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book reviews353 Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist, 1837-1899. By James F. Findlay , Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969. Pp. 440. $10.00.) "Dwight L. Moody was an honest, sincere, devoted Christian." These are the words of a contemporary editor and the epitaph with which Professor Findlay closes his biography of one of the most dynamic popular figures of the Gilded Age. The epitaph was, of course, understatement . An honest, sincere, devoted Christian must deserve more than these adjectives for his life to be worth a biography. The man from Northfield, Massachusetts was a vigorous, innovative, commanding, impressive organizer and speaker who confronted hundreds of thousands of people with their own hopes and fears, offering them a theology familiar and practical enough to provide personal discipline and security in a confusing and often threatening world. In an admirable, craftsmanlike, scholarly fashion, Findlay analyzes the career of the man who was a symbol of transitional evangelical Protestantism which, like Moody, was nurtured in a simple, individualistic, democratic community , and was matured in a complex, mass society. The problems of such maturation Moody never solved. Rather, he kept them from crushing a generation of middle-class Americans by employing the techniques and preaching the values of mass evangelism: organization, enthusiasm, personal piety, self-discipline. Findlay's purpose in writing this biography is explained in a comprehensive preface: to place Moody within the context of evangelical Protestantism , to explain the world view of that context, and to do what biography should always do—explain a personality. What emerges is a public man whose inner life is often obscured by inadequate sources, his own personal reserve, and, while Findlay does not say so, perhaps Moody's own limited powers of introspection and sophistication. Although we know Moody went through two "conversion" experiences, the second (1871) is not examined as thoroughly as might have been expected, even though it impelled him upon his career as an international evangelist, after having cast him into a profound depression. To be fair, however, it should be conceded that the psychology of evangelical Protestantism is not Findlay's chief interest. And his balanced, sympathetic reconstruction of the restless, aggressive Moody reveals a brusque, simple man of strong emotions indefatigably impressing upon a generation of middle-class Protestants the virtues of self-discipline and the ideals of love and calm assurance in the transcendent Christ. All this in the face of science, higher criticism and the attractions of secularism; in many ways Moody's Christianity was a rear-guard action against the forces that threatened Americans' sense of community, in this case a beloved community based on evangelical precepts. Findlay is successful in his threefold purpose, for those who read this biography will not remember Moody as a "mass" evangelist so much as the symbolic evangelical man attempting to revitalize the ideology of middle-class America. Findlay's work may enable some historians to see 354CIVIL WAR HISTORY the necessity of analyzing religion as a social force, of understanding religion as ideology as well as theology. As a businessman in a business age, Moody conjoined in his person and work the values of the AngloAmerican middle classes and the morals of a simplified Christian theology which have been perceived as identical by both friends and foes. Trying to show the interdependency of the two without confusing them is a demanding, perhaps impossible, task; but, to his credit, Findlay has tried to do so. Throughout the book he weaves the themes of middleclass consciousness and evangelical articulation, as he follows Moody from Northfield to Chicago to England to Northfield again in his search for ways to get men back into the church and the church back into the center of American life. One is inclined to demur from some observations , for example, that the Ritualists of England either by goal, status, or perception were democratic, or that Moody really was "responding" to the actual social problems of the city. Also, some readers may be annoyed by the recurrent italicization of the word "Bible" for no apparent reason. These are minor, perhaps minute faults; the book is so good that it should be read as an excellent contribution to social history...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 353-354
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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