G. White, who had Biblical “visions” teaching that the key to understanding the apparent old age of the earth was a worldwide flood that changed the earth’s topography? A plow[girl] with a Bible! And what about Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, who revived her theories a century later and used them to provide the “Biblical” underpinnings of modern “creationism”? Just plowboys with Bibles.
  • What about all the fundamentalists who “found” and “proved” a lesser humanity of the black race in the Bible? Were they not just plowboys with Bibles?
  • What, but plowboys with Bibles, were the founders of 20th century Pentecostalism at Azusa Street who experienced the “baptism of the Spirit” and began to spread that doctrine throughout the world?
  • What about the “prosperity gospel” teachers who open their Bibles and “find” promises of health, wealth, the salvation of loved ones to those who will just learn “the word of faith?” That’s right, just plowboys with Bibles.
  • What about the people and leaders in the over 34,000 Protestant denominations, who have discovered and maintained distinctions between themselves and other Christians based on their own understanding of the Bible? Lots of plowboys, lots of Bibles, lots of differences—many of them not minor.

Before we feel jouissance, that sense of emotional release and satisfaction at the discrediting of someone like Harold Camping, we should perhaps take a look in the mirror. It may be easy to spot false teaching like Camping’s, especially when he and his followers spend millions of dollars to plaster billboards around the countryside. But what about all the “plowboys with Bibles” leading churches and “ministries” small and large in places across America and the world? At the foundation, what’s the difference?

Harold Camping is not an example of some them out there, but of us. What provides an adequate basis for distinguishing ourselves from him? Will the “free market” sort it out for us and make clear who the frauds and the foolish are? The inerrant Bible, to which conservatives appeal? Then whose interpretation of that infallible book? Another plowboy’s? Is there any final possibility for certainty or at least assurance that our theology, our denominational distinctives, our polity, our approach to spiritual formation and mission can fit comfortably within a framework called “biblical”? And how shall we know? Where is authority? accountability? church discipline (in the broader sense of “church”)?

I am not ready to cease being Protestant. But these are serious questions that render me incapable of feeling complete jouissance at the downfall of Harold Camping.

Stop the music. This just might be an opportunity for us to pursue another French word: ressourcement—renewal through a return to the re-evaluation of our roots.


  1. Adrienne says

    Chaplain Mike ~ with all due respect for all I have learned from you, in this case I think you are making too much of Camping. With all of our differences within the Christian denominations I think there is at least one thing we can agree on. We are all guilty of pride. The original sin. And at some point we have bowed our knee and heart to Jesus Christ or else we should not take the name Christian. Mr. Camping is no different. He needs to repent (old fashioned I know) and bow his heart to Christ and His word when He says, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Matt 24:36 Mr. Camping CHOSE to ignore that and gave May 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm as a day and hour. A little old fashioned humility would be refreshing. It is the oldest story in the world, “Has God really said…” Genesis 3:1 I am sorry for the people who believed him. Me dearest friend’s husband did. But we are called to be discerning and to know what the word says. Mr. Camping is just another who taught a falsehood and his followers “turned their ears away from the truth, and were turned aside to fables.” 2 Timothy 4:4 Nothing new under the sun.

    • Adrienne, you misread me if you think I am giving Camping any kind of credit here. I’m just saying that we should take warning here. Our Protestant respect for private interpretation and disdain for authority might leave us more vulnerable than we care to admit.

      • Adrienne says

        Chaplain Mike ~ no I don’t think you were giving him credit. I remember reading a quote once that was attributed to Melanchthon. He was warning his good friend Martin Luther that if he persisted in his conviction that each person should have the Scripture and be free to read and interpret it there would be 10,000 popes running around. And Luther’s response was something to the effect of so be it. And I agree. Even with the vunerablility that you mention the joy and freedom that comes from reading Scripture is worth the risk. I am one who was set free from the false teaching of an “exclusive” priesthood into the Biblical priesthood of believers and I thank God for that.

  2. Cunnudda says

    So….where are you going with this? We need a Magisterium? I think the guy is just sad, and qualitatively different from someone like Scofield. But if you’re laying weird doctrines at the feet of Protestantism, you’re 2000 years too late. Paul’s epistles refer to some odd beliefs. Then there were Gnosticism, Donatism, Manichaeism, Arianism….
    Nothing new under the sun. Sad, but not an occasion to fling Protestantism out with the bathwater…

    • I am most definitely not ready to throw out Protestantism. But I would hate to see an opportunity for self-reflection and serious discussion missed because we ignore the warning inherent in the Camping debacle.

  3. How many denominations do you think there would be if people considered secondary things to be secondary?

    • Yes, but what consitutes a secondary issue? I don’t think denominations have come about because people just have a desire to separate themselves over “secondary” issues, but that one person’s idea of a secondary issue is a nonegotiable in another person’s eyes. That get’s back to Chap. Mike’s point – where is the authority for determining primary vs. secondary issues?

  4. Thank you…thank you Chaplain Mike!

    I’m a regular listener to Family Radio (FR) mainly because the station is received well at my home and I enjoy the music. I do regularly disagree heartily with Mr. Camping though.

    This weekend felt surreal in some regards. The ridcule expressed at Mr. Camping and his followers was everywhere and I knew I was ‘in the target’. Facts (AFAIK) about FR and Mr. Camping were misconstrued such that the organization appeared far more sinister than reality.

    I felt ashamed as a Bible believing Christan that ‘May 21–the bible proves it’ was advertised aggressively and then become a point of mockery. It’s not much of a stretch to jump from ridcule of wayward end-time date setting to faith in the Savior as far as the world goes.

    It appears Mr. Camping will make some public statement this week. My guess is the media will spin it in a negative way. I can only hope Mr. Camping is humbled by this event. A public repentance directed to at least two audiences (believer and non-believer) is a must.


    • Well, Camping released his statement, and the problem isn’t media spin. He’s flatly claimed that he was right, that a “spiritual” judgment occurred, and now the actual end of the world will be on 21 October 2011. In other words, he doubled-down.

      All of which will lead to more angst, more suffering, more misery, more defamation of the Christian faith, and of course more money continuing to pour into his coffers.

      • Camping made the same claim of a “spiritual” fulfillment back in 1994 after his prediction that Christ would return that year proved false. This is exactly the tactic used by Charles Taze Russell, founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in 1888 about an “invisible” Second Coming in 1874. I think Chaplain Mike has hit the right note here. As someone who has passed through the Protestant tradition from “right to left” I too find myself asking, “What provides an adequate basis for distinguishing ourselves from him?” That really is a question I know I need to grapple with in the wake of this story. Thanks for sharing this Mike.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And according to morning drive-time radio today (Tuesday the 24th), Camping’s using the same damage control. Claiming the Rapture DID happen on the 21st, but it was “a Spiritual Rapture”.

          (This was also the damage control used by the Millerites after their Great Disappointment in 1844, after which they reorganized into the Seventh-Day Adventists.)

          Morning drive-time snarks started speculating on whether this means it’s really a Zombie Apocalypse. (After all, if you were Spiritually Raptured into Heaven, what’s your body doing here? “BRAAAAAINS…”)

  5. I just read Fitch’s book, too, and was deeply convicted of all the jouissance in my heart. At the same time that I am working this out through repentance, though, isn’t there a certain kind of rejoicing that is just and good? Isn’t it true that these kinds of “events” send out a wider call to repentance? I think Zizek, as Fitch points out, refers to these events as “Irruptions of the Real.” It’s events such as these that in our flesh cause us to mock and laugh and pat ourselves on our back for being right (the jouissance we must turn away from), but on a deeper level they expose ideologies for what they are–fantasies or illusions of what is real–which is a good thing! There is a certain kind of rejoicing that post-evangelicals can participate in through events such as these, right, (rejoicing with trembling, no less) knowing that a whole lot of people are in a wonderfully open position to cast down their ideological idols and begin rightly worshiping Christ and shaping their lives into his mission?

  6. I keep wondering what the kids who had parents on this train must be thinking about mom, dad, God, and all that just now. Can’t be healthy in any direction.

    • McKnight quoting an article about Camping on the Jesus Creed blog the other day:

      “The octogenarian hasn’t been able to avoid the alienation many of his followers experience. His six living children, 28 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren think his theories are a sham. Only Shirley, his wife of 68 years, believes him. ‘Most do not understand at all,’ he said of his family. ‘They think I have lost it.'”

  7. My mentor told me years ago not to define myself by what I’m not. It’s a continual struggle for me. Ways I’ve religiously defined myself at various points in time over the last few years:

    -NOT a bad person
    -NOT Catholic
    -NOT liberal
    -NOT seeker-friendly/”soft”
    -NOT Pentecostal
    -NOT Arminian
    -NOT Dispensational
    -NOT Calvinist

    …etc., etc.

    What I really am is an amalgamation of all of the above, and then some. And I know I will change even more in the future. But with each issue and fine point of doctrine (esp. in the seminary context I find myself in now), it is painfully easy and tell you who I’m not and what I’m against more than who I am and what I am for, most often because I think somebody *else* needs a dose of humility and broader perspective. Ironic. It weighs heavy on my heart. I’m always picking up the pieces from this.

    • As I see it…that’s how Christians do define themself. I read the George Barna book “Unchristian” and loved it. Having converted from Catholicism to looking into Mormonism to Evangelical Christian the book really resonated with me. My experiences with my family taught me how much Christians are defined by what they don’t like, believe, etc… But when I de-coverted I noticed more so how many Christians are known by what they oppose. Or how people lump them together. Harold Camping was on the fringes but many people will associate Camping with evangelicalism because of the Left Behind series, etc..

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        My experiences with my family taught me how much Christians are defined by what they don’t like, believe, etc… But when I de-coverted I noticed more so how many Christians are known by what they oppose.

        Lost in the mists of time somewhere in these comment threads was the statement “You know when a preacher is in trouble when he stops preaching what he’s for and only preaches on what he’s against.”

        Or how people lump them together. Harold Camping was on the fringes but many people will associate Camping with evangelicalism because of the Left Behind series, etc..

        There is only so much anyone can do to distance themselves from the crazies who loudly proclaim to everyone (especially the media) that They Are One Of You and You Are Just Like Them. Camping is just the visible extreme fringe of a generally-dubious spectrum. End Time Prophecy seems to be the characteristically Evangelical way of flaking out, just like “Mary Channelling” is the characteristically Catholic way of flaking out.

      • I’m slowly fighting my way out of it, Eagle. While trying not to tell my friends “hey, you’re like this too.”

  8. Good post Chaplin Mike!! On Saturday I was having fun with the rapture and poking fun at it, but then on Sunday I was actually thinking about all the people who’s lives have been harmed in this event. It was either CNN or MSNBC I read an article about one individual who liquidated his life savings and used it to purchasing airtime, press and advertise the end of the world and rapture. I cringed when I saw that on the news. I was indeed pleased when I saw the leader of the Southern Baptists come out and criticize Camping and state that he needed to publically repent. I wish they did that regularly for so many issues and that they would call a spade a spade on so many false teachings done today. But if the church played its cards right and really shined in grace they could redeem the entire “May 21, 2011” mess by helping the people deeply hurt by all this. They will not recover overnight, it will be a process and the journey will be hard. Likewise Christians will have to show grace to show to the world that they are not a part of Camping’s movement. If the church plays its cards right maybe they could show the world what grace and love is.

    On a side note can you imagine the reckless hysteria and problems if a natural disaster did occur yesterday? What would have happened it that Japanese tsunami hit yesterday as compared to a couple months back? For me it shows the danger of irresponsible theology and how that effects people. But the world is crying out for love, I know I am. But the church does have an opportunity to show love and grace in this entire mess. The question is this…will the church step up to the plate?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It was either CNN or MSNBC I read an article about one individual who liquidated his life savings and used it to purchasing airtime, press and advertise the end of the world and rapture. I cringed when I saw that on the news.

      My writing partner (the burned-out preacher with hands-on experience in such matters) told me when first informed of this “one individual” that said individual would be a serious suicide risk come Sunday the 22nd.

      On a side note can you imagine the reckless hysteria and problems if a natural disaster did occur yesterday? What would have happened it that Japanese tsunami hit yesterday as compared to a couple months back?

      Other than the panic and the “I Told You So!” Jouissance?

      For me it shows the danger of irresponsible theology and how that effects people. But the world is crying out for love, I know I am.

      Love and Hope. Remember how far Obama got in his Presidential campaign by just intoning the words “Hope!” and “Change!”? He preached Hope and we didn’t. These days we’re lucky if we get any hope, to the point that even six cartoon ponies can end up becoming that hope when contrasted with the real-world pessimism delivered with Bible Verses or Appropriate Ironic Quips.

  9. At first my response to all this was to mock and belittle Harold Camping (it is not without reason I chose St. Jerome as my confirmation name), reposting pictures of empty clothes on the sidewalk, etc. But then, all of my Facebook friends started doing the same thing. Individually, most Harold Camping-related status updates weren’t overly vicious or cruel. But the fact that everyone was making those remarks, myself included–it reached a point where it was beating a dead horse, you know? And I started wondering about my motives for feeling that triumphant schadenfreude, and realized there was definitely a bit of superiority complex in that. I noticed something else, too: the only Facebook friends of mine who were posting these sorts of things were either a) churchgoing, committed Christians (myself included), or b) outspoken atheists who were raised Christian. I think that reveals something about our motives, but I’m not sure how best to put it.

    I’ll also recommend an article on The New Republic’s website regarding some of the reaction against Harold Camping. Right now there’s a link on their homepage, but if you google “tiffany stanley new republic harold camping,” it’s the top result.

    • Adrienne says

      Michael ~ would you expand on the St Jerome reference. I have not been able to learn much about him. It was my father’s name and my nephew is named after him. Thanks

      • St Jerome lived in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. He translated the Bible into Latin, and wrote so prolificly that St Augustine said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.” But he’s best known for his sarcasm when dealing with heretics and those in moral error, and for just in general having a bad temper and being a grumpy old curmudgeon. And people like Harold Camping (and, I must confess, most people who I think are wrong about things) make me angry and bring out my sarcastic side (which I’m usually able to censor here on iMonk). Hence my choosing him; if he can do it, as Martha said in her recent post about the saints, surely I can!

        • Adrienne says

          Thanks Michael. That is too funny – I am afraid I will have to use this at our family get-together on Memorial Day!!

        • An example of Jerome’s rhetoric, from a translation of the second book of his “Against Jovinianus”:

          ” I must in conclusion say a few words to our modern Epicurus wantoning in his gardens with his favourites of both sexes. On your side are the fat and the sleek in their festal attire. If I may mock like Socrates, add if you please, all swine and dogs, and, since you like flesh so well, vultures too, eagles, hawks, and owls. We shall never be afraid of the host of Aristippus. If ever I see a fine fellow, or a man who is no stranger to the curling-irons, with his hair nicely done and his cheeks all aglow, he belongs to your herd, or rather grunts in concert with your pigs.”

        • I think I should be worried – St. Jerome and I seem to have the same opinion on the veneration of the saints (I swear, I didn’t read this one before I wrote my own post!)

          From his Against Vigilantius

          “You say, in your pamphlet, that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but once we die, the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and all the more because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, have never been able to obtain their request. If Apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, when they ought still to be anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so when once they have won their crowns, overcome, and triumphed? A single man, Moses, oft wins pardon from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen, the follower of his Lord and the first Christian martyr, entreats pardon for his persecutors; and when once they have entered on their life with Christ, shall they have less power than before? The Apostle Paul says that two hundred and seventy-six souls were given to him in the ship; and when, after his dissolution, he has begun to be with Christ, must he shut his mouth, and be unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have believed in his Gospel? Shall Vigilantius the live dog be better than Paul the dead lion?”

          Well, I’ve got the bad temper and sarcasm bit down pat, anyway 😉

          • dkmonroe says

            Yes, I officially like this guy. Time to look up more Jerome.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says


            You DO know St Jerome was given the task of translating the Bible into Latin to keep him out of trouble, don’t you? Guy’s mouth apparently got him into trouble more than once.

  10. The terms of being a “plow boy with a Bible” have changed, because of the Internet. I remember Harold Campings last pronouncement in 1994, but no way did it get this much popular press. For the latest one, the popular press seemed captivated by the Camping prediction, in the same way that people like to rubber-neck when they see a car accident. “it’s terrible” “It’s awful” “Wow!”

    People like Camping also have access to the internet, and so they can disseminate their views to larger audiences, but that audience seems to ride on the fringe. What is so remarkable is the response of people on the internet when someone like Camping offers a prediction. Vitriol and ridicule on a massive scale.

    It’s somewhat similar to the guy in Florida who was burning a Koran. Thirty years ago, it would have been more of a sigh of “Who cares!” Now in real time you see the guy, burning the Koran, and then a million people post angry missives.

    It’s a whole different world for better and for worse. It’s not clear to me whether the internet offers more accountability or less accountability/

    • It’s a whole different world for better and for worse. It’s not clear to me whether the internet offers more accountability or less accountability.

      the immediacy of the internet with uploaded cell phone pics+video & instant commentary on anything & everything the better result for the extreme claim types. and by extreme i mean the claims for something very, very dramatic+drastic in the grand signs+wonders realm.

      for the first time in modern history, the live video feed & constant pressure for accountability sank the Todd Bentley Lakeland circus debacle. Bentley did not do anything different from his predecessors. he took his que from those that made a good living doing what he attempted to do. but this time the internet immediacy put the Grand Kibosh on the lies, deceit, hype, claims, methodology, theology, silliness, financial irregularities, etc. it deflated the circus tent before it ever had a chance to stand. and Bentley’s attempted PR stunt at damage control could never garner credibility with the public so it fizzled & died a timely death…

      we need to have such scrutiny for those that do claim grand predictions that defy logic & should be held up to credible investigation+scrutiny. Camping is only a victim of his own hubris. grand, global predictions of Apocalyptic dimensions need serious challenge from the Christian community that should make clear distinction such stuff absolutely not orthodox & not acceptable. the world will scoff no matter what the craziness is being done in the name of God. it is up to those believers that do not want to let these self-appointed religious leaders remain representative of the rest of them. Camping is a just one of many today that peddle extreme religious stuff more sensational than sane. and his followers no different than anybody today buying into the American dream or Amway or the latest diet+fashion fad. we are sensitive to the poor souls because of the religious flavor more than being a New Age, consumeristic, latest fad, conspiracy, political issue, etc.

      such craziness gets me fired up. not so much that i feel the need to vent like i used to. wringing hands & being remorseful because of gloating over the intensity of negative press misplaced IMHO. it is this after-the-fact somber considerations a day-late-and-a-prediction short. i have no sympathy for Camping or those he duped. it could be if others in the church could have coordinated a concerted voice in speaking out more strongly against the apparent stupidity, the collateral damage could have been minimized.

      how would that have looked like or been arranged? not sure, but i am certain the less responsive we are of the crazy uncle types misrepresenting God in His name, there should be a loud & coordinated rebuttal made…

      Lord have mercy… 🙁

  11. Paul Davis says


    That’s going to leave a mark..

    Two thoughts about this come to mind…

    1. We really do need to be careful of how we treat people who have been effected by this, they are part of the body after all. I had my laughs on Saturday along with everyone else (my son waking us up with a happy rapture day text), but I also really feel for the people that invested so much personal gain in this. It’s devastating, and now some will question not only their beliefs but all Christian beliefs. This is how a good number of Atheists get their start, we need to show compassion and the love of Christ to them.

    2. It is in times like these that I really love being Catholic, the magisterium is there to prevent this kind of nonsense, we can argue about the little things and some of the historical issues. But these are men who devote their lives to making sure that the Dogma the church follows is sound, I know how some feel. But I for one find that a great start place, I have not shut off my mind, and I still study. But if I’ve gone way south of their teachings then I have to re-examine mine, I simply use them as a marking point for systematic theology.

    Very good article CM…


    • Brendan H says

      ” This is how a good number of Atheists get their start”

      you make being atheist sound like a form of cancer.

  12. Jimmy Bennett says

    I was on an internet forum where they were discussing Harold Camping. The forum was populated by a large number of non-Americans who were wondering how many Americans took Camping seriously. The consensus was that Harold Camping was a fringe figure, but most Americans are Christian and most American Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ, so while we may not all believe Harold Camping, most of us are just about as crazy.

    I wanted to jump in and explain that believing in the second coming is not the same thing as believing in the rapture or the great tribulation or anything really crazy like that.

    I thought about it, and I realized that from their perspective believing that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead is crazy no matter how it’s presented. I might think that those rapture nuts are really out there, but from an outsider’s perspective we’re all pretty coo-coo.

    Since then I haven’t really felt like making fun of Camping. I’m not exactly holding the intellectual high ground. Pointing out how ridiculous Camping is only draws attention to how ridiculous my own beliefs are.

    • Which is why I cringe whenever someone starts spouting off that obviously all Muslims are violent because the mainstream Muslims don’t denounce them. How many of us denounced Camping? And for those that did, how much of that reached a non-american audience? From what you are saying, not much.

  13. I think it is a good reminder that “we” can or will at some point in time be “them”. Beyond that, I wonder how much of Jesus is in our words and attitudes when it comes to others with whom we may be sitting next to at the Great Banquet. Perhaps, that is the place we should laugh at all of our silliness.

  14. The word “biblical” should be thrown out the window for the sake of Christianity.
    Biblical does not mean right or wrong it just means written. The word is used only as a weapon.

    • +1

      I also hear the word “Godly” used a lot as a weapon (implication: anyone who disagrees with what the “Godly” man says or with the “Godly” teaching or viewpoint is clearly ungodly).

  15. Harold Camping may be an extreme case, but he is merely carrying an eschatological agenda which many conservative evangelicals fervently believe, but to its logical extreme. He is not the problem, merely a symptom. Does he represent anything different from any other religious media celebrity begs for? In this Second Great Disappointment, Camping’s adherents were quitting their jobs, selling their earthly possessions, and giving away everything from 401k savings to their pets in preparation for what they fervently believed would be their final day on earth. Meanwhile, Camping’s non-profit was proceeding as if the all-important date were irrelevant to business as usual. “We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing”, one official explained after the failed date. Secretaries remained busy booking appointments for coworkers, and the organization had taken the precaution of filing non-profit extensions up to November 15th. And in the farewell letter he issued beforehand, Camping somewhat paradoxically urged his employees to “steadfastly continue to stand with us to proclaim the Gospel through Family Radio”. Hey, he’s already hedging his bets by talking “after”. What’s that all about, anyway?

    I think to no small degree it has to do with the empire Camping oversees, with assets in excess of $120 Million dollars. While the disappointment of his followers in laying up treasures in Heaven has left them with embarrassment and shame, Camping’s financial jackpot here on earth may have been lucrative enough to give rise to some corporate second thoughts about losing terrestrial power. Call me cynical, but how many other religious talking heads do we put up with in the “big tent” who have not so publicly crashed and burned? And how many of them have enriched themselves by managing multi-million dollar parachurch organizations with the sole intention of shunting Christians onto some theological sidetrack? How many of them are laypersons with little or no theological training, but claim to have all the answers? And how many of them aren’t really struggling against Satan, but rather competing for dominance, and the right to be crowned the unofficial spokesperson for evangelicals?

    How many of us merely assent to all this cr_p and remain passive, as if the circus passing by us everyday is somehow normal and acceptable? Yes, I have great empathy with Camping’s adherents. And I have to admit, in many respects I have differed little from them, and squandered a lot of energy over time, so I can’t brag about having an adequate basis for distinguishing myself from them. It’s a Frankenstein monster, that in my own way, I helped create.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And how many of them aren’t really struggling against Satan, but rather competing for dominance, and the right to be crowned the unofficial spokesperson for evangelicals?

      “Unofficial Spokesperson” or POPE in all but name? With Infallibility Ex Cathedra carried further than any Pope could have imagined? (In Catholic practice, Papal Infallibility has some serious limitations placed on and around it; I don’t recall any such limitations placed on Evangelical “God Saith” pronouncements.)

  16. I have no problem experiencing jouissance and Camping and his followers. I think a commentator on Andrew Sullivan’s blog the Daily Dish sums my feelings up exactly.

    But I am indeed laughing at them. Why? Because Rev. Camping made it clear that the reason the Rapture is coming now is because the world is so immoral that God must end it, like he did with the flood. And a prime cause of that immorality? Homosexuals gaining rights and respect around the world.
    These people make a point of saying that they are more moral than you, and certainly more “worthy” than you. They are part of an elite – the very few people that God will choose to “save” while the rest of us wicked people writhe around in torturous conditions. What they wish upon us is far more than laughter and humiliation: it is a slow painful death, the “wages of sin” that we so richly deserve.
    So no, I do NOT have sympathy for someone who delights in the thought of my torture and death while they party it up in heaven, and believe that this is all God’s plan. It is, in fact, a very dangerous idea, and one that is rightly mocked and derided.

    So I have little sympathy for those deluded by this con artist and don’t see why I should not be happy that I was not taken in…

    • Brendan H says

      These fools you have no sympathy for, many of them have young children whose parents just spent their college savings on a bunch of signs.

      These parents, fools though they are, will need help to provide for their shattered families. Who will give it to them?

      • The same people who helped my family when my father was laid off from the mines. The same people who help when someone sinks their life savings into a small business and it fails…family, churches, government etc… People make stupid choices all the time or bad things happen to them all the time there are provisions for that. I am far more sympathetic to them that I am for a group of people who invested their life savings in a concept, that had it been true, would involve them gleefully laughing at the suffering of myself and my loved ones…

        • Brendan H says

          Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

          • Oh come on, I am just saying why should I feel sorry for the families of the deluded Camping followers as opposed to the people who lost family and friends in the recent tornadoes? Or who were laid off because of the recession? Yes their families are going to suffer because they were taken in by a con artist, but there are means to support them (at least until the Republicans have their way) So back off and don’t put words in my mouth.

  17. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12 (ESV)

    Until then, honest people looking into a hazy mirror can err by failing to see what is there or by seeing what isn’t there. Dishonest people will deny what is manifest and fabricate manifestations for their own purposes.

    Perhaps Christian integrity suggests that we live by what we see and pray still for greater illumination.

    Like it or not, “You are the light of the world.”

  18. lets not be foole by the tricks of mediea or this worlds schems, at our very best were all plowboys but the word of God is true ,this world is judged. and for the christian nailed to the cross. it has ended, while the timing is gods the watching so we can emediatly open the door is still required.

  19. I appreciate the sentiment in this post very much as we are warned to be circumspect at all times especially as regards ‘the world’ and our conversation. I am as much or more of a jokester as the next guy but I have felt queasy joking about this. It is predicted in scripture that many false prophets will arise in the last days so it’s a good idea to tuck this into one’s pocket, tally it with the rest and not be frivolous in its consideration. It is significant that a large segment of the world’s population took note of this.

  20. Contemporary Christian groups abound with mutually exclusive and contradictory truths while wondering why they all can’t just get along.

  21. I can’t help but think of the Doonsbury cartoon from the Weekend wrap-up: even someone who may be hostile to Christianity can prove from the Bible that Camping was wrong. I’m pretty sure a plowboy with a Bible could have done the same. I’m pretty sure any blind squirrel could have found that nut…literally. But Camping got the last laugh, walking away with $80M+. There is a story of one retiree donating over $100,000 to Camping. I can’t blame Camping on the protestant principle; rather, any blind squirrel following the protestant principle should have ferreted out Camping, just like Luther did Tetzel. I’m actually concerned how few of the evangelical cultural warriors spoke out against camping. Considering how much discredit he brought to all of evangelicalism, I would have thought it would have been in the best interest of their cause to have spoken up.

    The protestant principle is not antagonistic against legitimate authority but against any oppressive, inhuman, enslaving heteronomy – be it Camping, the cultural warriors, or even a corrupt pope.

  22. So what’s your point here–that you intend to be more rational from now on, having perceived that you are in the same boat as this kook? Or that you think you ought to have given him more respect, seeing as the differences between you are not as great as you thought?

    • The point is that we should not simply and unthinkingly rejoice in the downfall of false teaching, but use the occasion as an opportunity to realize that we may be relying on some of the same principles that led the false teacher to his wrong conclusions.

      “Let those who think they stand take heed lest they fall.”

  23. There’s something really troubling about this. Camping placed himself above the witness of scripture, and quite a few Christians were willing to say, “well, ok!” He’s not the only one. Osteen and others are preaching self-centeredness while the Bible teaches bearing ones cross. Moralists preach salvation through works while scripture preaches salvation Christ alone. Again, a plowboy could read what the Bible says, but the many of the most influential evangelicals in America would say condescendingly, “you’re over your head.” Ken Ham poses an opposite problem, where literalism creates an exaltation above the the witness of scripture which is more challenging to oppose. When the plowboy questions if Genesis is really teaching literal creation days, the answer is, “stop using your head.” The two sides are like the jaws of a vise which either crushes autonomy into submission to the heteronomy or produces cynicism that forces sincerely questioning individuals to give up and walk away.

  24. Funny you should quote J.N. Darby, because these words (addressed to him) came to mind when I started reading your post:

    “you will be known more by what you witness against than what you witness for, and practically this will prove that you witness against all but yourselves”

  25. So does this mean this site will now approach the likes of John Spong and Bart Ehrman with greater respect, or is your newfound humility reserved for crazed / money-grubbing TV evangelist types?

    If you are truly repentant, then let’s see some pro-gay and radical deconstructionist voices here. Your “big tent” rhetoric has so far not actually extended to widening the circle of people whom you consider to be “us,” much beyond a few token conservative Catholics and Orthodox.

    • Missing the point, Neil. No one said anything about giving anyone “greater respect” or about making the “tent” bigger. This is about realizing that there may be implicit warnings for evangelicals in a situation like this.

    • Cunnudda says

      Spong and Ehrman want us to repent of all of Christianity. You really expecting that here?

    • I think Chaplain Mike does not address people like Spong and Ehrman because we clearly know that these types are of the devil….That is what I am assuming why Mike doesn’t address those liberal clowns.

      • Mark, in case you didn’t notice, we did a piece on Ehrman last week. We don’t do as much of that because our focus, following Michael Spencer, is on the “evangelical circus.” That’s one of the main purposes of the blog. I’m sorry if it doesn’t meet your criteria. Why not start your own blog with a focus on critiquing the mainline, “liberal” church?

        • This is the issue Mike. I was wondering why you always throw stones at conservatives, whether evangelical or Catholic, or whether Arminian or Calvinist. It seems that this blog, ever since Mr. Spencer’s departure to be with the Lord, has always been a rant against some form of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, or conservative Christianity. Sometimes I wonder if you really think you’re doing this to be of well-meaning service to the Kingdom or just a personal rant because you feel that traditional orthodox Christianity has been too narrowed minded against disenfranchises groups.

          I’m sorry to burst your bubble brother, but the Kingdom will always be inherited by only a few. The problem with your theological “pogrom” is that you’re assuring people who have no right to any assurance. Who have distorted the gospel or have left the gospel altogether. Look at the people you draw to this website. Many, not all, who have a disdain or contempt for anything that looks evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or *gasp* biblical. I’m sorry that some people here cannot accept the fact that the Bible says one cannot be a born again Christian and have a same-sex lover or that one can mingle some type of Christianity with Eastern or occult mysticism.

          • Mark writes, “I’m sorry to burst your bubble brother, but the Kingdom will always be inherited by only a few.”

            Mark, I am wondering what you do with this passage from Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
            ‘Salvation belongs to our God,
            who sits on the throne,
            and to the Lamb.’ ”

            Note carefully the “great multitude that no one could count.” That sounds like a HUGE number to me.

            Our God is both a just and merciful God. We will be held accountable for those things that we have done that caused grief to our fellow humans and to God. But Jesus prayed as he was being crucified that the Father would forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. Do any of us REALLY know what we are doing? We attempt to make sense out of things and do what we feel is best, but in the end, we have to rely on the love and mercy of God. Jesus showed us that over and over again. The apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus after having professed faith to Jesus’ face that he was the Son of God. Did Jesus forgive him? Of course.

            The love of God is deep, wide and totally capable of overcoming all evil as Jesus showed us from the cross and from the resurrection. Does that mean, then, that we can commit evil deeds and not worry about it because God will “overlook” it? Of course not. The apostle Paul made that VERY clear in his letters to the churches.

            If we spend a lot of time in prayer and learn to accept the grace, love, power that God has for us, we will find ourselves becoming more like Jesus though we will still sin, over and over again. We must forgive each other and ask for others’ forgiveness too.

  26. Did I miss something or was Luthers reference about the superiority of the Bible over the Pope? how even an untutored bumpkin with a Bible was more than a match for the Pope without the Bible. And as to Camping and the rest yes another banner day for Christiandom I suppose this just points out that it is the Holy spirit that draws us into the fold with an irristestable and glorious force. And thank you God.

  27. I caught Mr. Camping’s 90 minute press gathering last night and am disgusted. His comeback was…May 21 2011 was the initiation of judgment upon the earth…it was just not a physical one with earthquakes, disasters, etc. He’s still holding to the Oct 21 2011 end of the earth date.

    Mr. Camping fully reminds me of my grandfather who was a flat earther. My grandfather could converse for long periods on how the earth was flat. Any disagreements were met with gentle denial. He had his position and he couldn’t be changed.

    Mr. Camping should be given a Sunday School class for a forum and have microphone privileges pulled.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I caught Mr. Camping’s 90 minute press gathering last night and am disgusted. His comeback was…May 21 2011 was the initiation of judgment upon the earth…it was just not a physical one with earthquakes, disasters, etc.

      The same backpedal the Millerites used after their Great Disappointment in 1844.

  28. dkmonroe says

    Thanks, Mike. This essay is thought-provoking at many points, and I particularly thank you for a new vocabulary word. “Jouissance” is certainly much easier to pronounce than “schadenfreude!”

    The problem of authority in biblical interpretation has been much on my mind for several years. I’m afraid that this is where Evangelicalism has been trending for a long time: Bible+subjective interpretation+charismatic personality+ambition=fame, money, and the shipwreck of followers.

    Tyndale made the “plowboy” comment I am familiar with, which is, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture, than he dost.” Unfortunately, many of these “plowboys” do not “know” the scripture – they know bits and pieces or it, and maybe large swathes of it, but it is all intertwined with fantasies of their own making. They do not “know” the scripture, rather they “use” the scripture. It always used to sound so very narrow-minded to me that Catholics raged against “private interpretation” of the Scriptures, but it’s becoming clearer now.

  29. David Cornwell says

    The problem with biblical interpretation among Protestants is how we read the bible. We can read a verse and it can mean 12 different things to 12 different people. We have not been taught the proper way to study the scripture. Some mainline denominations have guidelines showing us good ways to study and understand the bible. Most people do not even know about the guidelines. Evangelical churches don’t even seem to bother with the “how” of biblical study. Some preacher pronounces it, so it is true.

    With the freedom to read the bible and interpret it on our own comes great responsibility. Learn how to properly study the bible. Otherwise you too may spawn a heresy.

    • it is not difficult to ‘read’ the bible if one has been properly schooled in the art of reading…

      critical thinking though harder to teach. or proper approach to the bible & how to study it within the careful boundaries/borders/guidelines that need to be respected…

      any literate person reading the bible in their vernacular will quickly notice that the writers were not merely including sterile facts, but things presented or spoken or acted upon were not done without reason or purpose. and if there are indeed 12 different interpretations, which one(s) the more historically viewed & which are, well, patiently mentioned but not seriously taken…

      there will always be fringe interpretations+applications. but there is good reason why they are considered fringe no matter how charismatic the promoter. craziness begets craziness. to remain orthodox while questioning the tenets of orthodoxy a healthy approach, but to promote fringe stuff over orthodoxy not only dangerous, but a lack of proper respect for the viewpoints throughout Church history…

    • Amen exactly what the Catholic church was afraid of, and they were right!

  30. I’m not sure I know exactly where discernment and a healthy sense of humor about things crosses the line into being jouissance, though I suspect one indicator might be a feeling of joyous vidincation directly linked to someone else’s downfall. Among the people I know, we may have laughed at the patent silliness and oddball nature of Camping’s prediction and its failure, but I didn’t sense anyone laughing at the man himself or the plight of his followers or the failure of his system and its effects on people. And we did engage in some commentary on the larger picture of human nature and failings. In other words, I don’t think we crossed the line. But others may see it differently.

    Of course, no one in my house took any pleasure in the news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, either. It was a lesser of evils choice, and it happened less than 50 miles from where I grew up as a missionary kid. So maybe we aren’t your typical American spectator crowd ready to pounce.

  31. A recent reflection from Mike Coyner, UMC bishop of Indiana:
    I will simply believe Jesus who said about such end-times (this is my paraphrase), “No one knows, not even the Son, but only the Father. So when people say ‘Look here it is’ or ‘There it is,’ don’t go running. The Kingdom of God will come like a thief in the night, so live in a state of relaxed expectancy.” I don’t know where I first heard that phrase “relaxed expectancy” but I believe it summarizes our Christian attitude about the future. We live our lives expecting to see God’s reign at work at any time, but we can relax in our faith in God’s grace in the midst of such expectation.

  32. I agree with you that there is a lesson to be learned from Camping. In my opinion, that lesson is that we need to be open to correction from others. He had a conviction that God was guiding his interpretation of the Bible. He even said he prayed for God to guide and direct his interpretations. Yet daily Christian brothers and sisters were calling him & sometimes lovingly & sometimes sternly correcting him. This went on for 20 years and he was impervious to their reasoning.