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  • Revival in the City: The Impact of American Evangelists in Canada, 1884-1914
  • Pamela E. Klassen
Eric R. Crouse . Revival in the City: The Impact of American Evangelists in Canada, 1884–1914. McGill-Queen's University Press 2005. viii, 230. $65.00

Revival in the City is a welcome Canadian addition to the growing body of scholarship focused on urban Christianity, much of which has centred on US contexts. Based primarily on newspaper accounts of the 'conservative evangelicals or proto-fundamentalists' who travelled to the cities of Canada as revivalists, the book follows the northern journeys of Dwight Moody, Sam Jones, Sam Small, Reuben Torrey, and J. Wilbur Chapman. With particular attention to the depiction of working-class participation in the revivals, Eric Crouse argues that conservative revivalists made expert use of popular culture to attract large audiences who came to hear their 'orthodox message' of saving souls from the fiery pit of a 'literal hell.'

In making his case for the vibrant, if short-lived, success of a conservative, manly revivalism that particularly appealed to working-class Canadians, Crouse sets his work in distinction to two groups [End Page 289] of scholars: those who have claimed that Canadian Protestantism was 'secularized' in the early twentieth century and those who have argued for the compatibility of early-twentieth-century Canadian revivalism with the social (or even socialist) gospel. Drawing his evidence from the settings and rhetoric of revivals (e.g., Chapman gathered crowds in factories and saloons while the proto-fundamentalist Torrey occasional commented about the need for the redistribution of wealth), Crouse argues that these American revivalists strove to engage the working classes to a greater extent than did local clergy. He also argues that their use of 'secular mass culture' – whether courting the press or renting theatres – is not reason to consider them secularizers: '[W]hile twentieth-century fundamentalists expressed ambivalence about embracing popular culture, their adaptation to mass culture rewarded them with successful evangelism without compromising an orthodox message.'

While he marshals interesting evidence from sermons, newspapers, and letters to the editor in support of his argument for the appeal of revivalism to working-class Canadians, Crouse's approach to definition leads to curious dismissals of other Protestant appeals to working-class piety. Comparing conservative revivalists to the Salvation Army and 'other sectarian groups,' Crouse contends that 'Moody's revivals touched a far greater number of Canadians.' Aside from the question of what it meant for a Canadian to be 'touched' by Moody, Crouse's sequestering of the Salvation Army as sectarian causes him to miss an opportunity to examine how the theatrical displays and saloon evangelism of the Salvation Army broke new ground for working-class revivalism more generally.

From another angle, Crouse quickly dispenses with the significance of liberal Protestant working-class evangelism by defining it out of his range. For example, in a brief allusion to J.S. Woodsworth's work at All People's mission in Winnipeg he states, 'Woodsworth was no evangelical.' With little substantial attention to the practices and perspectives of local clergy influenced by the social gospel, Crouse's argument about the relatively greater impact of American evangelists on working-class Christianity lacks sufficient evidence. Seemingly maintaining a low-lying theological commitment to the conservative evangelicalism of which he writes, Crouse accepts too readily the transparency of the term secular and too often pleads the case of his subjects with terms that beg more questions, as when he insists that 'a strong evangelical foundation that supported sincere and genuine revival developments existed in the Canadian urban setting.' What is sincere and genuine revival, and who decides?

Given his careful attention to questions of class, gender, and ritual styles in Canadian Protestant encounters with American revivalists, Crouse's engagement with the question of secularization is particularly [End Page 290] unsatisfying. Adopting the view that a main marker of secularization was the relaxing of 'orthodox beliefs,' Crouse works with a narrow and theologically driven understanding of what counts as secular: anything not in line with a proto-fundamentalist, literalist Christianity is secular. In addition to relying on an implicit and inadequate definition of religion that privileges belief over ritual, practice...


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pp. 289-291
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