Photo by Lance Iverson, SF Chronicle
I just finished rereading Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric by Stephen D. O'Leary, a book I originally read in seminary. The author examines the rhetoric and eschatological arguments of William Miller and Hal Lindsey. I picked the book up again after all these years as the eschatological nature of some of the readings during Advent got me thinking on the subject again, as well as the blather about December 2012. I think many people of A Certain Age remember Hal Lindsey and his book The Late Great Planet Earth which had people worked up about Jesus coming again ANY MINUTE!! And the proof was all in the newspapers and them dang commernists were gonna blow-up Israel but all the Chrishins were gonna float up inna sky and meet Jesus there, so they wouldn't git blowed-up by Ruskie Commernists. He had some folks convinced that Jesus would return in 1988, onna counta it hadda happen 40 years after Israel became a nation CUZ IT'S ALL RIGHT THERE IN THE BOOK OF DANIEL if you'd only open your eyes and your heart! 1988 came and went and Jesus didn't arrive and the U.S.S.R. finally collapsed in 1991, yet Hal Lindsey still has his followers. I believe he has changed his focus from Evil Commernists to Wicked Homersexuals, but that may simply be a side-line.
William Miller was a farmer in upstate New York during the nineteenth century. He was originally a Deist, but was converted to Christianity as an adult. He began to study the Bible in order to prove its divine origin, but soon became obsessed with the apocalyptic texts of Daniel and Revelation. He developed a method of interpretation which he believed would help him predict the date of Christ's return and the eschaton. At that time in the U.S. and U.K, preachers obsessed with the parousia were postmillennialists, believing that Christ would return after the millennium. Miller was a premillennialist, preaching that Jesus would return before the millennium, and that war and the destruction of nations would take place at this time. He taught that Christians (but not just any Christian) would be raptured to safety, and that one must repent in order to be saved. He developed his ideas during the years 1816 through 1818, not long after his service in the War of 1812, but he only shared his ideas with a few friends at the time. This is what he wrote about how he came to his conclusions: I found, on a close and careful reading of the Scriptures, that God had explained all the figures and metaphors in the Bible, or had given us rules for their explanation. . . . And I discovered that God had in his word revealed "times and seasons" and in every case where time had been revealed, every event was accomplished as predicted. . . in the time and manner; therefore I believed all would be accomplished. I found, in going through with the Bible, the end of all things was clearly and emphatically predicted, both as to time and manner. I believed; and immediately the duty to publish this doctrine, that the world might believe and get ready to meet the Judge and Bridegroom at his coming, was impressed upon my mind. Thirteen years later, he began to preach this message. By 1822 he arrived at a date for the parousia: 1843. By the 1830s he was giving lectures in various churches in New York and Vermont. A collection of his lectures, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ about the Year A.D. 1843 was published in 1833. As the date neared, a movement started and its adherents were known as Adventists. Miller gave a date of 1843 but was not more specific, but some of his followers were sure that they knew the date; the New Hampshire Adventists proclaimed "all things here below, or the end of the world, will happen on the 3rd day of April 1843" while others gave dates in March or September of that year. By January of 1843, Miller had performed some recalculations and wrote I am fully convinced that sometime between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844. . . Christ will come and bring all his saints with him. When March 22, 1844 arrived, people were perplexed and decided that this was "the tarrying time" and that God was testing them. Soon a new date, October 22, 1844, was the correct date, having to do with the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish sacred year. Adventists were prepared; some sold their homes, others hadn't planted as they knew they would be raptured. When October 23, 1844 arrived, they were left with nothing, and the harsh winter of 1844-1845 was approaching. One of Miller's followers wrote Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept and wept until the day dawned. This led to what is known as The Great Disappointment.
My parents were members of the Assemblies of God, as were my maternal grandparents. Most of my primary and secondary education was in a school for missionary kids on Okinawa which was administered by Protestant Evangelicals and Pentecostals, and much of my childhood was spent in fear of being left behind when Jesus returns. Fortunately, I was a bookworm and discovered that there was much more to Christianity than the narrow perspective I had been taught, and I eventually lost my fear of the parousia. When the Lovely Mona and I married, we lived in the South Bay area of San Francisco, where I discovered Brother Harold Camping, self-proclaimed Biblical Scholar ("Biblical Scholar" in the sense of some-guy-who-reads-the-Bible-a-lot, not in the sense of someone who reads Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic), and his television program Open Forum. I found Brother Camping's exegetical approach interesting, as he only accepts the King James Authorized Version of the Bible and he has some method involving comparing passages from the Hebrew scriptures with the Christian scriptures and then applying some sort of numerology. At one time the Lovely Mona forbade me to watch this program as I would shout at the television and she believes that this is inappropriate behavior.
In the Spring of 1994 I had been accepted into the ordination process in the Diocese of El Camino Real and had been accepted to the Church Divinity School of the Pacific for the Fall semester of 1994. I was surprised when Brother Camping started preaching that, through his particular combination of numerology and "historical" analysis, he had discovered that the Lord would return on September 6, 1994. While this would have saved me some money, I really wanted to go to seminary, but since I don't accept Brother Camping's methods, I wasn't worried. When September 1994 passed, he recalculated (shades of William Miller!) and proclaimed March of 1995 as the date of the parousia. When THAT date came and went, he proclaimed that "the Lord has decided to tarry." I was amazed at how similar to William Miller he is!
Well, one would think that after setting a date twice and both failing, he would STFU and find something else to do, but one would be wrong about Our Harold. It appears that Brother Camping has done some recalculating, and has deciphered God's Secret Code and can now, with confidence, announce that Our Lord's Return in Glory will take place on March 21, 2011, some 167 years after William Miller's predicted date (between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844). It being a slow week and all (no one had attempted to blow up their underclothes), he has been getting quite a bit of attention.
I have no idea where I will be on March 21, 2011, but where ever I am, and, provided I am still blogging, I invite everyone to join me for an End of the World Party, Christian and non-Christian. However, if Brother Harold turns out to be correct this time around, those of you left behind when we are raptured will be left with the clean-up. Sorry 'bout that!