The news media have reported extensively on the failed predictions of Harold Camping that the world would end on May 21st. Apparently he has revised his prophecy and told us that we should now circle October 21st as “Judgment Day”.
My former church history professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Dr Robert Godfrey, who is now president of Westminster Seminary in California, has personal knowledge of Harold Camping, the failed prophet. Bob’s blog-posts are a helpful commentary on this man and his crazy theology. Here’s a sample of what Bob has written:
Harold Camping has not only deserted the church, he seems also to have deserted Christ and his Gospel. In his online book The End of the Church…and After, he began to reject a number of teachings on salvation common in Reformed churches. Consider this strange amalgam of biblical truths and errors all of which Camping rejects as errors so serious that Christ has ended the church age because of them: “Such conclusions that there can be divorce for fornication, baptismal regeneration, our faith is an instrument that God uses to bring us to salvation, a future millennium, women can pastor a church, universal atonement, our acceptance of Christ as a requirement for salvation, are typical of many doctrines solemnly adopted by churches.” In this statement are indications of serious confusion on the doctrine of salvation.
Camping’s teaching reaches the status of heresy in his recent appeal to the world, “Judgment Day,” an eight page statement online. The saddest and most distressing element of Camping’s latest theological statement is that it is Christless. He does not write about Christ’s return, but about judgment day. In his eight pages of warning and call for repentance he writes only this of Christ: “Because God is so great and glorious He calls Himself by many different names. Each name tells us something about the glorious character and nature of God. Thus in the Bible we find such names as God, Jehovah, Christ, Jesus, Lord, Allah, Holy Spirit, Savior, etc. Names such as Jehovah, Jesus, Savior, and Christ particularly point to God as the only means by which forgiveness from all of our sins and eternal life can be obtained by God’s merciful and glorious actions.” Notice that Camping says nothing of the Trinity, writing as if Christ and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons of the Trinity, but just different names for God. If Camping means this, then he is not a Trinitarian, but has adopted the ancient heresy of modalism. Notice also that there is no mention of the cross and Christ’s saving work for sinners. Forgiveness is nowhere linked to the work of the incarnate Christ. For Camping the mercy of God comes simply to the repentant. He never mentions faith in Christ. He also makes clear that those who cry for mercy might be saved. He offers no assurance of salvation: “Nevertheless, the Bible assures us that many of the people who do beg God for His mercy will not be destroyed.” Notice that not all, but only many who repent will be saved.
Camping’s presentation of God’s mercy is from beginning to end unbiblical and unchristian. He has no Trinity, no cross, no faith alone in Jesus alone, and no assurance. His vision of God and mercy is more Muslim than Christian. If Camping still believes in the Trinity, in Jesus and his cross, and in justification by faith alone, then his recent teaching shows that he is a failure as a teacher of the Gospel and his call to repentance lacks enough content for sinners to find salvation in Jesus.
Since Camping’s misuse of 2 Peter 3:8 is so crucial to his dating scheme, we should look carefully at the message of Peter in his second letter to see what he actually teaches about salvation, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. First, we see that Peter clearly distinguishes God the Father from God the Son as distinct persons of the Godhead (see 2 Peter 1:1, 2, 17). Second, Peter stresses the importance of knowing the truth of Jesus, not just God in general (see 2 Peter 1:8, 16; 2:20; 3:18). Peter makes clear the centrality of the cross in referring to those who “bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). This statement of Peter is parallel to what he teaches in his first epistle: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18). Third, Peter stresses that the eternal kingdom is not just the kingdom of God in general, but specifically “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Finally, Peter points to the foundational function of faith in Jesus to the life of the Christian (see 2 Peter 1:1, 5).
Peter stresses the very distinctives of Christianity that are missing from Camping’s warning and teaching in “Judgment Day.” Camping’s failure to teach Christianity faithfully and fully and his misrepresentation of the Bible means that he is one of the false teachers against whom Peter warns Christians (2 Peter 2:1). Peter warned us against “they that are unlearned and unstable” who “wrest” Paul’s words “as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
When we read 2 Peter, we see that it is not part of a mystery book or puzzle. Peter writes clearly about the Gospel of Jesus and the danger of false teachers. Peter’s concerns in his second letter are to promote confidence in God’s Word, even though Jesus seems to some to be slow in returning, to encourage faith in Jesus the Savior, and to call Christians to holy living. Any one reading him carefully can see how utterly different is Peter’s teaching from Camping’s.
We can end our reflection on Camping’s teaching by remembering Jesus’ presentation of the Gospel in John 6 and Peter’s response to it. That Gospel offended many as Jesus taught on his work, on grace and on faith. Jesus then asked his disciples: “Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67-69). Let us pray that Harold Camping and his followers will come to embrace the Gospel as Peter did.