Friday, January 30, 2015

American Apocalypse by Matthew Avery Sutton

As a Christian bookseller for over three decades, I've sold hundreds of books on prophecy – almost all of them making predictions about the future that turned out wrong. What is it about evangelical Christians that make them try to make prophetic passages in the Bible fit current events?

American Apocalypse is a good exploration of the whole topic of American premillennial eschatology. Christians would do well to read it to get a larger picture of how evangelical eschatology has developed over the last 150 years and how current writers and preachers often repeat the errors of those a generation or two ago.

Non-Christians might want to read this book to understand the influence evangelicals have on politics and culture today. Sutton describes evangelicals as overseeing “what is arguably the most powerful religious movement in the United States and one of the most powerful around the globe.” (368) Anyone wanting to understand the movement will benefit from reading this historical overview.

Here are a few of the many interesting aspects of this book. Evangelicals were convinced the Second Coming was imminent as the events of WW II unfolded. They saw prophecy being fulfilled on a daily basis, right before their eyes. “That premillinnialists' expectations had been wrong before did not dissuade these fundamentalists.” (280) The same thing happened at the re-election of FDR. The same thing is happening today.

Another aspect covered in the book is the idea the U.S. is a “Christian” nation. Some fundamentalists claimed God was on the side of the U.S. in WW II and that the U.S. was a Christian nation. “'There isn't such a thing as a Christian nation,' Moody Monthly editorialized.” (278) And we are still having that debate today.

And here is my favorite – beer. Being a beer drinker is very fashionable in some churches today. But it was not always so. When FDR set the stage for the repeal of Prohibition, one evangelical minister proclaimed, “'...If the world wants liquor, let them have it, and the church stay dry that it may be a light and an example.'” (240) Now some churches light up stogies and drink beer as an example!

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to obtain a broad understanding of the history of American evangelical eschatology. Perhaps some of the flashy prophetic teachers today will learn from history rather than having to repeat it.

Matthew Avery Sutton is Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History, Washington State University.

The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 459 pages.

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