June 28, 1999
Religion Books on the Millennium
-- Martin E. Marty
A score of years ago predictors about predictors predicted that the year 2000 would see many books by apocalypse-minded Christians who would date and picture the second coming of Christ around 2000. Much has happened since then. Some of the Christians who used to prophesy the imminent end of the world have now come up with multigenerational political goals. Most have learned the folly of setting dates for the end. Some have seen too many prophesiers get burned when their predictions proved false.
The May 17 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY provided an excellent opportunity to survey millennium books. Publishers and booksellers had been wary and slow on the topic, but now the presses are busy. Having surveyed the forecast descriptions of myriad titles in PW, we pronounce that, for this occasion, the secular world looks more exploitative and foolish than the religious one. Some publishers simply jazz up new titles or revisit backlists by adding the word "millennium" on the cover. They have bet hugely on Y2K anxieties. Psychic, New Age, humorous, and business books on the subject are big. But let's skip past them all and go to the religion lists.
In two articles, Marcia Z. Nelson capably covers the scene. Yes, there are plenty of Y2K titles for the faithless and the selfish believers who are being taught to pile up things for their own survival. Yes, there are some Armageddon books, including some wildly selling pop novels. No, there are, of course, no Jewish or Muslim versions, though Buddhism sneaks in with one celebrity title, by the Dalai Lama. No, there don't seem to be any Catholic apocalyptic books. Nelson reminds us that Catholic theology does not focus on this kind of apocalypticism. It's hard to spot many mainstream Protestant ones on the market aimed for the general public, either.
Nelson picks titles from some university presses and denominational publishers. Note especially Eugen Weber's APOCALYPSES: PROPHECIES, CULTS, AND MILLENNIAL BELIEFS THROUGH THE AGES (Harvard); N.T. Wright's THE MILLENNIUM MYTH: HOPE FOR A POSTMODERN WORLD (Westminster/John Knox); Ted Daniels, editor, A DOOMSDAY READER (NYU); THE NEW MILLENNIUM MANUAL: A ONCE AND FUTURE GUIDE (Baker) by Robert G. Clouse, Robert N. Hosack, and Richard V. Pierard, and a gathering of a-, pre-, and post-millennial evangelicals in THREE VIEWS ON THE MILLENNIUM AND BEYOND (Zondervan) with Darrell L. Bock, general editor.
All in all, the religionists seem to be a bit more responsible and less adventuresome than their secular counterparts. There are things to cheer on the religious publishing front. Downplaying (so far) apocalyptic blatancy is one of them.