Publication Date

8-2012

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Dr. Anthony Harkins (Director), Dr. Patricia Minter, Dr. Lawrence Snyder

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts

Abstract

How people think about the end of the world greatly affects how they live in the present. This thesis examines how popular American thought about “the end of the world” has been greatly affected by Hal Lindsey’s 1970 popular prophecy book The Late, Great Planet Earth. LGPE sold more copies than any other non-fiction book in the 1970s and greatly aided the mainstreaming of “end-times” ideas like the Antichrist, nuclear holocaust, the Rapture, and various other concepts connected with popular end-times thought. These ideas stem from a specific strain of late-nineteenth century Biblical interpretation known as dispensational premillennialism, which has manifested in various schools of premillennial thought over the last 150 years. However, Lindsey translated this complicated system into modern language and connected it with contemporary geopolitics in powerful ways which helped make LGPE incredibly popular and influential in the 1970s and beyond.

This paper includes an introduction to some essential concepts and terms related to popular premillennialism followed by a brief history of popular prophecy in America. The second half of this thesis examines the social, religious, and political climate of the 1970s and how Lindsey’s success connects to the culture of the Seventies, specifically conservative reactions to the various social movements of the 1960s. The last major section discusses Lindsey’s malleable theology and the power of interpreting the Bible “literally.” In the 1970s, conservative theologians and denominations won the battle to define certain concepts within Christianity including terms like “literal,” “inerrant,” and related terms, and Lindsey’s treatment of “the end times” reflects these definitions and how they affect Biblical interpretation. Finally, the conclusion fleshes out the appeal of popular premillennialism in the 1970s and into the present day.

Disciplines

American Popular Culture | American Studies | Christianity | Cultural History | United States History