Donald Harman AkensonApr 16, 2023
The Americanization of the Apocalypse
Creating America's Own Bible
Oxford University Press 2023
In the early twentieth century, a new, American scripture appeared on the scene. It was the product of a school of theological thinking known as Dispensationalism, which offered a striking new way of reading the Bible, one that focused attention squarely on the end-times. That scripture, The Scofield Reference Bible, would become the ur-text of American apocalyptic evangelicalism, and later, a core text of America's white Christian nationalism.
In The Americanization of the Apocalypse: Creating America's Own Bible (Oxford UP. 2023), Donald Harman Akenson examines the creation and spread of Dispensationalism. The story is a transnational one: created in southern Ireland by evangelical Anglicans, who were terrified by the rise of Catholicism, then transferred to England, where it was expanded upon and next carried to British North America by "Brethren" missionaries and then subsequently embraced by American evangelicals.
Akenson combines a respect for individual human agency with an equal recognition of the complex and persuasive ideational system that apocalyptic Dispensationalism presented. For believers, the system explained the world and its future. For the wider culture, the product of this rich evolution was a series of concepts that became part of the everyday vocabulary of American life: end-times, apocalypse, Second Coming, Rapture, and millennium. The Americanization of the Apocalypse is the first book to document, using direct archival evidence, the invention of the epochal Scofield Reference Bible, and thus the provenance of modern American evangelicalism.
Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast.