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Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), American evangelist, was an outstanding representative of popular 19th-century Protestant revivalism.

Dwight L. Moody was born on Feb. 5, 1837, in Northfield, Mass. At the age of 17 he went to Boston and entered the retail boot and shoe trade. In 1856 he moved to Chicago to enhance his business opportunities. While in Boston he had come in contact with evangelical Protestants, chiefly through the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and a local Congregational church. He expanded these associations in Chicago, where he soon became a leader in religious circles, chiefly through his work for the local YMCA.

In 1860 Moody abandoned his business career to work full time for the YMCA. He served as president of the Chicago branch from 1865 to 1868. He also ran a large "independent" Sunday school for slum families, which was supported chiefly by local members of the YMCA. This experience was essential in preparing him for his eventual work as a revivalist.

In 1867 Moody visited England, immediately establishing contacts with important English evangelists. In 1872 he launched his formal career as a revivalist in Great Britain, accompanied by Ira D. Sankey, his famous "singing partner" in all his subsequent major revivals. They first attracted widespread popular support in Scotland; then they moved south into England for a long series of campaigns, climaxed by a 4-month visit in London in 1875.

That year Moody returned to America, a national figure, and immediately launched a series of revivals. In huge revival meetings in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston he created the basic machinery of urban mass revivalism. It was chiefly a feat of organization which sought to adapt the traditional theological and institutional practices of evangelical Protestantism to the new urban environment created by industrialism.

Although Moody never abandoned his work as a revivalist, after 1880 he developed other interests. He founded three schools: two private secondary academies in Northfield, Mass., and the Chicago (later Moody) Bible Institute, a training school for urban lay evangelists. He aided national officials of the YMCA in inaugurating the Student Volunteer movement in 1886—a major expression of the American Protestant missionary impulse. At the Northfield schools he also held numerous summer adult and youth conferences offering informal Christian education.

A theological conservative, Moody was bewildered by the rapidly changing intellectual climate of the late 19th century. He found it difficult to deal effectively with the splits between liberals and conservatives in the American churches. His career as a revivalist had noticeably declined by the time he died in December 1899.

Further Reading

The only scholarly biography of Moody is James Findlay, Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist (1969). Briefer analyses of Moody's public career are in Bernard Weisberger, They Gathered at the River (1958), and William McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism (1959). A revealing sketch of the revivalist by his son is Paul Moody, My Father: An Intimate Portrait of Dwight Moody (1938).

Additional Sources

Bennett, David, D.L. Moody, Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1994.

Gericke, Paul, Crucial experiences in the life of D. L. Moody, New Orleans: Insight Press, 1978.

Moody, William R. (William Revell), D.L. Moody, New York: Garland Pub., 1988, c1930.

Pollock, John Charles, Moody, Chicago: Moody Press, 1983. □

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