Recommended Resources — The End of the World As We Know It

AT A CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE near the Christian History offices, the “prophecy” section is more than twice as large as the “history” section, and that doesn’t count the apocalyptic fiction books. And even the history section is populated with prophecy; every publishing house, it seems, is publishing at least one history of eschatology. The year 2000 is apparently a boon for historians of millennialism.

Surveys

Richard Kyle’s The Last Days Are Here Again (Baker, 1998) offers a scholar’s brief overview of 2,000 years of millennialism, in both Christian and secular circles. Another Baker book, The New Millennium Manual (1999), by Robert Clouse, Robert Hosack, and Richard Pierard, is a unique and successful blend of playfulness and expert scholarship (Clouse and Pierard are history professors at Indiana State University).

The journalists who have surveyed the history of apocalypticism typically spend most of their time on the “sexier” movements, like the Millerites or Branch Davidians, but they cover more mainstream beliefs too. Richard Abanes’s End-Time Visions (Broadman and Holman, 1998) and Russell Chandler’s Doomsday (Servant, 1993) are two of the better histories (though the latter lacks an index).

The two-part video Millennial Madness (Plain Truth, 1997) tries to calm those with high end-times expectations. It’s especially interesting for its publisher: the Worldwide Church of God, until recently famous for apocalyptic fervor.

While most online searches for apocalyptic studies will turn up some very strange Web sites, there is at least one out there with some scholarly integrity: The Center for Millennial Studies (www.mille.org), directed by Boston University medieval history professor Richard Landes. It is full of useful articles and information on millennial movements past and present.

A more specific overview of end-time thinking is Antichrist (HarperCollins, 1994) by Bernard McGinn, Notre Dame historian. He covers all the major movements and beliefs from the New Testament to today, with special emphasis on the dark side of the world’s end.

Specifics

McGinn’s specialty is medieval apocalypticism, and his Visions of the End (Columbia, 1998) is a necessary volume for any study on the subject, not only for his comments, but for its translations of primary source documents.

Another must-read on this topic is Paul Boyer’s When Time Shall Be No More (Harvard, 1992). It emphasizes the history of prophecy belief in American culture, but there’s still valuable information on early Christian, medieval, and renaissance beliefs. Engaging and widely acclaimed, it explains why evangelicalism looks like it does today.

Naming the Antichrist (Oxford, 1995) by cultural historian Robert Fuller examines the same timeframe and location as Boyer, but where Boyer is sympathetic, Fuller is not (chapter five, for example, on conservative campaigns against socialism, unions, and modernism, is titled “Crusades of Hate"). If you’re looking for a scholarly book with an edge, this is it.

Those especially interested in the history of end-time views may want to invest in the three-volume, 1,500-page Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism (Continuum, 1998). Articles cover everything from the ancient world to today’s popular culture, and the author list is a who’s who of the top scholars in the field.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #61 in 1999]

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