I remember September, 1988 well for one reason: my friend Sean’s parents gave away and sold all their possessions. Why? They were convinced that Jesus would return in a few days based on the calculations of Edgar Whisenant, calculations that Mr. Whisenant had published in the bestselling booklet 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988.
I never read Mr. Whisenant’s booklet, but Karl Keating quotes the following excerpt which gives a taste of the perverse logic of this delusional genius:
“From 2422 B.C., we have the instructions for building the ark given by God to Noah. Thus 2422 B.C. + (9 x 490) = 1988, the year of the Church’s rapture. Thus, 490 years is a period of dealing with a people (7 x 70 or 70 weeks [of 7 days]), and 9 is 3 x 3, the number of God; therefore, 9 x 490 is the end of God’s dealing with the Gentile people from Noah to the end of the time of the Gentiles in 1988.
“From 532 B.C., the start of the Jewish punishment seven times over for not obeying God, or a punishment of 2,520 years (Lev. 26:14-39); or from 602 B.C. when Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar his dream of the idol with the head of gold, subtract the 70-year Babylonian captivity and you have 532 B.C. + (7 x 360) = 1988, the year of the Church’s rapture.” (Cited in Karl Keating, The Usual Suspects, Ignatius Press, 2000 96).
Who needs a biblical hermeneutics class when you have a calculator and a vivid imagination?
I still find it incredible that Sean’s parents — and thousands like them — were persuaded by this kind of gobbledygook that Jesus would come back in September, 1988.
Poor Sean. That’s a tough way to begin your sophomore year!
Today I ran across Whisenant’s book at Amazon.com where it is for sale in a Kindle edition. I was shocked to see that it actually had 2 1/2 stars. I wondered, “How is it possible that this crazy pamphlet got anything more than a single star?” Then I read some of the reviews and I realized some sardonic humor was at play. Here’s a five star review:
“A lot of people say you can’t know when the rapture will be but this book spells it out clearly. laugh if you want but when Oct 1988 comes around I’ll be ready….oh…wait.”
Not all was levity, however. Another review (with a somewhat perplexing 3 star rating) offered a more sobering autobiographical glimpse at the impact of this kind of nonsense:
“When I was around 7, my parents had this book. It sat on the coffee table, scaring the bejesus out of me. I had forgotten about it, but thanks for the reminder of why I have generalized anxiety disorder.”
I suspect more than a few folks raised in dispensational fundamentalist churches suffer from a similar clinical diagnosis.
This is the point where I say “April Fools!” (I’m posting this article on April 1st.) But the fact is that this is no joke. Whisenant’s book was a bestseller. The nonsense quote above really does come from the book. Sean’s parents really did dump all their possessions based on Whisenant’s crazy calculations. And more than a few folks who grew up in that era probably do suffer a generalized anxiety disorder as a result.
Sometimes truth rivals the best April Fool’s jokes.