The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Dispensationalism in America

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Dispensationalism in America

presentation at Adult Forum by
A.T. Coates
Ph.D. Candidate in American Religion, Duke University
October 5, 2014

in America

A.T. Coates, PhD Candidate in
American Religion,
Duke University

photo of man wearing a sign 'THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH (crossed out) NOW'

advertisement for 2014 movie 'Left Behind'

We watched, the official trailer for the currently released movie Left Behind.

What is dispensationalism?


  • A religious movement that took root in America during the late 1800s
  • An evangelical theology
  • A really, really complicated
    evangelical theology.
    Prophecy and "End Times."
  • System of reading the Bible
  • Way of understanding
    past, present, and future
photo of child holding a sign 'PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD'

Changing America, 1880-1920

photo of many people, vendors, horse carts, etc. in city street

Mulberry Street, "Little Italy," Lower East Side, Manhattan, NY. c1900


Dispensationalist Trademarks

photo of rulers, dividers, and other measuring instruments on top of an open Bible

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Tim 2:15 (KJV)


elaborate drawing showing timeline of various prophecies

Clarence Larkin. "The Mountain Peaks of Prophecy." In Dispensational Truth, 1920


graphic showing the seven dispensations

Detail from "Understanding God's Plan for the Ages," by Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, 2001


drawing of 'The Perspective of Prophecy' ... the prophets did not see the church ...

cover of book 'The Late Great Planet Earth' by Hal Lindsey


photo of roadisde sign

Jesus is Coming Soon. Concrete
sign with bullet holes. Cumberland
Co, Kentucky. 1971


people rising toward Christ in the sky, as their driverless cars and trucks wreck on the highway

"The Rapture." Painting. Charles Anderson. Dallas, TX. 1973


ceramic statement of 'Perhaps Today!'

"Perhaps Today." Chalkware plaque. American. c.1930s-40s.


drawing of giant standing on a pedestal labeled 666

Clarence Larkin
"Image of the
Beast." From The
Book of


drawing of past, present and future events in the life of Jews

Clarence Larkin. "The
Jews." From Dispensational

History of Dispensationalism


photo portrait

John Nelson Darby


drawing of timeline of Christ's birth, death, resurrection, ...
drawing of large crowd assembled to listen to the speaker

Dwight Moody Revival at Barnum
and Bailey's Hippodrome. Brooklyn,
NY. 1875

Chart from Jesus is Coming.
William E. Blackstone, 1878.


image of page with bottom half containing footnotes for commentary, center column for cross-references

Page from the
Scofield Reference
. 1909.

Note 2: "The use of
'evening' and 'morning'
may be held to limit
'day' to the solar day but
the frequent parabolic
use of natural
phenomena may
warrant the conclusion
that each creative 'day'
was a period of time..."


Dispensationalist Legacies

photo of ice road in Canadian wilderness


photos of book cover of 'Left Behind', man holding sign 'THE END IS AT HAND', and ad for television program 'Doomsday Preppers'

photos of race car wtih motto 'UNITED WE STAND', graphics of Star of David and American flag overlaid with an eagle

America-Israel Racing Team. NASCAR. 2012

drawing of prophecies from the Book of Daniel