- (Photo: WeCanKnow.com)
Dr. Thomas B. Slater, professor of New Testament at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology, says the billboards claiming that Jesus will return on May 21, 2011, are inherently "misguided."
Like most Christians, Slater believes that while Jesus' return is taught in the Bible, no one can know the day nor hour apart from God.
"The end of times is something that we all expect and hope for and look forward to but most Christians aren't in the business of trying to predict that date. They are working toward that date," Slater told The Christian Post.
The billboards recently began popping up in Omaha, Detroit, and Nashville. A group in North Carolina plans for 50 billboards to hit metro Atlanta this week and campaigns in other cities in December.
The Christmas-themed ads featuring images of the three magi and the star of Bethlehem tell people that "He is coming again."
Allison Warden, whose family runs the website WeCanKnow.com, points to 1Thessalonians 5:4, where it states "but ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" to justify their campaign.
Warden and her family are followers of Harold Camping, known for his controversial teachings on his station Family Radio Worldwide, which sponsored the billboards in Nashville.
Camping, who teaches people to leave their churches ahead of the end date, says that he arrived at the May 21, 2011, by using a mathematical calculation showing that day to be exactly 7,000 years since Noah's flood.
Trying to predict the end of the world is not just unbiblical, according to Slater, but unChristian. He noted that in trying to live by knowledge, the group's teaching looks more like agnosticism than Christianity.
"I think the people are sincere but they also are making a grave mistake," he said. "They are attempting to replace living by faith with living by knowledge. But knowledge of when the world ends cannot replace the power of living by faith."
"Jesus has told his disciples that they should not be concerned with the end of the world but they should be worried about making the world a better place. These people are doing the exact opposite."
Slater referred to Matthew 25 where Jesus says that the righteous are those who feed the hungry, look after the sick, and visit those in prison.
"At every opportunity Christians should help other people," said the New Testament scholar. "We should not just stop at being saved. We should continuously help people through life because we move toward sanctification. It doesn't mean we ever get there but we are always striving to get there."
If May 21 comes and goes, added Slater, the billboards are going to turn more people off Christianity if they haven't so already.
"This will make other people look at them and say, 'All Christians are foolish like them,'" said Slater.
In fact, the date of the "End" already came and went. In September 1994, Camping predicted that the rapture would take place. But later he said he made a mathematical error.
Slater is concerned that the next day, the group is going to again say they miscalculated and set another date.
"This is a recurring phenomenon that's happened repeatedly when there is some type of social crisis, for example, our current economic crisis."
"We lived in a time where for about 20 years we had a bustling economy and now we are struggling," he commented. "People are seeking answers in different places and different ways."
But May 21 is very significant in at least one way, noted Slater.
"It's the date of my parents' anniversary and my aunt's birthday," he said. "In my family, it has a lot of power."