If you’ve been following the HB, the Heidelcast has been in re-runs for several months. Today, however, the Heidelcast is back with a brand new episode. Earlier this week I talked with Zeke Piestrup about his new documentary, “Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End Of The World.” The film premieres this Saturday, June 8, 2013 at the Chinese Theaters in Hollywood. [Editor’s note: It is now available for free online]. It features interviews with scholars about apocalypticism but the real attraction is the behind the scenes look at the world of Harold Camping and Associates in the days leading up to May 21, 2011. That was the day, Harold said, that Jesus was sure to return. Except he didn’t. Here’s the episode:
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Caveat: The film interprets Harold’s predictions as a subset of apocalypticism from, ca. 150 BC, in which Zeke includes the canonical books and actors. He has Collins and others treating Jesus and Daniel, for example, as pre-cursors to Camping. Of course there are better readings of the Daniel and the Gospels and neither the Heidelcast nor the HB supports everything Zeke implies by the way the story is told. Essentially their account of apocalyptic is a form of rationalism—they set up a definition of what form apocalyptic can take, what talk of the Kingdom of God/Heaven must mean and they drive that like plow through the NT. As a result, they flatten out the contours of Scripture and ignore those data that don’t fit their scheme. Having preached through the gospel of Mark in recent years, it’s a little surprising to hear scholars miss both his message and that of Jesus so badly. Of course they’re the clever, enlightened readers of benighted pre-modern texts. This view has been around for more than a century. It’s been answered. It’s not particularly interesting.
Further, Ehrman’s and Collins’ account of the Trinity comes off as a little less than well informed. Ehrman’s language about “scholarship” seems quite naive, especially in our late-modern age. Collins’ description of Westminster as “fundamentalist” is quaint. It’s now fundamentalist to believe the Apostles’ Creed? That’s an odd definition of the word and not one most scholars of modern Christianity would support—since we’re now invoking the assured results of scholarship.
What interests me about the film is the readiness of Camping and his followers to identify themselves with Noah, as if they are canonical actors, playing the same role today as Noah played in his. It’s also interesting that both Camping and some of the scholars interviewed make the same mistake as Camping and his followers. Neither group seems to be willing to distinguish between the canonical period and ours. There’s no question for Christians whether Noah was God’s prophet. Whether Harold was a prophet, of course, was the question in 1994 and 2011. He proved he was not. What is also in question is the facile assumption made by Camping’s followers that they are in the same position as the biblical actors, that their interpretation is as inerrant as God’s Word. Obviously it isn’t.
If you see the film when it comes out, ignore the old-school, modernist account of the teaching of Scripture (Jesus and the apostles thought the world was going to end in their lifetime and they had to re-tool when it didn’t) and pay attention to the bits about Harold. We need to understand how he was able to get a following and keep it even after he was wrong in 1994, wrong about May, 2011 and wrong about October 2011.