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My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity
Osvaldo Colon walks the streets of New York proselytizing with other believers that the world will end Saturday.
May 17th, 2011
03:27 PM ET

My Take: May 21st doomsday movement harms Christianity

Editor’s Note: Robert Jeffress is pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming "Forget Saving America!"

By Robert Jeffress, Special to CNN

In January 1961, a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, he invited Billy Graham to spend a day with him in Key Biscayne, Florida. After a round of golf, Kennedy and Graham were returning to their hotel when Kennedy stopped the white Lincoln convertible he was driving by the side of the road.

“Billy, do you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth one day?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes, Mr. President, I certainly do,” the evangelist responded.

“Then why do I hear so little about it?” Kennedy wondered.

Were Kennedy alive today, he probably wouldn't be asking the same question.

During Kennedy’s lifetime, few mainline Protestant churches discussed the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Fifty years later, however, televangelists, network television programs, movies and books like the "Left Behind" series — which has sold more than 60 million copies — have succeeded in placing the return of Jesus Christ in the public consciousness.

A 2004 Newsweek poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans believe in the Rapture, the snatching away of all Christians prior to the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.

As a pastor who preaches often about Bible prophecy, I am grateful for the general awareness people have of the promised return of Jesus Christ.

But our culture’s newfound interest in the end times has a downside. Bible prophecy inherently attracts fanatics. As a seminary professor of mine used to say to our class, “Remember, wherever there is light, there are bugs!”

One of those fanatics is Harold Camping, the founder of the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio in Oakland, California. Camping has predicted that the Rapture will occur at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, followed by the end of the world five months later on October 21, 2011.

Family Radio has plastered billboards across the nation with the warning “Judgment Day, May 21, The Bible Guarantees It!”

Road trip to the end of the world

Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.

Now I am going to make my own prediction which I’m (almost) willing to stake my life on: May 21 will come and go without any Rapture.

How can I be so certain of my prophecy? The Bible itself says that no one can know the date of the end of the world.

Predicting the apocalypse

In discussing His return to Earth, Jesus told His disciples, “... of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36).

If God has not even revealed to his own son the date the world will end, I doubt he has revealed it to Harold Camping.

My hunch is that the date God ultimately has chosen is one that will not be plastered on billboards around the country.

What harm is there in an 89-year-old preacher making prognostications about the end of the world?

First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.

For example, many secularists have dismissed the Bible because they assume that it teaches the world is only 6,000 years old. In reality, the Bible never makes such a claim about the Earth’s age. Instead, some well-intentioned Christians have misused the genealogies in the Bible to attempt to ascertain the date of creation.

Similarly, when next Saturday passes without a Rapture, some will say, “See, the Bible was wrong again,” when, in fact, it will have been Harold Camping who was wrong — again.

Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

A look at the ways the world could end

Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities he has entrusted to us if we knew the date we would be raptured into heaven. That is why God refuses to show us his calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.

But the most harmful consequence of Camping’s false prediction is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs.

Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy’s false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.

When May 21 passes and Camping’s prophecy is added to the ash heap of discredited prophecies, some will be tempted to join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

Make no mistake about it. As Billy Graham affirmed to President Kennedy, Jesus is coming back some day. Over 1,800 verses in the Old Testament and 300 verses in the New Testament prophesy of the lord’s return.

Don’t allow the Harold Campings of the world keep you from making the necessary preparation for the end — whenever it may be.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • End times • Heaven • Opinion

soundoff (1,945 Responses)
  1. Craig

    Ultimately the problem remains exactly the same. While this man presents a cogent and reasoned viewpoint regarding the supposed end times as predicted in the Bible, he represents "just another Christian position" on the matter. He may well be right, and I'm pretty sure he's "more right" than Harold Campings. However, from the outside looking in, the challenge to anyone becomes "just which one of these representative of the Christians" should I believe.

    If they all believe in the same core principles, and can't agree on one of the most fundamental elements of that belief system, i.e. the return of Christ, then why should we believe them at all. How are we supposed to choose which one is correct, when they all differ, and each claims to be the only one to know?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      By direct appeal to the source. Pray and listen. You'll get your answer if there is one to be had.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Soda Bob Curtis

      Precisely.

      I also find it humorous that most Christians will be hesitant to believe in Campings prophecies, while simultaneously scoffing at those who ignored the (supposed) warnings of prophets like Noah. 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Voice of Reason

      You Said: "By direct appeal to the source. Pray and listen. You'll get your answer if there is one to be had."

      I'm curious... as there have been countless believers that have "prayed and listened" and claimed answers.

      And... yet, they still differ. @Craig here does make some valid points.

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • mike

      why do you have to believe either of them? CAN'T DO THINGS YOURSELF? Oh right... Your AMERICAN RIGHT? baaa baaaa

      May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  2. mike

    It boggles my mind that grown adults actually believe in the second coming of Christ and rapture. The bible was written by humans for self-serving purposes. Period.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • mike

      yes, but humanity can do more, and someones going to show the rest of humanity that one day.. maybe this idea of a messiah will materialize, just think about where our world is heading, together, uniting... same will happen in our minds, and it will happen to one person completely before any others (it has to happen to one first)... that first... well why cant that be whats predicted in EVERY dog dam religion?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  3. Rod C. Venger

    Fascinating...no mention of Steven Hawking's emphatic statement that there is no heaven? This is, afterall, arguably the smartest and most respected mannquin on the planet. I know he's a theorist and all, and theorists are way out in front of evidence...they propose and science is supposed to confirm or deny the theories. So...was the head-on-the-pole's statement that there is no heaven a call for research? Or is he simply tired of occupying his 2 square feet of space and daring God to show him the answer? Hawking stated also that one not need to invoke God to create the Universe, yet that one explanation, that God did just that, is far better than anything that "science" has proposed. No one has yet even put forth a plausible theory as to where the primordial matter that made up the Big Bang came from. Some claim that it burst from a infinitely small point of space-time. Well...where did "it" come from? That "it" expanded from a point-source into billions, maybe trillions of galaxies, littering itself across some 13.7 light years of space. Where'd the space come from? Why are physical laws in place to govern everything? If you throw a gallon of paint into the air, does it form the shape of a house? "God" is as good an answer as any, because frankly, our best minds, Hawking's included, don't have a clue.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Rod C. Venger

      Hey there -Rod...

      I think I understand where you are coming from...and... just because the 'theory's' are not all somehow infallible and complete, (does not) in any way... *mean* that there is a God.

      This is called the 'god of the gaps' argument. Insert the God of your choosing at any point where science hasn't answered the natural phenomenon.

      The issue here is that 'science' continues to 'fill in' the gaps of our understanding, and just because it hasn't answered some of these questions...yet, in no way *presupposes* that they won't be answered in the future.

      Bottom-line...over time, science is getting closer to answering the unanswerable.

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Mike

      Who made God?

      May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • peacppl

      Peace to you as well Peace2All

      May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Norman

      Rod-oh simple Rod-we are still figuring it out-we may never know, but we do know that no invisible being snapped its mighty tentacles and made everything in 6 days-thats lazy thinking

      May 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Peace2All has it exactly right. In Richard Feynman's [Look him up, Rod.] words, "I don't find what I don't know to be frightening or to be grounds to invoke a god for explanation."

      May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  4. BabbleOn

    I think that my peas will be delicious when I pick my garden in June. I'll continue hoeing until then.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  5. Franklin's Mama

    I find it dissturbing that many of you bloggers dont know that at any given moment "The End" can be for any of you! tomorrow is not promised to any of us and yet we live like it is a gurantee! When your life comes to "An End" guess what?? that IS the "END" until the return of Christ -your world could end tonight, tomorrow or whenever God say's so – be mindful of that and dont focus so much on "Man Made Religion" – when God calls you home.....lights out, party over, The End!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  6. Jerry Ely

    In the final analysis–no way, no how, Jesus was just a simple man. He did not rise from the dead. And when we die, that's the end of that too. There is no second coming, no rapture. Why can't you people just be thankful for what you have. Life is a gift. You have won the lottery of a life. Make the most of it. Give back to your fellow citizens. Isn't that what Jesus did?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  7. cantilever

    Good article, but he failed to mention Jack VanImpe and his peroxide-tinted, face-lifted wife. Jack's been to Rapture and back so many times they're naming one of the restrooms in the bus depot after him.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  8. RYsoldierIraq

    So 6pm Harold Camping Time or Middle east Time ..... He says Hes got the facts....I doubt It and im sure the had the standard 24 hour clock format or the ability to account for daylight savings time was a part of everyday culture... I see this is one last shot at fame for an 89 year old FALSE PROPHET

    May 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  9. Les

    Doomsday prophets don't harm Christianity, sir, nearly as much as some professed Christians do. Physician, heal thyself.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  10. David in Cincinnati

    I know when he dies, Billy Graham will be promoted by CNN as the Nation's Pastor. This sort of story sells. Just give up the reality! In truth, he is a total fraud. When I was very young in the late 1950s, my brother and I went to a Billy Graham revival in Detroit. As I said, we were so young, and we were bowled over by the enraptured talk and went down from the balcony to the lower auditorium level to be saved by this wonderful man. There we found a team of men taking names and addresses. One week later we received mailed requests for money. Billy liked his fleet of Cadillacs.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  11. peacppl

    there are many ppl ..even other Christians who love and revere Jesus but dont call him God but are going to be "left behind"??? ridiculous

    May 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  12. wcb2009

    if you truly belive this is how it all ends, then whose to say if it's today or a hundred years from now. All points in time are equally likely.

    I place my bet on an asteroid an the only people leaving this planet will be those on rocket ships.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  13. Hillcrester

    My God! (No pun intended)–we have one delusional complaining that another delusional is dnagerously delusional. The inmates are holding a debate, and the angels are watching from their perches on the heads of pins. How many people pay to be preached to by this guy??? I'll gladly do it for less $$.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  14. James Rednour

    The Bible DOES claim that the earth is 6000 years old if you read it literally. It states the earth was created in six days and that Adam lived to be 930 years old. If you follow the geneology listed in Genesis 5, you can calculate the age of the earth up to Noah. The dates for all the following major events can be estimated from the other books in the OT up to the time of Christ. There are two arguments one could make here. Either one can state that Adam's live 4.5 billion years in Eden before he ate of the fruit of the Tree. After that even, the clock on his life started. That's a little hard for most people (Christians included) to swallow. The other argument is that the Bible claims that the earth is 6000 years old. I prefer to think the Moses was just writing metaphorically when he wrote the first few chapters of Genesis.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Mike

      It's all metaphor .

      May 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Understanding that the writing was metaphoric is the key to understanding the Bible. It is the Fundamentalist that think that it is the literal word of God. Of course it is clear to see that Fundamentalist of any sort are dangerous and stupid.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      I think some of the Bible is early science rather than metaphor-with hypotheses (plural) as to beginnings. With all science known to date, those who wish to taste the apple of knowledge must necessarily be flexible enough to adapt to new findings upon hypothesis testing. It's just that some have been left behind with hypotheses.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  15. Brandi

    I thought Jesus was working at a record store in Quahog, Rhode Island...or did Family Guy steer me in the wrong direction on that one?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Badger Bob Of The Mounties ! ! !

      No, that's just not true. I have seen Jesus, and he is in Southern California, not Rhode Island. He is a small man, of the dark complexion that you would expect of a man of Middle Eastern descent. He speaks a language I do not understand, and pronounces his name a bit differently – like "Hay-soos." And I do have to say, the Son of God does a really good job of mowing my lawns for a reasonable price.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Brandi

      @Badger Bob – haha.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  16. Daniel Bordner

    It doesn't harm TRUE CHRISTIANS the problems is that there are many believers out there but few TRUE CHRISTIANS, these date setters come and go and come and go, I believe the end is yet quite distant 25 years+ at the earliest. Just my thoughts.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Monk E. Poopflinger

      Jesus came to me in a dream and told me that people who thought they were TRUE CHRISTIANS who were better than all the other Christians were actually going to hell – which he said was somewhere in Detroit. Jesus then told me to hoard pickles in preparation for his return, for blessed are the pickle-hoarders.

      Yes, it sounds crazy to me, but if Jesus said it, it must be true.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Dsopinion

      haha, I'm glad you have at least 25 years, where the hell did you come up with that?

      I'm not worried about the rapture, I'll be here on earth no matter what. If anybody that knows they will be raptured wants to let me have their assets right before you are scheduled to leave, let me know.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Norman

      or maybe anotehr 1000 years...delusional, party of one!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  17. Steve

    And these guys live a tax free life style on our tab

    May 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Let's get that changed soon. If you can't legislate stupid at least we should at least collect taxes from them.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  18. jimbo

    Christianity isnt harming itself its people who have not done enough research, Christ cant come back untill all the prophecies have been fullfilled and this has not happend yet.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Norman

      jesus isnt coming folks-the bible actually stated that he was coming back immediately-its been 2000 years..give it up

      May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      They have been fulfilled hundreds of times and every time it doesn't happen someone comes up with an excuse for why it didn't happen this time.

      Jesus already came a couple of times and was denied each time. If he was downtown New York he would be denied today too.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Nothing new; I've seen the decaying roadside signs since the late 1940s: "Jesus is coming soon".

      May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  19. peacppl

    The rapture idea is the most racist hateful belief in all of religion...to think a murderer who says Jesus is GOD will go to Heaven with wings ...and good ppl who believe in and love God and do good things will be left to suffer is evil!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • john

      you think saying the words is all it takes?

      May 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • GodIsDead

      Need we more proof that religion is total and utter BS?

      May 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @john

      To be fair here... there are some believers that (do) actually 'believe' that... "all a person has to do, regardless of their actions, is to (believe) whole-heartedly in their 'hearts' that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, etc..."

      I suggest that not even (within) the Christian denominations is there -agreement- on this issue.

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  20. Fred

    Honestly I do not see the difference between Camping and anyone who believes in the second coming. Both are threats from religious people that all who believe something different will be murdered. There is absolutely no difference other than the fact Camping is willing to put a date on it.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • dudebro

      I feel sorry for you if you truly believe that

      May 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Lejaune

      ... Or anyone who believe 72 virgins will be waiting for them after they die.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      I t doesn't matter at all if you feel sorry.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.