Apocalypse Now?

As you’re almost certainly aware, tomorrow is the day that Harold Camping of Family Radio claims that the world is going to end.  Well, technically, it’s tonight. Camping claims that there will be a different rapture per timezone, at 6 PM each timezone.  The first rapture, in lovely Tonga, would occur at 6 PM local time, which is 1 AM Eastern, and still Friday night throughout most of the US.

Apparently, God uses timezones?  That’s odd enough, when you realize how screwed-up time zones are in places like central Asia (If you were to go due north from Calcutta, India, all the way to the north coast of Russia, you’d pass through some six different time zones, without ever going east or west).  But it gets a whole lot crazier when you ponder the eternal fate of those who are on airplanes.  For example, you’re a rapture-ready Christian on a plane, and it’s 5:30 PM, then you cross a timezone, and it’s 6:30 PM.  Whoops – missed the Rapture.

Seeing Evangelicals prepare for the Rapture shows it to be not just intellectually absurd, but quite a callous eschatology.  Here’s what Family Radio says about those of us still alive on May 22:

On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed. The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21, 2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.

That is, nobody can be saved. Between May 22 and October 21, humanity is in terrible awareness of its imminent damnation, but it’s helpless to stop it.  This, says Camping, will be the fate of all Christians who remain in churches, and 97% of the global population.

Sickeningly, Camping thinks this will happen to some of the folks he works with, and his advice is for them to just keep running the Christian radio station.  He wrote his co-workers a goodbye letter, instructing them to carry on Family Radio after he’s raptured.  That is… while they await their imminent and unavoidable damnation.

The thing which is irritating about this eschatology isn’t that some people will be damned — that’s completely understandable, given the reality of sin. It’s that rather than trying to help those people, the response from Rapture Evangelicals is to want to run away, to turn one’s back on the world completely, and let them languish in their sins, die, and go to Hell.

So intellectually and morally, the Rapture is bankrupt. Scripturally, it fares no better. There are a handful of proof-texts used to prove the Rapture.  And it’s true, that in a particular sense, we will be taken up. That is, into Heaven, at the Last Judgment.  Scripture’s actually quite clear about this. There’s going to be a Second Coming of Christ at which we’ll be judged, and either taken into Heaven or sent into Hell.  No secret exodus of the saved, but Christ, in glory, as visible and noticeable as lighting in the sky (Mt. 24:27). Not only is it true that “about that day or hour no one knows,” (Mt. 24:36), but when it happens, there won’t be folks left behind. Mt. 24:50-51 discusses the fate of the disobedient servant- he’s destroyed at the Last Judgment, not “left behind.” When Christ returns in glory at the Second Coming, the gig is up as surely as it is at our deaths. We either go to Heaven or Hell.  Pretty simple, really.

In addition to failing intellectually, morally, and Scripturally, these Rapture traditions are theological novelties. With only a handful of exceptions (probably 2-3 verifiable ones), the earliest Rapture-theorists are John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and his student Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921).  That is, the theory of the Rapture is younger than America.

From a Christian perspective, we can point to that and say, “It’s nonsense, then.”  Even knowing nothing else, we can say that a “theological novelty” is a polite term for a heresy. If you’re “rediscovering” what Jesus and the Apostles really taught, you’re acting like a new-age Gnostic. The notion that God would allow everyone from the time of Christ to the time of Abe Lincoln misunderstand Christianity so thoroughly is staggering.

This is the same problem with plagues other eschatological novelties, like Full Preterism.  But look at how David Green, a Full Preterist himself, defends against these accusations:

“As for the argument that the church couldn’t have been wrong about eschatology for about 2,00 years (or more accurately, about 1,800 years), Gentry is yet again using a Roman Catholic argument. How could the Reformers have been correct about ‘forensic justification by faith alone’ when the post-apostolic church NEVER taught that doctrine until about the year 1500? According to Gentry’s fallacious reasoning, Reformed Theology must be an unbiblical and damnable heresy. Gentry’s argument (‘Hyper-preterism’ is new in church history. Therefore it is false.) brings the Reformation down like a house of cards. ‘Forensic justification by faith alone’ was just as ‘new’ in the 1500’s as ‘hyper-preterism’ was ‘new’ in the 1800’s.”

Exactly. So by the same token that we can dismiss folks like Camping and the Full Preterists as totally wrong on eschatology, because they’ve concocted a heresy, we can say the same about Calvin and Luther on justification. Significantly, this was one way that the early Church disproved heresies. St. Jerome, in Against the Luciferians, wrote:

We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.

That point is devastating for two reasons.  First, it shows how you can misuse Scripture alone to justify nearly anything.  If you want to “disprove” that Christians who wear shoes are saved, just take Luke 10:4 out of context. If you want do the same for Christians with two coats, do the same with Luke 3:11. Even the devil can play the sola Scriptura game (Mt. 4:1-11).  And second, the early Church’s response to this was always the same: the Church founded by Christ, which can’t be traced back to a mortal founder, is the true Church.  So any theological innovation (like the Rapture) or denomination whose lineage can be traced to someone other than Christ (like Calvinism) is in the wrong.

Catholicism, in contrast, can trace Her lineage to Rome, who Paul salutes as having the Christian faith (Romans 1:8; Romans 16:16), and to the first pope, Peter. And Peter is the rock Jesus Himself builds His own Church upon (Mt. 16:17-19). That’s the sort of stable foundation Christians should want to build upon.

Update: I couldn’t resist quoting this, from the hilarious Simcha Fischer:

Yes, yes, I realize that the so-called “Jimmy Akin” already covered the story about the scholar who has predicted that the end of the world will be May 21, 2011. What can I say? The man calls himself an apologist, and yet somehow fails to grasp such a simple concept as figurative language. For instance, when Christ says, “Listen, this here is actually, literally, super-de-really my body, and when I say that, I mean that it actually is actually my actual body”—well, that’s what we call a “symbol.”
But when Peter says, “A day is with the Lord as a thousand years”—um, hello. That’s literal.
Yup, that’s the theory in a nutshell.

Update 2: Via Mark Shea:


  1. Great post and, wow, that quote from Jerome is amazing. Old Jerome and his Protestant Bible turns out not to be the hero evangelicals think he is… again.

    Are you taking a different view from, I think, St. Thomas on the Resurrection of the Dead? His view, as I understand it, is that at the Second Coming the dead in Christ will rise and with those alive in Christ will receive glorified bodies that will then enjoy the presence of God on Earth. A new Earth, a Heaven on Earth, but something different from the disembodied state the dead in Christ now enjoy in Heaven. Right?

  2. Thanks. And yeah, I’d only had a foggy notion of what Jerome had said, so when I went back and re-read his actual words, it was incredible.

    And I’m not meaning to affirm anything at variance with what Aquinas is saying — just that many of the passages which describe Saints going up aren’t referring to a secret Rapture, but to the Bodily Resurrection and Last Judgment. At that point, we’ll enjoy the presence of God in the new “Heavenly Jerusalem” (CCC 1044; see also CCC 2802 on the “location” of Heaven). So I think we agree.

  3. Jarrod, yeah, that’s the really sad thing. I remember when Y2k didn’t pan out, and people just acted like it was no big deal that all of their over-confident predictions can to naught.

  4. I’m actually embarrassingly weak on Catholic eschatology. I know that:
    (1) There are four last things – Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.

    (2) Christ will come again in Glory, in a way distinct from His spiritual presence where two or more are gathered and His Real (Physical) Sacramental Presence in the Eucharist, and in a way unmistakable to the world.

    (3) Before this point, things will get rough for the Saints on Earth (Aquinas, if I’m not mistaken, hypothesized that this would eliminate their need for any further purgation).

    (4) He’ll divide up the sheep and the goats.

    (5) Anyone claiming that there’s a Rapture nobody knew about that’s secretly in the Bible, or who claims to have some special knowledge about how the End Times plays out is someone you should probably tune out and pray for, because Scripture warns of about those kinds of folks.

    Beyond those basics, I’m not sure how much I really know.

  5. Y2K did pan out, in many trivial complaints of the variety that those who knew were chiefly expecting. on 1/1/2000, I posted at a site that thought it was 1/1/19100.

    And Y2K unlike Doomsday lay in human power to prevent. I know. For many years I was working on prevent it, one of thousands of little programmer bees working away to prevent it.

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