Scholars dispute prophecy book’s methods of interpretation.

More than 1,200 people gathered in Bear, Delaware, one evening in May, curious to find out whether the world would end soon.

But this was no scene from a Stephen King novel. The faithful and the doubtful poured into the Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church to hear a debate among three respected teachers in the Reformed theology tradition.

The subject: the claims of author Harold Camping, the 72-year-old president of Family Radio, who asserts in his book 1994? and a sequel, Are You Ready?, that the world will end in September.

Camping, until six years ago a prominent member of the Christian Reformed Church and a frequent Bible teacher, operates one of the largest Christian radio networks, with 39 privately owned radio stations and 14 shortwave transmitters broadcasting worldwide.

THE LAST-DAYS MESSAGE

Since September 1992, when he first went public with his end-times prediction, listeners have heard Camping’s last-days message over his nightly radio talk show, Open Forum, a long-time staple on the 35-year-old Family Radio.

A civil engineer by training, Camping has dated creation to precisely 11,013 BC and Christ’s death to AD 33. He claims a “spiritual” tribulation, the time of intense suffering for believers described in Scripture, began in May 1988, 13,000 years after his date for the beginning of the world. The number 13,000 stands for “superwholeness” in Camping’s view.

In Camping’s version of the Tribulation, true Christians endure persecution and leave the apostate, or unfaithful, church. May 1988 is also a key date in Camping’s personal life. In that same month and year, Camping was asked by his pastor, Jack Huttinga, to cease teaching an adult Bible class in their ...

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