The key to understanding why Harold Camping has turned into a false doomsday preacher is in his formal educational background, said a seminary president who knew Camping from the 1950s.
As many have noted, Camping was educated as an engineer and has no formal theological training. He cannot read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew, an important ability for ministers who want to preach highly interpretative messages.
“This educational background is critical to understanding Camping,” wrote Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary California in a blog post on the school’s website. “His education was not in the liberal arts or theology. He had not been prepared to read literature or ancient texts.”
“His reading of the Bible, as it evolved over the decades, reflected his training in engineering,” explained Godfrey. “He reads the Bible like a mathematical or scientific textbook.”
The seminary president prefaced the blog posting by writing that he is in “a somewhat distinctive position” to write on Camping because he was part of the youth group that Camping taught when he was an elder at the Alameda Christian Reformed Church in Alameda, Calif. Godfrey, who graduated from Stanford University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, calls Camping’s move away from orthodox Christian beliefs as “a very sad story.”
“I pray for him that the Lord will deliver him from the serious errors into which he has fallen,” said the student about his former Bible study teacher. Godfrey credits Camping as one of several people at Alameda Christian Reformed Church that brought him to Christ.
Camping, 89, is a Christian radio broadcaster who shot from obscurity to global fame for his failed prediction that Judgment Day would come on May 21, 2011. He was ridiculed and mocked after the rapture failed to come, but Camping maintains that he was right and that Judgment Day came spiritually. The co-founder and president of Family Radio is now pushing a new date for the rapture and end of the world – Oct. 21, 2011.
Although he also falsely predicted that the end of the world would come in September 1994, he did not gain much attention back then compared to the May 21 claim.
Godfrey recalled that his former Bible teacher strictly adhered to the Christian Reformed Church teachings for years, even defending the Reformed tradition against Pentecostal, dispensational, and Arminian theologies on his Family Radio program “Open Forum.”
Camping “had a broad and detailed knowledge of the Bible which he used to very good effect in answering questions,” Godfrey recalled. “He was at one time a most effective and influential promoter of Reformed theology and won many listeners to the Reformed cause.”
But the Family Radio head, whose only formal training is in engineering, started to veer from orthodox beliefs because he refused to learn from other Bible scholars. Camping undertook studying the Bible in isolation and “adopted a proud individualism,” wrote the California-based theologian.
“No one could help, direct, or restrain him. He was really an autodidact, that is, someone who teaches himself,” Godfrey writes. “He never really submitted his ideas to be challenged and improved by others. He was truly his only teacher.”
Even back then, Camping would humbly say that he will change his views if someone can prove him wrong based on the Bible. But those words were hollow and only covered his “very arrogant attitude,” observed Godfrey, “because no one can ever show him that he is wrong.”
“He alone really understands the Bible,” summed up the former Camping student.