Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The Christian theological view that Jesus will return before the biblical thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of God on earth. Although premillennialism dates back to the early church, a twentieth-century revision known as dispensational premillennialism has become the dominant paradigm within American fundamentalism. This version of premillennialism anticipates an imminent, miraculous removal of Christians from the world (rapture) and a cataclysmic end to the existing world (Armageddon). Initially popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, dispensational premillennialism has become widely accepted in fundamentalist circles through widespread distribution of Hal Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth (Bantam 1970).

As an alternative view, postmillennialism, teaches that Jesus will return at the end of (an often figurative) thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of God. Postmillennialism had been the eschatology embraced by some Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, and the nineteenth-century evangelicals and Social Gospelers. But by the second half of the twentieth century, postmillennialism was embraced and promoted by an influential but little-known group of fundamentalist Presbyterians: Christian Reconstructionists. As part of the religious right's rise to power in the 1970s and 1980s, premillennialist fundamentalists incorporated aspects of postmillennialism in their theology despite its seeming contradictions.

The social implications of these views vary widely. Some premillennial fundamentalists avoid any activism other than evangelism, believing it is futile to attempt to redeem human institutions, while others are influenced by reconstructionist postmillennialists to build a "Christian America" in apparent contradiction to their premillennialist eschatology. The postmillennialists, on the other hand, are intent on social activism and see it as their Christian duty to work to "usher in the Kingdom of God" on earth through such activism.

See also Apocalyptic, Eschatology

Julie Ingersoll


T. R. Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

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