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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. John

    I know the world won't come to an end and I know Mr. Camping knows this deep down but I will laugh my as_ off if coincidentally there is an earthquake somewhere in the world on that day. I bet Mr. Camping and everybody else will shi_ their pants! LOL

    May 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Larry

      I predict Harold Camping will die on May 21st 2011 because everyone will be mad that he lied.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • GEZUS

      I will rock his world on May 22nd......did I say 22nd, I mean 21st. yea he got it right this time!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • James

      Yeah, Larry....again

      May 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  2. John S

    It's an unfortunate quirk of human character that we tend to associate an entire group with the assertions of just a few from among them. We should discount a minority as not being representative of either the majority or the majority's belief system – that is logical. However, apparently many, many, many people are NOT logical at all.

    Racism, for example. If a few misbehaving people from among an ethnic group are reported loudly by the media, then we start making assumptions and wonder why "THOSE" people act "THAT WAY". Muslims – if a few crazies get violent, we start making assumptions and look for explanations as to why "THEY" are like "THEY" are. As this author is discussing, many do the same for Christians, letting the crazies and dolts speak for that belief system. It goes on from there – we discount countries, races, ethnicity, etc .. all by these weak stereotypes that are based on nothing but loud noise, hot air, and basically .. our own mental laziness.

    If we could just start thinking with our minds and not our emotions (especially when it comes to how we treat each other) .. the whole world would be SUCH a better place.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  3. ben

    Has no one bothered to think that the reason we won't know the day of christs eturn is because it is not set. God is watching but has not yet decided when to pull the plug.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  4. Evan

    I don't know why Christians can't read the Bible. It states clearly that Jesus would return within the lifetimes of those living at the time. That message is repeated throughout the majority of the 27 books of the New Testament. So if the Bible is correct, Jesus must have returned sometime later in the first century, and nobody noticed. Either that, or the Bible is wrong. Read the Bible people!!!! It is right there in black and white.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • JOregon

      Book
      Chapter
      Verse
      ?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Thinker's Dam

      Evan, the NT also says that even the Son didn't know the date, so maybe Jesus was just guessing and got it wrong. The question would be if the NT says Jesus didn't know, why did he say he would be back so soon?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  5. Linnea

    A book that desperately needs to be read by more Christians: "The Rapture Exposed," by Barbara Rossing. She is a Lutheran pastor and a seminary professor. She makes an excellent case that: 1. The "Rapture" is BS invented by a 19th century evangellist, and 2. It is an extremely dangerous theology.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • JOregon

      Mr Camping didn't used to believe in the rapture either, he would say study some more.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  6. TEL

    DOOMS – DAYERS DO NOT BOTHER ANYONE – THEY ARE JUST AN INTERESTING SIDESHOW IN LIFE! THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE IS JUST TRYING TO MAKE A 'BUCK.' LIFE WILL GO ON AND THIS WILL NOT EVEN BE A BLINK IN A LIFESPAN.!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  7. Kevin

    No god, no rapture. Thanks for playing!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • JOregon

      Yet I am willing to bet if nothing happens, on May 22 there will be a HUGE sigh of relief.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @JOregon

      By 'whom' specifically...?

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Peace2All
      By many, Especially those that say there is no God.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @JOregon

      Hmmm....Interesting... Seems to me that the people that could care less, and be worried the 'least'... would be the ones who 'don't' believe in God, yes...?

      Your posting doesn't makes sense to me. Am I missing something here...?

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Peace2All
      They are gambling that there is no God.
      Only instead of betting a couple dollars, or the Mortgage, they are laying their eternal life on the line.
      Most gamblers have a certain feeling of anticipation, a rush.
      Then either a feeling of excitement at the win or disappointment at the loss.
      Because the loss is so great on this, the relief will be great.
      Certainly not all will be that way, but a great many will be relieved because they really don't know for certain if there is a God. They hope there isn't.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @JOregon

      Hey -JOregon...

      Well, you did say 'many' and 'a great many.' What is 'many' and 'a great many' exactly...? Without out pinning down your numbers and quantifying it, you can't prove your assertion, so it is 'pure speculation.'

      What I do know is that I personally do not believe that this event will happen this Saturday the 21st... nor ever as in the way/stories of that the bible predicts, and I have -0- fear, anxiety, etc... over it.

      So, I can only speak for myself... the 21st will come and go like any other day, and I won't be letting out a..."HUGE sigh of relief" as you stated.

      Guess, I'm at least 1 quantifiable 'counter-example' to your claim. And i would venture to guess that your 'assumption' about non-believers having a ..."HUGE sigh of relief" is extremely over stated, and very counter-intuitive.

      Of course this is my opinion, but i'm guessing that those of us that don't believe the way the bible describes the end of days, won't give it a second thought on Saturday...really.

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Peace2All
      Having once been an atheist and knowing lots of atheists. (Safe to say I am probably the only Christian in my family, cousins included) I do have some understanding of the mind set. Yes most aren't paying attention, but many are. Those that are will often wonder.
      I personally know some that are concerned, but speak out anyway.
      Hope you are right, not only for yourself, but also for the many that I love and care about. Besides I can't say with certainty what God thinks about me.
      Still time comes to an end for everyone. Since I believe there is a God that means a Judgement Day for everyone. Now is as good a time as any to make like the publican.
      Luke 18:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
      Luke 18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @JOregon

      Hey -J Org...

      Yes, glad that you agree with me... at least on the concept of 'most' atheists won't even give it a second thought. I also know lots of atheists. Even if a few atheists do, there is a big difference from as you stated...."HUGE sigh of relief" to ..."wondering," as you stated in your posting above.

      You Said: "Since I believe there is a God that means a Judgement Day for everyone."

      Well, I certainly respect your right to -believe- as you will. And, with the understanding that while there very well 'may' be a God... You 'could' be right. It certainly doesn't mean it is fact, because as you stated..."I -believe- there is a God." Beliefs are not necessarily = Absolute Facts.

      And secondly, 'even if' there is a...God... it doesn't *mean* in any way that it is the God as described in the bible(Judgement Day/sending souls to hell,e tc... There could be many different ways of this supposed God. And yes, time does come to an end for everyone, and again, it doesn't in any way shape or form *mean* that it is as most christians think of it.

      So, while I certainly appreciate your, what I believe to be a 'sincere' gesture with your quotes from the book of Luke to...'save my eternal soul,' I only wish you peace in your life... and should there happen to be an after-life... and... it happens to be exactly as you think, maybe you can put in a good word for me with St. Peter at the Pearlies !!! 🙂

      Good luck to you @JOregon.

      Oh...BTW-I used to be a christian, a long time ago. Now i'm (agnostic).

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 18, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  8. Pedro Delgado

    RELAX!
    Rapture is actually on the 22nd.

    Faith v. Reason ..... Religion v. Secularism ..... Thinking v. Stinky Thinking

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  9. Artos

    while i dont belive in religion i have to say they do give a certain point about us not being able to know

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Artos

      I'm curious... Did you really need this article, and some of the believers to help you understand that the world will one day come to an end...and...we really don't know exactly when...?

      Respectfully,

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  10. smuker

    You bet Jesus will return. It may be 1 miillion years from today, but that is when the Lord will return. Granted, however; many of us who are living today, will not be around to see – – The Great Return.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @smuker

      Hmmm....If it is 1 million years... *many* ...?

      Also, you are assuming that Jesus will 'definitely' return...unless you are kidding...?

      Peace...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  11. Alex

    I can discount the bible for many reasons, beginning with a talking snake.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  12. bretgs

    I guess May 21 is just about the time for tax refund checks to already be deposited in their accounts. " No need hanging on to useless money, send it to me...." Says the predictor preacher.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  13. Mario

    Before the Lord Jesuschrist can come back, the great Temple has to be rebuilt in Israel. That has not happened but its in the making. once it's built , the antichrist will go in it and claim himself to be god...then Christ will return.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  14. Matthew

    Here's the thing I think is most missed in this situation. The Bible says that only God knows the day and the hour of the Rapture/Return of Christ/Armaggedon/Judgement Day/End of the World. Then Camping says HE knows. Isn't he in effect saying he is more powerful than God by trumping his word? I mean, at best he is calling God a liar by knowing something God says cannot be known, and at worst says that God didn't have the power to keep it unknown from his (Camping) more powerful intellect. I think the real underlying aspect of this story is that Camping doesn't really believe God exists, or he wouldn't be so cavalier in his proclamations.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • JOregon

      He knows that verse well and covers it with a reasonable argument.
      At first Christians were to build churches and send the gospel into the world. They weren't to waste their time or thoughts about something they would not see.
      As we get to the end of time, and the bible tells us to look for certain signs, then God the Father will Reveal the time.
      There are many verses that says God opens our eyes to understanding. It also doesn't seem reasonable that Jesus couldn't know the end if he was fully God.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. Charlie

    Of course, Genesis is not about the creation of the world. On the other hand, Middle-eastern history is around 6,000 years old. The problem for the doomsday folk is that history is to come to an end at the end of 6,000 years, not at the start of 6,000 years. This is the Jewish year, 5771. We have a thousand and 200 years to go. Of course we could date from some point in Jesus' life to come up with 7,000 years. The most likely date then, if it is in our lifetime is 2033.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • mike

      lucky we will know enough about the human mind and its full potential by 2033 that we do not have to worry about your lines of BS and Culture

      May 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  16. Simon

    So who will take care of these fools after the world doesn't end?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  17. JOregon

    I wonder how this will end up being formatted when posted.
    I have issues with Camping but I also have issues with false accusations.
    QUOTE: “Readers should note that Camping first predicted the world’s end in 1994. He says he was wrong due to a mathematical miscalculation.”
    Not true. When he wrote 1994 he said that, according to the Bible, Christ should return in 2011. The reason he shortened the time to 1994 was because he thought he saw some things that indicated that the time period would be shortened. I believe one of the verses he wondered about was:
    Mark 13:20 And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days.
    .
    It wasn't math, he says it was because he wondered about some verses. This is why I have an issue with Camping. He has changed one of his fundamental principles. In the past he has always said we see through a glass darkly.
    1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
    .
    Now he says he can't be wrong.
    QUOTE: “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.”
    and QUOTE: “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.”
    Since Mr. Camping has hosted a call in Q&A program about the bible 5 days a week for the past 50+/- years I think it is safe to say he feels he has a solid answer to those verses. Especially since his calls were not screened and he answered those question with only the bible that he held.
    Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
    .
    Is it your contention that Jesus was not fully God, or is it the Father that was not fully God? John 14:9
    If I understand Camping's argument during the building of the church and the spreading of the gospel man was not to waste time on this question. The Son did not know – meaning the Church was all about raising up the Son.
    Now that we are at the end of time it is the Father that reveals this information.
    The question is are we at the end of time? I don't know if May 21 is it, but I believe we are.
    This world is dying.
    Bats are dying off at an alarming rate from a fungus that so far is incurable. Hope everyone likes mosquitoes.
    Frogs are dying off. Wild honey bees – bye bye. Dead spots in the ocean, where there is no oxygen. Etc.
    The bible warns about certain signs for the end times, you might say it tries to tell us we will know the time of the end.
    The Fig tree came into leaf May 14, 1948.
    The signs and wonders movement took off in the 20th century.
    1 Timothy 4:1 ¶ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
    .
    Many churches have left their foundation, people want to hear a different kind of message were they are in control. No longer is the message to throw yourself on the mercy of God. Now the message is, if you do X,Y, and/or Z you will be saved.
    Since I spent many years in a Southern Baptist Church I will use the SBC Faith and Message as a good example.
    If you compare the Southern Baptist “Abstract of Principles” with the “Faith and Message” you will see a church that fell off its foundation.
    Any student should know that James Petrigu Boyce had a much different set of beliefs than what the Southern Baptists teach today. At the very least Southern Baptist Seminary should change the name of Boyce College.
    The point is, many churches have gone the way of the Southern Baptists. They have abandoned their principles and adopted new and exciting ones. Itching ears.
    Just as the bible predicted for the end times.
    QUOTE: “First, such predictions give non-Christians one more reason to discount the Bible.”
    Or perhaps it will cause some to think about it. Perhaps some will go to their knees. It certainly is a better message than the many hypocritical messages that have come out of churches today.
    QUOTE: “Second, predictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions.”
    True.
    QUOTE: “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.”
    I think most reasonable people will know there is a wide diversity of Christian thought.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • jesus

      It's Obama's fault!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  18. curzen

    Come on, sure those misguided few who believe doomsday is this week are a bit nutty. But isn't every Christian believing that eventually Jesus will return, there will be judgement day and all that jazz? All Christians have that fatalistic mindset. Some just keep it under control a little better than others.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • mike

      yeah, but its only because htey do not understand the possibility of the growth of the human mind and body. They do not understand that we have more then one use for many parts of our mind and body, they do not understand how it can just be someone eventually making a discovery of the century within themselves.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Hilikus00

      I think the issue is this man claimed to know the date from calculations in the bible. However, the bible states that only God himself knows. So it's not the belief in the rapture...just knowing the timing.

      I mean...I'm not defending anyone, I am an atheist...but I've seen many of my fellow atheists in replies totally miss the point of this article, and just use it as a religion bashing forum. It makes us decent, semi-rational human beings, who also happen to be atheists, look bad...just as Jeffress is worried about Camping doing to Christians.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  19. Leo

    The PreTribulation Rapture deception is the most dangerous teaching in Christianity today. Read your bible, for it is clear that two critical events must occur before the Lord returns, 1st the Apastacy or the falling away from the truth, and 2nd the Man of Lawlessness or the AntiChrist is revealed. The Apostacy is happening in these last days, but the AntiChrist is yet to be revealed!! II Thessalonians 2

    May 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • JOregon

      1 John 4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      I'll see you both in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Remember to wear your nose ring – the big steel one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the uplifting.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • smuker

      #! George Bush, and #2 George Bush the anti-christ.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • JOregon

      @Up
      The point was according to the bible the Antichrist was already there.
      The bible defines Antichrist:
      2 John 1:7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  20. Fredrick

    Gee, do you think a bunch crazy people running selling all of their possessions off and running around telling everyone the world is about to end all the while telling anyone who will listen, or not, that they are of a certain faith harms the reputation of that faith?

    Great insight, Einstein.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • mike

      how else do you keep the economy going? need value to circulate.. these are tough times america has put the world in

      May 17, 2011 at 8:30 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.