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Harold Camping said something true. The media mocked him. But even Christians who disagree with the radio preacher's Rapture theology can appreciate his basic conviction.

After his May 21 prediction of the Rapture failed (but before his June 9 stroke), he said that it had been only a "spiritual coming." He then added, "It won't be spiritual on October 21st. The world is going to be destroyed altogether, but it will be very quick."

Whether the destruction will be very quick, we don't know. We are unconvinced about Camping's timetable. But in fact, the earth will pass away. Jesus said so (Matt. 24:35).

This is disturbing news for some, including many North American evangelicals. We've become successful and comfortable in advanced capitalistic societies, and most days we rather like the earth we inhabit. That's one reason we are fond of imagining heaven mostly as a problem-free earth, and that our work on earth will continue in heaven.

In the book Heaven in the American Imagination, historian Gary Scott Smith notes how socioeconomic status shapes a person's view of heaven. For example, he says, between 1890 and 1920 technological innovation "dramatically increased industrial production and agricultural output and cures were discovered for many endemic diseases." During this time, per-capita GNP increased almost fourfold, he says, and "progress abounded" in many fields.

"Paralleling these developments," he notes, "greater numbers of Christians conceived of heaven as an active realm where the saints performed varied forms of service and grew substantially in knowledge, character, and spirituality."

A century later, we find ourselves ...

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July 2011

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