It was September, 1988 and I was back at school ready to begin grade 10. Usually at this time of year the conversation was focused on “what did you do during the summer?” But this year was different. This year everyone was talking, albeit largely under their breath, about Sean. Apparently his parents had sold or given away most of what they owned. Why? It wasn’t clear exactly. However, rumor had it that they believed Jesus was coming back. In September. 1988.
I didn’t know Sean that well so I didn’t ask him about the rumors. After all, how do you nonchalantly slip that into a conversation? “Say, did your parents sell their Chrysler to prepare for the second coming of Christ?” Awkward.
Some years later I figured out what must have happened when I discovered that back in 1988 a fellow named Edgar Whisenant had sold hundreds of thousands of copies of a little booklet called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988. Apparently Whisenant had done some sort of calculations and come up with the absurd hypothesis that Jesus would be returning to planet earth on September 12, 1988.
One had to wonder how many people like Sean’s family were gullible enough to turn their own lives upside down based on the predictions of one foolish man with no academic credentialing in the relevant subject matter (i.e. the interpretation of ancient apocalyptic literature). And one also had to wonder who actually bought Whisenant’s second edition, published the following year and predictably titled 89 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1989.
Sadly, this kind of absurd date-setting is nothing new. Christians have engaging in all sorts of bizarre end times speculation for centuries. In the late second century the Montanists believed that a sparkly New Jerusalem would descend on the humble town of Pepuza in Asia Minor. In the 1530s Anabaptists took over the German town of Munster and expelled bewildered Lutherans and Catholics as they waited for Jesus to come and establish his eternal kingdom. And in the last sixty years countless popular teachers like Hal Lindsey and Jack van Impe have offered an endless torrent of speculations on end times events. As varied as these theories may be, you can depend on one fact: guaranteed they will be completely uninformed by the interpretation of ancient apocalyptic literature.
Whatever happened to Sean? I don’t know, but I often wonder whether the faith of his family ever survived that fiasco.