Moody once had a major influence on American evangelicalism

Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism
By Timothy E. W. Gloege
The University of North Carolina Press, 2015, 307 pages

After accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior in 1983, I used to visit the local Christian bookstore in town quite regularly. The offerings back then were a lot more orthodox compared to what they stock today. I picked up a copy of Moody Monthly magazine and was so pleased that I subsequently subscribed. To help me with studying the Bible, I bought soft-covered economy editions of the Moody Bible Dictionary and Moody Bible Commentary. It was evident that Moody was a reliable resource in my new walk with the Lord.

Our pastor occasionally mentioned Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) in his sermons. Moody was the most well-known evangelist of his time and founded the Bible Institute of the Chicago Evangelization Society, which became the Moody Bible Institute after his death.

This book traces the history of the institute from its founding in 1886 up until the early 1920s. It’s an interesting story. As a non-denominational evangelist, Moody preached the simple Gospel and emphasized “plain” Bible reading or a literal interpretation when a literal interpretation was called for. Moody avoided denominational squabbles over doctrinal secondaries. He avoided heavy theological debates and emphasized a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But after visiting with the Plymouth Brethren sect in England, Moody became an enthusiastic advocate of premillenialism.

Evangelist R.A. Torrey became president of the institute in 1889. His personal semi-advocacy of a “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” and faith healing was problematic for an institution that framed itself as a moderating influence in American evangelicalism.

Henry Parsons Crowell, founder of Quaker Oats Company and a pioneer in mass marketing and merchandising (the “Guaranteed Pure” title of this book is a reference to Crowell’s Quaker Oats’ advertising slogan), was appointed chairman of the board of the Moody Bible Institute in 1901. In cooperation with Torrey’s successor, James Gray, Crowell established the institute and its growing outreach (evangelism training, conventions, publications, evangelism meetings, etc.) on business principles of productivity and performance. No problem with that. The Lord commands us to be wise stewards of His resources. The institute became a champion of dispensationalism and in response to the growing threat of modernism, the institute played an instrumental role in the publication of “The Fundamentals,” a series of booklets that defended the fundamental beliefs of orthodox evangelicalism. But Moody resisted being drawn into the extreme fundamentalism of William Bell Riley and his allies (it’s hard to believe but the young Billy Graham was a protege of Riley).

Moody Bible Institute continues today but its influence has waned significantly. The internet has rendered such once-influential institutions as mere co-participants if not entirely obsolete. Moody Monthly ceased publication in 2003 and Moody Bible Institute is having financial difficulties and is currently embroiled in challenges to Biblical inerrancy.

I enjoyed this history of the early years of Moody Bible Institute. The author is an unbeliever and writes with a degree of respectful cynicism, but the book is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the growth of a very influential ministry and its attempts to combine business efficiency methods with faith.

6 thoughts on “Moody once had a major influence on American evangelicalism

    1. I really enjoyed this book. I was quite surprised that Moody was the guiding force behind the publication of “The Fundamentals,” which galvinized the fundamentalist movement led by Riley, John R. Rice and Bob Jones while Moody chose a more moderate course.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Surprised to read that too! But then you pointing out that Moody choosing a moderate course probably explain why I don’t automatically associate Moody with “The Fundamentals” in that they didn’t display the hallmark of Cultural Fundamentalism

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This was one of those books where I wanted to quit at about page 50, but then it got REAL good. I neglected to mention in my post that the founder of Union Oil, Lyman Stewart, built a Bible Institute in Los Angeles modeled after Moody, now known as Biola University. Torrey transferred out there. It was Stewart who financed “The Fundamentals” but the Moody guys steered the ship.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yup, fascinating story, especially for someone like myself who came out of a fundamentalist background and enjoys history. Finding more about the roots of “The Fundamentals” pamphlets was worth the time spent reading alone.

        Liked by 1 person

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