SSHAC live blog: American religion in the age of D.L. Moody – Stephen Nichols

Communications Staff — February 18, 2009

Speaker: Stephen Nichols

Title: Research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School

D.L. Moody

Moody left a nearly un-rivaled mark on evangelicalism. Moody turned to full-time Christian work in 1860. Moody showed deftness in bringing poor children to Christ, as well as wealthy donors.

Thesis of presentation: Moody had more to do with the shaping of a uniquely American evangelicalism than any other person. Charles Finney brought revivalism to us. But for most evangelicals, revivalism is not the core of their existence. Publishing houses and radio, Bible institutes and colleges, mission agencies and parachurch organizations, Sunday school: when you look at the net effect of these institutions on American evangelicalism and when you realize that Moody is the king of all these things, then you can see the basis for my thesis.

Moody’s ecclesiology: From Moody’s perspective, the church was an impediment to him. He did not find Christ in the churches he was involved with in New England. He did not find help from the established church in Chicago in working with the poor. To counter this impediment, he simply started his own church, an independent church. Independent churches have played a large role in American evangelicalism.

Moody’s theology: Moody rubbed shoulders with Charles Spurgeon and John Nelson Darby. Darby and Moody had discussions on Calvinism. Darby was on the Calvinist side of the equation. Moody tilted toward Arminianism and avoided controversial theological topics. Moody also avoided confessions of faith.

Moody’s theological education: Moody thought seminary was too long. You need a high school and college degree, and then a seminary degree. One year would due. Seminary also zapped ministry zeal. Moody’s school only had one textbook: the Bible.

The Age of Moody

Nichols said he would focus on the move from confessionalism to Biblicism in the Age of Moody with a focus on Christology.

In the Victorian Era, many focused on the moral example of Christ. The Victorians had room for the God of the rainbow and the God of the Bible, but not the God of the shark. The same was true in their understanding of Christ.

Jesus knocking on the doors of people’s hearts became the iconic symbol of Christ. Turning the other cheek became highly valued. Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple was not emphasized. This became the American Jesus.

Confessionalism is Biblicism at its best. Biblicists almost always tend to camp out in a particular place or places in the text, like those in the Victorian Era. Confessionalism guards the full counsel of the biblical text.

In the 19th century, Jesus became captive to ideology. The feminized Jesus, the Jesus of the Victorians, wins out after the 19th century. The Victorians preferred the little baby Jesus and His little baby feet and hands. Confessionalism reminds us that there is more to this picture.

In the 20th century, muscular Christianity would replace the feminized Victorian Christianity. The move to muscular Christianity marked a move from Biblicism to personal experience.

Conclusion

In the Age of Moody, people went searching for a Jesus of their own making. I do not pin all of this on Moody: but he had a large effect. I still value Moody and the American evangelicalism he so contributed to making. But the issue is that we have let this model of evangelicalism become the standard. Simply living with evangelicalism and failing to ask better things of it is not helpful.

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