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America’s Revival Tradition and the Evangelists Who Made It

By: David T. Morgan
Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey
Lulu, 2008

The famous evangelists in America’s history differed somewhat in doctrine, and were widely disparate in education, oratorical style, and business acumen. However, they shared a desire to preach the gospel to as many people as they possibly could, and had the ambition and commitment to make this goal their life’s work. David T. Morgan traces the path of revivalism in America’s history, beginning with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield in the eighteenth century and ending with the modern-day televangelists. Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Sam Jones, Billy Sunday, and Aimee Semple McPherson, along with Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and others “contributed to shaping, to a significant extent, the mosaic that is contemporary America.”

Morgan writes in a conversational style that makes America’s Revival Tradition and the Evangelists Who Made It a swift and enjoyable read. As he says in the foreword, Morgan’s aim is not to write a scholarly tome, but a book that will interest and entertain those in the general population who wish to read it. The historical figures are clearly drawn, and Morgan provides just enough biographical information to give us a good understanding of each unique individual, but not so much that the text becomes bogged down.

The chapter on Aimee Semple McPherson is one of the best. She is notable in the revivalist tradition, not only because she was the first woman evangelist whose name was a household word, but also because in 1922 she became the first woman to preach a message on the radio. McPherson later held a broadcast license and bought her own radio station. All were groundbreaking steps for women. In 1926, she became the first evangelist to be accused of sexual misconduct.

As depicted by Morgan, the famous evangelists in America’s history are far more interesting than their doctrines or the public’s reaction to their messages. Some were very colorful individuals, such as the chauvinistic and racist Billy Sunday, who stated that “if hell were turned upside down you would find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom of it.”

Morgan’s thorough research raises some questions about the motives that drove these diverse individuals. From the most reputable among them to the least, they made choices that affected the scope and longevity of their ministries. One can read between the lines, not to reach a sound conclusion, but to question. This is not Morgan’s intent, however. He has simply written a factual, interesting book.  Dec 08

Rebecca Dempsey is a graduate student at the University of Montevallo.

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