Harold Camping has done a lot of good. Many people, who might otherwise never have heard anything like Reformation Christianity, learned about the doctrines of grace and amillennialism (i.e., that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 are symbolic of the period between Christ’s ascension and his return) via his Family Radio network. Nevertheless, Harold has not always been a good boy. Sometimes he has been very naughty indeed. In the late 1980s he predicted that Jesus would return in 1994. Such predictions did damaged congregations across America. We had a fellow in our congregation then who was, as it were, taken with Camping and was convinced that he was right in his calculations. Fortunately, this fellow’s faith was not shattered by Camping’s error, but not everyone was so blessed.
Later, not surprisingly, Camping would tell his followers that the age of the church is past. He published a book in 2005 to explain how he had miscalculated but not to admit that the entire attempt to predict Jesus’ return was fundamentally wrong. Then he made things even worse by repeating his earlier folly in May, 2011 (and here) Wrong again—Scripture 2, Camping 0.
Those who know him say that, behind the scenes, Camping had been saying things like this for years before the late 80s. Indeed, it was this sort of nuttiness that brought him under censure by his local Christian Reformed congregation, which he left. He’s been predicting Jesus’ return, repenting, and predicting, and erring for decades and still Christians continued to donate funds to his enterprise. America is a wonderful place isn’t it? There’s an essay in the volume Always Reformed (hardcover and e-book/Kindle format) that discusses how this is possible and why it is so difficult to be Reformed in a place where Sister Aimee Semple McPherson is more representative of the dominant form of Christianity than Martin Luther or John Calvin.
Saturday’s Contra Costa Times ran a story (HT: Billy Hallowell) on the state of the Family Radio empire. Just before the ostensible date of Jesus’ return, Camping’s enterprise was spending like there was no tomorrow, because Camping was convinced that there would not be one. Now, the financial chickens are coming home to roost. It seems as if the staff is playing a grim waiting game: can what is left of Camping’s great radio empire survive Camping himself. According to the story, it seems as if our false prophet is determined to take his platform with him despite his staff’s best efforts to preserve something of the network after he dies. Family Radio has sold three of its largest stations for enormous sums of money, enough to fund church planting in our little federation/denomination for years. Westminster Seminary California could graduate 35-50 confessionally Reformed ministerial candidates, church planters, and missionaries (among other vocations) annually for years with the money that Camping wasted on his rationalist, arrogant, autonomous and ultimately embarrassing campaigns to warn the world of Christ’s return in May, 2011.
It’s a hard providence. It’s a story of foolishness and waste. It’s a tragedy. It’s a farce.