- Apocalyptism is an approach to the future that sees history, culture, and society to be in unavoidable decline and heading for a catastrophic end.According to this view, only a small group of people, often called a remnant, has or will have advance knowledge of the end-time and can prepare for it; only they will be delivered from the catastrophe, through supernatural means. In the Christian tradition, the remnant will be saved by the intervention of Jesus, whose return will coincide with the end of history.Apocalyticism in some form appears in most of the major world religions, a prominent source for Christian apocalypticism being the book of Daniel in the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament). In the modern world, non-Christian apocalyptic groups, such as the Aum Shinrikyo group that released poison gas in the Tokyo train system in 1995, have absorbed their view from Christian apocalyptic literature.Apocalytic groups appeared soon after the beginning of the Reformation. The violent strain in the apocalyptic teachings of Thomas Münzer and at the community of Münster did much to discredit the approach, but it has reappeared in every generation in Protestant regions, despite the failure of earlier predictions of catastrophic change. Its popularity is frequently seen as a sign of alienation from the dominant culture, often among poorer elements of the population.Apocalyticism attained a new life in the 19th century with the development of various forms of dispensationalism beginning with Irish minister John Nelson Darby (1800-82) and William Miller (1782-1849), the founder of Adventism. Each proposed a system of world history based on the Bible that suggested that contemporary believers were living in the last days. Both Darby's and Miller's system invited date setting; Millerites were especially prone to engage in projecting dates for end-time events.Darby's dispensational theology energized one wing of the Fundamentalist movement of the late 19th century, shaping a series of Bible conferences that began in the United States soon after the Civil War. Beginning with the Believers' Meeting for Bible Study in 1868 in New York, these annual gatherings of ministers affected by Darby's teachings covered a wide range of Bible topics, including eschatology. in 1878, a group of eight dispensationalists, most of them active in the Bible conferences, issued a call for a prophecy conference to discuss the imminent return of Christ to inaugurate a 1,000-year reign of peace. More than 100 bishops, professors, and ministers endorsed the call for a First American Bible and Prophetic Conference, to meet at the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City. The conference was successful enough that a second was held in 1886 in Chicago; subsequent conferences met periodically over the next three decades.The Bible and prophetic conferences helped to establish dispensationalism and its belief in the imminent return of Christ and in the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregational movements, including most of those who favored aligning with the Fundamentalist movement in the decades after World War I. Dispensationalism also shaped a number of schools such as the Moody Bible institute and Dallas Theological Seminary, which perpetuate the theology to the present. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Worldwide Church of God all promulgate apocalypticism in their highly successful movements.The success of dispensational premillennial-ism and Adventism has made apocalyptic thought one of the most popular religious expressions in the United States. It received an additional boost from the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. integral to the dispensational worldview was a belief in the end-time reemergence of Israel. Many dispensationalists became convinced that the founding of the state of Israel marked the beginning of the final generation before the return of Christ. A generation being roughly 40 years, Christ was expected before 1988. This belief provided the foundation for the most popular book on prophecy in the 20th century, Baptist minister Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, published in 1970. The failure of Lindsey's predictions has not deterred believers. More recently, Baptist minister Tim LaHaye and writer Jim Jenkins have collaborated on a series of highly successful novels based upon the present dispensational understanding of the end-time, suggesting that Christ will return to gather all true believers in the air. The rest will be "Left Behind," the name of the series. The series has led to a movie and a number of spin-off nonfiction books on eschatology.The end of the second millennium since the ministry of Jesus Christ gave an additional push to Protestant apocalypticism. In this case, the primary impetus for speculation was a glitch in computer clocks as 1999 became 2000. Many thought that the Y2K problem, as the glitch was termed, would lead to a massive disruption of the computer systems upon which all the advanced nations relied.A primary concern with apocalypticism has been its image as condoning violence, which dates back to some isolated incidents at the very beginning of the Reformation. In fact, for centuries most apocalyticists have avoided violence. However, in the 1990s several unconnected violent events revived the image, involving such unrelated (and mostly non-Christian) groups as the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, the Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Canada, and the Heaven's Gate group in suburban San Diego, California.Further reading:■ Paul Boyer, When Time Shall be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992)■ Tim LaHaye and Jim Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days (Carol Stream, 1ll.: Tyndale House, 1996)■ Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1970)■ Tom Mclver, The End of the World: An Annotated Bibliography (Jeffersonville, N.C.: McFarland, 1999)■ James H. Morehead, World Without End: Mainstream American Protestant Visions of the Last Things, 1880-1925 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999)■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.