one last thought on Camping

I will resist the easy jokes about the rapture that didn’t occur last weekend–you know, where I say how I expected you to be here on Monday regardless of what happened on Saturday–and instead go in a more helpful, pastoral direction.  I think that Christians were right to scoff at Camping’s prediction, but it bothered me that sometimes our scoffing was in the same key as those who don’t know Jesus. So this morning I wrote this “Our Daily Journey” entry for my own benefit, and maybe it will help you as well (assuming you’re still here).

the return of the King

read > 2 Peter 3:3-18

Harold Camping received a lot of attention for declaring that Judgment Day would begin around dinner time on May 21, 2011. Few people believed him—even his receptionist admitted that “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen” (Matthew 24:36)—and generally his prediction was panned by everyone. The secular world had much fun at Camping’s expense, planning apocalyptic survival parties and replaying R.E.M.’s rock song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).” Even those who interviewed him didn’t take him seriously. One anchor closed her segment on Camping with a knowing smirk, “Let’s hope he’s wrong.”

        That’s where all who love Jesus must disagree. We are the first to say that Camping’s aim and method were wrong. No one can predict when Jesus will return, and Camping’s convoluted and implausible argument for May 21, 2011 was not particularly promising. We were right to declare that Camping was wrong, but we also should have wished that he wasn’t.

        Christians should feel a twinge of sadness every night when we turn in to bed, for we have lived another day without the return of our King. The Lord’s Prayer includes the line, “May your Kingdom come soon” (Luke 11:2). As far-fetched as Camping’s prediction was, his spectacular miss should prompt us to reassess our deepest longings. Will we only scoff at his delusion, or will we also remember that we should want our Lord to return?

        Perhaps we aren’t excited for Jesus’ return because we’re too easily pleased with the present. As one preacher said, “It’s hard to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ when your kingdom has had a good year.” Thank God for the good life you presently enjoy, but don’t allow his current blessings to distract you from the Christian’s prayer: “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22).






18 responses to “one last thought on Camping”

  1. Spot on and convicting. I was making rapture jokes like there was no tomorrow.

  2. My scoffing was in the key of “Amillennial smugness.”

  3. …and how are we to deal pastoraly in a Biblicaly helpful and loving way with those who believed and followed Camping, and are dealing with a let down and disillusinment that for some of them may be spiritualy devestating. I don’t think telling them “You should have known better!” will be very helpful, (even though it is true.)

    Good post Mike…

  4. Jonathan Shelley

    So maybe we shouldn’t be quoted in the paper as saying Camping makes Christians “look stupid.” [that’s sarcasm]

    Thanks for validating my secret desire that Camping was right and the Kingdom was truly at hand, even though, like the good Rev. Z and the Church Fathers, my eschatology is amil (but apparently so is Camping’s.)

  5. mikewittmer


    This post was my penance. Though it’s true, we did look stupid.

  6. Jonathan Shelley


    I apologize for my judgmental comment regarding your quote. It was wrong of me to take your words at face value rather than feeling the heart of love behind them. I hope that we can put this ugly incident of linguistic certitude behind us and continue our journey of conversation as we discover the light of individual truth within ourselves.

  7. […] A good word in season from Mike Wittmer: Even those who interviewed him didn’t take him seriously. One anchor closed her segment on Camping with a knowing smirk, “Let’s hope he’s wrong.” […]

  8. […] Mike Wittmer writes: […]

  9. Michael

    “I don’t teach my own views. I just teach what the Bible says.” -Harold Camping, after predicting the world will now end on October 21. Camping is the fruit of Luther’s proposition; that scriptural interpretation resides only in the individual’s judgment and not the magisterium’s overseeing office guided by the Holy Spirit.

    I point you to a good article by my friend James McDonald on this issue:

  10. Luther would never allow scriptural interpretation to reside merely within the judgment of an individual (2 Peter 1:20). God’s Word held his conscience captive, not vice versa. “Individual’s judgment” or “magisterium’s overseeing office” are not the only two options for interpreting Scripture.

    Second, it is unfair to use Harold Camping as a Protestant poster child. Just because he is under Dr. Luther’s tree does not mean that he is result of Luther’s thinking. He may simply be (pardon the pun) a fruit. Surely, this argument leaves your own beliefs vulnerable. There have been abuses of the “magisterium’s overseeing office” that you would consider abnormalities. Guilt by association is as much Rome’s problem as it is Wittenberg’s.

    Third (and least persuasively), I also have a friend named James MacDonald. And he would strongly disagree with your friend, James MacDonald.

    Several hundred years of sizable differences between Protestants and Catholics will not be resolved through the comments section on a blog. I wonder if you recognize the inflammatory nature of your comment, and what your intention was in its posting.

  11. Agreeing that we should hope for the return of the king, I often wonder if my non-Christian friends ‘get’ the goodness of the hear and now more than supposed Jesus followers such as Camping.

    When we miss the kingdom that is at hand, it seems we miss nearly the entire gospel. Without the kingdom, we are holding Jesus with only a small part of the good news — that we can get to heaven when we die. I suppose that is good news, but it hardly speaks of restoration and certainly doesn’t embody the reality of the resurrection.

    Perhaps this is what people like Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, and others are trying to say. Without the kingdom of God in the hear and now, we have no recognition of a king. We have only a martyr in the person of Jesus Christ.

    We can hold Jesus all we want, but we end up looking like Camping. I’m tired of Christians looking ‘stupid,’ but it seems like we’re really good at it these days, and we deserve every bit of the criticism.

  12. Thanks for this word. Very helpful and convicting. Oh that we might all see His kingdom for what it really is. We would not want this present one so much if we could just see His. We are far too easily pleased.

  13. mikewittmer


    You do know that you’re writing on the blog of the author of “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” right? Where do you think Rob learned that the kingdom is at hand? I won’t allow you “emergents” to take our ideas and then use them against us as if you have something to teach us.

  14. Jack Horton


    Thanks for the good post and the good response to Randy. As one who is old enough to have been reading Ladd since the 70’s, which is well before many of the emergents were even born, I also feel the frustration when they try to claim ideas shared by so many others.

  15. “Linguistic certitude”
    “Individual truth”
    Jonathan – are you certain that linguistic certitude was the problem? Maybe Camping was just proclaiming the joys of being a Red Sox fan and you misinterpreted him…
    Humpty would have been proud. Camping’s problem was exactly the opposite – he made the words sing and dance. In fact one could quite easily make the case that it was his individual truth that has made him look so bad. Jesus said you can’t know the day and Harold responds “yes we can”.
    Much like Jesus said all have to believe in him or they are condemned and Brian and Rob and Doug and Tony say no you don’t have to believe and no worries you won’t be condemned.
    What King will you point them to Randy? The one who says his kingdom is not of this world? The one who sent his disciples out on an apparently useless mission – if Rob is right? The King not worthy of worship if Brian is right? (lets do the Math – Jesus affirmed the Noah story – Brian condemns it – who should I believe? hmmm Brian or Jesus? tough choices)
    I think the more you listen to the emergents – the more you have no recognition of the King.
    And thanks Mike – the emergents act like they invented social concerns.

  16. […] A great post by Mike Wittmer that hit me personally. Oh how I long to have Him return! Even those who interviewed him didn’t take him seriously. One anchor closed her segment on Camping with a knowing smirk, “Let’s hope he’s wrong.” […]

  17. V

    I am a Christian raised in the pre-tribe rapture church. But I have heard too many Christians long for Christ’s return as a “get me out of this mess” desire rather than a true desire to see an earthly return of Christ.

    And I have see too many Christians put so much focus on the “rapture” and following events that they ignore the good they could or should be doing in order to chase fanciful dreams.

    And it makes Christianity a laughing stock. It *is* a fanciful interpretation of scripture and a relatively new one at that (what 100 years or so?). For me, it’s on a par with donning purple running suits & white Nikes while waiting for a comet to pass and take you up.

    I did deride Camping’s prediction to distance myself & my faith from utter nonsense. Non-Christians who know me should know that it’s what Christ did when He was here that makes the difference. Christians should condemn this man’s message for it detracts from the person of Christ and His work. And then we should work to bring heaven as close to earth as we can.

  18. […] One Last Thought on Camping – I was going to write my own article on this but then I ran across this one and it pretty much said what I wanted to say.  […]

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