For decades, the dominant evangelical perspective on the end times has been a premillennial, dispensationalist eschatology. As shown in the Left Behind series, this view says the end is nigh and the world—politics included—will grow increasingly wicked and catastrophic until the end comes. Therefore, as Jesus tells his disciples, we should “keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42).
Yet for Christian nationalists, rejecting an imminent apocalypse is a logical move. Among the “most important tasks for the Christian Nationalist is overcoming the idea that the world is going to end very soon,” Andrew Torba and Andrew Isker argue in their self-published book, Christian Nationalism.
That might come as a surprise to the average American evangelical, to whom Torba and Isker seem to be writing. But if God is helping evangelicals “take dominion in His name,” it doesn’t make sense for the world to end at any moment, they argue. Accepting an “eschatology of defeat” in which God raptures Christians away from advancing evil discourages effective political organizing. To win, Torba and Isker advise, Christians need a theology with room for victory.
Until the early 1800s, an optimistic, postmillennial eschatology—that believed in a golden age preceding Christ’s return—was the majority American perspective, as historians like Daniel Hummel, author of The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism, have documented.
After the horrors of the Civil War, however, that positive narrative of history fell out of favor, and Western hopes for historical progress further declined following World War I. Premillennialism’s catastrophic forecast has since become the default in evangelicalism and pop culture. Politics still influence the way Christians think about eschatology—but how?
Samuel Perry, a seminary-trained sociologist and author of The Flag and the Cross, tweeted a hypothesis last fall I found compelling. He suggested right-leaning Christians’ end-times theology will shift because postmillennialism “provides better rationale for Christian nationalist goals” than premillennialism’s pessimism.
But his further research has developed a messier picture, Perry told me recently. Dispensationalism remains the dominant view—including for those he’s classified as Christian nationalists—but “not in the sense that the eschatology is motivating political goals.”
Rather, it is a broader mentality in which Christians feel they are fighting not just political opponents but powerful spiritual enemies who might win temporarily. Premillennialism offers “an eternal cosmic stake” for political battles, Perry said, with an urgency that an optimistic “eschatology of victory” can’t match.
Hummel reported similar observations. Postmillennial voices are increasingly outspoken and organized in the American Christian Right, he told me over email. Yet to the extent that eschatology drives action at the grassroots level, views are mixed and even incoherent, Hummel said. Dispensationalism trickled into our “political-cultural discourse [and] took on a life of its own.”
Now, confusingly, many irreligious Americans have a roughly premillennial expectation for the end of the world. Pop apocalypses, from the Avengers franchise to the more serious climate change fears, unwittingly borrow story fragments and phrases from dispensationalism. Meanwhile, some Christians’ political activity reflects little of the end-times beliefs they claim. Followed to its logical conclusion, for example, dispensationalism should push Christians more toward evangelism and discipleship than political strife.
A nationalist demand for an “eschatology of victory” raises questions we might all consider: How do our politics affect our theology of the end of the world? Are our expectations for the future mostly formed by news and trends? There should and inevitably will be some connection between the two. But our anticipation of Christ’s return must not make us behave less like Christ.
The current of influence should flow from our hope in “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and his kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36), not the other way around. As Hebrews 13:8 assures us, whenever the world ends, whether our side wins the next election or loses, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.