God's Man for the Gilded Age: D.L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelicalism

By Willey, Susan | Journalism History, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

God's Man for the Gilded Age: D.L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelicalism


Willey, Susan, Journalism History


Evensen, Bruce J. God's Man for the Gilded Age: D.L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelicalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.256 pp. $29.95.

Although scholars have long recognized religion's and media's influences on our culture, rarely do they explore the symbiotic relationship between the two and the subsequent impact on society. Bruce J. Evensen, a journalism professor at DePaul University and a former journalist, examines the life and career of nineteenth-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody to illustrate the numerous ways that journalism and religion intermingled to achieve their ends. The publicity methods generated by Moody and his supporters created a template for future interaction between religious leaders and the press.

Moody is often referred to as "the Billy Graham" of his day, but he broke new ground in his use of mass media, challenging the prevailing evangelical thinking. In the mid-to-late 180Os, revivalists shunned the secular press, and many criticized him for deigning to work with reporters and use the new medium of advertising. Yet his vision of the press as a mass evangelizing tool helped paved the way for modern preachers.

When he died on the eve of the twentieth century at sixty two, Moody had revolutionized evangelicalism and religion's relationship with the press. At his death, newspapers of the time wrote glowing editorials, praising his ministry and honoring him as a man of God. It was only fitting. Newspapers helped him achieve the enormous popularity that drew an estimated 100 million to his revivals during his more than a quarter of a century revivalism crusades in Britain and the United States.

The secular and religious needs of society merged during this time, and city officials as well as newspaper editors and owners saw in Moody a way in which to advance their agendas. During a period of economic depression, increased crime, hunger, destitution, and political corruption, leaders welcomed Moody as a savior who would return society to its moral roots and also create good publicity for their cities, their nation, and their publications along the way. Moody offered more than spiritual salvation. he offered a tired populace means for civic renewal.

At a time when cities boasted numerous papers, competition was stiff and editors saw Moody as a guaranteed means to increase circulation and street sales. Just as weekly news magazines today sell out every time a religious story appears on their covers, so it was in his time. Newspapers recognized Moody's ability to boost sales, and they played his stories prominently and often. However, like presentday evangelists and religious leaders, there was a raw edge to his relationship with the press. …

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