Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism by Timothy E. W. Gloege (review)
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Reviewed by
Timothy E. W. Gloege. Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2015. xv + 307 pp. ISBN 978-2-4696-2101-2, $34.95 (cloth).

Timothy Gloege's Guaranteed Pure explores the relationship between American religion and business during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing on the history of Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, Gloege shows how the development of modern evangelicalism was linked to important shifts in American business culture, chiefly the rise of consumer capitalism.

The book begins with the advent of famed revivalist Dwight Lyman Moody. Though scholars have usually discussed Moody's career with reference to his pioneering evangelistic techniques or media savvy, Gloege illumines the former shoe salesman's use of business ideas to promote the Christian message to the masses in the years following the Civil War. This unique mode of outreach, termed "Christian work," shirked denominational sensibilities for an evangelical realism that encouraged a personal relationship with God, plain reading of the Bible, and the practical import of the life of faith. Business leaders latched onto the power of Moody's gospel with an eye toward its import for social order. After strikes in the late 1870s raised these leaders' fears of class warfare, they eagerly backed Moody's proposal for a new "Bible Institute" in Chicago that could train laypeople to convert the urban working classes and restore social stability.

Gloege then introduces Reuben A. Torrey, whose individualistic spirituality intensified Moody's evangelical realism. Invited to lead the Bible Institute, Torrey deepened the roots of this evolving religious movement in the soil of Gilded Age capitalism through his theological innovations (such as treating the Bible like a business contract between God and the believer) and pedagogical expectations (training students at the institute to treat evangelism like salesmanship). As with his discussion of Moody, Gloege helpfully shows how far-reaching Torrey's influence was among Protestants at the time, as his pragmatic, experiential focus drew followers from across the theological spectrum. However, because Torrey also appealed to Pentecostals and populists, the future of Christian work seemed to be in doubt as a respectable option for the middle class. Dispensationalism, [End Page 453] a theological system that downplayed certain radical implications of the faith, provided a temporary fix. The Bible Institute ultimately found its true strength in the rising tides of American consumer culture through the leadership of Henry Parsons Crowell, the former head of Quaker Oats. Crowell had revolutionized American business through his creative use of marketing to pitch oatmeal—with the famous Quaker face and "Pure" tagline—directly to consumers. Crowell assumed leadership of the faltering Moody Bible Institute (MBI; renamed soon after the evangelist's death in 1899), bringing his business acumen to bear on the creation of a new brand of Christian faith.

The influence of Crowell's consumer-driven orientation could be seen throughout his tenure at MBI. From his attempt to develop a uniform revival model that could be replicated nationwide to his conscious appeal to business norms in the marketing of MBI's brand through various publications, Crowell forged a "consuming faith" that targeted the middle class and showcased the "fluidity between sacred and secular" in the Gilded Age (138). The most important example of this approach was The Fundamentals project. Although the significance of this series of publications is usually explained through its encapsulation of various strains of anti-modernist theology, Gloege shows how the true import of the project (the combined effort of Crowell and oil baron Lyman Stewart) was its indebtedness to the branding and promotion of consumer goods. Like Quaker Oats' sidestepping of traditional wholesalers' brand-less, producer-driven model, The Fundamentals bypassed the established authority of ministers, denominations, and seminaries to appeal to conservative Christians directly through a giant direct mail campaign. As with his oatmeal packaging, the branding of Crowell's new project depended on the creation of a timeless trademark. Like the smiling Quaker, this calculated reference to "old time religion" that stood apart from any specific denominational creed obscured the real novelty of the product itself.

Gloege's concludes...


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