The cover of Boyer's book contains a powerful scene. A group of well-dressed people are standing in a field, gazing up at a dark and brooding, but otherwise completely empty sky. As a former fundamentalist Christian, this scene is particularly emotive, as I well understand the sense of hope mingled with foreboding that the premillenial worldview brings.
It is probably difficult for an outsider to understand how this peculiar view of the world can colour a person's entire life. I was constantly aware that at any moment I could be raptured out of the world. I scoured the headlines for a clue as to the identity of the Antichrist, and the latest movements of Gog and Magog. I was convinced that all signs pointed to the end of the world within my lifetime.
Boyer's book is an excellent overview of this type of thinking. Such puzzling terms as the Rapture, Armageddon, the Beast, 666, and the One-World Government are examined in detail. What is particularly good about this book is that it is never judgemental or pedantic. Boyer never explicitly discusses why the fundamentalist, premillenial view of the world is wrong. Instead, he shows in detail how the belief arose in the early second century, and evolved through the ages. Through each step, Boyer shows how ardent Bible students firmly believed that they were living in the last times, and how each interpreted the apocalyptic books of the Bible to fit their own situations. Such an historical overview is a far more eloquent argument against premillenialism than any exegesis of the scriptures could be.
I found this a very fascinating book. It is indispensable for the recovering fundamentalist, if only to put his beliefs into an historical context, and so make some sense of them.
from a former-Mormon reader:
I'm about halfway through Paul Boyer's book, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, and I have to say that it's pretty fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, reading. Even though I grew up with premillenial belief, I really have a hard time now understanding how so many people actually believe they are living in the 'last days'. What really kind hit me was the description of how common this belief has been for the last 2000 years. Having been told in Sunday School and Seminary that we were the 'special spirits' reserved for the final days, I still had some residual thoughts about how crazy it would have been for anyone in the past to have thought they were in the last days, since it was obvious that WE were. But it turns out that we weren't so special in our belief after all.
The other thing that got to me was the author's description of how premillenial belief influenced Cold War tensions, especially among leaders like Reagan in the 1980s. As a kid back then, I certainly lived in fear of the big nuclear threat, but it never occurred to me just how close we might get to 'pushing the button' when some political leaders and large segments of the public foresaw armageddon in the form of nuclear war as an inevitable part of God's plan. This kind of fatalism is frightening, especially when considering the threats to our world still existing, such as overpopulation, destruction of the environment, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that need to be addressed and corrected.
from the publisher:
Boyer immersed himself in the literature of prophecy to study its content and implications. He writes in the preface: "...one cannot fully understand the American public's response to a wide range of international and domestic issues without bearing in mind that millions of men and women view world events and trends, at least in part, through the refracting lens of prophetic belief." Recent events in Waco, Texas support the need for understanding of this current in American thinking.
"Splendid...[A] compelling cultural history." -- L. S. Klepp, Village Voice Literary Supplement
"A splendid, rigorously documented treatise, as up to date as the morning newspaper...No book provides more comprehensive information about the awesome degree to which biblical literalism and prophetic fervor have invaded the hearts and minds of Americans, rich and poor, educated and ignorant...[Those] who read the book can laugh and weep." -- Martin Gardner, Washington Post Book World
"Paul Boyer traces the roots and branches of the rich, strange complex of biblical exegesis and twisted journalism that he calls 'prophecy belief.' When Time Shall Be No More exhaustively describes a strange species of rabid predictions of the wrath to come." -- Anthony Grafton, New Republic