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FIRST-PERSON: May 21 wouldn’t be the first false prediction

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–I predict that Harold Camping, the elderly radio talk show host now predicting Judgment Day on May 21, 2011, and the end of the world October 21, 2011, will adjust his predictions to future dates after doing further calculations on May 22, 2011.

I believe my prediction will most certainly take place because “no one knows the day or the hour,” according to Jesus. Since Camping is working from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and the account of Noah’s great flood, I assume he can and will come up with calculations to support new dates for the world’s demise.

William Miller, a sometimes Baptist preacher, predicted the end of the world no later than March 21, 1844. He adjusted his prediction after the fateful day passed without incident, lighting on numerous other dates in 1844.

Edgar C. Whisenant predicted that the rapture of the church would occur Sept. 13, 1988. As an American pastor, I received his free booklet, “88 Reasons,” which I keep as a more recent example of misguided apocalyptic fervor. Whisenant was insightful enough to realize that his date had passed without incident, so he then predicted Sept. 15, 1988; then Oct. 3, 1988; and then again selected a day in 1989, 1990 and 1991. By then no one was listening.

So why are we listening to the presumptuous Camping? He thinks all churches were abandoned by God and conquered by Satan on May 21, 1988, his own un-churched and unaffiliated status apparently providing him protection.

This is Camping’s second go-around for predicting the end of the world. His book “1994?” postulated the end of days in 1994 with a tad more humility. He thought at that time he could be wrong, but apparently all uncertainty has passed.

I first encountered Camping’s date on a huge billboard in Accra, Ghana. Similar signs in downtown New Orleans encourage us to “save the date.” Seminary students here are discussing the prediction, and various Christian ministries have gotten on board with Camping just as Trinity Broadcasting partnered with Whisenant in 1988.

Expectation of the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the age is an historic part of orthodox Christian theology. It should keep Christians future-oriented and eager to see God’s unfolding plan. It gives hope beyond human strength and wisdom. And it provides confines for human history that exalt the role of God in the world and set all human effort in the context of God’s sovereign rule.

Setting dates for the end of the world is a truly bad idea. While it may remind us of God’s ultimate authority, it also disappoints and disillusions those who assume the prediction to be true. I have personally witnessed the flagging enthusiasm of those who thought they knew when the end would come.

The prophets generally profit from their prediction in various ways but often recover nicely despite the inevitable disappointment. The average person who is caught up in the excitement of the final day leaves the whole ordeal with a bad taste in his mouth.

Judgment Day is coming because justice is an eternal quality of our eternal God. May 21, 2011, is a great day to hope in God’s sovereign rule and continue your faithful routines. If the end of the world should catch you in the classroom or at work instead of on the mountain, you will be found faithful.
David Crosby is pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans. This column first appeared at SBCToday.com.

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  • David Crosby