Heidelcast 35: Zeke Takes Us Behind The Scenes As The World Ends (Updated)

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, at the Chinese Theaters in Hollywood. 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.

13 comments

  1. The Vermonster (who is totally ignorant of sociology, psychology, historiography, theology and good table manners) thinks that Harold Camping’s undue influence is related to his control of technology (i.e., radio broadcasting), just like the dude who can play the guitar (when the pianist didn’t show up) has an undue influence on picking the songs to be sung in corporate worship.

  2. As a confirmed podcast junkie, the Heidelcast reboot is wonderful news. You’ve created a thirst again. You better quench it regularly, or the natives will get really restless. That’s not pretty sight.

    Thanks for the excellent interview. It was concise, clear, restrained, and informative. I may never have known about the documentary otherwise.

    Long may the Heidelflag wave!

  3. I just heard an interview with Zeke on KROQ this morning. I look forward to hearing this interview from the Reformed (as opposed to secular radio) side!

  4. I immediately realized the film would not be as good as it could be when I saw Bart Ehrman in the trailer. I listen to the Dividing Line with James White frequently, and I know of Ehrman’s encounters and behavior with James and Dan Wallace. Bart is an incredibly, but not surprisingly, arrogant man that at times comments on things that are outside of his expertise. He presents things to people at the popular level that gives the wrong idea; things which he might be more reluctant to say in front of someone like Dan Wallace.

    As to the use of the word “fundamentalist,” this is not surprising. If he is anything like Ehrman, all confessionalists, Lutheran or Reformed, would be categorized as fundamentilists. Probably, people who believe in the resurrection but not inerrancy would be viewed this way as well. I think it is incorrect, but I am not always as sympathetic when used toward some confessionalists, since they (at least some among the nonacademic) at times get lazy as well and call some Christians “fundamentalists” in the same lazy and condescending way.

  5. Professor Clark, droppin’ in a little late to this discussion. Albert brought up the term “fundamentalist”, I would be curious as to how you define the term. I’m prone to go along with inerrancy as a defining characteristic.

    Second, you say in reference to the Apocalyptic Jesus, “This view has been around for more than a century. It’s been answered. It’s not particularly interesting.”

    I guess interest is subjective, but the idea that Jesus may have been wrong about the time of the end (Mark 9.1, Mark 13.30, Mark 14.62), that’s at least kind of interesting, no?

    As to your assertion that the Apocalyptic Jesus has been “answered”, isn’t scholarship an on-going series of questions and answers? And if the answer was so definitive as you portray it, why Dale Allison’s “Constructing Jesus”. Why does the Apocalyptic Jesus still hold sway over a great many scholars? At least could not Allison’s book be seen as an answer to whatever answer it is that you’re referencing? And maybe someone will answer Allison’s “answer.”

    But, to take a “nothing to see here” approach to the Apocalyptic Jesus seems a bit wishful on your part. I would argue that the Apocalyptic Jesus is (1) incredibly interesting and (2) still holds sway with a large segment of contemporary biblical scholars.

    It has been over a century, that part we agree on. But, its longevity and relevance is an argument for its merits. Even the much hyped Jesus Seminar, Crossan and the like, often presented their arguments in contrast to the Apocalyptic Jesus (i.e. that the apocalyptic sayings Jesus makes were invented by a later evangelist and added into the tradition). They were acknowledging that yes, the Apocalyptic Jesus is there, but here’s an explanation why. I don’t find their answers convincing, but to say that the Apocalyptic Jesus has been answered, I think the conversations in scholarship prove otherwise. If it had been definitively answered, would scholars still be talking and writing about it more than a century later?

    With all respect, sir!
    -Zeke

    • Zeke,

      I’m not sure where to start but modernism is like an onion, there are many layers to unravel and it gets stinkier the closer we get to the core.

      1. Bad exegesis. Yes, Jesus used apocalyptic language and he used a many other genres of speech and instruction and the modernists have found ways to misread him. In this they have a lot in common with the fundamentalists whom they hate but with whom they have much in common methodologically. They both have and/or read into Jesus’ words an over-realized eschatology. e.g., Mark 9:1. We cannot define basileia tou theou an a priori definition and then say, “aha, Jesus predicted x and it didn’t happen, therefore…” In fact, according to Luke, the basileia tou theou did come in power within the lifetime of many of those present. It came at Pentecost. When Jesus announced the KOG was at hand (Mark 1:15) he wasn’t saying that a fully-realized eschatological state of affairs was to descend on the earth immanently. He was announcing the advent of an eschatological realm, which he embodied, into human history. Mark used that announcement to structure his gospel, most likely written to Roman (or at least Latin-speaking) Christians under Claudius in the early 40s. He was intentionally juxtaposing Jesus’ reign as a crucified-resurrected-ascended king with the Roman empire. Obviously I don’t accept the modern dating hypotheses. On that reconstruction, Jesus’ kingdom is a multi-faceted thing. It cannot be flattened out without damaging Mark’s theology and message. I’m partly influenced by Wenham and N. B. Stonehouse (with whose account of the synoptics neither the modernists nor the fundamentalists ever really caught up—I can think of one more liberal reader of Mark who wrote of his appreciation of Stonehouse). Machen showed in the early 20th century how sloppy were the modernist accounts of the Virgin Birth and The Origin of Paul’s Religion.

      Jesus’ eschatological discourses in the synoptics are challenging but if we avoid putting the most mechanical reading on his words and pay attention to nuances they are not impossible. There’s no reason inherent to the text that Jesus’ must be read to be saying that everything he foretold in those discourses was necessarily coming simultaneously. E.g., Some of what Jesus’ predicted in the Olivet Discourse did occur in 70 but some of it was not intended to be taken as happening immediately. Jesus’ made us of modes of speech familiar from the OT prophets. Here is the commonality between fundamentalists and modernists. They both fail to understand prophetic idiom and both end up looking for things not promised.

      As you say, “interesting” is a subjective judgment. I say that Jesus as “failed apocalyptic” has been answered because the fundamental arguments haven’t changed as far as I can tell. Sure stuff gets recycled but it doesn’t get recycled because it’s still valid. It gets recycled because modernists know a priori that the Scriptures cannot be true and therefore they cycle through the same old stuff. The modernists recycled criticisms from 2nd-century pagans. This isn’t just an academic discussion. Sometimes it’s a spiritual struggle, if you will, clothed in (usually) polite academic discourse. Disenchanted ex-fundamentalists spend their academic lives justifying their apostasy from the faith. I’m thinking also of the conversion of Eta Linnemanm and Tom Oden from heterodox modernism to orthodox Christianity. They readily admit that their previous views were not grounded in scholarship but in what they knew a priori had to be true.

      I’ve been around long enough to see bad scholarship re-cycle in my own field. Some of the best, most carefully argued and grounded, scholarship gets footnoted but isn’t actually read. The dirty little secret is that a lot of “scholarship” isn’t. People cite Richard Muller a lot more than they actually read him and a lot more than they actually read original sources. Writers on Reformed orthodoxy are still repeating bromides from the 1850s that were disputed then and have been shown to be without foundation since but they still find their way into print. Why? They’re still repeated in class by people who don’t know any better, who’re relying on tired textbooks, or who repeat them because it serves their agenda. There are a lot of reasons people do bad scholarship. It’s actually made me a little cynical about the “scholarship” business. I see stuff in print from major publishers that is written by people who are unqualified (and increasingly ill edited). Why? It’s business. Copy editing is getting worse because publishers aren’t paying copy editors. Recently a major writer in my field had to retract a volume and re-do it because it was littered with embarrassing mistakes. It’s a lot easier for publishers, even academic publishers, to sell stuff by “names,” even if those names are writing outside their field, than by relatively unknown writers who are doing scholarship. That’s not scholarship. That’s business. Marx had a point. But what about the blurbs from respected scholars you ask? Well, that’s business too. If you want blurbs you have to write them. I can say that I don’t blurb things I don’t read and I don’t say things that I don’t believe but I’m confident that not everyone takes that position.

  6. James Barr is rolling in his grave. Trying to lump modernists with fundamentalists is a sly maneuver, but one that I think only the fanboys will buy.

    True that many old arguments get recycled as new, a negative externality of the internet! A perfect example of this is Ehrman’s new book will be on did Jesus exist? Scholars answered that question definitively a long time ago, but with the internet, an old argument is recycled anew.

    I’m not a scholar, but perhaps a scholar of scholarship. And since I don’t view scholarship in conspiracy overtones, I’m apt to go along with consensus. The best arguments from the evidence hold sway, regardless of perceived possible ulterior motives. Those other motives are hurled in an effort to move the discussion to a different playing field.

    No doubt with your vast knowledge, Professor, unlike me you have the skill set to go against the consensus. And go against it you do. Such an early dating on Mark makes me think you might even be challenging the vast majority on authorship? That instead of the “anonymous Greek speaking Christian,” that Mark indeed wrote Mark? And Luke, Luke, etc.?

    Per Eta Linnemanm and Tom Oden: Every group has their “Paul”, someone who was once the enemy, but now has joined forces. I put no stock into such transformations. For every ship hopped, there’s someone else going in the opposite direction, spouting the same non-academic stuff their new shipmates want to hear.

    Yes, the kingdom of God was not strictly tied to the advent of a physical kingdom, but was already present in Jesus’ ministry, since he was casting out daemons and healing the sick. It was a present reality. But, as Schweitzer uncovered, and a large chunk of scholars believe today, Jesus expected a definitive judgment in the lifetime of his disciples with the arrival of the physical kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus talks about people eating and drinking in the kingdom of god, people being thrown out of the kingdom of god. It was to be god’s physical kingdom here on earth.

    Not sure who said it, but it has stuck in my mind: The beginning and the middle are clues to the end. Jesus was baptized by an Apocalyptic John. Paul expected the end, I think even you would agree on that. If John expected it (the beginning), and Paul expected it (the end), that would be some serious discontinuity if Jesus (the middle) did not. And it becomes rather unfathomable considering how Mark portrays Jesus.

    Jesus’ first recorded words in Mark 1:15 requires exegetical gymnastics to get away from the plain sense. But, with the Apocalyptic Jesus, no such efforts are required. “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

  7. Guess it didn’t stick in my mind that well! It should say “The beginning and end are clues to the middle.” Hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet.

    • Zeke,

      What you call “conspiracy” I call context. That’s what historians do, they put “scholarship” in context. Modernism, the systematic rejection and revision of the historic Christian faith, didn’t drop out of the sky. It was the child of the Enlightenment(s) and those movements or, more simply, that movement was a religious movement. It was a rebellion against any extrinsic authority, whether ecclesiastical (Rome) or biblical (Protestant). It re-located authority within. In the Enlightenment we foolishly declared ourselves to be the measure of all things, whether via empiricism or rationalism. We set up a closed universe. Those were not acts of dispassionate scholarship but fundamentally religious acts that, in late modernity (rather than postmodernity) we now see to have been an attempt to establish a new (but really quite ancient!) narrative about how the world works, who we are, and what we can say about God, truth, etc.

      Tragically, in late modernity, we’ve left unchallenged the central religious/theological premise of the Enlightenment, human autonomy relative to all other authorities. We’ve relocated it within, to the self and more particularly to experience but we’re still on the throne.

      Scholarship does exist but it’s not some magical guild that descended out of the sky. It’s being done by people with a context, with a past, and with an agenda. Sometimes that agenda is to tell the truth but sometimes that agenda is to prove that one’s rejection of Christianity was correct, even if that commitment entails setting forth methods for reading texts that are untenable (e.g., certain forms of source criticism) when applied to other sources simply because they’re bad methods. They produce unreliable results. Nevertheless, JEDP, e.g., continues to find favor because it fits the reigning Enlightenment-sponsored paradigms. This is the sociology of knowledge. Plausibility exists in paradigms (Berger). So, too, bad hermeneutics find favor in certain sections of the bib studies guild, not because they work, but because they produce acceptable results that reinforce what Enlightenment influenced folk expect to hear or want to hear.

      It’s not just bib studies. It happens in my field, as I wrote. It happens in the so-called “hard sciences.” Read Polanyi. He deconstructed a bunch a famous experiments back in the 1940s. He demonstrated quite persuasively that the “assured results” of “science” are not at all what they’ve been reported to be in the textbooks. People make decisions about what to include in the data set to be studied and how to interpret the data. It’s all very personal. He exposed the hidden subjectivism in the Enlightenment-inspired academy long before Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions (as embedded in religious assumptions).

      My reading of Mark doesn’t depend on the reconstruction. I just mentioned that to illustrate that it’s possible to buck the system, that the “assured results” of scholarship (convention) don’t always give the best explanation of all the data. As I become more critical of the Enlightenment I also come to put a little more credit in some of the ancient readings of Scripture and to be less dismissive (high handed) of the tradition.

  8. Perhaps JEDP finds favor because it’s a good answer for interesting questions raised (eg the classic: Was Hagar tossin’ a 13-year-old into a bush?).

    History is rad, and what bigger book is there in history? Boom, the Bible! If we can learn more of its history how is that a threat to anyone’s beliefs (outside of KJV only folks)? Jesus certainly can’t be threatened by new insights we might glean from how the Bible came to be.

    As for agendas, everyone has ’em. The thing I dig about scholarship is it’s a game for intellectual ballers. Their thoughts fill my bookshelf, including Machen! Although I confess to having read only Christianity & Liberalism.

    I’ll bow out here, Professor, and hope for a last response. Definitely appreciate you engaging with me in a cool way. Definitely admire and am slightly intimidated by your knowledge. Props to you, sir!

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