What Phil Cooke, Ph.D. Got Wrong About What Harold Camping Got Right

In the wake of Harold Camping, there has been much to criticize and satirize–including Camping’s “I got the math wrong” pile. However, there was one commentator who got something else pretty wrong.

Phil Cooke, Ph.D–a man whom I have never heard of ’til now–wrote an article which appeared on the Huffington Post. In it, he claims that the mainline denominational churches are doing an extremely poor job at getting the gospel message out. Now, there is a great deal of truth in that. However, he goes on to say that Camping gets the fervor right–if not the message. To be clear and fair, Cooke does say that Camping is wrong. The problem with his criticism is that Camping is totally wrong. Totally! This is part of what Cooke said:

The bottom line is that most of these anemic efforts are so focused on trying to convince us that Christians are “just like you” that they’ve completely lost any unique, compelling, or provocative message about the life-changing experience of following Jesus Christ.

So when it comes to telling his story and getting that story heard, fringe radio preacher Harold Camping and his small band of followers have embarrassed the largest denominations, churches, and Christian ministries in America.

This morning, his story was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times — and most likely every other major paper in America. His story leads CNN and other news networks today. His story is being talked about on Twitter hashtags, blogs, social media sites, and on the street.

Why? Because Harold Camping and his followers really believe their message. When that happens, you’re not afraid to spend money, creativity, passion, and energy to make sure your story impacts people’s lives.

It’s just a shame that it’s the wrong message.

Would Cooke say the same thing if a group of Satanists incorrectly predicted the date of the anti-rapture? I would venture to guess and say no. It is disingenuous to use the fervor of a thieving charlatan to barb the church today.

See, just like Camping was being radical to attempt to gain fame and fortune, Cooke is attempting to be controversial to gain readership. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that Camping is a crook–in practice if not by law. There is no such evidence which exists on a grand enough scale to compare in the mainline denominational church.

Mr. Cooke…I mean, Dr. Cooke…”Rethink” your position.

6 comments on “What Phil Cooke, Ph.D. Got Wrong About What Harold Camping Got Right

  1. Phil Cooke
    May 31, 2011 at 6:38 PM #

    Thanks for your perspective, but I’m afraid you totally missed my point. Your question, “Would Cooke say the same thing if a group of Satanists incorrectly predicted the date of the anti-rapture?” Absolutely! My point is that while Camping is wacked, and his message could not be more wrong, he sure got his story out there. He mounted a unified and strategic effort to tell his story to the world, and as a result people on the street, the evening news, even kids were talking about it. The Church could learn a lesson here. If we had the conviction, the passion, and the drive about the right message, I wonder how much more effectively WE could impact the world.

  2. Chris Tiedeman
    May 31, 2011 at 7:52 PM #

    Dr. Cooke,

    First off, let me tell you that in re-reading my post, I see that I may have been a bit snarky. I was not thinking snarkily in the moment, I just think I was trying to use flourish in the first few posts on my new blog. Either way, pardon the slight breach in etiquette.

    Second, I am all about the church more effectively impacting the world. My disagreement with your argument lies in the difference between the two groups you are describing. I just don’t think we need to use the strategies of those who have been successful just because we want to duplicate the success. The message of the church is much less tabloid-ready and won’t be picked up by the media as will the message of one, lone charlatan. Everyone knows–or thinks they know–the message of the church. It is up to said church to figure out how. It doesn’t make the church less passionate, just more disadvantaged in the messaging war.

    However, I will say that your examples from mainline churches and their description as “anemic” is right on. I just don’t think Camping should be given credit for his fervor when the story really took on a tabloid bent from the beginning.

    The church’s message is not tabloid and is much more important.

    • Phil Cooke
      June 1, 2011 at 9:26 PM #

      Agreed on all counts. Since I work in the world of media, I may be more hopeful than you that our message could cut through the clutter out there and get noticed. But your points are well taken, and it’s always good when others force me to think more deeply…


  1. THE Phil Cooke Responds…How Did I Rate This? | Notes from the Pastor's Office - June 1, 2011

    […] post from May 25th–found here–I was critical of Cooke’s criticism of the mainline church’s messaging as […]

  2. UPDATE: Phil Cooke Responds to My Response to His Response « Notes from the Pastor's Office - June 6, 2011

    […] You can see the article that started it all here. […]

  3. CONTRITE: Harold Camping Apologizes | Notes from the Pastor's Office - March 7, 2012

    […] I was critical of Harold Camping when his predictions for the end of the world went belly-up.  Now, he has apologized.  My friend, Joel–@ejoelwatts on Twitter–posted a good response to this on his blog (Unsettled Christianity).  I encourage you to take a look. […]

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