Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Moody, the Revivalist: The Less Bright Side

It seems as though Moody was within the stream of revivalism, but not in the same boat as the Finneyites. Marsden spends a substantial amount of time on Moody in his Fundamentalism and American Culture. He writes:
[Moody's} message, aside from the constant stress on the necessity of conversion, was of the love of God. His theology, although basically orthodox, was ambiguous to the point of seeming not to be theology at all. Moody could thus maintain cordial relations with both emerging parties [fundamentalism and mainline modernism] in American Protestantism.
pp. 32-33
Concerning Moody's relationship to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, Marsden writes:
As best he could, he tried simply to avoid the new issues. While he disapproved of liberalism in the abstract, he cultivated friendships with influential librerals in the hope that peace would prevail. "People are tired and sick of this awful controversy," he remarked in one of his last sermons. "I hope the motto of the ministers of this country will be, 'quit your fighting and go to work and preach the simple gospel.' "
p. 33
Although Moody affirmed the orthodox view of biblical authority, Marsden argues that he was not always comfortable with its implications:
Although he never repudiated the doctrine of eternal punishment, his uneasiness with the subject was not far from that of the evangelical liberalism of Henry Ward Beecher. In Moody's case, it appears that he avoided distressing subjects largely because he sensed that because of the mood of the modern age they did not meet his pragmatic test. As he himself explained, "Terror never brought a man in yet."
p. 35
This observation seems harsh towards Moody. If Moody preached about "hellfire" like so many of his contemporaries, perhaps Marsden would be lumping him in with the Finneyites. Marsden's conclusion to the chapter on Moody, however, is an interesting commentary on fundamentalism as a whole:
Moody's central place in the heritage of fundamentalism suggests an important aspect of its central character, shaped by a fondness neither for controversy nor for precise formulation of doctrine and the details of prophetic history. Fundamentalism was always a sub-species of the larger revivalist movement [emphasis mine]. As such it always involved an ambivalent attitude toward American culture, which evangelicalism had done much to shape. When the battles against modernism arose, fundamentalism always retained a tension between an exclusivist militancy and an irenic spirit concerned with holiness and saving souls. These latter elements in the tradition of Moody gave the movement its largest apeal. Yet when the organized and vocal core of militants attempted to speak for the hosts of true evangelicals and indeed even to lead them into battle, as in the 1920s, the ranks sometimes seemed to disperse. As for Moody, so probably for the majority of the sympathizers of the anti-modernist movement, evangelism and the next revival were always the chief aims.
pp. 38-39

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