Jews would finally prevail, not autocratic power, zealotry, or those who adored power. american experiences were part of this apocalyptic spiritual- ity: the puritans’ persecution in and exodus from the Old World; the build- ing up of an american democracy when the Old World, europe and the near east, were mostly autocratic; a reconciling mission of blessed america to the world; and a mission in particular to the Bible lands, where crucial millennial events had to take place and be hastened by evangelical agents, the missionaries. Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Jesus—or simply, King- dom—were broader terms than millennium, since they included the “virtual millennium” believed to reign already among Christians and, individually, in their hearts; and the Kingdom would not finish when the millennium was expected to end.
specific, but not exclusive, to american millennialism is the distinc- tion between premillennialism and postmillennialism. literally, these terms refer to the distinction between Jesus’ coming before or after the millen- nium. postmillennialism was millennialism plus modern enlightenment; it entrusted missionary america with the task of preparing the Kingdom, in inter- and transnational cooperation, using to this end all pacific means: science, technological progress, and historical opportunities. american mis- sion to the Ottoman near east was, all in all, postmillennialist. it hoped that after (hence “post-”) successful missionary efforts, the earth would be a much better place, ready for Jesus and his visible, powerful omnipresence (parousia). The distinction must, however, be taken with caution; it is an ideal type that does not sufficiently reflect both the variety and the openness of eschatological thought—be it labeled pre- or postmillennialist. despite their generally postmillennialist stance, many near east missionaries of the nineteenth century believed in the Christ’s parousia once the millennium would begin, since he was its crucial cornerstone. mission was preparation for parousia.
Whereas postmillennialism invited a secular translation of salvation and emphasized enlightenment, premillennialism strongly underlined Jesus’ agency, at the risk, however, of isolationism and quietism. in disillusioned distance from politics, it tended to be “apolitical” and at the same time more submissive to authorities than generally well-educated, politically engaged postmillennialism. religious expectation of catastrophe is generally linked to a strong appeal to individual conversion, not to collective action. some mi- nor overseas missions founded in the second half of the nineteenth century in america were outspokenly premillennialist.15 american premillennialism was informed by difficult personal or collective experiences. it distrusted the historical optimism inherent to postmillennialism; all the more so as presi-