The Struggle for
Purity and Presence
“In nothing is this age more distinguished from the past,” mused John Waller, editor of Kentucky's Western Baptist Review, in the summer of 1850, “than in the increased facilities for multiplying books and publications of every description—of sending on the wings of the press the opinions of men to all parts of the earth.” Waller's tone of cautious optimism captured the mood of many of his contemporaries; “for good or for evil” the printed word had become the “lever which moves the moral world.”1
This book explains how evangelical Protestants like John Waller used the Word of the Bible and printed words of their own to transform the world of mid-nineteenth-century America. By 1850, the year of Waller's reflections, self-identified evangelicals had forged a burgeoning print culture with a dual mission: purity and presence in the world. Amid the contentious milieu of American culture, evangelical writers, publishers, and readers selfconsciously strove to sanctify their own pilgrim community and redeem American society without allowing themselves to become worldly.
This study conceptualizes “evangelical print culture,” as it developed between 1789 and 1880, as a distinctive set of writing, publishing, and reading practices centered on the power of the Word to transform the world. I argue, first, that evangelicals shared a set of assumptions about how the Holy Spirit used the Word to convey sanctifying influences across time, space, and language to permeate the world. Second, I demonstrate that evangelicals viewed participation in a textual community defined by an informal canon of texts as aiding one another's pilgrimage through the world. Third, I reveal that using the Word and their own words to influence the world's redemption, evangelicals dialogically enacted a set of core nar-