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Moody, Dwight Lyman (1837-1899)

Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899)

Urban evangelist

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Era of the Evangelist. Dwight Lyman Moody was the most famous and widely admired Protestant evangelist of his day, and perhaps the last great itinerant evangelist to receive the wholehearted support of both liberal and conservative Protestants. His greatest successes came in a series of urban revivals in the United States and Great Britain that began in London in 1872. More than any other religious leader of his era, Moody found effective ways to repackage the old-time religion in an increasingly urban and industrial world. Moody remained a layman throughout his life and never presented himself as an expert in theology. He had a great talent for delivering simple and straightforward sermons that reflected personal warmth. In fact his style could not have been more different from his predecessor Charles Grandison Finney, the father of modern revivalism, whose sermons were more direct, tough, and forceful.

Humble Beginnings. Born in Northfield, Massachusetts, on 5 February 1837, Moody received little formal education or religious instruction. In 1854 he went to Boston to work for an uncle who was a cobbler, and two years later he started selling shoes. During a revival organized by the Young Mens Christian Association (YMCA), Moody underwent a profound evangelical conversion experience and began to attend church regularly. Soon he joined the Plymouth Congregational Church. At the time most Protestant churches relied on the sale or rental of pews to generate operating income. Moody rented four pews at Plymouth, and each Sunday morning he walked through the citys streets and knocked on boardinghouse doors to find men and women who would join him for the Sabbath service. In 1858 he became the superintendent of a Sunday school in a slum neighborhood. By 1860 Moody had left his shoe-selling business to devote himself entirely to missionary work. During the Civil War Moody worked as an agent of the U.S. Christian Commission, which offered religious and practical support to Union troops. Returning to Chicago after the war, he became president of the citys branch of the YMCA. Moody was a gifted executive and fund-raiser. He guided the YMCA through a rapid expansion to serve the needs of young men who were flocking to Chicago to find work in the citys offices and factories. When his YMCA building was destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871, Moody went on national and international assignments for the YMCA.

Finding a Role. Moodys life took a definitive turn in the spring of 1872, when he was called upon to preach at a London church while on a business trip for the YMCA. Moody was startled after he closed his sermon with the customary evangelical invitation to his hearers to dedicate their lives to Christ. Four hundred people answered the altar call. Reflecting on the experience, Moody felt that he had found his vocation as an evangelist. Returning briefly to the United States, he asked the musician Ira Sankey to join him as an itinerant evangelist. The team returned to Britain for an experimental evangelistic tour. Between 1873 and 1875 they spoke and sang to audiences that exceeded a cumulative total of approximately three million. Moody and Sankeys British revivals attracted attention around the world. Success abroad catapulted them to immense fame and popularity in America. They capitalized on their celebrity by mounting a long series of revivals during the 1870s and 1880s that involved virtually every major American city. Moody perfected the art of organizing urban revivals, blending careful preparation and elaborate efforts to unify local Protestant leadership. He often committed months to a particular revival, preaching nightly for weeks at a time. The meetings combined sermon and music in a simple, stirring, and effective way. Sankey himself popularized a new religious musical form, the gospel hymn, which blended pious and emotional lyrics with tunes adapted from dance and march music.

Salvation Alone. In the pulpit Moody focused on Gods offer of salvation through rebirth in Christ. He consistently declined to discuss all other topics, including doctrinal, social, or political matters. His social platform was based on his conviction that the only effective means of solving human problems was individual salvation. At the end of each revival sermon Moody would hold up his Bible and assure his listeners that eternal salvation was available if only they would accept it. I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel, Moody frequently told journalists. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me Moody, save all you can.

In the Middle. Moodys personable disposition, avoidance of conflict, and lack of interest in formal theological disputation combined to leave him comfortably out of reach of the sharpening dispute between Protestant liberals and conservatives. Moody himself was unquestionably conservative and a biblical literalist. In fact his evangelism helped to encourage the militantly conservative movement that would come to be called Fundamentalism. Nevertheless Moody always maintained cordial personal relations with liberals and often emphasized the importance of Christian activism to relieve poverty and other social ills, themes that warmed liberal imaginations.

A New Era. Almost single-handedly Moody revitalized the American religious tradition of revivalism and made it popular in the industrial age. His legacy, however, has been even greater. Moody founded several educational institutions that have had significant impact on American religious life. In 1879 he established the Northfield Seminary for Girls and the Mount Hermon School for boys in 1881. He also began holding summer conferences in which he invited hundreds of laymen and laywomen for discussions, worship, and training sessions. These conferences proved to be influential in the development of both the early Fundamentalist movement and the Holiness movement that prepared the way for Pentecostalism. College students participating in the 1886 Northfield Conference conceived the Student Volunteer Movement two years later. The movement, led by the Mount Hermon One Hundred, eventually mobilized thousands of American missionaries to convert the world in a single generation. Moody also founded a Bible training school in Chicago in 1889 that set the pattern for a conservative Protestant educational movement; after the evangelists death, the school was renamed the Moody Bible Institute in his honor.

Twilight. Moody began to curtail his activities in 1892 in response to a heart ailment. No figure of equal stature or equivalent appeal across the spectrum of Protestant belief and opinion has ever appeared on the urban religious scene. Moody died at Northfield on 22 December 1899.

Sources

James F. Findlay, Dwight L. Moody: American Evangelist, 1837-1899 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969);

William G. McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham (New York: Ronald Press, 1959).

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Moody, Dwight Lyman

Dwight Lyman Moody, 1837–99, American evangelist, b. Northfield, Mass. He became successful in business in Chicago, where he settled in 1856. His activities there as a Sunday-school teacher and superintendent were so successful that in 1861 he withdrew from business to devote himself to city missionary work. In 1870 he met Ira Sankey, who for a number of years thereafter was associated with him in evangelistic campaigns. They made two extended evangelical tours of Great Britain. Large crowds were also attracted to their meetings in the United States, and their collections of gospel hymns were received with great enthusiasm. Moody's preaching was simple, colorful, and direct; he stressed God's love and mercy rather than retribution and hellfire. His interest in religious education led him to found the Northfield Seminary for girls (1879) and the Mt. Hermon School for boys (1881), both in Northfield, Mass; in 1971 the two schools merged and became the Northfield Mt. Hermon School. In 1889 his Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now the Moody Bible Institute) opened in Chicago. The conferences for Christian workers that Moody inaugurated at Northfield, Mass., were annual gatherings.

See biographies by his sons, W. R. Moody (1900) and P. D. Moody (1938); G. Bradford, D. L. Moody, a Worker in Souls (1927, repr. 1972); J. C. Pollock, Moody: a Biographical Portrait (1963, repr. 1967); J. J. Findlay, Dwight L. Moody (1969).

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"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/moody-dwight-lyman

"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/moody-dwight-lyman

Moody, Dwight Lyman

Moody, Dwight Lyman (1837–99). American revivalist preacher. A tour of Britain in 1873 met an enthusiastic response, and Moody, along with his organist and song leader Ira D. Sankey, became internationally famous. Moody's meetings were characterized by respectability and lack of hell-fire sensationalism. Moody was a Congregationalist, but like other evangelists to follow, he worked mainly outside denominational boundaries.

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"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/moody-dwight-lyman

"Moody, Dwight Lyman." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/moody-dwight-lyman