If you think you have been hearing the sound of hoofbeats in the Christian world over the past few weeks, do not worry. It turns out it is not the sound of the four horsemen of the apocalypse coming to reign down terror on the earth. The sound you think you have been hearing is the sound of a stampede of Christians rushing to distance themselves from Harold Camping and his abuse of the Bible.

But before we all escape into our superior Christian towers hiding behind our sophisticated hermeneutics, perhaps we should think a little more carefully about Mr. Camping’s appeal to the Scriptures.

Whatever we think of how Harold Camping used the Bible, there is no denying that he believed he was appealing to biblical authority when he predicted with absolute certainty that Jesus would return on May 21 and that all God’s faithful would be caught up into heaven. Mr. Camping believes the Bible is the Word of God literally spoken by God to be understood by all faithful people and honoured as the one and only authority for Christian belief.

Mr. Camping belongs to the “the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it,” school of interpretation. For Camping the Bible is perfectly clear. The only reason anyone would disagree over God’s Word is because those who disagree with Camping’s reading of the text have chosen to turn away from God and trust in their own interpretations rather than the plain, obvious, authoritative Word as written in the Scriptures.

The plain, ordinary, authoritative Word of God has been to by many people to prove the truth of many things. “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” has been used to denounce the theory of evolution, to support slavery, to promote the separation of races, to inflict abuse upon women, to justify corporal punishment against children, to prohibit divorce, to ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages, to abuse gay people, to condemn Muslims and most other faith groups, and the list could go on.

People who appeal to “the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it,” should not be permitted to duck quite so quickly a share of responsibility in creating Harold Camping. Although his arithmetic may be a bit wonky, and his interpretation fanciful, he is using the Bible the way he was taught to use the Bible by a portion of the Christian Church that holds to a dogmatic, rigid, literalistic reading of the text.

If Harold Camping has demonstrated anything, surely he has shown that the Bible is an enormously complex book that needs to be read with a degree of humility. We are less likely to run into trouble when we approach the Bible with an open mind, willing to acknowledge that our understanding is never definitive.

There are four words that might have saved Camping and his followers a lot of grief in the past few days. We will always come to a better understanding of the Bible when we are willing to say, “I may be wrong.”

The Camping sideshow of the past few weeks has done little to enhance the view much of the world has of Christian faith. The only blessing that might come out of the enormous media attention the Aocalypse has been receiving in recent days is if we Christians feel moved to read our sacred texts with a little more humility.

Even Jesus, when questioned about End Times, acknowledged,

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)

Christians would do well to include the statement “no one knows,” as a regular part of our reading the Bible.