Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 21, 2011

The followers of Baptist preacher William Miller believed that Jesus would return by March 21, 1844. When this prediction proved false, the Millerites did some quick recalculations and pinned their hopes on October 22 of that same year. It is probably a relief to you and me that this date passed without apocalyptic incident, but the Millerites came to call it “The Great Disappointment.”

A short time later Ellen G. White had a vision in which she learned that, while nothing visible had happened on October 22, 1844, something invisible had, in fact, occurred. Jesus had entered the sanctuary of the heavenly temple. On the basis of this teaching, the phoenix of Seventh Day Adventism arose from the ashes of the Millerite movement.

In 1992, Harold Camping wrote a book called 1994? in which he speculated that the Rapture might occur on September 6 of that titular year. The day, of course, came and went like any other day. Nothing visible happened. This was no problem for Camping. As Ellen White had done, Camping simply explained that something invisible had happened. The “Church Age” had ended. From that time on, salvation could not be found in the institutional churches. Instead, salvation was available only through Camping’s ministry.

In the 1994? book, Camping left himself an out. His calculations also indicated that, should the world last that long, May 21, 2011 would be a significant date. As May 21 approached we saw the billboards and caravan vehicles and media reports trumpeting Camping’s message. May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day. “The Bible Guarantees It!” On that day the true believers would be caught up in the air to meet Jesus. Worldwide earthquakes would mark the beginning of a 6 month period of punishment, horror and tribulation. Then on October 21, the planet earth would cease to exist.

As we all by now know, no judgment took place on May 21. At least there was no visible judgment. At, reporter Justin Berton writes that Camping “now characterizes May 21 as a ‘tremendous event’ that unleashed a spiritual judgment day, just not the material one that he expected.”

It all sounds a little familiar.

Harold Camping is now pinning his apocalyptic hope on Friday, October 21. Quoting again from the sfgate article:
On recently recorded podcasts, Camping hedged his Oct. 21 prediction - "Probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God" - but he maintained that, ultimately, the end is nigh.
"I really am beginning to think as I've restudied these matters that there's going to be no big display of any kind," Camping said. "The end is going to come very, very quietly."

Camping is beginning to sound a little more like T.S. Eliot than John of Patmos.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
                   --T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

Camping will be wrong again. He will be wrong for all of the same reasons that he was wrong before. He will be wrong for the same reason that every date-setter has been wrong. The bible doesn't work the way they claim.

I plan to be here still on October 22, which, perhaps coincidentally, is the 167th anniversary of the Great Disappointment.

Illustrating this post is Albrecht Dürer's magnificent woodcut of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Last month, the Bad Theology blog chronicled some of the misguided end times speculation that centered around Rosh Hashanah. It is my sincere prayer that we will all one day give up this stupid date-setting game.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Preaching Like Matthew, or Mark...


Last month I attended the annual Professional Leaders’ Conference (PLC) of the Northern Illinois Synod. Our speaker this year was Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. As might be expected from a PhD homiletician, Dr. Long is a knowledgeable and engaging speaker.

During one of his presentations, Dr. Long said that, in today’s culture, we should preach “less like Luke and more like Matthew. You know Luke,” he said, “story, story, story, story. But Matthew is story, teaching, story, ethics....” This was an interesting point in its own right, but it sent my mind chasing down a rabbit trail.

New Testament scholars tell us that Matthew and Luke both used Mark, and a hypothetical document called “Q” as sources for their own works. It’s clear from his use of Mark that Matthew tended to follow the wording of his sources but felt free to rearrange their order. Luke, on the other hand, stuck more closely to the order of his source material, but felt free to rewrite it.

Matthew rearranges. Luke rewrites.

Matthew grouped his teaching material into five discourses interspersed among narratives. Luke incorporated the teaching material into his narrative. That’s how Dr. Long could describe Luke as “story, story, story, story” and Matthew as “story, teaching, story, ethics.”

So this set me thinking: “what would it mean to preach like Mark?” A sermon in the style of Mark’s Gospel would be short, dark, somewhat ambiguous and open-ended.

And John? A sermon in the style of John’s Gospel would be a story followed by a long discussion of its spiritual meaning.

During a break at PLC, I mentioned this to Dr. Long. He said, “Yes, and there would be poetry in a sermon in John’s style.” This made me revise my thinking about preaching like Luke. Luke also used poetry and had a rather high-falutin’ prose style.

Then I wondered “what would it be like to preach in the style of Paul’s letters?” Paul’s writings have a good deal of personal testimony. (Paul was his own favorite example). Paul was frequently blunt and occasionally crude. He had harsh words for his opponents, but was warm and personable toward his friends.

I suppose that it might also be possible to preach like the Book of Revelation, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It would only confuse and frighten people.

The painting of Martin Luther preaching was by Lucas Cranach the Elder. I don't think Martin Luther would care too much which which New Testament writer a preacher styled a sermon after, as long as the cross of Christ was proclaimed clearly.