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Published on May 24th, 2011 | by Gary DeMar

19

Before Harold Camping, there Were Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith

Before Harold Camping, there were Chuck Smith and Hal Lindsey. Lindsey is the author of widely and wildly popular The Late Great Planet Earth (1970). Smith has been the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, since 1965. He is a popular and well-respected Bible teacher. What many people don’t know or remember is that he set some very specific dates of his own in the 1970s. I wonder what he and Hal Lindsey, who predicted that Jesus would return before 1988, would say about Harold Camping since both men where poster children for end-time date setting. In fact, the 1970s and early 1980s were rife with evangelical soothsayers. And yet, Smith is still pastoring, and Lindsey is still considered to be an expert on Bible prophecy.

Camping has not given up on his prophetic date setting. He’s offering justifiable reasons why the “rapture” did not take place on May 21st as he predicted. Lindsey and Smith have done the same thing. They were both wrong about the 1988 end-point date, but this hasn’t stopped either of them from making a career out of prophetic speculation.  As the 40-year time table was about to run out, like Camping, Lindsey tweaked his earlier prognostication. In an interview published in Christianity Today (April 15, 1977), Lindsey told W. Ward Gasque: “I don’t know how long a biblical generation is. [In 1970, according to Lindsey, it was 40 years.] Perhaps somewhere between sixty and eighty years. The state of Israel was established in 1948. There are a lot of world leaders who are pointing to the 1980s as being the time of some very momentous events. Perhaps it will be then. But I feel certain that it will take place before the year 2000.” He changed from a 1988 date to before 2000, and yet he’s still considered a “prophecy expert.”

In that same 1977 interview, Gasque asked Lindsey: “But what if you’re wrong?” Lindsey replied: “Well, there’s just a split second’s difference between a hero and a bum. I didn’t ask to be a hero, but I guess I have become one in the Christian community. So I accept it. But if I’m wrong about this, I guess I’ll become a bum.” He hasn’t become a bum. He hosts The Hal Lindsey Report, described as “A news site dedicated to news analysis of current events from the perspective of Bible prophecy with Hal Lindsey.”

Smith’s prophetic history is not much different. In his 1976 book The Soon to be Revealed Antichrist, Smith wrote, “we are living in the last generation which began with the rebirth of Israel in 1948 (see Matt. 24:32–34).” You will search in vain in the three verse’s Smith references to find any mention of “the rebirth of Israel.” He repeated the claim in his 1978 book End Times: “If I understand Scripture correctly, Jesus taught us that the generation which sees the ‘budding of the fig tree,’ the birth of the nation of Israel, will be the generation that sees the Lord’s return. I believe that the generation of 1948 is the last generation. Since a generation of judgment is forty years and the Tribulation period lasts seven years, I believe the Lord could come back for His Church any time before the Tribulation starts, which would mean any time before 1981. (1948 + 40 – 7 = 1981).”(1) If this prophetic math sounds familiar, it’s because the same end-time logic was used by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).

In order to cover himself against charges of date setting, Smith wrote that “it is possible that Jesus is dating the beginning of the generation from 1967, when Jerusalem was again under Israeli control for the first time since 587 B.C. We don’t know for sure which year actually marks the beginning of the last generation.”(2) A 1967 starting point to begin calculations and a 40-year generation would mean the rapture should have taken place before 2000 with the physical return of Jesus “with His saints” in 2007. While it sounds like Smith is simply engaging in conjecture, in his book Future Survival, which was first published in 1978 and updated in 1980, his prophetic dogmatism is retained:

We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948. As a rule, a generation in the Bible lasts 40 years. . . . Forty years after 1948 would bring us to 1988.(3)

Keep in mind that it’s not only important to show where Smith was wrong in his predictions, it’s crucial that we understand that he is using an interpretive model that leads him to make these predictions.

Smith wrote in 1980 that from his “understanding of biblical prophecies, he was “convinced that the Lord [would come] for His Church before the end of 1981.” He did add that he “could be wrong” but went on to say in the same sentence that “it’s a deep conviction in my heart, and all my plans are predicated upon that belief.”(4) Notice the last statement. He may have voiced some doubts, but actions speak louder than words. He made plans based on his beliefs that were founded on his “understanding of biblical prophecies.”

On December 31, 1979, Smith told those who had gathered on the last day of that year that the rapture would take place before the end of 1981. He went on to say that because of ozone depletion Revelation 16:8 would be fulfilled during the tribulation period: “And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” In addition, Halley’s Comet would pass near earth in 1986 and would wreak havoc on those left behind as debris from its million-mile-long tail pummeled the planet.(5) Here’s how Smith explained the prophetic scenario in his book Future Survival which is nearly identical to what appears on the taped message:

The Lord said that towards the end of the Tribulation period the sun would scorch men who dwell upon the face of the earth (Rev. 16). The year 1986 would fit just about right! We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Christ in glory. All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together.(6)

Nothing significant happened in 1986 related to Halley’s Comet, and there is no reason why it should have since it’s been a predictable phenomenon for more than two millennia as it makes its way around the sun every 75 to 76 years. In fact, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was a better prophet than Smith. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, two weeks after the comet’s appearance. In his biography, he said, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’” Clemens died on April 21, 1910, the day following the comet’s appearance.(7)

In a March 30, 1989 interview with William Alnor, Smith admitted that he “was guilty of coming close” to “date setting,” and this was wrong.(8) But when we look back over Smith’s statements about the timing of specific prophetic events, we can see that he did more than come close to date setting. He wrote, “We’re the generation that saw the fig tree bud forth, as Israel became a nation again in 1948.” We are now more than 40 years removed from the 1948 founding of Israel. The interpretive methodology used by Smith, Lindsey, Dave Hunt, and others making the 1948–1988 connection was fundamental to their claim that they were following a literal hermeneutic. If a literal hermeneutic results in near certainty of when prophetic events will take place but ends in a colossal miscalculation on a key element of their system, how should the interpretive methodology that brought them to that calculation be evaluated? To paraphrase Jesus, “An interpretive tree is known by its fruit, and the 1948–1988 timetable has turned out to be rotten fruit no matter how you slice it.”

In addition to some very specific prophetic predictions, Smith claims in the same book that criticized date setting that “the rapture is at hand.”(9) His 1976 book on the antichrist states that he will be revealed “soon.” Early in Dateline Earth, Smith stated, “Very soon there are going to be some strange and terrible things happening on this planet of ours.”(10) These “very soon” happenings are based on his reading of Revelation. He reinforces this claim when he argues emphatically, “Jesus is coming back, and He’s coming back soon.(11) In his book The End, he writes, “It is later than you think. It is time to wake up from your lethargy and realize that the coming of the Lord is at hand!”(12)

What do you think Smith wants to convey to his readers when he used words like “soon,” “close,”(13) and “at hand”? When the New Testament uses time words like “at hand,” “near,” and “shortly,” generally futurists like Smith claim that these words are non-specific and do not relate to the timing of prophetic events.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s articleWhy Modern-Day Prophecy Theorists are More Dangerous than Harold Camping,” an article that mainstream evangelicalism won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, date setting or “generation setting,” is the mainstay of the church. Entire ministries, seminaries, churches, and publishing companies are built on it. Of course, we don’t find today’s popular prophecy teachers arguing for a particular day or hour, but we do find them assuring us that we are the terminal generation and Jesus is returning “soon.” Jesus predicted nearly 2000 years ago that he would return soon, that His coming in judgment against Jerusalem was “near,” “right at the door” (James 5:7–9). And like He promised, He came in judgment before the generation that heard His prophecy passed away (Matt. 24:34).

Chuck Smith continues to push end-time materials by claiming that the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 is prophetically significant. He makes this claim on page 15 in The Final Act, a commentary on the book of Revelation published in 2007. That’s 23 years longer (so far) than the 40-year definition of a generation that he gave in 1978. Dave Hunt, another prophetic speculator of popular reputation, wrote the following in his endorsement of Smith’s The Final Act: “Although students of Bible prophecy (there are no ‘experts’) differ on some of the details (timing of certain events, etc.), there is general agreement that we are in the ‘last days’ and the rapture is very near.”

The “last days” were a reality prior to Jerusalem’s destruction. The writer of the Hebrews states: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, IN THESE LAST DAYS has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (1:1-2; also see 1 Cor. 10:11). Hunt says “the rapture is near.” Why does “near” mean soon to take place for Hunt when he uses the word, but “near” does not mean soon to take place when the Bible uses it?

There are numerous articles that criticize the fiasco that is Harold Camping. Good enough. But it’s time that the church gets consistent. For example, the folks at the ChristianPost have been the leaders in exposing Camping’s errors. Now it’s time for them to take on the more popular prophecy “experts” and their nearly 40 years of leading Christians astray.Endnotes:

  1. Chuck Smith, End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 1978), 35.()
  2. Smith, End Times, 36.()
  3. Chuck Smith, Future Survival (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, [1978] 1980), 17.()
  4. Smith, Smith, Future Survival, 20.()
  5. Halley’s Comet also appeared in A.D. 66 and passed over Jerusalem, four years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Could this have been the fulfillment of Luke 21:11?()
  6. Smith, Future Survival, 21.()
  7. www.twainquotes.com/Halley’s_Comet.html()
  8. Chuck Smith’s interview with William M. Alnor in Soothsayers of the Second Advent (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1989.()
  9. Smith, Dateline Earth, 38.()
  10. Smith, Dateline Earth, 21.()
  11. Smith, Dateline Earth, 25. Emphasis in original.()
  12. Smith, The End, 46.()
  13. “We’re getting close to the Tribulation and the return of Jesus Christ in glory!” (Smith, Future Survival, 21). Emphasis in original.()
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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



19 Responses to Before Harold Camping, there Were Hal Lindsey and Chuck Smith

  1. Kent says:

    Another thing that Chuck Smith said in either End Times or Future Survival, I have both books but they aren’t in front of me at the moment, that because Russia had invaded Afganistan it was a prelude to attacking Israel which would be in fulfillment of the prophesy of Ezikeil.

    Smith was also making an issue out of the tenth nation of the European Community becoming a member, that it was the ten kingdoms from the Bible, but what is there now, twenty seven members of the European Community?

    In addition, Smith was saying that because all of the planets were going to be on the same side of the sun in 1982, the so called Jupiter Effect, that more earthquakes were headed our way but in reality there were less than the average number of quakes that year. Smith, of course, pointed to the earthquakes being another end times sign.

    Well, none of the things Smth predicted happened but he is still considered an expert on end times events? I don’t get it!

  2. Peter J Shepherd says:

    Gary:

    I am trying to live the the words, “Seek to understand, not to be understood.” I am trying to understand Preterism. Are you saying that all end time prophecy has already been fulfilled.

    Are you saying that the Acts 1 prophecy has been fulfilled? – when the disciples were watching Jesus ascend into heaven, an angel told them that He would return in the same manner – personally, visibly, and physically.

    Are you saying that the I Thessalonians 4 prophecy is fulfilled – “the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

    Are you saying that the Ezekiel 38 war has already taken place? Are you saying that the war in Revelation, where 1/3 of the world’s population is wiped out, has happened already?

    If all prophecy is fulfilled, why are there currently “wars and rumors of wars? Why is “kingdom rising against kingom.”

    If all prophecy is fulfilled, what of the technology where a “mark” or microchip could easily be inserted in your forehead or microchip, to provide positive identification, without which a person would not be able to buy or sell.

    What of the so-called “New World Order.”

    I am not an expert in prophecy, although I do believe we are living in the end time, and that the church will be here for the Great Tribulation, something neither Chuck Smith or Hal Lindsay believe, but I would like to understand your point of view with reference to the above points.

    If all prophecy is fulfilled, what is there to look forward to? When is the final judgement? When is the resurrection of the just, also known as the “first resurrection.”

    Peter J Shepherd

  3. Chris says:

    Oh well

  4. Sean McDonald says:

    Mr. DeMar,

    Could you please name a Reformed Protestant who held to your theory of prophetic interpretation, prior to the 1800s? You will, of course, recognize that calling men “Preterists” because they understand Matthew 24 largely to be addressing the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem is quite improper (Historicists have frequently held an identical interpretation of that passage); one must also take into account their interpretation of passages such as 2 Thessalonains 2, 1 Timothy 4, Revelation 13, 17, etc.

  5. Barney says:

    Why do people cut up Matthew 24 instead of taking it as a whole. It is speaking about the coming of the Lord in A.D. 70 to use the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem.

    • Micah Martin says:

      Amen Barney,

      Matthew 24 is fulfilled including the “no one knows the day and the hour”. Camping has made a mockery of Christianity but so are the people that are responding by saying “no one knows the day and the hour”. As one pastor said, they are just kicking the can down the road. Well it’s time to kick the can right back at them. We do know the day and the hour because as Gary has shown, Matthew 24 is fulfilled. The day and the hour is in our past.

      If you want to hear a passionate sermon check out this Harold Camping Roast:
      http://www.truthinliving.org/

      Blessings,
      Micah

  6. Winston says:

    “No man knows the day or time, not even the Son, but only the Father.” Attempting to second-guess God when He makes it clear in His infallible Word is an act of saying “I know what Jesus doesn’t even know”… a slap in the face of God. Scripture tells us that those who lead sheep astray will fall under harsh judgment.

  7. James L. Martin says:

    Is saying ” Not in your lifetime really that much different than setting an actucal date. Gary Demar has said such a thing as ‘not in your lifetime’? Not the same camp as Camping but close enough to be neighbors.

  8. Jason Lollar says:

    Des,

    I started really digging into this about four years ago. Here are some of my favorite that are easy to start with… Gary’s book that really hits the whole subject well.
    1. Last Days Madness — Gary DeMar
    2. Matthew 24 Fulfilled — John L. Bray
    3. Perilous Times — Kenneth Gentry

    But before I ever got to these, I read quite a few from every perspective. Since I’m already typing I’ll list some key resources on my shelf [(Pr) Preterist, (H) Historicist, (A) Amillennial (P) Postmillennial]….some combine ideas:
    Prophecy & The Church (P) — Allis; The Bible and the Future (A) — Hoekema; Victory in Jesus (Pr) — Bahnsen; The Meaning of the Millennium (all) — Clouse; Present Reign of Jesus Christ (H) –Caringola; Great Prophecies of the Bible (H) — Woodrow; Postmillennialism — Mathison; End Time Delusions (H) –Wohlberg; A Case for Amillennialism — Riddlebarger; Triumph of the Lamb (A) — Johnson

    Above are easy and helpful reads. Below are some more in-depth resources if you’re a serious seeker:

    He Shall Have Dominion (P) — Gentry;
    Revelation Four Views (all) — Gregg;
    The Days of Vengenance (Pr) — Chilton
    NIGTC The Book of Revelation (A) — Beale
    The Approaching End of the Age (H) — H. Grattan Guinness

    Hope that helps. I’m sure Gary would add Kik’s An Eschatology of Victory, and Campbell’s Israel and the New Covenant

    Happy Studies!
    JD

  9. Mary Natha says:

    @Des – Calvary Chapel isn’t Armenian [sic] in its theology. According to Wikipedia “Calvary Chapel strives to “strike a balance between extremes” when it comes to controversial theological issues such as Calvinism’s and Arminianism’s conflicting views on salvation.

    Did Chuck name the Month, Day and hour in 1981 like Camping?

    So he was wrong…it’s not the end of the world (pun intended).

    • Des S. Ireland says:

      Mary

      thank you for your comment. In Smiths paper Calvinism V’s Armienism he tries to put a balance between the two sides and balance is the general objective having been at the foundations of Calvary Chapel in my country and attending two congregations in the United States for a number of years it is evident that doctrines vary from Calvary Chapel Dublin/Crosspointe teaching that a man can loose their salvation and being actively opposed to any expression of the perseverance of the saints. To other congregations who would be three or four point Calvinist opposing definate redemption/limited atonement and in some cases the total depravity of man leaning on a gospel that believes that man has the ability to trust Christ within him. It is true that within the Calvary Chapel system doctrine varies from congregation to congregation so I guess a better term is that they are non–calvinist. Up until the remonstrance by followers of Armenius orthodox Biblical Christianity was and indeed remains Calvinist/Augustinian and those outside orthodoxy be they trying to maintain a balance remain outside of orthodoxy.
      Since Lindsay, Camping , and Smith aren’t Reformed but trace their theology from churches formed by Amenians its not surprising that they then contine on walking away from orthodoxy.

      Des S. Ireland

  10. Job says:

    Preterism was created by the Roman Catholic Church as an attempt to undermine the reformers’ polemical use of Revelation against them. Further, the amillennial system was basically created by “Saint” Augustine in response to criticisms over the declining fortunes of the Roman Empire. Why any Protestant rejects sola scriptura in order to adhere to popish propaganda needs to be explained.

    • Gary DeMar says:

      Preterism has a long history and was not created by the Roman Catholic Church any more than the doctrines found in the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed were created by the RCC. Preterism can be found in the writings of Eusebius (c. 263–339), in particular his ‘The Proof of the Gospel (Demonstratio evangelica)’, as well as in other pre-Augustinian writers. See the translation works of Fancis X. Gumerlock.

  11. Job says:

    The epistle to the Hebrews was most likely written after the destruction of the temple.

    • Gary DeMar says:

      All the books were written prior to AD 70. Even the liberal theologian John A.T. Robinson came to this conclusion. See his book “Redating the New Testament.” Josh McDowell writes: “Most liberal scholars are being forced to consider earlier dates for the New Testament. Dr. John A.T. Robinson, no conservative himself, comes to some startling conclusions in his groundbreaking book Redating the New Testament. His research has led to his conviction that the whole of the New Testament was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Robinson, RNT).” (Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006], 80). Also: “Indeed, it is becoming an increasingly persuasive argument that all the New Testament books were written before 70 A.D.—within a single generation of the death of Christ.” (John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With An Answer: For the Tough Questions About God [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997], 364–365). Reprinted as Handbook of Biblical Evidences (2008).

  12. Des S. Ireland says:

    Gary

    Interesting article as a dispensationalist who is looking into the truth about the end times I found it fairly balanced. In the last number of years Chuck Smith has changed his views on a number of topics and it is a long time ago since 1981 currently within the Calvary Chapel system those books you mentioned aren’t available nor is biblical prophecy as big an issue within the CC system as it may have been in the 1980′s It is true that Calvary Chapel is dispensationalist and also Armenian in its theology.
    Its unlikely that “christian” organisations will address the whole issue of ‘end times now’ because it is a large money spinner for so many organisations.
    As a believer I’m seeking to rightly handle God’s Word when it comes to prophecy and I’d like to be able find information written by people before modern dispensationalism came into existance it seems many people can point me to books against dispensationalism but so far to no books about end times before Darby and some Irishwomen came up with the idea of the rapture and the rise of zionism . If you could point me in that direction that would be nice thanks
    Des, Ireland

    • Jason Lollar says:

      Des,

      Sorry, now I realize you’re looking for older resources. Unlike my diatribe above, I’ll just list one that is very good and a quick read:

      “The Destruction of Jerusalem, An Absolute and Irresistible Proof of the Divine Origin of Christianity” by George Peter Holford (written in 1805)

      Covenant Media Press has a new, 69 page edition…

      V/r
      JD

  13. Randy says:

    Gary! I recognize that book cover, it came from my site :) I frequent your blog. Keep up the good work; I’ve learned a lot from you.

    • Gary DeMar says:

      Randy, thanks for putting it up. I have two copies, but it’s easier to find one on line than having to go through the scanning process. I also have “The Final Curtain,” “Future Survival,” and “Snatched Away!,” a hard one to find. It’s interesting how Smith’s books seem to have been “scrubbed” from the internet.

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