We’ve All Been Left Behind: Now What? A pastor responds to Harold Camping’s latest error

May 21, 2011 has come and gone with nary a sign of the end of the world. Harold Camping has again joined a long list of false prophets who have wrongly predicted the date and time of the rapture and end of the world. I say again, because Harold Camping made the same prediction in 1994. Perhaps he thought the 17 years was enough time for people to forget. What are we to make of him?

Part of me is angry. It is upsetting to see someone attempt to use the Bible to prove his own theories—especially when the Bible directly forbids the kind of date-setting Camping engages in. If we were living under Old Testament guidelines, Harold Camping would be put to death. In Deuteronomy 18:20 the Lord commands, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” But thankfully we live under the rule of grace. So what should be our response to Camping and false teachers like him? According to 1 Corinthians 5, those guilty of Old Testament capital offences are to be excommunicated from the church. Believers are to have no fellowship with them and are to pray for their repentance. Harold Camping has dishonored God and his Word, we should pray that he repents of his sins and publically forsakes his errors.

A part of me is saddened. As mentioned previously, Harold Camping is certainly not alone in his errors. There are probably many more doing the same thing today that we just do not know about. But we heard about Camping because he has a large following. It is estimated that his ministry is worth $72 million dollars. He paid for billboards and advertisements to go up all over the country. Followers of Camping quit their jobs; emptied their savings; and sold their possessions to spread his message. What are they going to do now? My heart breaks for those he has lead astray. We must be able to separate false teachers from the “false taught.” We should pray that the Holy Spirit would minster to followers of Camping. We should pray that the Spirit would reveal the truth of Scripture to them. We should pray that the Holy Spirit would take away their faith in a deluded man and give them full confidence in the perfection, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.

A part of me is actually thankful. I have been pleasantly surprised to see news outlets giving the story fair and accurate coverage. The news accounts I have seen have been careful to point out that even most Christians considered Camping a heretic and repudiated him and his teaching. Nevertheless, the popular response has been very informative. The general public, talk show hosts on radio and T.V., social media like Twitter and Facebook have not been mocking Camping—they have been mocking the very idea of the return of Christ and the end of the world.

Peter wrote, “knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4). If you have listened and watched carefully, you will have noticed that scoffers and scoffing accurately describes the reaction of unbelievers to the idea of the return of Jesus. They have not been mocking Camping, but the very idea that God would judge the earth in righteousness. We have been reminded again that the world is not our friend. Camping’s foolishness has served to bring out the scorn and ridicule that unbelievers have for the Bible and its teaching. The Bible nowhere states that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011; but it does state that Jesus will return. And that is what people have been laughing at. We are reminded again to pray for unbelievers and to faithfully proclaim the gospel. “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:43).

Rob Bell is Right: Love Wins

The Christian side of the internet was set a flutter this weekend over the subject matter of Rob Bells upcoming book release: Love Wins. Most of the discussion was over the question of whether or not Rob bell is a heretic for denying hell and embracing universalism. Even those who made the charge of heresy admitted they did so only tentatively since the promotional material only seemed to indicate that Bell embraced universalism. This caveat received as much space and attention as the legal disclaimers at the conclusion of commercials.

Whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic is not for me to say. I will say that about the only thing more distasteful than the so-called evangelical rock star mentality is the glee that others seem to demonstrate in tearing those rock stars down. Whether or not Rob Bell is a universalist or not, he is right about one thing: love does win.

Universalism is wrong on multiple levels. It is wrong logically: there is no point in pursuing the Christian life if we all end up in the same place. It is wrong historically: no group of orthodox Christians have ever believed and taught it. It is wrong biblically: no plain reading of the Scripture’s teaching on hell allows for it. It is wrong theologically: and this is the most fundamental error of universalism.

The promotional video for Love Wins points to one of the foundational arguments for the salvation of all mankind: God is too loving to send anyone to a place of eternal torture. A loving, merciful God would never do such a thing. The problem with such an argument is that it actually belittles the love of God. That’s right: to say that God is too loving to send anyone to hell diminishes God’s love and makes his mercy into something repulsive.

“God is love.” While John’s statement certainly is not meant to describe all that God is, it accurately represents what his character is. We also know from Scripture that God does not change; he is immutable. If God is loving and immutable he has always loved. That is to say, even before man existed, God was a God of love. But who was there for God to love before creation? Only himself.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:5, 24)

Universalism fails to take the love of God seriously because it does not recognize the fountain of all God’s love: the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for one another. What shall the Father say to the Son regarding the humiliation of his incarnation and crucifixion? “Sorry my boy, I guess you did not have to abandon your glory, embrace poverty, and be forsaken after all. I have decided to just let everyone in.” What shall he say to the Spirit? “I know you have been striving for thousands of years to call sinners to repentance and saints to holiness, but all your effort really was not needed.”

Universalism makes God a monster. It actually validates the charge of atheists that God is a cosmic child-abuser. Universalism declares that God loves people more than his own Son. For God to be merciful to those who reject the sacrifice of Christ, the Father Himself is the one “who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant…”

As with all heresy, universalism begins with a faulty conception of God. Universalism maintains that God the Father does not love the Son enough to honor the sacrifice he made to save his people from their sins. In addition, the Holy Spirit toils in vain to apply the benefits of Christ’s death to his followers if all will eventually receive it.

Universalism is heresy because it makes little of the love God has for himself. I pray that if Rob Bell has been tempted by this poisonous allurement, the Spirit will open his eyes to the fact that love does win. Te love God has for himself will be vindicated.