Garry Wills is the NYRB’s resident expert on Evangelicals, and he gives an overview of the Evangelical movement under three headings—crowds, drama, and cycles. It’s familiar territory, and much of it is unexceptional—neither mistaken nor particularly insightful. But Wills does include a bit of each—mistake and insight.
He spends some time sorting through the millennial views of American Evangelicals, and says that Jonathan Edwards agreed with “John Winthrop (1588–1649) that Americans had come to a virgin continent to set up ‘a light upon a hill,’ a model for the impending biblical millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ mentioned at Revelation 10.6. These ‘postmillennials’ think the world will end only after this thousand years of godly time, whose foundations were already being laid on American soil.” They differ from “premillennials, who think the world’s showdown battle (Armageddon) will happen before the thousand-year reign of Christ.”
Well, not exactly. The difference isn’t simply the relative timing of the millennium and Christ’s return. It’s a question of where Jesus is during the millennium. Premillennials think that Jesus will return and reign physically on earth for an actual millennium. Postmillennials don’t typically believe in a literal 1000-year period and they don’t believe that Christ will be on earth during the millennium. Many postmils believe in an age of “godly time,” but it is an age before Christ’s return, while Christ reigns in heaven. Besides that, Wills’s citation from Revelation is off by 10 chapters. He means Revelation 20:6.
Yet Wills does put his discussion of the millennium to good use in explaining Trump. Trump appeals to some Evangelicals because his blunt rhetoric and opposition to the status quo sounds like the voice of an End Times prophet. The style that turned off the elites turned on many Evangelicals: “They felt he was ‘talking their language.’”
In the end, Wills doesn’t find it surprising that “81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump. They know what End Time sermons look like.”