Gilded Age Evangelicals, New Evangelicals Historians,
and the Politics of Discourse
By Richard S. Taylor
Volume IX, Number 2
Editor’s Note: The inspiration for this essay was Darrel M. Robertson’s The Chicago Revival, 1876: Society and Revivalism in a Nineteenth-Century City from Studies in Evangelicalism, No. 9, edited by Kenneth E. Rowe and Donald W. Dayton (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1989). Although the author originally planned to do an abbreviated book review, he soon discovered that his investigations into perceptions of nineteen century evangelicalism warranted an extended essay.
On October 1, 1876, Gilded Age America’s foremost Protestant evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, opened a series of revival meetings in Chicago that lasted until January 16, 1877. Darrel M. Robertson describes and analyzes those meetings in The Chicago Revival, 1876, a book that began as his University of Iowa doctoral dissertation and appears now as the ninth in a series. Robertson, pastor of the United Presbyterian and First Congregational churches in Ashland, Wisconsin, proposes in his introduction to set aside questions of personal religious experience raised by the revival as “beyond historical analysis.” He sets out instead to show how revivalism “functioned socially in 1876 Chicago” and to develop some “careful generalizations about revivals and revivalistic phenomena” in a modern urban setting.
Robertson declines to define “evangelical,” which may be just as well. The term, with its Reformation roots, has proven so powerfully evocative in various historical and cultural contexts that attempts to isolate, capture, and display its fundamental meaning tend to distort either by decontextualizing or by eviscerating.1 Moody’ Chicago backers emblazoned “evangelical” on their banners, as did many other nineteenth century American Protestants. It served to empower and unify by giving them an identity with what seemed to be clearly defined boundaries that transcended denominational distinctions. Institutionally, Moody supporters included in the evangelical fold the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists; excluded were the Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Universalist churches. The city’s High Church Episcopalian establishment excluded itself, while a small, evangelically inclined Reformed Episcopal denomination assisted Moody.2
Gilded Age Chicago’s self-defined evangelicals regarded the doctrines and values that they shared as the authentic Christian tradition, and Robertson seeks to distill their beliefs from Moody’s sermons. He explains that the revivalist appealed to scripture as his authority, that Moody offered eternal salvation through a personal experience of Christ’s atoning work, and that he urged believers to lead lives marked by personal morality and piety.3 But also implicit in Moody’s message, Robertson claims, was an endorsement of laissez-faire economics and a glorification of middle-class domestic life. Moody, he notes, traced most of the poverty present in urban America to individual sin and sloth, not social circumstances, and Robertson points to the sentimental domestic imagery in Moody’s sermons as additional evidence of the revivalist’s class biases. The evangelist portrayed God as a loving father and Christ as a “suffering sacrificial wife or mother.” Similarly, he likened heaven to home and church to the family as a “locus of grace, purity, and salvation.” “Moody probably saw these conventions as universal,” concludes Robertson. “In fact, they were not. The imagery and the sentimentality were culturally oriented.”
To whom did Moody’s message appeal? Robertson nicely supplements a telling sample of impressionistic literary evidence with a statistical study of those who joined five of Chicago’s evangelical churches during and immediately following the revival. Not surprisingly, he finds Moody converts to have been primarily young adult, middle-class Chicagoans of Anglo-American nativity who lived in families. Moody’s message made particular sense to them, says Robertson, because they belonged to a class losing its cultural hegemony and its comfortable position in Chicago’s socio-economic structure. Here he employs a kind of status-anxiety theory without naming it, arguing that the late nineteenth century transition to an urban/industrial society made Chicago seem “suddenly out of control and disorderly” to the city’s middle classes. Unable to comprehend the complexities of their dilemma, middle-class Protestants blamed Chicago’s growing foreign-born and Roman Catholic populations, while resorting to political reform, temperance, sabbatarianism, and revivalism as strategies that promised both emotional comfort and social order. Robertson concludes that they got the first at the expense of the second.
The Chicago Revival amounts to a devastating critique of the social impact and theological implications of Moody’s work. The revivalist managed, in Robertson’s view, to reassure evangelical urban dwellers of their own righteousness and to shore up middle-class confidence by creating a sense of community based on shared emotional experiences and values. Yet their reassuring sense of community turned out to be a form of class solidarity that only helped “fragment the existing social structure” by exacerbating “cultural, ethnic, and religious antipathies” in the city. Moody’s revival made his middle-class followers, if anything, less receptive to the pleas of underpaid railroad workers when a violent strike broke out in the summer of 1877. Robertson finds it particularly suggestive that thousands of Chicagoans returned to Moody’s meeting hall during the strike to hear anti-union speeches from some of the city’s leading citizens and ministers, many of whom had supported Moody.
Theological considerations so carefully set aside at the book’s outset reemerge in Robertson’s conclusion, where he portrays Moody’s message as a culturally contaminated version of the authentic Christian gospel. The revival left middle-class Chicagoans “little able or willing to bridge with sensitivity or understanding the cultural chasm between themselves and the immigrant and laboring poor of the city,” he writes. “They had, perhaps unwittingly, made the New Testament Christ of the poor, hungry, and socially outcast into a sentimental, moralistic, legalistic, and middle-class savior of the 1870s.” The story of Moody’s Chicago revival this becomes, in Robertson’s telling, a cautionary tale or perhaps a jeremiad about “too readily identifying cultural values with absolute truth.”
The revival, whatever else it might have been, was a public presentation self-consciously produced by Moody and his associates. Revivalism in Moody’s hands “was not a haphazard venture,” explains Robertson, for whom the event’s systematic and businesslike aspects provide additional evidence of its controlling purpose. Techniques employed by the evangelist in Chicago had been developed and tested during the three years that Moody and his song leader, Ira D. Sankey, spent touring Great Britain. Having honed their skills and made their reputations abroad, the pair returned in 1875 to conduct revivals in American cities. Chicago was their fourth stop.
Moody moved to mobilize his constituents before his arrival by asking that Chicago’s evangelical churches set aside their differences to join his crusade. He required as a sign of their united support that they provide a large, centrally located, and suitably appointed building for his meetings. Local businessmen, including magnates Marshall Field and Cyrus McCormick, financed an 8,000-seat brick “tabernacle” on downtown property owned by Moody’s longtime friend, merchant John V. Farwell. An executive committee of local laymen and ministers oversaw preparations and delegated the details of fund raising, publicity, and home visitation to specialized subcommittees. Volunteers recruited from the evangelical churches learned to work as ushers, choir members, or spiritual counselors, and when Moody opened his meetings, a phalanx of evangelical clergymen sat on the speaker’s platform behind the revivalist in symbolic support of his work.
Tabernacles services took place every evening but Saturday. There were also noon meetings for prayer and testimony, all-day inquiry meetings, and various special meetings directed at particular audiences like parents, Germans, businessmen, prostitutes, and “inebriates.” But the evening meetings were the revival’s centerpiece. They followed a carefully constructed format described by Robertson in a way that highlights the forethought and precision that went into their production. “The first half hour was spent in congregational singing,” he writes. “Exactly half an hour after music had begun, the two evangelists entered the Tabernacle, Moody going to his pulpit and Sankey to his organ.” More congregational singing, followed by a prayer and another hymn or two by Sankey, preceded Moody’s sermon or “Bible lesson.” Then “the service closed with a prayer and an invitation to those desiring further spiritual guidance to come to the inquiry rooms. As the congregations stood to sing a concluding hymn, the inquirers moved to the designated areas.”
Contemporaries estimated the total number of Moody converts in Chicago at anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000, but the revivalist himself seemed wary of statistics. Asked by a journalist to assess the awakening’s impact, Moody said only that by God’s grace “we have done what we have done in this city.” He kept no public record of converts and sometimes even appeared annoyed at attempts to measure his work in numbers. Only the record kept “on high” mattered, Moody insisted.4 The evangelist’s reticence about statistics was one way of suggesting that the revival was a work of divine providence with a spiritual essence beyond earthly measure. Moody’s providential interpretation fixed the revival’s meaning in a way that gave him a kind of intellectual control analogous to the technical control that he and his cohorts had tried to establish during the meetings.5
Nineteenth century tellings of Moody’s story often followed the evangelist’s lead in depicting him as an instrument of providence. One example was Moody: His Words, Work, and Workers, an 1877 account written by a Chicago Methodist minister who described the revival as an “immeasurable benediction” bestowed upon the city of God.6 Today, providential histories continue to appear, but they usually address a far narrower audience than did their predecessors. While the 1877 volume cited above called for the “attention of the whole people,” a more recent providential version of Moody’s story by Keith Hardman, The Spiritual Awakeners: American Revivalists from Solomon Stoddard to D.L. Moody, appeals primarily to “contemporary Christians” in order to recall them to their own “great heritage.”7
Providential history thus survives, though it has become a minority report that challenges accounts told in voices that now sound more authoritative. Take, for example, the academic idiom of in which Darrel Robertson writes. He legitimates his text by displaying his expertise in manipulating analytical tools fashioned in the secular forges of modern scholarship, and he exhibits considerable aplomb in wielding these tools, especially in the way he combines literary evidence with statistical techniques. No other strategy, particularly a providential one, could have gotten him the doctorate.
Academic discourse requires that an author show how his work sustains, modifies, or refutes previously received scholarly opinions, a task that Robertson accomplishes in several ways.8 He incorporates Sandra Sizer’s insights regarding music’s role in creating a “community of feeling” from her Gospel Hymns and Social Religion, and he relies heavily on James Findlay’s fine biography, Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist, 1837-1899.9 Robertson puts forth his own claims as a contributor to Moody scholarship by presenting his interpretation as a revision of highly regarded works written in the 1950s by William McLoughlin and Bernard Weisberger.10 Those authors, he argues, represent an impressive consensus of scholars who trace Moody’s appeal to the nostalgia of “recently come-to-the-city folk” confronting the “complexities of metropolitan living.” McLoughlin and Weisberger might justly complain that Robertson exaggerates the consensus and simplifies their views.11 Yet Robertson’s representation of their works serves, a la academic discourse, as a foil for his portrait of Moody-style revivalism as a potent force for middle-class solidarity, social discord, and culture-bound religion.
Scholars working in the “secular age” — McLoughlin’s words — of the 1950’s may have found it personally comforting and culturally plausible to portray Moody in nostalgic terms, but that portrait now seems less convincing.12 Evangelical Protestantism’s recent growth combined with its high public profile and political activism suggests that revival religion possesses a vitality and place in modern American culture not so easily dismissed as nostalgic. Recent developments thus have made historians more aware of the social and political potential of evangelical religion, inviting them to develop new interpretations that depict Gilded Age revivalism in more culturally creative terms.
Writing with an eye in the “television evangelists,” Sandra Sizer focuses on the political and economic implications of Moody’s sermons and Sankey’s hymns. She argues that their allegedly apolitical rhetoric can hardly be dismissed as nostalgic escapism since it so effectively served the interests of northern, white, middle-class Republicans.13 George M. Thomas makes a similar point in Revivalism and Cultural Change, a recent sociological study of nineteenth century revivalism. Revival religion, Republican politics, and an expanding market worked together, he claims, to produce a new national order. Again, contemporary developments lurk in the background. “These [nineteenth century revivals,” he writes, “created the institutional linkages among Protestantism, American society, and the Republican party that now form the context of the twentieth century Christian Right.”14 Thomas defines his work in opposition to the “crisis theory perspective” that plays such a large role in Robertson’s account.15 But Thomas, Sizer, and Robertson all agree that Gilded Age revivalism was not an anachronism but a socially and politically potent force in American life.
What sets Robertson apart from Sizer and Thomas are his theological conclusions, religious discourse of a particular kind. Robertson’s characterization of Moody’s message as culturally contaminated presupposes an uncontaminated or authentic and accessible gospel. His vivid contrast between Moody’s sentimental middle-class savior and the “New Testament Christ of the poor, hungry, and socially outcast” draws its rhetorical energy from the author’s conviction that there is a knowable New Testament Christ and that Gilded Age evangelicals like Moody cast Him in their own image.
The academic idiom in which Robertson writes combines with his personal faith and preoccupation with American culture’s impact on evangelical Protestantism to make his Chicago Revival a contribution to what Leonard Sweet has identified as the “new evangelical historiography.”16 It is academic history written by observer-participant scholars, and it marks, in Sweet’s view, both a “renascence of evangelical scholarship with academe generally” and an effort by evangelical historians to come to terms with their own past, particularly their fundamentalist past.17 Focusing on books by Mark A. Noll and George M. Marsden, Sweet defines the new evangelical history with particular reference to a cluster of prolific, high-profile, “Calvinist-oriented scholars.”18 Studies like The Chicago Revival and the series to which it belongs suggest, however, that Sweet’s definition might be enriched by broadening it to include the works of evangelical participant-historians with alternative and sometimes contesting agendas.
Those competing agendas could be described, with some justification, in theological terms by contrasting Sweet’s Calvinists with Arminian and Wesleyan scholars. An analysis organized around such a structuralist theological binary might also underwrite religion’s status as an independent variable, always a plus for historians of religion. Sweet shows, however, that it is not so simple. Theology interacts in complex ways with other factors in any particular text belonging to the new evangelical historiography. An activitist’s concern for the gospel’s social and political implications inform The Chicago Revival, while the intellectuals described by Sweet seem more preoccupied with evangelicalism’s theological integrity.19 The intellectual’s version of evangelical authenticity places a premium on the integrity and autonomy of theological tradition and the role of mediators as interpreters of that tradition; the activists’ vision seeks, above all, to recapture the spiritual power that animates the political and economic programs of authentic evangelicalism. While neither intellectual nor activist could sever the link between theology and spiritual power, each tends to stress one, often at the expense of the other. Those diverging interests may owe as much to personal histories and cultural locations as to theology; they are, nonetheless, different and potentially competing sensibilities within the new evangelical historiography.
Compare, for example, Robertson’s Moody with the Moody of George M. Marsden’s superb Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. Marsden, like Robertson, charges the revivalist with helping to “fuse the spirit of the middle-class Victorian American with evangelical Christianity.” But unlike Robertson, Marsden seems especially preoccupied with tracing Moody’s cultural captivity to some “controlling principle” in his “thinking.” Moody’s controlling principle, according to Marsden, was his tendency to test doctrines “for their suitability to evangelism,” which made the revivalist a “pragmatic activist, determined that nothing should stand in the way of preaching the Gospel effectively.” Marsden argues that Moody’s disregard for doctrinal tradition, a first line of defense against cultural contamination for evangelical intellectuals, encouraged the revivalist to graft important features of Gilded Age culture onto revivalism, thereby preparing the way for the emergence of twentieth century fundamentalism. Moody figures in Marsden’s story as a “transitional figure in an age of rapid change,” perhaps even the “principal progenitor” of the fundamentalism that looms so large in the personal histories of the new evangelical historians.20
The new evangelical history addresses both academic and evangelical audiences. To evangelicals, it represents what Sweet calls “moral discourse” or history with a didactic mission.21 The new evangelical historians hope to enlighten their co-religionists, shaping the future by illuminating the past. Written history thus becomes for them an act of first mastering and then transcending those aspects of the evangelical past that seem, from their perspective, tragically or ironically flawed. Tragedy and irony unfold in their works partly through a recurring motif of unintended consequences that endows the new evangelical history with a certain pathos. Moody, for instance, appears in Robertson’s account as a loving and well-meaning man whose efforts to heal Chicago’s social and cultural wounds went astray. The idea of unintended consequences serves as a device in the new evangelical history for assigning responsibility without impugning motives.22
New evangelical historians also seek to master and transcend by contextualizing. By locating particular phenomena in specific historical contexts, they raise the possibility, even if they do not explicitly argue as Robertson does, that those phenomena represent culturally derived distortions of an original or authentic Christian gospel.23 Activists and intellectuals among the new evangelical historians write with different visions of an authentic gospel in mind, but they invariably raise questions of authenticity by contextualizing. Contextualization bears academe’s imprimatur, thus offering evangelical historians a way of speaking simultaneously in religious and academic tongues. The Chicago Revival is characteristic of the new evangelical history in that it aspires to places in both academic and religious discourse.
The academic and religious discourses within Robertson’s text render each other problematic. Robertson concedes, based on his faith, a measure of autonomy to Moody’s revival and grants in his introduction that no revival “can be explained wholly.” Neither of those insights, however, plays any significant role in his account of the Chicago awakening. Robertson’s candid disclosure of his theological agenda likewise calls attention to the political function of his academic discourse. His disclosure, in other words, reveals the way in which contextualizing analyses serve the interests of particular claims to authority and privilege. Yet he declines to incorporate that insight into his academic discourse, and he does not reflect upon its implications for his own telling of Moody’s story.
Contextualization can serve many masters. Dwight Moody placed his revival in a providential context, thereby fixing its meaning in a way that gave him a privileged position, and reviewers of scholarly works often use historiographic context the way Moody used providence. Reviewers, including the present writer, seek to establish authoritative control by locating a particular text’s meaning with reference to its historiographic context, in this case, its new evangelical history context. Now that The Chicago Revival is safely tucked away in its appropriate intellectual niche, it has been mastered and overcome. Or has it?
Texts, including Moody’s revival, resist authoritative definition.24 The evangelist had so little success in fixing his revival’s meaning that competing definitions of the awakening appeared long before he left – or perhaps even before he arrived in – Chicago. The Chicago Tribune, for example, a newspaper very supportive of Moody’s work, cheered the revivalist’s victories on its editorial pages. At the same time, Tribune editorials subtly discounted Moody’s providentialism in favor of explanations more in accord with the secular newspaper’s cultural location and its own aspirations to privilege as an intellectual forum in a pluralistic society.
A Tribune editorial appearing on December 10, 1867, began its inquiry into the sources of Moody’s “great power” by finessing the question of divine influence. The editorialist described only those causes that lay “upon the surface.” He then went on to attribute Moody’s success to his personality, preaching style, and earnestness.25 Such interpretations opened the door to more naturalistic conclusions, as a reader made clear the following week in a letter to the editor that traced Moody’s success not only to his personality but also to organization, advertising, and good music. “Brother Moody attributes his success to the influence of the Holy Spirit,” concluded the Tribune’s correspondent, but “I incline to the belief that the natural causes which I have above recited are more powerful in the accomplishment of his results than any supernatural influence which he may claim for it.”26
Just beyond naturalism lay militant unbelief, which in 1876 had only just become a live and highly visible option in American culture.27 One unbelieving Chicagoan scoffed that the “theological corns are growing unusually tender in this century of scientific progress” when a Moody sermon provoked a brief but heated public exchange over the meaning of Christ’s atonement. His perspective placed Moody and all the disputatious theologians on the side of the crucifiers rather than the crucified. “The unbelievers are the real saviors of the world, whose blood has been shed as a vicarious atonement for the ignorance of mankind,” he charged. This individual, like many Gilded Age skeptics, believed not in God but in “science clad in vestal robes of truth.”28
The multiple readings of Moody’s revival that emerged as the awakening progressed sprang from a complex interplay of factors as particular as the Tribune’s cultural aspirations and as sweeping as the widening late-nineteenth century gap between faith and doubt. Indeed, as the revival’s story has been retold in different times and places, it has invited and even generated divergent readings that play upon paradoxes, enigmas, and ambiguities within the revival itself.29 The aura of calculation and control around the revival that has attracted so much scholarly attention may have been, in fact, an attempt by the event’s producers to resolve or at least contain those intrinsic forces.
Moody and his cohorts consciously employed all the techniques at their disposal to produce the revival, which they then attributed to divine providence. Moody’s ability to employ effectively the technology of evangelism was thus portrayed, in the revival’s context, as proof of his inability. Paradoxically, human efficacy became a denial of human efficacy. That paradox resists resolution and creates multiple possibilities as it forces narrators with differing agendas to manipulate its terms in telling Moody’s story. For instance, it invites historians like Sizer and McLoughlin, who write in an academic idiom and want nothing to do with providential issues, to focus on Moody-style revivalism’s technology and its social functions and to discount the providential claims that lay at the very heart of Moody’s message.
Scholars more favorably disposed toward the divine, if they wish an academic hearing, commonly resort to other strategies. They may self-consciously set providential questions aside as, in Robertson’s words, “beyond historical analysis.” Robertson, with foot in academe and another in church, reintroduces transcendent issues in his conclusion where, in effect, he denies Moody’s providential claims. It is to his credit that he discloses his theological agenda, but his work shows that a paradox cannot be resolved by simply ignoring one of its terms. Robertson’s whole text, even without its theological conclusion, amounts to a denial of Moody’s providential claims, unless one is prepared to acknowledge that God underwrites class conflict. Such an acknowledgment may be possible, but it only reintroduces revivalism’s paradox in the theologically perennial terms of divine sovereignty and human freedom.
Unresolved questions of authority are likewise embedded in the Chicago revival story. Moody was a layman, an itinerant revivalist, who appealed directly to people to accept his message. That strategy represented, in part, an application of the Christian tradition of a priesthood of all believers, but in the context of American culture, it had additional populist implications that did not escape Gilded Age Chicagoans.30
“Spiritual Freedom” was how one letter writer signed an epistle to the Chicago Times two weeks after the revival began. He described himself as a “constant attendant on the noon-day prayer-meetings,” which he found “unspeakably precious.” Still, he complained of the “systematic ignoring of the laity, and the rigid restriction in participation…to the clergy congregated on the platform.” Moody’s message, despite his protestations to the contrary and his public deference to the local clergy, worked to undermine established ecclesiastical author of all kinds. “Where the spirit of God is, there is, or ought to be liberty for the unofficial as well as the official believer,” wrote “Spiritual Freedom.” “And, who is authorized to limit and restrain the grace of God manifested in the humblest soul?”31 Who indeed! The city’s secular newspapers, perhaps piqued by evangelical ministers harping about Sunday editions, turned the populist implications of Moody’s revival against the clergy. The Times, for example, leveraged “Spiritual Freedom’s” point to its own advantage in observing that the clergy’s endorsement of Moody amounted to an “amiable confession” of its own incapacity, which meant that perhaps such “incapable and unfruitful evangelists might as well be dispensed with.”32
Accounts that purport to capture the deep structure, fundamental social function, or essential meaning of Moody’s revival distort by disguising or denying the interests they serve and the contingent nature of their claims to authority. The totalizing, interpretive strategies that support these claims find themselves endlessly betrayed by the procreative power of the revival story itself as narrators occupying various historical and cultural locations manipulate its inner tensions. Robertson’s forthright declaration of his religious views exposes the contingent nature both of his structuralist interpretation and the academic discourse to which his text aspires.
Thus The Chicago Revival, like other new evangelical histories, raises but does not directly address important questions involving textual autonomy, interpretive totalization, and political responsibility. Professional historians, it reveals, are not observers conversing among themselves in a culturally authoritative idiom. Like it or not, they are part of a disorderly and tumultuous crowd of storytellers, many of whom occupy posts outside the university and speak in tongues foreign to its discourse. Professional historians and their fellow storytellers contradict, sustain, challenge, and influence one another by presenting divergent visions of history’s meaning. They compete for attention and privilege by gently cajoling, passionately exhorting, and coolly expounding in discordant dialects from diverse social locations across historical eras and cultural divides. It is an unsettling but invigorating vision.
1Definitions of “evangelical” from differing perspectives may be found in George M. Marsden, “Evangelical and Fundamental Christianity,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Marcea Eliade, 16 vols. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1987), 5:190-197; Mark A. Noll, Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 1-5; essays by John H. Gerstner, Vinson Synan, Kenneth S. Kantzer, and Paul L. Holmer in Donald F. Wells and John D. Woodbridge, eds., The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Who They Are, Where They Are Changing, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 21-115; and Timothy L. Smith, “The Postfundamentalist Party,” The Christian Century, 93 (Feb. 1976). 125-127. Jay P. Dolan describes the parish mission as a form of evangelicalism indigenous to Roman Catholicism in Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience, 1830-1900 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978).
2For a list of denominations that supported Moody’s revival see the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 21, 1875, 2. Rev. W. H. Ryder, pastor of St. Paul’s Universalist Church in Chicago, complained in an open letter to Moody that the revival’s producers were too exclusive in restricting participation to the “so-called ‘evangelical’ denominations” (Chicago Times, Jan. Dec. 4, 1876, 2 and Dec. 24, 1876, 5.
3Robertson’s description of Moody’s doctrines owes much to Stanley N. Gundry, Love Then In: The Proclamation Theology of D. L. Moody (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), a fine study of the revivalist’s theology.
4James F. Findley, Jr., Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist, 1837-1899 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 196. See also William G. McLoughlin, Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: The Ronald Press, 1959), 262-263.
5Moody’s instincts in this regard may have been reliable. His followers could not resist the temptation to demonstrate revivalism’s providential essence in statistical terms, a strategy that critics subsequently turned against them. The evangelist’s son, William R. Moody, proudly noted in the authorized biography of his father published after the revivalist’s death that “local churches reported over two thousand accessions on profession of faith” even before his father left Chicago (D. L. Moody [New York: Macmillan Co., 1930], 288). But the appeal to numbers invited, as Moody had implicitly warned, statistical rebuttals. Writing in 1909 from a social gospel perspective, Samuel W. Dike argued that quantification provides the best test of revivalism’s impact, partly because revivalism’s advocates appeal with such enthusiasm to numbers. He went on to “demonstrate” that declines in church membership usually follow revivals and that long-term losses outstrip gains (Samuel W. Dike, “A Study of New England Revivals,” American Journal of Sociology, 15 [Nov. 1909], 361-378). Dike employed statistics hoping that churchmen would drop revivalism in favor of techniques more in accord with modern needs. Other number-crunching critics, however, have used similar findings in very different causes. One recent example is Marion L. Bell, Crusade in the City: Revivalism in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1977). Bell writes from the perspective of a non-Christian urban historian who came of academic age in the 1970s. He seems concerned less with religion’s welfare than with revivalism’s allegedly pernicious influence as an anti-intellectual, apocalyptic, and profoundly conservative force in American culture.
6W. H. Daniels, ed., Moody: His Words, Work, and Workers (New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1877), 60.
7Ibid., 6; Keith J. Hardman, The Spiritual Awakeners: American Revivalists from Solomon Stoddard to D. L. Moody (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 10.
8I regard disclosure not as authoritative and monological but as dialogic, subjective, and colored by context. See James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 41-44.
9Note 4, above, and Sandra S. Sizer, Gospel Hymns and Social Religion: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Revivalism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978). Robertson calls Findley’s biography the “best full-scale, scholarly assessment” of Moody.
10Note 4, above, and Bernard Weisberger, They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact Upon Religion in America (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1958), 175-219.
11McLoughlin, for example, locates Moody’s story within the larger context of four American awakenings that served during periods of cultural crisis to reorient the national ethos (Modern Revivalism, 7-8). He develops the same argument employing cultural revitalization theory borrowed from anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace in Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977, Chicago History of American Religion, Martin E. Marty, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 9-10.
12McLoughlin, Billy Graham: Revivalist in a Secular Age (New York: Ronald Press, 1960).
13Sizer links her work to “television evangelists” in Gospel Hymns, 159. The last chapter of the book (138-159) summarizes her conclusions regarding the political and economic implications of Moody-style revivalism. The chapter appears also as “Politics and Apolitical Religion: The Great Urban Revivals of the Late Nineteenth Century,” Church History, 48 (March 1979), 81-98.
14George M. Thomas, Revivalism and Cultural Change: Christianity, Nation Building, and the Market in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 4.
16Leonard I. Sweet, “Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves: The New Evangelical Historiography,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 56 (Fall 1988), 397-416. To describe a work as partly the product of an author’s personal faith does not, as some positivistically inclined scholars would have us believe, discredit it as “biased,” an academic version of anathema. All have sinned and fallen short of objectivity’s glory.
19Donald W. Dayton, an editor of studies in evangelism, has laid out one version of the activist’s position in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper & Row, 1976). For the competing perspective of an evangelical intellectual, see George M. Marsden, “Demythologizing Evangelicalism: A Review of Donald W. Dayton’s Discovering an Evangelical Heritage,” Christian Scholar’s Review, 7, nos. 2, 3 (1977): 203-211, which includes a rejoinder by Dayton.
20George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelism, 1870-1925 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 32-39. Marsden’s focus on mental organizing principles may owe something to his affinity for Dutch Calvinism. Compare his ideas, for example, to the influential Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper’s notion of “principal thinking” (James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in America: A History of Conservative Subculture [Grand Rapids: William R. Eerdmans, 1984], 17-18). Fundamentalism’s place in the lives of the new evangelical historians is described in Sweet, “Wise as Serpents,” 401.
22The “unintended results of people’s actions” is an important theme in Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989). See, in particular, page 16.
23”To historicize a doctrine is always, to some greater or lesser extent, to subtly undermine it, to suggest that it is vieuxjeu,” writes Peter Novick in That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 405.
24My use of “text” to describe human action is based upon Paul Ricoeur, “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text,” Social Research, 38 (Autumn 1971), 529-562.
25Chicago Tribune, Dec. 10, 1876, 4.
26Ibid., Dec. 17, 1876, 13.
27James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985) and Paul A. Carter, The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971).
28Chicago Times, Nov. 12, 1876, 1.
29Here and in what follows I draw upon Edward M. Bruner and Phyllis Gorfain, “Dialogic Narration and the Paradoxes of Masada,” in Test, Play, and Story: The Construction and Reconstruction of Self and Society, ed. Edward M. Bruner (Washington, D. C.: The American Ethnological Society, 1984), 56-79, and Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).
30Intellectuals among the new evangelical historians have identified and described the populist impulse in American revivalism as a politically derived subversion of authentic evangelicalism. See Mark A. Noll, One Nation Under God? Christian Faith and Political Action in America (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988) and Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity. Activists among the new evangelical historians have been less concerned with theological authenticity than with recapturing revivalism’s spiritual power. A recent example may be found in the introduction of Garth M. Rosell and Richard A. G. Dupuis, eds., The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney: The Complete Restored Text (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989).
31Chicago Times, Oct. 15, 1876, 1.
32Chicago Times, Oct. 10, 1876, 4. See also Chicago Tribune, Jan. 18, 1877, 4.