If The Rapture Occurs, This Magazine Will Be Blank

When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture,by Paul Boyer (Harvard University Press, 468 pp.; $29.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Timothy P. Weber, David T. Porter Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Asizable premillennial subculture exists in America. It is built on the conviction that the second coming of Christ is imminent and that biblical prophecy is history before it happens. Bumper stickers warn: “If the rapture occurs, this car will be driverless.” Christian bookstores stock dozens of prophecy titles that offer elaborate scenarios of end-times events and clear explanations for reading “the signs of the times.” For those who accept this prophecy belief, current events fit easily into the prophetic puzzle.

After four years of reading hundreds of books on biblical prophecy, Paul Boyer, a respected historian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, concludes that prophetic belief is more pervasive and influential than many people think. He discovered that premillennialists have played a significant role in shaping popular attitudes on a wide range of topics.

Boyer thinks that historians and observers of popular culture have either ignored or underestimated the extent of prophetic belief in post-World War II America. He cites a 1983 Gallup poll in which 62 percent of those responding said they had “no doubts” that Jesus will come to earth again, though he admits that everyone does not believe with the same intensity.

He draws three concentric circles. In the center is a committed core of devotees, numbering maybe 8 million; they study the Bible, attend prophecy conferences, and consume prophecy ...

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