on May 21, 2000
The cover of Boyer's book contains a powerful scene. A group of well-dressed people are standing in a field, gazing up at a dark and brooding, but otherwise completely empty sky. As a former fundamentalist Christian, this scene is particularly emotive, as I well understand the sense of hope mingled with foreboding that the premillenial worldview brings.
It is probably difficult for an outsider to understand how this peculiar view of the world can colour a person's entire life. I was constantly aware that at any moment I could be raptured out of the world. I scoured the headlines for a clue as to the identity of the Antichrist, and the latest movements of Gog and Magog. I was convinced that all signs pointed to the end of the world within my lifetime.
Boyer's book is an excellent overview of this type of thinking. Such puzzling terms as the Rapture, Armageddon, the Beast, 666, and the One-World Government are examined in detail. What is particularly good about this book is that it is never judgemental or pedantic. Boyer never explicitly discusses why the fundamentalist, premillenial view of the world is wrong. Instead, he shows in detail how the belief arose in the early second century, and evolved through the ages. Through each step, Boyer shows how ardent Bible students firmly believed that they were living in the last times, and how each interpreted the apocalyptic books of the Bible to fit their own situations. Such an historical overview is a far more eloquent argument against premillenialism than any exegesis of the scriptures could be.
I found this a very fascinating book. It is indispensable for the recovering fundamentalist, if only to put their beliefs into an historical context, and so make some sense of them.
on July 5, 2001
Boyer's treatment of dispensationalism in its modern American populist form is encyclopedic and exceptionally fair-minded. His summary includes discussions of the thought (?) of every major player in the end times publishing field. Lindsay, LaHaye, van Impe -- they are all here and all represented quite fairly.
Boyer is not merely encyclopedic and thorough, but is also quite attuned to the subtleties of American prophecy belief. He discusses at length, for instance, the irony of how modern end times beliefs and left wing politics have generated very similar critiques of globalization and economic corporate homogenization.
One thing I did find missing here was a thorough analysis of the arguments that the end times writers use to defend their positions. I had hoped for some discussion on how they argue their positions and how scholars from other Christian traditions have interacted with those arguments. But such discussion was not Boyer's intent. Instead, he has given us more of a "source book" of modern end times beliefs. But, since this is probably the first serious scholarly foray of considerable length in this field, I guess I can't fault Boyer for not writing everything possible on the subject.
A good chunk of the book is devoted to presenting a history of prophecy belief -- from the days of the early church up to the present. This part of the book was actually secondary from Boyer's point of view but, if you're already familiar with modern end times beliefs as I (admittedly) am, you will probably find this the most educational part of the book.
In short, this book is not the place to go for an analysis of the strengths of end times thought (such as it is). But if you want to know how modern end times beliefs developed historically, or if you want an explanation of what it is all about from someone familiar with the end times subculture (but not a part of it) this book is the place to start.
on November 24, 1998
Boyer presents an accurate, cogent account of the history of Bible eschatology. He first documents the litany of freakish movements obsessed with the end of the world that have injured so many. He goes on to relate to and interact with some of Christendom's greatest thinkers (Calvin, Luther, Augustine) and their handling of prophetic Scripture. He also addresses the moronic notions of Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Edgar Wisenant and other Biblical hacks who pass themselves off as "scholars". Boyer's book is a sound investment for any mature Christian who prefers a spirit of "power, love and a sound mind" as promised in Scripture.
on September 4, 2001
Anyone who reads this book would not be surprised at the runaway success of the "Left Behind" series, since it demonstrates that a preoccupation with Bible prophecy affects a much wider demographic than the fundamentalist subculture. Indeed, the impact of premillenial thought has extended all the way up to the Reagan White House. And, Christian or not, who hasn't heard of the term "Antichrist" or the significance of the number "666"? This book presents a fairly comprehensive survey of popular eschatology, including the role of Israel, Russia, the Arab countries, Europe, and the United States. It also shows how those beliefs have changed over the years (Turkey was considered Gog and Magog before Russia was, and the Pope was designated as the Antichrist for years before Hitler and Henry Kissinger came along). The final chapter, written at the brink of the collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrates how, once again, premillenial thought adjusts itself (or sometimes not) depending upon world conditions. This is a fair, even-handed treatment of a religious and cultural phenomenon.
on March 28, 2015
"When ... time shall be no more ... and the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there" (popular Christian hymn).
If you believe bible prophecy exegesis, read this book to be amazed at the range of ideas proclaimed as certainties by prophecy preachers. If you think it's nonsense, or are unaware of it, read this book to understand a belief system, widely held by intelligent Americans, which affects national policy -- claims to be "the exceptional nation," to fight "the axis of evil," that "... the purpose of our great land is to rid this world of evil ..." --President Bush. (Paradox: prophecy preachers say human effort cannot rid the world of evil or improve the world, nothing can prevent God's plan for history, which includes continued growth of evil, The Tribulation and Armageddon; yet like other Americans they advocate a strong military defense for the nation.)
Google "bible prophecy" and see nearly six million hits. It's a hot topic.
Boyer spent years wading through a vast literature of bible prophecy writing in the U.S. since WW2. His extensive quotation saves us from the ordeal of reading any of it. The word "antichrist" appears in the Bible only in letters of John -- "even now there are many antichrists" 1 Jn 2.18 (that is, persons who deny Jesus is the Christ/Messiah). Theologians and preachers for 2000 years have built a huge edifice of speculation on this word, linking Gog from Ezekiel and The Beast from Revelation. In each generation, religious and political leaders have been labeled The Antichrist. Boyer wrote before LaHaye's "Left Behind" prophecy/fantasy novels (16 volumes, 1995-2007, 65 million copies, four films, a PC game). It's worthwhile to try to understand this persistent belief system about Rapture, Tribulation, the number of The Beast 666, Second Coming, Armageddon, The Millennium, Last Judgement. Failed predictions of the imminent end of the world (from Jesus and Paul to Pat Robertson and Edgar Whisenant), of a Russian invasion of Israel, of Nuclear Holocaust, have not diminished the power of prophecy preachers.
Boyer, history professor at the University of Wisconsin, grew up in the Brethren of Christ Church (Mennonite) in Dayton, a church founded by his grandfather. His memoir of his grandfather's mission is MISSION ON TAYLOR STREET: THE FOUNDING AND EARLY YEARS OF THE DAYTON BRETHREN IN CHRIST MISSION (1987). He quotes his grandfather (pgs 295, 447) saying in 1942 that the war was fulfillment of a prophecy of Jesus.
on August 1, 2012
This book is a good look into prophecy belief in the U.S. This book reads like a history of these movements, and in doing so shows the reader how this belief has influenced and grown over time. The author discusses the leaders of these movements as well as some of the celebrities within the movements that exert so much influence over millions of people. Mr. Boyer has obviously done extensive research combing through hundreds of books and archives to resource this history, and the research is certainly evident in this book. The author knows his subject very well which comes through on each page.
Mr. Boyer also discusses the different strands of prophecy belief such as the passive and activist branches. The activist branches being those who actively seek to help bring about the end times by helping to fulfill percieved prophecies in order to bring about god's rapture as soon as possible as opposed to the passive branch that believes that people cannot affect god's plan and that the end is preordained by god and there is nothing that can change that plan. Both sides of this movement are well represented here and thoroughly discussed in an historical context, but this is the problem with the work also.
This book begs for a deeper look into the prophecy movements. Throughout the entire work I felt it needed something more like a psychological or sociological approach to go with the historical rendering. The book simply scratches the surface and leaves the reader wanting these deeper looks into the leaders and the millions of people who follow end time prophecies.
Another problem with the book is that the author tends to use the same sources over and over again. This means his chapter breaks do not really break anything at all. The book simply reads as one single strand which makes the breaks irrelevant and makes the reading tedious. The same authors and preaches are constantly quoted over and over again in each chapter which leaves no natural breaks in the reading.
To finish, I think this is a good starter to get any reader into this topic, but it is not a definitive work. This book leaves the reader wanting a deeper look into these movements. The reason I don't take off for this is the author is up front from the beginning that his book is not that deeper look. His is an historical look at this movement which leaves the deeper studies to others. I do give this work a high mark even with the problems it has because the book does deserve to be read. I recommend this book but with reservations.
Boyer presents a comprehensive look at the development and continuing influence of end times prophecy, especially what has become dominant in American Christianity, premillenialism.
I think for premilleniaslism's attractiveness to American, it presents an over-arching scheme to world history, especially America's part in the great scheme of things.
With the downfall of utopian post-millenialism (see Tuveson's excellent work, "Redeemer Nation," Boyer shows historically how this system of Biblical interpretation has become increasingly popular among us.
He at points, e.g. pg. 310, suggests that premillenialism of our day is not intellectually valid, especially in its exegetical competence. I believe this unfair, given the caliber of individuals who study and believe in this eschatology, e.g. Ryrie, Chafer, etc. Although I personally do not buy into their eschatology nor hermeneutics, I cannot concur with Boyer by suggesting that only simple minded will buy into it.
Without this critique, this work would have been a five. It is a valuable, well-documented source for end times history and currents within popular American culture.
on June 14, 2011
Here is a fantastic scholarly investigation of the popular prophetic frenzy of North America. This historical survey is crisply written and very informative. Many of the culprits are named with their books examined. I was assigned this text in a class on eschatology for a doctoral seminar. Ironically, my prof was a dispensationalist, who, nonetheless decries much of the apocalyptic newspaper exegesis of the prophecy pundits. This is an extremely helpful book for understanding the religious mood of many Americans.
on December 31, 2005
My own reading and review of this volume is from the vantage of one who basically identifies with the premillennial, dispensational Biblical viewpoint of prophecy of which Boyer writes.
I was surprised that such a study published by Harvard University Press would be so fair minded and objective in presenting the historical analysis of Christian prophecy beliefs and personages. Paul Boyer alludes to his heritage in a ministerial family where such views of prophecy were familiar.
This comprehensive study reaches back to the early Christian church, though the bulk of it is devoted to the renaissance since the early 19th century of pre-tribulational (that Christ
will come and rapture His true church or believers out of the world before the seven years of great tribulation when anti-Christ is in power) and subsequently the premillennial view
(that Christ and His saints will rule a thousand years on the earth before the ushering in of a new earth and new heaven).
The most pointed of Boyer's criticisms of these prophecy beliefs and their teachers is the tendency of some advocates to make fanciful applications of Biblical prophecy to current events and then re-adapting their interpretations when such applications prove null and void as to particular expectations. I believe that some of these criticisms are valid, especially the exposure of the second coming of Christ "date setters," a practice which
Christ Himself warned against in the New Testament.
It might be said in closing that only a portion of professing Christianity, or even of Evangelical Christianity, takes the general views of prophecy that Boyer's study covers.
It is my personal view that a premillennial interpretation of Biblical prophecy is the most consistent with a common sense interpretation of Scripture. But beware of dogmatism or
sensationalism in making applications.
on January 16, 2012
Read this book a few years back. I echo the sentiments of one reviewer who says this book is "exceptionally fairminded." The web of endtime prophecy and how it has shaped culture and the minds of millions is approached fairly and systematically. As a Christian who grew up within this culture, it was also very nostalgic to read all this information and see how charismatic men (no pun intended, I mean the personality type) have shaped the pliable minds of millions. The facts speak for themselves and reveal that the high-mindedness of many self proclaimed end time prophecy scholars actually has for it's foundations some of the basest of human characteristics. The strange relationship between fear and hope, of a world renewed and a world destroyed, are so intertwined in Christian fundamentalism, and that is well shown in the book. It is a strange paradox, because all can relate to aspects of this belief system in that we all hope for something better. Yet this book unveils the more sinister and shoddy nature of this theology and especially of those who promote it. A lot of it is nothing more than modern snake oil salesmanship and fearmongering that changes with the times depending on the climate of the world.
While I don't think this book directly disproves (or even tries to disprove) a lot of end time prophecy belief, it almost does so in a roundabout way by exploring the history of the belief and those who propagate it. Really, it shows how much the culture surrounding the beliefs of Christian fundamentalism is driven by sheer emotionalism and preying on people's fear and (often) deeply embedded belief systems surrounding the "Last Days." And how it changes from generation to generation, decade to decade to make it fit the bill. It leaves you wondering if many of those who proclaim truth have become students and teachers of error. This book will be refreshing, revealing and relieving for many who were raised within the culture of Christian fundamentalism. A must read.