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.


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 Alameda, California, church.

“We became aware that there were some people starting to adjust their lives around his prediction that the end would come in 1994,” Huttinga told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Ultimately, Camping started his own church, which has about 300 members.

According to Camping, the apostate church has been teaching “false gospels,” such as teachings that permit divorce and endorsing the charismatic and Pentecostal practices, including speaking in tongues.

John Walvoord, a prophecy expert and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, has debated Camping on a San Francisco radio station. He said Camping is “practicing a method of interpretation that no one else recognizes.”


Inside Glasgow’s sanctuary on the day of the debate, the expectant crowd watched as Camping and his debate opponents—Presbyterian Church in America pastor Peter Lillback and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia professor Tremper Longman III—took the stage.

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“It is, indeed, unusual in my opinion to have a group of amillennial people sitting in a prophecy conference,” Lillback wise-cracked in his opening comments. “I don’t think this has happened for a thousand years almost, so we’re making history.”

Camping, as a Reformed amillennialist, falls into one of the three well-established views among Christians concerning the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth foretold in Revelation 20.

Many amillennialists say the 1,000-year figure is symbolic, while premillennialists believe Christ will come again in glory to usher in a 1,000-year reign. Postmillennialists assert that after a special 1,000-year-long age of the triumphant church, the second coming of Christ will occur.

During the seven hours of debate, Longman and Lillback refuted Camping’s claim that, while Scripture says “no man can know the day or the hour” of Christ’s return, it is possible to know the month and year. They argued that Camping’s elaborate system of dating, numerology, and allegory is unorthodox and unreliable.

Afterwards, few of the individuals in the audience seemed to have altered their views. Camping said, “If anything, I became more convicted than ever that we’re headed right toward the end.”

In recent months, criticism of Camping’s work has gathered intensity. Robert Sungenis, a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate and former Family Radio staffer, along with Assemblies of God pastor Scott Temple and evangelist David Lewis, will challenge Camping in a book, Shockwave 2000 and Harold Camping’s 1994 Debacle, to be released in July.

“Contrary to some other critics,” Sungenis writes, “I don’t believe Camping is a fringe nut-case. From my personal experience with Camping, he is a very intelligent and thoughtful person.”

Qualities like these have attracted a loyal radio following across America and drawn organized opposition not normally seen with end-of-the-world predictions.


Camping’s core followers have apparently gathered in informal meetings spread out across the country. In Philadelphia, Kevin Brown, 35, a bread delivery worker, became a Christian nine years ago after listening to the Camping radio show. Today, every Friday evening, 50 Family Radio listeners meet in his basement in Philadelphia to study Scripture.

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William Schishko, pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, New York, says Camping inspires such allegiance. Schishko had several Family Radio supporters in his congregation, but they recently left when Camping’s teachings were questioned.

Camping’s message attracts some who have been disenchanted with the decline of morality in America or who are turning away from the culture’s despair or sinful lifestyles, Schishko says.

“Put together this black-and-white presentation with the fact that it comes through this aura of radio … and there is a virtually slavish attraction to this man’s message.”

Camping says he has repeatedly told people not to do anything drastic, such as sell their possessions. At the Glasgow gathering, Camping said, “Many times I wake up at night saying, ‘Who in the world do I think I am?’ Here I am saying to the world—the whole world—that I know the month and the year that Christ is going to return.”

But what if he is wrong and September 1994 comes and goes? Will Camping apologize and submit to discipline? “Oh, no,” he told CT. “There are all kinds of books that have been written [forecasting end-times]. Are they disciplined?”

Camping seems to be softening his own views somewhat. He admitted his prediction is “very likely” but not foolproof, and he has no alternative date in mind.

Camping said, “I say again and again to people: You check this out in the Bible. Because I am still a human being and I have feet of clay. The only authority that you finally want to listen to is the Bible.”

Even if Christ does not come, he says, it is a “win-win” situation since Family Radio and supporters have become better at proclaiming the message of Christ. Family Radio’s giving is up 15 percent this year and has an annual budget of $12 million.

Others worry about the potential aftermath should October come without the apocalypse. Scott Temple and others hope to run ad campaigns in major American newspapers offering help to the disillusioned.

Some see potential for Camping’s group to develop as the Seventh-day Adventists did, revising end-times expectations and ultimately becoming another denomination.

By Joe Maxwell.

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