Friday, December 12, 2014

Ghosts of End Times Present: Jack van Impe's Eschatological Fruitcake

From the November 2011 E-Block.
Under ordinary circumstances, I might read at least 4 books by an author before I think I have a sufficient sample for evaluation. In the case of Jack van Impe, the patent absurdity of his material was such that I was able to stop after only two books:
  • 2001: On the Edge of Eternity (2E)
  • Final Mysteries Revealed (FM)
Now to be sure, there was much of the standard dispensational eschatology; in that van Impe offered little new. He did seem to think the Six-Day War (1967) and the retaking of Jerusalem was a greater hinge point than the founding of Israel (1948), at least in the latter book. He was also looking not for a 10 nation group, but a 13 nation group (which he found in the EU, once Austria joined as the 13th member...about 14 members ago). He also has some rather strained ideas about portions of Jesus' "signs in the skies" being fulfilled by way of warfare in space between the USA and Russia. That's weird, but no weirder than Grant Jeffrey or Hal Lindsey in principle.

But beyond the typical dispensational normalcies, much of what van Impe offers seems more like clinical insanity than Biblical exegesis -- which is made worse by the fact that, like so many prophecy teachers, he specializes in refusing to document his claims.

Consider the following samples, none of which van Impe documents, but which exemplify his irrationality (from 2E):
  • 4: Rabbis of the Lubavitch movement thought the bombardment of Jupiter by the Shoemaker-Levy comet signaled return of Messiah "as described in the Zohar and Talmud." Aside from the lack of citations from that latter documents – and that the Zohar is a late, medieval, and worthless forgery --- van Impe fails to explain why such interpretations ought to be given any credence, especially since the Lubavitch movement does not exactly have a sterling record at selecting Messianic candidates (e.g., Menachem Mendel Schneerson).
  • 24: The city of San Jose spent a half million dollars on a statue of Quetzalcoatl, the pagan deity. Van Impe takes this as some sort of antichrist signal. It turns out there is such a statue, and that the figure is correct, but it’s hard to take van Impe seriously beyond this. The statue was apparently intended to honor Mexican heritage, and has become something of a joke: As some critics have noted, the sculpture has the shape of a pile of canine excrement, and some even say that the sculptor shaped it that way as revenge after being given a hassle by the city. There wasn’t any intention to honor pagan religion, though it seems van Impe was not the only fringe Christian claiming so. Beyond this it is hard to see the Antichrist gaining any honor from a sculpture with such a laughable reputation.
  • 148-9: van Impe cites various uses of the number 666 – ranging from their use on shoes in Italy, to Arab license plates in Jerusalem, to their use in a floor tile catalog – as evidence of a “brainwashing movement” to gain the number acceptance. It goes so far that even a children’s book on algebra titled 666 Jellybeans is rounded up into the conspiracy. In this I am reminded of superstitious builders who label buildings without a 13th floor. Does van Impe except us to skip direct from 665 to 667 to avoid problems?
Insanity like this was sufficient for me to cease reading van Impe after just these two books. The other book (FM) was not quite so bad; it has some odd moments where van Impe runs off into tangents -- e.g., Belshazzar’s drunkenness in Daniel is used as a springboard for a sermon against alcoholism (84-5!), and there is one weird idea of the Biblical “third heaven” as being trillions of light years in the sky (72). Nevertheless, it is enough: Not even Grant Jeffrey was this far out in left field, though Harold Camping certainly was.

Jack van Impe does not appear to be the major name he used to be – but that he got off the ground at all is a testimony to how badly the church needs to adopt serious educational programs.

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