Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Scandal of Christianity

Harold Camping is right about at least one thing: according to the Scriptures, Jesus is going to return again. I hate to have to agree with someone who so recently made an utter fool of himself and harmed many through his false teachings, but let us be sure to put the scandal in perspective and in the right place.

The scandalous teaching of Harold Camping is that, among other things, he believed/believes that he can tell us what day Jesus is returning. This is plainly un-biblical, as it has been pointed out many times, Jesus said, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matthew 24:36). That should have been enough to end the prediction and the hub-bub surrounding Camping's harmful teaching.

Having said that, let us be careful in our observation of what is being ridiculed. It isn't simply that Camping put a date to the "rapture", it is the fact that Christians believe that a God-man is going to "come down from the sky" and "lift the faithful into the sky to be with him." How ridiculous does that sound? What is more ridiculous to an unbeliever? That Camping put a date to our heavenly flight, or that we believe a God-man is going to come to save the faithful by rapturing them before he tosses fire onto the heads of the infidel?

I am writing as I would think a non-Christian might phrase our apparently absurd beliefs. We do believe this, right? After all, Paul wrote, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). We believe that dead people are going to come out of the grave, and that Christians will fly into the air to meet the God-man as he descends from that other-worldly place called heaven. Do you see, dear Christian, why atheists think we are totally insane and/or extremely gullible?

Let's give them more ammo, shall we? We believe that God created the world, out of nothing, in six days. At least, that is what Genesis One seems to plainly say without linguistic manipulation that would make a politician proud. We also believe in a global, world-wide flood, that a guy named Noah packed all the animals on the ark two-by-two, that Israel walked across the Red Sea as the waters parted, and that the man named Jesus of Nazareth died substitutionally for our sins on a cross and then came back from the dead three days later.

So yes, Harold Camping is a false teacher to be soundly denounced. However, Christianity is very much at odds with a naturalistic, evolutionary world-view. We are a people who believe in the super-natural and in miracles. We believe in a God-man. We believe in good and evil and an objective morality. To those outside the faith, this would be laughable if it weren't so serious. And sometimes, they laugh anyway. Peter wrote that they would 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 3:4).

I am not writing these things in order to ridicule people who do not believe in Christianity. I am writing this for Christians who have grown comfortable in their beliefs because they have surrounded themselves with people who think like they do. Christianity is radical, and it looks like madness to those outside the faith. We ought to know that, and we ought to be able to explain why Christianity actually explains the universe better than closed naturalism does. If we do not understand the challenges we face, then we certainly will not be equipped to meet the challenge.

So think about the scandal of Christianity, Christian, and prepare yourself to make a reasonable defense of the hope that you have.


Mike Cook said...


Surely it is clear in the Bible and there is no contention?

Brad Williams said...

If you'll check, all of those are pretty adamant that Jesus is returning. ;)

The argument is over whether there will be a literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus in Jerusalem. Each one of those first three is an argument about order. Dispensationalism is the odd man out in your list, as one can be a dispensationalist and be pre or post-mil.
Dispensationalism finds its counter-part in Covenantalism, and that revolves around how to view the relationship between Israel and the church as the people of God.

So yes, there are things that Christians contest with one another. But the debate amongst the orthodox is sometimes like whether you are loyal to the Mets or to the Yankees. There is common ground in that both teams love baseball, and that they play by the same rules.

Mike Cook said...

Fair enough, it was more a commentary on Camping and the orthodox calling someone else un-orthodox/scandalous.

Belief is belief and it won't be until later before you discover if your own teachings are un-orthodox/scandalous. Luckily, you aren't setting your own deadlines and points-of-no-return like he did.

Brad Williams said...

I shall endeavor to work on my clarity. The scandal to which I was referring was not Camping's prediction. The "scandal" is that Christians believe things that seem crazy to those who aren't Christians. We believe in a lot of things that cannot happen apart from the supernatural. So Campings big error is in his exact prediction, not merely that he thinks that all Christians will be airborne at the return of Christ.