Saturday, May 21, 2011

Family Radio and the Return of Christ

I discovered Family Radio in 1988, shortly after moving to Berkeley to attend seminary. Broadcast in the Bay Area from neighboring Oakland, I became a bit more familiar a couple of years later when I my parents gave me a shortwave radio while I was on internship in Helena, Montana.

One of Family Radio's features was the nightly "Open Forum," where people could call in to ask any question they had about the Bible or Christian faith. "Brother Camping" was the host. He'd clearly read the Bible throughly, and most of his responses put him solidly within conservative, perhaps even "Fundamentalist" (at least in its original Calvinist formulation) American protestantism. The program wasn't flashy and his manner of speaking wasn't particularly eloquent. In fact, he rather downplayed himself, focussing on how he read the Bible. You could hear the pages of his King James Bible turn as he moved from the caller's question to his finished answer.

Like many "self-taught" Bible interpreters, he could get stuck on some peculiar notions. But one thing he impressed me with was his response to one set of questions that kept coming up over and over again, that is, the "Rapture" and the return of Christ. On one hand he could tell you, based on his studies and computations, when God created the world. But as for when it was ending, that was not for us to know, or even worry about. Christ is returning, but when He was asked He said, "I do not know." Thus neither do we.

Then I noticed him answering the question, "Where can I find a true Bible believing church?" with (essentially), "Don't bother looking any more. They're all apostate, though in a few places there are faithful house churches I could direct you to. Better, take your Bible, and worship at home with your family according to these Bible principles...." It turns out that this advice started after he left the church in which he had been a member.

Nevertheless, shortly after arriving in Peoria, I was surprised (though since he'd separated himself from the church, I ought not have been so) when Camping published a book (that the local "evangelical" bookstore was selling) in which he stated that Christ might be returning September 6, 1994. When he'd talk about it on Family Radio, he hedged his bets a much as possible, but people took notice. I figured when it didn't happen, Brother Camping learned his lesson. And every once in a while, I'd turn the radio dial and catch him (via shortwave or up in Chicagoland) on Family Radio, sounding much older and fumbling a bit as he turned the pages of his Bible to find the answer to his caller's question. Or, sometimes, not find what he was looking for, which could sometimes lead to a short discourse on some other matter that popped into his head.

So I was rather surprised to learn that he'd gone back into the prediction business, and that today (the 120th anniversary of my grandmother's birth) is the Rapture.

Frankly, it seems to me that the secular media is making a bigger thing of this than anyone else (besides Brother Camping's Family Radio, that is, and a few of his listeners). As for what this Christian pastor thinks about the date of the Rapture or the return of Christ, I think Canon Kendall Harmon wrote well this morning on his TitusOneNine blog:
Since my area of specialization in research is eschatology, I have gotten a lot of questions about a certain individual (and his entourage of followers) getting a lot of press this past little while for stating the time of the end of the world (he thinks it is soon). I refuse to post stories on this because I am not going to give him/his group any more publicity.

As for what I think, my answer is simple--I refer you to Mark 13 in which Jesus says:
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come (verses 24-33, RSV).
This is a difficult passage, because it comes in answer to a double question, but I think it is rightly understood at the end to be referring to Jesus' second coming and the "end of the world." Do you notice what he says? Not even Jesus knows.

So if Jesus says he doesn't know, and if history is littered with examples of people who have confidently predicted the day with certainty and later were shown to be wrong, why should we presume to say we know? That it is coming and that it is coming "soon" we can be sure, the New Testament is quite clear on that. But as for when exactly, we don't know. I do not know. Part of being a dependent creature is to admit there are things we simply do not know--that isn't a bad thing, it is actually a key part of Christian witness--KSH.
And if you really want to see Jesus, show up Sunday mornings during the nine o'clock hour Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria (or the appointed time in one of many other churches) and I'll show Him to you. And when He returns in His glory to judge the living and the dead, you might be better prepared -- whenever He comes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

R. R. Reno: The Preferential Option for the Poor

Following is the middle section of R. R. Reno's opening essay in "The Public Square" section of the latest (June/July 2011) issue of First Things. In it, Prof. Reno addresses the question of just who are "the poor" in America, and how is it that they are poor. spt+

Today, there is certainly material want in America. People who have lost their jobs can’t pay rent. Unmarried young women who have courageously refused to abort their children struggle to make ends meet. Illegal immigrants are exploited; the homeless need shelter; the hungry, food.

Some say the best way to meet these needs involves adopting tax policies designed to stimulate economic growth, along with redoubled efforts of private charity. Others emphasize public programs and increased government intervention. It’s an argument worth having, of course, and to a great degree our contemporary political debates turn on these issues. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there is a unifying consensus: The moral character of a nation is measured to a large degree by its concern for the poor.

On this point I agree with many friends on the left who argue that America doesn’t have a proper concern for the poor. Our failure, however, is not merely economic. In fact, it’s not even mostly economic. A visit to the poorest neighborhoods of New York City or the most impoverished towns of rural Iowa immediately reveals poverty more profound and more pervasive than simple material want. Drugs, crime, sexual exploitation, the collapse of marriage—the sheer brutality and ugliness of the lives of many of the poor in America is shocking. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, poverty is not only material; it is also moral, cultural, and religious (CCC 2444), and just these sorts of poverty are painfully evident today. Increasing the minimum wage or the earned-income tax credit won’t help alleviate this impoverishment.

We can’t restore a culture of marriage, for example, by spending more money on it. A recent report on marriage in America from the National Marriage Project under the leadership of W. Bradford Wilcox, When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America, paints a grim picture. The lower you are on the social scale, the more likely you are to be divorced, to cohabit while unmarried, to have more sexual partners, and to commit adultery. One of the most arresting statistics concerns children born out of wedlock. In the late 2000s, among women fifteen to forty-four years old who have dropped out of high school, more than half of those who give birth do so while unmarried. And this is true not only of those at the bottom. Among high-school graduates and women with technical training—in other words, the struggling middle class—nearly half of the women who give birth are unmarried.

A friend of mine who works as a nurse’s aide recently observed that his coworkers careen from personal crisis to personal crisis. As he told me, “Only yesterday I had to hear the complaints of one woman who was fighting with both her husband and her boyfriend.” It’s this atmosphere of personal disintegration and not the drudgery of the job—which is by no means negligible for a nurse’s aide—that he finds demoralizing.

Teachers can tell similar tales. The wife of another friend told me that her middle-school students in a small town in Iowa were perplexed by Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter: “What’s the big deal about Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale gettin’ it on?” It was a sentiment that she wearily told me was of a piece with the meth labs, malt liquor, teen pregnancies, and a general atmosphere of social collapse.

Preferential option for the poor. A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial; the most serious deprivations are cultural, not economic. Many people living at the bottom of American society have cell phones, flat-screen TVs, and some of the other goodies of consumer culture. But their lives are a mess.

And why? It’s a complicated question that I can’t convincingly answer here. But I want to end with a suggestion, if not an argument.

Read it all here (no subscription necessary). This is the first issue of First Things under the editorship of Rusty Reno, a lay theologian at Creighton University and former Episcopalian who was received into the Catholic Church as few years ago. And it's articles and essays like this that made FT a "must read" under founding editor Richard John Neuhaus.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon for "Good Shepherd Sunday"

The Early Church Father St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Bishop of Constantinople, was noted for his orthodoxy, his eloquence, and his attacks on Christian laxity in high places. Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is also known as "Good Shepherd Sunday" because the appointed Gospel is from the 10th chapter of St. John, where Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. St. John 10:1-6
Bishop John preaches to the Church on the cusp of the 4th and 5th centuries:
Observe the marks of a robber. First, that he does not enter openly. Second, he does not enter according to the Scriptures, for this is, "not by the door."

Here also, Jesus refers to those who had been before and to those who would come after him: antichrist and the false christs, Judas and Theudas [see Acts 5:35-38], and whoever else there have been of the same kind.

And he rightly calls the Scriptures "a door," for they bring us to God and open to us the knowledge of God. They make us his sheep. They guard us and do not let the wolves come in after us.

For Scripture, like some sure door, bars the passage against the heretics, placing us in a state of safety as to all that we desire and not allowing us to wander.

And, if we do not undo Scripture, we shall not easily be conquered by our enemies. By Scripture we can know all, both those who are and those who are not shepherds.

But what does "into the fold" mean? It refers to the sheep and their care. For whoever does not use the Scriptures but "climbs up some other way," that is, who cuts out for himself another and an unusual way, "the same is a thief.". . .

When our Lord further on calls himself the door, we should not be surprised. According to the office that he bears, he is in one place the shepherd, in another the sheep. In that he introduces us to the Father, he is the door; in that he takes care of us, he is the shepherd.
From St. John Chrysostom, "Homilies on the Gospel of John 59:2-3", as found in The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT IVa: John 1-10 (p. 338).

Bishop John preaches to the Church on the cusp of the 20th and 21st centuries: "[I]f we do not undo Scripture, we shall not easily be conquered by our enemies. By Scripture we can know all, both those who are and those who are not shepherds." But if we in the Church undo Scripture, . . . hmmm.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Granger: The Publication of the King James Bible

"At the Hampton Court Conference of 1604, held between the English bishops and Puritan leaders and presided over by King James the First, Dr John Rainolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and the leading Puritan divine, suggested that a new English translation of the Bible be prepared.  Richard Bancroft, the Bishop of London, concurred, and King James ordered the translation be prepared.  A body of translators was formed, including professors of Hebrew and Greek in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and other leading scholars of the day, some fifty in all. Both churchmen and Puritans were represented. The translators were organized into six companies, two which sat at Oxford, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster. Their instructions were to take the earlier Bishops’ Bible as their basis, to consult all earlier versions, including the (Roman Catholic) Douay-Rheims New Testament and the (Reformed) Geneva Bible, to retain the old ecclesiastical terms (such as “church” for “congregation” and “baptism” for “washing”), and to exclude all marginal notes, unless required to explain some Hebrew or Greek word...."

Read it all here at For All the Saints.

And for more about the Kings James Bible as English-speaking Christians around the world celebrate its 400 years, see the the fine King James Bible Trust web site.