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Elements of DL Moody's revivalism (G.G.)

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By Graham Grove, August 2007

The following is a 500 word that answers the question: What were the main themes of Moody's preaching and the principal elements of his "revivalism"?

Dwight Lyman Moody was one of the most significant evangelists of the nineteenth century[1]. He is remembered primarily for his role as a popular preacher in the revival that occurred throughout the United States of America and the United Kingdom during his lifetime[2].

The sermons of D.L. Moody focussed predominantly on the redemption that comes through faith in Christ[3]. He was not a highly educated man nor had he any formal theological training, and he seldom discussed the more technical and peripheral aspects of theology[4]. Although he considered what a person believed to be important, he regarded who a person believed in to be of the utmost importance[5]. The message he brought to his hearers reflected this belief. Speaking to audiences of up to twenty thousand people at a time[6], Moody most often focussed on his core understanding of Christianity: that all people have been ruined by the fall; that Jesus' blood offers redemption; and that the believer becomes a new creation through regeneration by the Holy Spirit[7].

Moody understood revivalism as having a number of major characteristics. To him, revivalism involved an unquestioning view of the Bible’s authority in revealing that personal conversion was the heart of revival[8]. His revivalism was crucicentric, concentrating on the doctrine of the atonement. Moody understood that he was called by God to be committed to actively seeking the spread of the good news of Jesus to all people[9]. Salvation for everyone was Moody’s greatest desire. He preached on this subject on many occasions, saying, "When I see a poor drunkard, when I see a thief, when I see a prisoner in yonder prison, it is a grand, glorious thing, to go and proclaim to him the glad tidings; because I know he can be saved."[10]

Although Moody spoke about sin and the fall of humanity, this alone was never his main focus. He rarely spoke about hell, but instead his messages were almost universally positive[11]. He noted that "Christ comes to bless. He does not come to demand"[12] and so using Christ as his ideal, Moody continually told of the goodness, forgiveness and love of God.

Ultimately, Moody always attributed his impact on revival to God, however, there were a number of factors that influenced his success[13]. As a poorly educated layman, his unclerical tone struck a chord with his unchurched audience, as did his use of halls and theatres rather than church buildings. He often spoke passionately and his emphasis on emotional knowledge of God, in addition to reason, along with his use of music drew positive responses from his hearers. His excellent organizational skills[14] resulted in large numbers actually hearing his message. Additionally he aimed to make his meetings have mass appeal[15]. When, for example, in 1893 the World Fair came to Chicago and remained open on Sunday, Moody wad heard to say, "Let us open so many preaching places and present the gospel so attractively that people will want to come and hear it"[16]. Finally, Moody was gifted with drawing people together in unity of purpose and successfully bridging the gap between liberal and evangelical Christians, gaining support from both[17].

D.L. Moody was one of the most notable evangelists in the last two centuries. The principal elements of his revivalism were large meetings where he constantly preached on what he considered the central theme of Christianity, that is, salvation through personal faith in Christ.


  1. JL Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, 2 volumes. (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1985), 254
  2. DJ Tidball, The Lion Handbook: The History of Christianity 2nd Edition, Editor: Tim Dowley. (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1990), 545
  3. D Maas, “The Life & Times of D.L. Moody”, Christian History, Volume IX, Issue 25, (1990): 5
  4. SN Gundry, “The Three Rs of Moody’s Theology”, Christian History, Volume IX, Issue 25, (1990): 16
  5. Gundry, “Three Rs”, 18. Gundry records Moody as saying: “Doctrines are all right in their places, but when you put them in the place of faith or salvation, they become sin”
  6. Maas, “Life & Times”, 5
  7. Gundry, “Three Rs”, 17-19
  8. DW Bebbington, “Moody’s Changed Revivalism”, Christian History, Volume IX, Issue 25, (1990): 23
  9. DL Moody, The Faithful Saying. A Series of Addresses. (London: Morgan and Scott, 1877), 52. In his address, The Gospel, Moody announced, “I have come to proclaim the gospel of Christ”
  10. Moody, Faithful Saying, 62. Moody said this as he explained that the Gospel was for all in his address, The Gospel To The Poor
  11. Gundry, “Three Rs”, 17-18
  12. Moody, Faithful Saying, 65. Moody said this when defending his lack of emphasis on hell and damnation in his address, The Gospel To The Poor
  13. Bebbington, “Changed Revivalism”, 23
  14. Tidball, Lion Handbook, 545
  15. VL Brereton, “The popular educator”, Christian History, Volume IX, Issue 25, (1990): 27
  16. KA Miller, “Delightfully Unconventional”, Christian History, Volume IX, Issue 25, (1990): 4
  17. Bebbington, “Changed Revivalism”, 23

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