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Leslie Woodcock Tentler

Loving Them into the Kingdom

A new biography shrinks from social or psychological analysis to portray Dwight L. Moody as a product of Providence.

Dwight L. Moody was one of America's most eminent Victorians. Revered as an evangelist throughout the English-speaking world, he was admired across denominational as well as national boundaries. He was also something of a representative American. The most lovable of men to his many admirers, he was plain-spoken and mostly self-taught. He had been wounded, probably deeply, by his culture's individualism. He was also emancipated by it.

Moody's was the story of a self-made man. Born in Massachusetts in 1837, he survived an impoverished childhood to achieve success in the frontier city of Chicago. But Chicago was a lonely place for a young man barely out of his teens and rife with life-threatening temptations. So Moody's spiritual hungers grew even as he prospered financially. He was soon involved in a more profound kind of self-transformation, though here too the tale is emblematically American. At least nominally converted prior to his emigration west, Moody was simultaneously affiliated in Chicago with three churches, which together provided the rootless youth with a social circle—indeed, with surrogate parents—and an essential psychological anchor. Nurturance in the faith led to heightened religious activism, and ultimately—at least partly under the stimulus of revival excitement in the late 1850s—to full-time lay ministry. Moody's work as an evangelist among Chicago's poorest children had won him sufficient local fame by 1860 to merit the notice of President-elect Lincoln.

Like many men of his generation, Moody was changed in fundamental ways by the Civil War, during which he served as a YMCA-sponsored chaplain. His exposure to wartime suffering seems to have deepened his faith and given him a quickened sense of his capacity for evangelical service. Moody preached extensively in the course of his chaplaincy and engaged for the first time in the one-on-one counseling that soon became a hallmark of his approach to evangelization. His wartime experience, ...

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