LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND COMING: American Premillenialism 1875-1925 by Timothy P. Weber

LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND COMING: American Premillenialism 1875-1925

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Quick, how do you tell the difference between a premillenialist and a postmillenialist? How about a pretribulationalist, a midtribulationalist, and a posttribulationalist (all subspecies of the futurist-premillenialist, of course)? This is not just a game for advanced denominational birdwatchers: conservative estimates put the number of American premillenialists, i.e., Christians who believe that Jesus will return to earth in person before establishing his thousand-year reign (see Revelation 20, 1-6), at 8,000,000--and there may be twice as many. They don't attract too much attention because they have a broader and more familiar group identity: most of them are also fundamentalists or conservative Evangelicals. As a church historian, Weber is less interested in labels than in social behavior, and he tries to isolate the moments in American history where premilienialism made a difference. One of these was the surge in missionary activity around the turn of the century (the Student Volunteer Movement, the China Inland Mission, etc.), inspired by the conviction that Christ would not return until all nations had been evangelized (Matthew 28, 19, and elsewhere). Another, and more curious, episode in the career of premillenialism was the vigorous support it gave to Zionism--partly because the restoration of Israel was supposed to portend the Second Coming. Unfortunately, this same absorption in the Apocalypse also predisposed people to indifference to the crying abuses of their age--in fact, the appearance of mass misery was sometimes hailed as a sign of the approach of Armageddon. Weber's main problem with all this is that premillenialism is less a movement in itself than part of a larger and much more complex gestalt, so to treat it by itself is to distort it. Otherwise, a modest, useful study.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press