Heaven on Earth: Reimagining Time and Eternity in Nineteenth-Century British Evangelicalism

By Martin Spence

A revealing study of premillenialism in Victorian evangelicalism, showing that the doctrine was often linked to forward-looking elements of evangelical thought.

ISBN: 9780227175538


In nineteenth-century Britain, a large number of prominent Evangelicals rejected the idea that salvation meant “going to heaven when you die”. Instead, they proposed that God would establish his kingdom on earth, renewing the creation and reanimating embodied humans to live in a world of science and progress. Heaven on Earth introduces the writings and activities of these men and women, among whom were counted the ardent social reformer Lord Shaftesbury, the highly respected clergyman Edward Bickersteth, the popular author Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, and the General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, Thomas Rawson Birks. Spence shows that the catalyst for such theological revisionism was the end-times doctrine known as “premillennialism”. While commonly characterized as a gloomy and sectarian belief, the book argues that premillennialism in Victorian Britain was actually an optimistic and often liberalizing doctrine. It dissolved older Evangelical assumptions about the dissimilarities between time and eternity, body and soul, heaven and earth. The book demonstrates that, far from being eccentric pessimists, premillennialists were actually pioneers of trends in nineteenth-century Christian theology that stressed the importance of the incarnation, prioritized social justice, and entertained the idea of universal salvation.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 322

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has taught global, European, British, and Christian history at seminaries and universities in Britain and the United States.


Foreword by David W. Bebbington


1. Evangelicalism’s Eternal Vision
2. Eschatology and the Evangelical Imagination
3. The Romance of History
4. The Renewal of Time and Space
5. Premillennialism and “The Age of Incarnation”
6. Prophecy and Policy
7. The Afterlife of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Eschatology



Endorsements and Reviews

Moving across disciplines, and balancing nuance and precision with cultural breadth, Martin Spence’s Heaven on Earth provides a rich and compelling account of Evangelical millennial thinking in the crucial period in which it evolved into its modern forms.
Crawford Gribben, Professor of Early Modern British History, School of History and Anthropology, Queen’s University Belfast