Eschatology is the part of theology that deals with last things, including the future destiny of humankind both individually and collectively. On the individual level, it treats life after death, heaven and hell. On the collective level, it treats the coming kingdom of God and the transformation and/or transcendence of the present historical context. Protestant eschatology concerning the destiny of humankind has centered upon the idea of the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:6.
   At the time of the Reformation, the position known as amillennialism was the dominant view. Amillennialism approached the kingdom of God in an allegorical sense. The kingdom was inaugurated during Christ's earthly ministry and will continue into the foreseeable future. At some unknowable future point, Christ will return, and the fullness of the kingdom will be inaugurated. Martin Luther and John Calvin inherited this view and passed it along to the Lutheran and Reformed church movements. It continues to be the dominant view in Protestant circles.
   Postmillennialism emerged in the 18th century. While amillennialism sees an ongoing conflict between good and evil until the end of this age, postmillennialism sees the gradual triumph of Christianity and the development of a more righteous society progressing into the millennial age. Among its champions were Jonathan Edwards and evangelist Charles G. Finney. Its optimism was severely challenged by the horror of the American Civil War and World Wars I and II, but it has survived in the Social Gospel and the more recent movement called Christian recon-structionism.
   A third view came into prominence in the 19th century among conservative Protestants - premil-lennialism. Premillennialists suggest that Christ will return at the end of this church age, which they generally hold is imminent, and establish his millennial kingdom. They have developed rather detailed pictures of future events. Premillennialist views have been especially identified with dispensationalism. Dispensationalists view history as divided into a set of periods in each of which God has made specific demands. This present dispensation, the dispensation of Grace, is the sixth such period; it will soon end with a period of intense Tribulation to be followed by the seventh dispensation, the Millennium.
   Within liberal Protestantism, eschatology became a hotly contested issue in the 20th century, beginning with a renewed emphasis upon the kingdom of God as seen in the ministry and message of Jesus. The kingdom of God was identified variously as a more just and loving social system (as in the social Gospel) or an individual appropriation of the Gospel message. in recent decades, eschatological speculations have centered on a new appreciation of Christian hope, notably in the writings of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann.
   See also apocalyptism.
   Further reading:
   ■ R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1899)
   ■ Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kre-gal, 1996)
   ■ Millard J. Erickson, A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998)
   ■ Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVar-sity Press, 1992)
   ■ Jon R. Stone, A Guide to the End of the World: Popular Eschatology in America: The Mainstream Evangelical Tradition (New York: Garland, 1993).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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