Jack Van Impe, a televangelist who reached a wide audience interpreting current events through apocalyptic passages of the Bible and prophesying the end of the world, died on Saturday at a hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. He was 88.
His death was announced by his organization, Jack Van Impe Ministries International, which did not specify a cause. He had been hospitalized after a fall this month, his longtime consultant E. Dale Berkey said.
Van Impe (pronounced IMP-ee) often pronounced the imminent return of Jesus Christ and mingled discussion of Bible passages with the news of the day on his weekly television program, "Jack Van Impe Presents." The program aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, through cable and satellite, for more than two decades and was said to have reached about 25,000 cities.
"He was something of a pioneer televangelist, someone who was utterly confident about his esoteric interpretations of biblical prophecies," Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Dartmouth College, said.
Van Impe promoted a view of the end of the world known in evangelical circles as dispensational premillennialism, which teaches that Christians will be raptured, or taken up to heaven, before a period of tribulation, a final battle called Armageddon and the return and rule of Jesus on Earth.
His sermons had titles like "The Coming War with Russia, According to the Bible. Where? When? Why?" (In that sermon he warned of a coming world dictator and a Russian invasion of Israel.) In his final broadcast, on Jan. 10, he discussed relations between the United States and Iran and predicted "the bloodiest war in the world," saying it would result mostly in the deaths of "Muslim terrorists."
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said in an interview that Van Impe's premillennial view of the end times paved the way for his own ministry and that of other popular preachers like John Hagee and David Jeremiah. The evangelist Franklin Graham remembered him on Twitter as "The Walking Bible," citing Van Impe's extensive memorization of Bible passages. He was said to have committed about two-thirds of the Bible to memory.
Jack Leo Van Impe was born on Feb. 9, 1931, in Freeport, Michigan, two years after his parents, Oscar and Marie Louise (Piot) Van Impe, had immigrated to the state from Belgium during the Great Depression.
His parents worked as farm laborers in sugar beet and vegetable fields after arriving in Michigan. His father later worked in a Plymouth car factory in Detroit. Jack was their only child.
He had a conversion experience, becoming an evangelical Christian, when he was about 12, after his father's similar conversion had left a strong impression on him.
Jack grew up in the Detroit area and graduated from Edwin Denby High School in 1948. Three years later he received a diploma from the Detroit Bible Institute, a program that offered a Christian Worker's Certificate, and was ordained as a minister in an independent Baptist church.
A lifelong accordion player, he married Rexella Mae Shelton, a musician who also studied the Bible, in Pontiac, Michigan, in 1952 after they had met at a Youth for Christ rally.
Together they held crusades in cities and churches across the country and started a radio broadcast program. They started Impe's television broadcast in 1980.
The couple had no children, and his wife is his only immediate survivor.
In the 1990s, Van Impe predicted that Jesus would return to earth between 2001 and 2012, according to the evangelical magazine Christianity Today.
He left the Trinity Broadcasting Network in 2011, believing it had censored him after he accused the popular preachers Rick Warren and Robert H. Schuller of promoting what he called "Chrislam," a mixture of Christian and Islam. The program was then picked up by other Christian networks.
The broadcast stopped after Van Impe was hospitalized, Berkey said. The ministry said it planned to air special episodes later this year.