Moody, Dwight L.

Moody, Dwight L.

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

American "revivalism" is so much a part of the contemporary scene that people tend to think it's been around since Saint Paul. But the famous evangelist Billy Graham and his colleagues owe much of their success to a shoe clerk from Northfield, Massachusetts, named Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), and to the American branch of the Young Men's Christian Association (see YMCA/YWCA). The movement, or process, they instigated has since been labeled "urban revivalism." Folks on the inside call it a movement of the Holy Spirit. Others tend to think of it as the "business" of evangelism. Whatever the case, Moody's experience with the Chicago YMCA and citywide evangelistic enterprises taught him that mass campaigns featuring big venues, good music, and inspiring preaching could produce revivals almost at will.

This is not to say Moody was a fake—far from it. He believed he was doing God's will by discovering new methods of reaching a lot of people in a very short time. But he was a businessman. He not only thought like a businessman, he dressed like one, talked like one, and acted like one. He was the first to "baptize" business techniques by using them on a mass scale in the preaching of the Gospel. He used his organizational, marketing, and promotional skills to raise vast sums of money, train a host of workers under executive direction, and in the process become the first of the breed of "professional evangelists."

If Moody had stayed in the shoe business, it's likely he would have carved out a fortune for himself, flowing in from a large business empire. But he forsook all that to follow what he believed to be his calling from God. As it was, he made a fortune in the field of religion. But he gave it all away. When he died, he left an estate containing a grand total of $500—which, by the way, he didn't know he had, or he would have donated that to the cause as well.

When he moved from Northfield to Boston, and then to Chicago, he never dreamed what his lot in life would be. He was active in starting the Sunday school movement and making it a part of the American church scene. He was active in the YMCA evangelistic campaigns. And in Chicago he realized what could happen if a few good people took seriously the "great commission" Jesus gave his church: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel." Moody believed Jesus was talking to him personally, and he did exactly what his master told him. Known and respected, he became something of a Chicago civic institution. Operating on the basis that "it was better to get ten men to work than do the work of ten men," he had a host of projects, mostly connected to the YMCA, involving hundreds of workers. "We must ask for money for the Lord's work," he said. "Money, money, MONEY! at every meeting—not to support the Association as it now is, but to enlarge its operations."

When he took on a young song leader named Ira D. Sankey, the team was formed that would go down in history and set the pattern for Billy Graham and every other evangelist who ever lived. "Moody preaches the Gospel," it was said, "and Sankey sings the Gospel." Many of the most famous hymns to ever grace a hymnbook were made popular because of the success of the Sankey and Moody Hymnbook, used first in London and then in every citywide campaign the two put on together. It made them nationally recognized figures.

Through all the success and worldwide adulation, however, Moody remained a very humble man who never pretended to be more than a layman who loved God. A woman once confronted him, claiming to disagree with his theology. "My theology!" he exclaimed. "I didn't know I had any!" Everything he knew, he said, was related to the "Three R's: Ruin by sin—Redemption by Christ—Regeneration by the Holy Ghost." He believed solidly that people were free to choose their destiny, free to choose to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. It was a simple religion, preached with homespun humor and humility. And people loved it.

But detractors grew. It became obvious that the people responding to his message at the revival meetings were not then joining local churches. Church membership remained fairly stagnant after he left town. Moody seemed to lift the morale of the regular churchgoers who came to see him, rather than attracting new believers. Eventually, as happens to all trends in America, people began to lose interest. But his conferences in Northfield were exciting for students because Moody would invite some of the greatest theological minds in the country to debate issues.

In 1879 he established the Northfield Seminary for Girls and, two years later, the Mount Hermon School for boys. Today the two institutions, now joined, host a Moody Bible Conference each summer at the Northfield campus. The Moody Bible Institute, formerly called the Chicago Evangelization Society, continues to turn out conservative Christian ministers and missionaries.

When he died in 1899, it was said that D. L. Moody had spoken to more than 100 million people, traveling more than a million miles to do it. Not bad for a simple shoe clerk who just wanted to teach Sunday school.