Know your millennialisms (and how to avoid them)

Religion Dispatches is a reliable site for smart commentary, and Jay Michaelson seems like an engaging fellow, but his latest RD article — “Why I’m Grateful for 2012, The Rapture, and Other Millennial Delusions” — is an unholy mess.

Michaelson gets his eschatology scrambled, reversing pre- and post-millennialism, and thereby also garbling American history beyond recognition. A big mess.

The article gets off to a promising start, with a helpful general overview of millennialism and millennial fervor:

Millennialism … is the general term for the belief — religious or secular, but usually religious — that a massive global transformation is imminent, from Christ’s Second Coming (the “millennium” refers not to the turn of 1999–2000 but to the thousand years during which Christ will reign on Earth) to the messianism of a Sabbetai Sevi or David Koresh to, well, 2012.

We err if we suppose that all millennialists march around with banners proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh. As scholars have rightly pointed out, millennialist thinking is found in Islamism, Marxism, and many other political theories which inspire real action in the real world. Not all millennialists are quietists; on the contrary, like the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, which unleashed Sarin gas in the Tokyo subways, many take matters into their own hands, often with tragic results.

One of the most important, if subtle, transformations in American public life, for example, was the shift in evangelical thinking from post-millennialism to pre-millennialism, which took place gradually from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th. …

So far so good. But the next sentence takes a wrong turn and Michaelson picks up speed in the wrong direction:

Post-millennialists believe that there’s not much we can do to effect when Christ returns; the world will just keep getting worse and worse, and eventually He’ll come and rescue us. The millennium comes after he does. Pre-millennialists, on the other hand, believe that we have to prepare the way. We must reform our society as the kingdom of God on Earth, and only then can Christ return. In this view, the millennium comes first.

No. That’s precisely backwards, and Michaelson’s inversion turns the rest of his religious history on its head as well.

Granted, this pre- and post- terminology is confusing, so let’s try to sort this out.

Before clarifying the difference between these pre-mill and post-mill perspectives, we should note the important context here that these are categories of millennialist Christianity, but that millennialism itself is not a majority view within Christianity. The binary labels of pre- and post- can mislead us into thinking that all Christians must be one or the other of these things, when in reality most Christians are neither.

The pre- and post- prefixes there do indeed refer to the idea of Christ’s return. And the “-millennial” part does indeed refer to Christ’s thousand-year reign, meaning the idea of perfect and enduring earthly justice. So for a pre-millennial believer, Christ’s return must come before any hope for perfect justice. But for a post-millennial believer, the idea is to bring about perfect justice here on earth, thereby inviting Christ’s return after that happens to assume his millennial reign.

It’s the pre-mill types who “believe that there’s not much we can do” and that “the world will just keep getting worse and worse.” And it’s the post-mill types who feel that social progress is mandatory and inexorable. Premillennialism is deeply pessimistic about human history, which they regard as a long slouch toward Armageddon. Postmillennialism is audaciously optimistic about human history, viewing it as a steady march ever closer to perfection.

Get that backwards, as Michaelson does, and you’ll wind up mangling American history, as Michaelson also does:

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, most American evangelicals were post-millennialist, and as such stayed out of politics. America was going to hell, and the best thing for Christians to do is hunker down and wait it out.

That first sentence is wrong in several ways. Many American evangelicals were, in fact, postmillennialist in the 19th century. But not in most of the 20th. And precisely because those 19th-century evangelicals were postmillennialist, they did not at all believe that “America was going to Hell.” Nor were they “hunkered down.”

In the 19th century, American evangelicals wanted to change the world. And they did. Their efforts were vast in scope and enormously ambitious. Just consider a few of the causes they undertook and the prolonged dedication they applied to them: the abolition of slavery; women’s suffrage; temperance; the global missionary movement.

These were massive undertakings pursued by American evangelicals confident that they were commanded by God to usher in a millennial reign of divine perfection. That is what postmillennialism looks like. It’s optimistic, audacious, aggressive and (over)confident.

The best short introduction and explanation of this postmillennial vision — particularly in its 19th-century, evangelical, American formulation — is Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic“:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

This is an inspiring vision. The optimism is compelling and attractive, and it’s easy to understand why this postmillennial fervor was once so popular.

But it couldn’t last, because this idea of inexorable progress toward perfect justice doesn’t correspond with actual history and human experience. The soaring ambition of postmillennialism came crashing back down to earth in the early decades of the 20th century. (One of my favorite theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr, was in many ways the coroner who conducted the autopsy on American postmillennialism, detailing the many causes of its death.)

Postmillennialist fervor faded due to its failures — such as the horrors of a “war to end all war,” that didn’t end all war, but left a broken generation scattered across Europe. And it faded due to its successes, such as Prohibition.

The Temperance movement was postmillennial and anything but temperate. It had been shaped by abolitionism and that had become its model for social change. Social ills weren’t something to be merely amended or corrected, they were to be abolished. This was an essential part of building the kingdom of God here on earth to usher in Christ’s return and millennial reign. But Prohibition didn’t turn out to be the conclusive triumph the Temperance movement had imagined, further chastening postmillennial fervor.

Around the same time, American Christianity was itself going through a kind of civil war in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that was splitting denominations, congregations and seminaries. Southern Christianity — with its otherworldly religion shaped by centuries of slaveholding — reasserted itself to take sides against the worldly threat posed by biblical criticism, evolution and 20th-century science. This otherworldliness got a big boost from the Scofield Bible and the viral spread of pessimistic premillennialism.

Postmillennialism, like William Jennings Bryan, had gotten its chances and come up short. And so in the early decades of the 20th century, American evangelicals retreated into otherworldly religion and premillennial pessimism. They retreated from denominations and seminaries, from schools and statehouses and public life. And that’s where the long decades of “hunker down and wait it out” began. Evangelicals were more concerned with Heaven and Hell than with this world in general, or with America or politics in particular.

How that changed — how these pessimistic, otherworldly, premillennialist evangelicals were transformed into the engaged political activists of the religious right — is a complicated story. It involves the rise of new forms of postmillennialist Christianity — such as the dominion theology of the right-wing Reconstructionists and of many Pentecostal churches. And it involves a very strange evolution in premillennialism from the pessimistic quietism of Scofield and Hal Lindsey into the aggressive, ambitious political movement envisioned by post-Lindsey premillenialists like Jerry Falwell and our friend Tim LaHaye.

(It also involves cynical exploitation, crassly partisan politics, Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Brown v. the Board of Education, fear of hippies, and Jerry Falwell’s racist meltdown in the wake of the Bob Jones decision. But here we’re mainly focused on eschatology.)

The internal contradictions of these activist premillennialists fascinate me. These are people who believe the world is destined to get worse and worse, sliding inevitably toward cataclysm and tribulation. And yet they also seem confident that political change is possible.

That’s what I’m struggling to understand. Hal Lindsey and Jesus Freaks like Larry Norman were premillennialists who believed that our only hope was in the Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus. No political change was possible or meaningful until then, and it was expected to happen at any moment anyway, so political activism and social justice were of no consequence to them. If you accept their premise, then their political quietism and retreat from society is a logical conclusion.

But Tim LaHaye and many other prominent figures of the religious right accept those same premises and come to very different conclusions. Why? Why did so many late-20th-century premillennialists start acting like they were postmillennial dominionists?

I understand LaHaye’s eschatology. And I understand LaHaye’s political ideology. But I do not understand how Tim LaHaye reconciles his eschatology and his political ideology. It seems just as mixed up and confused as Jay Michaelson’s article.



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  • JustoneK

    I’ll just leave this here.

  • dxmachina

     I was in the 6th grade on June 6, 1966. There was a half-page article in My Weekly Reader about it, and that was pretty much it, at least in school. None of this nonsense ensued. Something’s gone haywire in general popular culture in the meantime.

  • Michael Pullmann

    I wonder if millennial fever didn’t start to spike (at least in America) because of the approach of a new calendar millennium. Did stuff like this happen in the 10th century?

  • shiracoffee

    Truly a guide for the perplexed! For those of us who want to be good neighbors to our Christian co-citizens, but who also want to avoid living in a theocracy, this is valuable information.

  • Rrhersh

    Fred, can you recommend a good history of American Protestantism along the lines of this post?  Or failing that, can you write one?

  • histrogeek

     Basically no. Mainly because the current A.D./C.E. calendar was really only in use in the largely illiterate West, and thanks to the same nearly universal illiteracy, it’s hard to tell in many cases. The more educated regions like the Muslim world and the Byzantine Empire used other year dates, so the changing of the millennium was meaningless.
    It was a pretty rough time though. It didn’t require much imagination to believe that your little corner of the world would end, and no one thought much beyond that. In many ways, imagining the end of your world took less imagination than imagining the rest of the world even existed.
    Millennial fervor does tend to pop-up at the end of centuries though. For the present crop though, I think the slide can be attributed to World War II and the Cold War, which had a real-world whiff of apocalypse. If you didn’t at least imagine the end of the world was possible during that period (even if only in an entire human, non-supernatural way), you just weren’t paying attention.

  •  “But I do not understand how Tim LaHaye reconciles his eschatology and his political ideology.”

    Well, he doesn’t really.  Haven’t you been paying attention to your own snark Fred?  He does, however, get to feel like both a wide-eyed idealist and a wise patriarchial ‘realist’ at the same time.

  • AnonaMiss

    Great post Fred! I love reading about modern theological/eschatological shifts.

    Seconding the request for a history of American Protestantisms/evangelical Protestantisms. In particular I’d like to know the steps leading up to the semi-popularity of the Prosperity Gospel, and where Prosperity Gospel fits in with Dominionism/Millenialism.

    …Speaking of which, what’s with the weird marriage between Dominionism and Pre-Millenialism? It seems like a natural fit for Post-Millenialism, but “The world has to end before Christ’s kingdom comes, so let’s make this country a Christian Kingdom!” makes no sense to me.

  • dxmachina

     Garry Wills’ Head and Heart: American Christianities

  • Carstonio

    “Why did so many late-20th-century premillennialists start acting like they were postmillennial dominionists?” Fred acknowledges the political context, but he errs in not giving this more weight. A backlash against civil rights and women’s rights, obviously, but deeper than that. On an emotional level, anything that threatens white male Christian privilege might genuinely feel to these folks like an imminent collapse of civilization. The latter term, of course, defined in racist terms.

  • Why did so many late-20th-century premillennialists start acting like they were postmillennial dominionists?I’ll take a stab at answering this one. First, let’s back up a step:

    And so in the early decades of the 20th century, American evangelicals retreated into otherworldly religion and premillennial pessimism. They retreated from denominations and seminaries, from schools and statehouses and public life.

    Every flavor of millennialism has two fundamental problems it has to deal with:
    1.) What happens if the world doesn’t end?
    2.) What do we do until then?

    Most millennial variations deal with #1 by refusing to say precisely when the world will be transformed, saying only “soon”. Christian millennialism has this evasion baked into the scripture (“No one knows the hour” or some-such) but even vague predictions of “soon” or “within our lifetime” run out of credibility the longer the world keeps existing. 

    It’s question #2 that’s tricky. Retreating to otherworldly religion makes for a fun weekend, and pessimism is a decent enough way to pass the time, but you can’t withdraw from the world forever. OK, you can, but let’s set aside the Heaven’s Gate/Jim Jones scenarios for now. So at some point, even the most pessimistic pre-millennialist still has to deal with a world that they have to live in for some unspecified period of time. So what do you do? Well, you do whatever the rest of your theology tells you to do. Why? Because you have to do something.

  • Foreigner
  • Andrea

    In my head, I was reading “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the tune of “Do You Hear the People Sing” (the part that goes “We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord / We will walk behind the plowshare, we will put away the sword”).

  • L C

    I remember getting a book in university from a friend of a friend of mine (who had been a theological scholar for a while? Something like that) that detailed 4 millenialisms. Pre-millenialism, Post-millenialism, Amillenialism, and now I’ve forgotten the 4th one. (It may have been a subdivision of the Pre? Dispensationalism? I can’t remember.)

    Anyways, it was all quite fascinating, and I never thought much about it until I started becoming interested in politics and found all these pre-millenials about, and was happy that I at least had some idea what they were talking about.

  • Carstonio

    Maybe it’s not true postmillennialism, but a lament for the decline of white male supremacy that’s simply couched in millennialist language.

  • AnonymousSam
  • Loquat

    I don’t know about the 10th century, but the ancient Romans apparently threw one hell of a party for the 1000th anniversary of the city’s legendary founding  by Romulus. Not that they were ever certain what year that had happened, mind you – the scholar Varro, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, settled on 753 BC, and everyone decided to go with that. Also, the millennium wound up falling during a time when Roman emperors were constantly getting assassinated and replaced, and the emperor who happened to seize office a couple years before the millennium figured a massive celebration would be a good way to make himself popular (it didn’t help – he was killed a year or so later). So not only were there massive shows, games, and parties going on, there were also a ton of commemorative coins being printed with slogans like “The Millennial Age”, “Eternal Peace”, “Prosperity of the Times”, and so on.

  • histrogeek

    Part of the danger of the pre-millennialists is the temptation to stage-manage the apocalypse. Support for Israel is probably the single biggest example of this. They need an Israel as a main character in their play. They also need a Temple, but they have to wait on that one. They need an Anti-Christ so they go looking for one in weird places. The teen in Texas who feels that the San Antonio  Independent School District is the anti-Christ is hardly unrepresentative of that trend. Basically they try to create the conditions they think are associated with Jesus’ return.
    Post-mills did the same thing, but their efforts were about making the world a better place, not a bad goal in general. And post-mills usually didn’t have an exact script that needed specific characters.  

  • Water_to_wine

    Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden might be a good choice.

  • Jim Roberts

    Premillennial dispensationalism, or dispensational premillennialism.  The idea is that God’s interactions with man are governed by a series of “dispensations” – basically, treaties or agreements – between God and man. In the current dispensation, the agreement is between God and the church, with the agreement between God and Israel on hold until Christ’s return, at which point Israel will turn back to God.

  • walden

    Fred, this is a great posting — very clear and thoughtful.  I think you should be the one to write the book examining these threads and where they went, and what it has meant for evangelicalism, Christianity in the U.S., and social reform . This blog post is probably the most sophisticated thinking about these topics I’ve seen. 

  • Pretty much. It wasn’t so bad as this recent time, what with not a whole lot of people actually being in a position to recognize what year it was (Our system for numbering the years was only formalized in the 8th century, and your average peasant wasn’t likely to have much more a sense of what year it was than “The eighth harvest since the old king died. Or is it the ninth? Something like that.”), and the more educated parts of the world being on a different calendar, but there were your share of doomsday cults who believed that the return of christ or the end of the world would surely happen when the odometer rolled over.

  • Ian

    I’m a leftie activist-inclined pre-millenialist.
     Here’s how I reconcile that.


    I’ll try approaching this through metaphor.


    I’ve spent a lot of time at the Museum of Anthropology
    in Vancouver.  It’s mostly repented of its colonialist beginnings as a
    white anglo museum of appropriated Haida art, and now it doubles as both a
    museum of Salish Sea First Nations culture and a gallery for living First Nations
    artists working in those same traditions.  As you walk in the front
    entrance you see brand new wooden sculptures sitting next to figures from totem
    poles that are so weather-worn and eroded that shoots have sprouted out of
    them.  The evident decay is, I think, part of the message of an artistic
    tradition whose most prominent medium is wood.


    I think everything people build is made of wood.


    Human beings cannot create a paradise on earth.
     The natural trajectory of everything we build, from nation states and
    institutions to the shapes we give our individual lives, is decay.  As
    Pratchett says, the magic goes away.  Anything I write
    will be forgotten or distorted by the years as they pass.  Ultimately, the
    only thing we can pass on to subsequent generations is a tradition of creating
    (techniques, tools, aesthetics, values). 
    However, if it is to be a living tradition we cannot even anticipate
    what they will make.  We and everything we have made will someday be gone,
    and our descendants will not make what we would have made.


    The only sensible eschatology is the heat death of the
    universe.  Everything we make will
    dissolve in the end and we shall have no descendants to remember us and carry
    on.  There is pride and courage to be
    found in facing that.  “We will do
    justice, though the heavens rot.”


    An alternate, much more implausible eschatology, which
    I would not recommend to everyone, tells us that there is a Creator who made
    all things, and made us to be creators in hir image.  This Creator has
    promised to make all things new.  I’m not
    sure what that means, but it sounds appealing. 
    Their medium of choice is gold. 
    That’s my kind of premillenialism.


    Both of those pessimistic eschatologies are a call to
    action, a call to pick up a chisel and make something new before the good old things have turned to loam.  Both are a cure for the arrogance of the subset of postmillennialists
    who want to impose their idea of utopia on the rest of us.  Here’s to what we can build together on the rubble
    of the Anti-Saloon League.  May it last
    long enough to shelter and inspire the generation after us, or until the age of

  • Ian

    Sorry for the formatting error.  

  • LMM22

    Reading this, I have a burning desire to know exactly what being in that position — in the mid-19th century, on the right side of history, seeing the demise of slavery, feeling like you’re on the cusp of a new era — felt like. The belief that, this time, things will be different — that we are about to correct the wrongs of history.

    I guess the closest we can come (and this is only a shade of the truth, I think) is that of the gay rights movement. We hit a turning point … sometime, maybe earlier this decade or a bit before. It’s not over yet, but it’s clear that change is coming, far faster than anyone expected. (When Obama came out for gay marriage, Rachel Maddow talked cheerfully about previous policies adopted by the administration. And then, just as they’re about to cut to the video, her eyebrows shoot up — she’s about to cry on camera.) But there’s *so* many other things that we’re just absolutely failing on.

    Even if it failed, even if it was a bad idea, Communism offered *hope* at one point to people, in an era when religion was faltering. I’m not sure what will do the same today.

    I do think that it’s a bit cynical to claim that the demise of post-millenialism came solely due to self-interest. In a real way (and I’ve seen a few people say this), Reconstruction was the *only* time in American history that we’ve ever tried to have a fully integrated society — and it collapsed, I would argue, in part because it failed to be as expansive as its supporters hoped it would be. (First-wave feminism is often accused of being racist, but that’s really only half the story — most women supported emancipation and assumed that women and blacks would simultaneously receive the right to vote. When they did not — a decision presented in public based upon the nobility of black soldiers but one actually made for very short-term political gains — the coalition fell apart. It’s quite arguably that, had that fragmentation not occurred, Reconstruction may actually have worked, at least better than it did.) Utopia always fails, I guess. 

  • stardreamer42

    Christian millennialism has this evasion baked into the scripture (“No
    one knows the hour” or some-such) but even vague predictions of “soon”
    or “within our lifetime” run out of credibility the longer the world
    keeps existing.

    Out of credibility perhaps — but apparently not out of the credulous, more’s the pity.

  • Loki100

    The death of Communism was the death of Utopia.

    Although I maintain that the problems of Communism were mostly related to the fact that Communists took over via military coup which created entrenched authoritarian power structures and dictatorship. Sweden,  Norway and Denmark elected radically socialist governments in the 1930s and never experienced anything like the Soviet Union or China.

  • My understanding of Communist theory is limited, but from what I recall, the communist “millenial transformation” had a lot of prerequisites that are no less onerous than “perfect justice on earth”. 

    IIRC, the theory of communism pre-supposed things like universal capitalism, perfected means of production, and markets that were basically static and suffered no technological disruptions. 

  • fnordcola

    Good article. I’m kind of surprised an error as glaring as confusing pre- and post-millennial eschatology made it onto Religion Dispatches.

    The one thing I’d add as an amendment to your piece: while Lindsey started out as more the apolitical (if conservative in terms of values) and quietist type, he didn’t stay that way. He never achieved the political success of someone like Tim LaHaye or Jerry Falwell, but he definitely tried for it. Several books on the subject of Dispensationalism* have noted the dramatic shift between ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’ and ‘The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon’ a decade later. In the latter, Lindsey favored political engagement, and repudiated his previous claim that America would be destroyed or corrupted by the time the Tribulation began, saying instead that if America embraced conservative Christian values, it could hold out longer and prevent a great deal of strife and suffering. While the latter book was much less popular, it still heralded Lindsey’s entry into the religious right, where he’s largely stayed ever since. WorldNetDaily columns aren’t generally the mark of political quietism, after all. Though, looking over it now, I guess he hasn’t updated his in a couple years.

    *The ones I know of are O’Leary’s ‘Arguing the Apocalypse,’ Boyer’s ‘When Time Shall Be No More,’ and Weber’s ‘On the Road to Armageddon.’

  • Ken

    These are people who believe the world is destined to get worse and
    worse, sliding inevitably toward cataclysm and tribulation. And yet they
    also seem confident that political change is possible.

    But do they want change for the better?  Or do they seek political power to make sure that the world gets worse and worse?  Reminds me of a certain U.S. political party that has recently campaigned on the idea that government is incompetent, and when in power has done everything possible to prove it.

  • Pretty much. Marx (correctly) predicted that capitalism requires constant growth (and, worse, a constantly increasing rate of growth) or it will collapse. He also predicted (Court’s still out) that such growth could not be sustained indefinitely. The basic idea behind communism was to be a system designed to shepherd resources and use them more optimally because continual growth isn’t an option — the basic idea was “We’ve extracted all the wealth there is and there won’t be markedly more, so we need a system for spreading it around and keeping sociopathic plutocrats from blowing it all.” 

    What Marx failed to predict was that it would be possible to just keep growing capitalist economies until 2008, or that by then comunism would have been thoroughly debunked on account of all the major examples having been the result of someone trying to skip over capitalism entirely and jump straight from mercantilism (or worse, feudalism) to capitalism without first doing that massive wealth-extraction step that is pretty much the thing that capitalism is awesome at.

  • vsm

    Well, whose theory of communism? Marx thought at one point that capitalism would naturally result in some of those, but seems to have realized his mistake towards the end of his life when he saw how the British misdeveloped India. Later Marxists certainly didn’t think any of those were necessary, or Lenin and co. would have never launched a revolution in a country as backwards as early 20th century Russia. See also Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

  • mud man

    Looking at it as an undereducated outsider, maybe in Nixon’s day Millenarians were trying to justify society/government through a positive program of promoting “family values”, but these days the goal seems to be to tear the whole thing down. Return to a state of nature where one can define one’s own terms of behavior, and not have to share. And know my sure and certain personal rightness while I await the Lord. When all the others are dead. AND meanwhile, I can look forward to when I can put a Land Rover on the company credit card and drive on the sidewalks. It’s like school is gonna be o-u-t.

    Totally a reflection of modernist individualism. 

  • Pacal

    Actually Marx thought that growth would continue under the Communist utopia. Humans in Marx’s view would have their creative Promethian essence released and humans would enter a sort of permanent “end of history”, characterized by endless growth of human potential.

    It amazes me how so many people at the time missed just how utterly fanciful and utopian Marx’s vision was and is. Marx far from being “scientific” was engaged in what amounted too wishful thinking and political fantasy.

  • vsm

    I’m not entirely sure which of Marx’s works you’re thinking of, but visions such as that are not representative of his overall approach. He and Engels actually made a point of not drawing up very detailed plans of what life under socialism would be like, or even what socialist states should be like, unlike their predecessors. Most of their efforts were spent on analyzing existing structures in capitalist states.

  • Colonel_Green

    Pretty much everyone in Marx’s time still took the Whig notion that history had some sort of logical endpoint very seriously, so Marx wasn’t unusual on that score.  It was really only the revelations of the failure of Stalin and post-Stalin Communism that killed off that strain of thought in western liberal thought for good in the 1950s and 1960s (ending with the suppression of the Hungarian and Czech uprisings); on the conservative side it lingers, both in the LeHaye form and among the second generation neocons who for a time adhered to Fukuyama’s End of History thesis.

  • jmf

    Years ago, I picked up a ragged copy of Clarence Larkin’s “Dispensational Truth” at a garage sale or something; I was interested in the art. If you haven’t seen it, it’s certainly worth a look—someone has put the entire thing on scribd: 

  • GuibertdeNogent

    I cannot speak to the rest of the world, but France absolutely experienced a millennial madness related to AD 1000 that America has thanks to 2000.  It also happened to coincide with the final collapse of the Carolingian Dynasty to really make people go nuts.  Being entirely Catholic, there is no easy way to draw a parallel to modern American Evangelism, but it certainly seemed to be post-millennial in its activism and optimism (although the latter wave, the Truce of God, seemed incredibly cynical in comparison…therefore it was the one that stuck around far longer).

  • Turcano

    I understand LaHaye’s eschatology. And I understand LaHaye’s political ideology. But I do not understand how Tim LaHaye reconciles his eschatology and his political ideology. It seems just as mixed up and confused as Jay Michaelson’s article.

    Brad Hicks has made a rather convincing answer in his “Christians in the Hands of an Angry God” (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).  Part 2 is the most relevant section in this case, where Brad postulates that this was done to protect evangelical Christianity from international Communism: the Democratic party was deemed insufficiently “tough” on Communism and if Communism took over in America, evangelicals would be slaughtered to a man like they were in China and North Korea.  To prevent this, evangelical leaders made a literal Faustian pact with the Republican party.  This also goes a long way towards explaining LaHaye’s Bircherism.

  • mb

    Ironically, it was communism that fell because of its economic crisis (with all surviving communist countries switching to capitalism, one by one), not capitalism. Capitalism is simply more flexible.

  • Premillennial views need not be pessimistic – George Eldon Ladd in his A Theology of the New Testament links a positive view of history with the premillennial vision.  His argument is that the premillennial vision is a positive one that demonstrates the incarnation in a wider sense, namely an earthly social order that reflects the glory of God. 

    On another tack, a premillennial vision can – I would argue it is – be hopeful since if we order our lives in anticipation of the heavens and earth made new, it would underwrite our living out lives of hope, compassion, justice and truth here and now.  In other words, live as citizens of the Kingdom now in anticipation of both the millennial kingdom and the eschaton

  • reynard61

    “But Tim LaHaye and many other prominent figures of the religious right accept those same premises and come to very different conclusions. Why? Why did so many late-20th-century premillennialists start acting like they were postmillennial dominionists?

    “I understand LaHaye’s eschatology. And I understand LaHaye’s political ideology. But I do not understand how Tim LaHaye reconciles his eschatology and his political ideology. It seems just as mixed up and confused as Jay Michaelson’s article.”

    I think that the problem is that you seem to see LaHaye’s eschatology and political ideology as two separate items when they’re actually the same thing. I think that in LaHaye’s mind, eschatology *is* Ideology, and ideology *is* eschatology; and *never* shall that bond be set asunder, as it were.

    LaHaye’s eschatology/ideology pretty much *demands* — *ABSOLUTELY* — that God and his son Turbo Jesus are the ones in charge at all times. (Satan only *thinks* he’s in control during the indwelling.) LaHaye would most likely tell you — and I’m pretty sure that he tells his followers — that God and Turbo Jesus only want to love them and give them what’s best for them. (Yeah; just keep telling yourselves that, ya saps…)

    This brings us to two more things: Power and money. In order to have any influence over his readership (he left the pulpit in 1981 according to his Wikipedia bio: ), he has to keep writing books and making appearances — and get paid for them. And, of course, the more books he sells (especially those with a political/conspiracist bent) and the more appearances he makes (especially at political events), the more influential (and powerful) he becomes and, of course, the more money he rakes in. He’s simply learned a lesson of his Bircher roots, “Fear sells”, and given it a heaping helping of religious zealotry. This is why LaHaye can hold both “We’re all doomed and there’s nothing that we can do about it!” and “We need to prepare the way for God, and I need money from you sinners to pay for it!” in his head at the same time without the two thoughts causing it to explode or implode. Cognitive Dissonance can be a *wonderful* (and useful) thing!

  • reynard61

    “Years ago, I picked up a ragged copy of Clarence Larkin’s ‘Dispensational Truth’ at a garage sale or something. I was interested in the art. If you haven’t seen it, it’s certainly worth a look(…)”

    Yeah, I have that too. (Although my copy is in excellent condition.) The art is certainly one of the most fascinating things about the book (I have absolutely no doubt that LaHaye consulted it while writing his various series), but the writing is another thing altogether. I found it a bit like reading an old grimoire that had been cobbled together from the rantings of a sometimes drunk, sometimes semi-lucid, Scofield wanna-be. Of course, YMMV if you decide to try to read it.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This is very interesting Fred, but you’re wrong in saying that the inexorable progress towards justice failed.

    The evangelical activists of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in America didn’t fail. Slavery was abolished. Sufferage was expanded. Fundamental rights of individuals were acknowledged.

    When people say there hasn’t been progress towards justice, it makes me wonder about their point of view. I’m a woman, I grew up in poverty, and I’m a member of a religious denomination that was denied full civic rights in the first half of the 20th century. When I consider how my life would have been just a few generations ago, I have to acknowledge that I am at the happy end of progress towards justice.

    Progress hasn’t failed, it just hasn’t finished.

  • Carstonio

     Does Hicks have a citation for that slaughter? I thought there wouldn’t have been many evangelicals in those nations in the first place. Most anticommunism in the US appeared to be xenophobia and racism, and I suspect some of it was goosed by wealthy folks who have had the most to lose.

    (For clarification, I support free enterprise instead of capitalism. Instead of capital being owned mostly by a wealthy minority, I favor the membership corporation model, and I see a strong government role for social services such as single-payer health care.)

  • Turcano

     If it wasn’t the case, it was widely believed to be in those circles, to which I can personally attest.

  • Here’s my take 

  • Barry_D

    fRED:  “I understand LaHaye’s eschatology. And I understand LaHaye’s political
    ideology. But I do not understand how Tim LaHaye reconciles his
    eschatology and his political ideology. It seems just as mixed up and
    confused as Jay Michaelson’s article.”

    Because they’re cynical liars; the Rapture is so that the rubes are willing to be fleeced. 

  • Carstonio

     Thanks. I wasn’t aware that Protestantism had such a presence in Korea – I had assumed that the majority of Koreans were Buddhist. The article doesn’t mention evangelicals specifically, and it strongly suggests that the persecution was more about anti-American sentiment than about the religion.

  • charliehall

    Julia Ward Howe an evangelical? In real life she was a Unitarian!