God's Man for the Gilded Age: D.L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelism

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At his death on the eve of the 20th century, D.L. Moody was widely recognized as one of the most beloved and important of men in 19th-century America. A Chicago shoe salesman with a fourth grade education, Moody rose from obscurity to become God's man for the Gilded Age. He was the Billy Graham of his day—indeed it could be said that Moody invented the system of evangelism that Graham inherited and perfected.

Bruce J. Evensen focuses on the pivotal years during which Moody established his reputation on both sides of the Atlantic through a series of highly popular and publicized campaigns. In four short years Moody forged the bond between revivalism and the mass media that persists to this day. Beginning in Britain in 1873 and extending across America's urban landscape, first in Brooklyn and then in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Boston, Moody used the power of prayer and publicity to stage citywide crusades that became civic spectacles. Modern newspapers, in the grip of economic depression, needed a story to stimulate circulation and found it in Moody's momentous mission. The evangelist and the press used one another in creating a sense of civic excitement that manufactured the largest crowds in municipal history. Critics claimed this machinery of revival was man-made. Moody's view was that he'd rather advertise than preach to empty pews. He brought a businessman's common sense to revival work and became, much against his will, a celebrity evangelist. The press in city after city made him the star of the show and helped transform his religious stage into a communal entertainment of unprecedented proportions.

In chronicling Moody's use of the press and their use of him, Evensen sheds new light on a crucial chapter in the history of evangelicalism and demonstrates how popular religion helped form our modern media culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For students desiring an introduction to the ways that religion and 'mass' culture met in nineteenth-century America, this is a highly suggestive case study." —Religious Studies Review

"This book should attract a wide readership, both from Moody admirers and from more nearly objective observers of the phenomenon of mass evangelism"—The Historian

"No one has so thoroughly described Moody's crusades...nor has anyone so meticulously examined Moody's symbiotic relationship with the press in both America and Britain...his study helps illuminate the reasons for Moody's success, his contribution to the rise of modern mass evangelism, his role in helping create the modern newspaper, and why many considered him God's man for the Gilded Age." —Journal of American History

"This study does for Moody's ministry what Harry Stout's work has done for the ministry of George Whitefield....[Evensen's] writing style is a great strength of the book, weaving effortlessly in and out of narration and evaluation. Bruce Evensen and Oxford University Press have provided historians with a valuable study of the impact of the mass media on organized mass evangelism...it is unreservedly recommended as an important monograph for those interested in the life of Moody, the story of American revivalism, or the history of American print media."—Faith & Mission

"God's Man for the Gilded Age is an exemplary achievement. It is the best study available of Moody's rise to fame—and of his struggle to deflect the adoration of admirers, keeping them focused not on himself but on his lifeboat."—he Journal of Religion

"...well written and splendidly researched..."—Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

"An important chapter in the history of American revivalism as well as that of American journalism.... This book merits a wide readership."—American Historical Review

"masterfully recounts both how the newspapers elevated Moody to celebrity status and how they came to occupy a central role in modern mass evangelism. "—Books & Culture

"Bruce Evensen's innovative and well written study of D. L. Moody and modern mass media deserves a wide readership. Its skillful narrative reveals much about how religion became spectacle in American culture and also about how evangelistic fame in Britain sparked religious renown on this side of the Atlantic. The book reveals both how important Moody was for the development of the modern newspaper and how important newspapers were for creating the great wave of interest in this one very public evangelist."—Mark A. Noll, McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College; author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

"This is not only a masterful account of Dwight L. Moody's public ministry, it is also a must-read study in the history of Christian evangelism. Evensen has provided all of us who revere Mr. Moody with a marvelous gift."—Richard J. Mouw, President and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary; author of The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from their Fundamentalist Heritage

Publishers Weekly
When evangelist Moody died the day after Christmas in 1899, he was reported to have reduced the population of hell by one million people through his revival efforts. Drawing on numerous contemporary newspaper reports of Moody's activities, journalist Evenson traces the influence of the popular press on Moody's rise to fame between 1873 and 1877. He points out that Moody was little-known when he began his revivals in Britain in 1873, but rose to prominence when the British press started to report on his success. Evenson chronicles Moody's rise to evangelistic fame and his use of the press by focusing on urban revivals in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The former shoe salesman used all the tools of that trade to sell the work of Christ to the multitudes, though he always humbly gave credit to the Holy Spirit for accomplishing the task of saving souls. As Evenson points out, Moody and the newspapers used each other to accomplish their own purposes: the press gained many readers with reports on Moody and his work, just as Moody gained free advertising (though he was often upset with the media's focus on him and not on his message). Evenson contends that Moody's canny abilities to manipulate the press for the good of evangelism paved the way for 20th-century successors like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. Although Moody is a fascinating character and subject, Evenson's academic tone and his extensive use of footnotes sometimes make for dry reading. (Oct. 15) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195162448
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Lexile: 1440L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce J. Evensen is a Professor in the Department of Communication at DePaul University where he teaches courses on journalism and journalistic history. A former journalist himself, he is the author of Truman, Palestine and the Press: Shaping Conventional Wisdom at the Beginning of the Cold War (1992), The Responsible Reporter (1995), and When Dempsey Fought Tunney: Heroes, Hokum and Storytelling in the Jazz Age (1996).

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Table of Contents

1 The End: Moody in Northfield, December 1899 3
2 "Expecting a Blessing of Unusual Magnitude,": Moody in Britain, June 1873-August 1875 14
3 "Sidewalks and Rooftops Are Black for Blocks Around,": Moody in Brooklyn, October-November 1875 48
4 "It's Harder Getting into the Depot than Heaven,": Moody in Philadelphia, November 1875-January 1876 72
5 "The Greatest Show on Earth,": Moody in New York City, February-April 1876 93
6 "From the Curbstone to the Ashpit, The Fix Is In,": Moody in Chicago, October 1876-January 1877 123
7 "It Is a Marvel to Many People,": Moody in Boston, January-April 1877 164
8 The Beginning: Moody in Queenstown, June 1873 184
Notes 189
Index 228
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