The Revival of 1857-58: Interpreting an American Religious Awakening

By Kathryn Teresa Long | Go to book overview

SEVEN
Legacies of 1857-58
D. L. Moody and the "Revival Generation"

MORE THAN ANY OTHER single person during the second half of the nineteenth century, Dwight L. Moody came to represent a transformed evangelical revival tradition ushered in by the Revival of 1857-58. During the 1870s, supported by religious and secular press coverage, Moody became a national figure and his urban revivalism part of the national popular culture. These postwar revivals reflected the formalism of the earlier establishment Calvinists fused with the emotive, lay-oriented piety of Methodist and Baptist populists and further shaped by the mass commercialism of an urban setting. What emerged was a businesslike, consumer-sensitive approach to revivals that further blurred the line between revivals and mass evangelism. The unusual numbers of conversions and heightened religious concern that had always characterized revivals became more predictable as evangelicals increasingly employed marketing techniques to reach people in densely populated urban settings.

In recent decades, Moody has become a familiar symbol of middle-class Victorian evangelicalism. Critics and admirers alike have recognized the revivalist's appropriation of business techniques and his embrace of commercial culture, in short, his place in the "professionalization" of urban revivals. Yet they have rarely acknowledged his indebtedness to the 1857-58 Revival for much of this style of piety. 1 The connections may have been obscured because Moody, who turned 21 in February 1858, was still a relatively unknown figure in Chicago religious and business circles. Although he was an enthusiastic participant, he played no special role in the Chicago phase of the awakening. He attended church prayer meetings, spoke as a member of the crowd at the downtown noon gatherings, and busied himself expanding his Sunday school work. 2 Not until 1861 when Moody became the first full-time "Y" staff member in Chicago and when he took on wartime duties with the Christian Commission did the impact of the revival on his religious work become most clearly evident. Almost immediately he injected new enthusi-

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