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The Preacher Paradigm: Promotional Biographies and the Modern-Made Evangelist

Kathryn E. Lofton
Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation
Vol. 16, No. 1 (Winter 2006), pp. 95-123
DOI: 10.1525/rac.2006.16.1.95
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rac.2006.16.1.95
Page Count: 29
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The Preacher Paradigm: Promotional Biographies
and the Modern-Made Evangelist
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Abstract

Between 1886 and 1931, Christian publishing houses in the United States offered an unprecedented biographical profile of the contemporary American evangelist as an unambiguously modern figure. Sold at tabernacle tents, Christian bookshops, and church fund-raisers, these texts simultaneously document concerns with the modern landscape as they regale readers with the styles and stories of headlining American Protestants, including Dwight Moody (1837–1899), Sam Jones (1847–1906), Reuben Archer Torrey (1856–1928), J. Wilbur Chapman (1859–1918), Rodney “Gipsy” Smith (1860–1947), Billy Sunday (1862–1935), and Baxter “Cyclone Mac” McClendon (1879–1935). Although it is not difficult to discern distinguishing marks and regional inflections within the anecdotal particularities of these men, the overarching structure and themes of their chronologies is consistent. The purpose of this essay is to produce the beginning of a collective biography of the turn-of-the-century preacher, highlighting the persistent paradigm represented in the promotional products of these preachers. Whereas previous historians have described these men as antiquated proponents of an “old time” religion, this article argues that their narratives reveal a strikingly modern man, poised in an engaged and contradictory conflict with his contemporary moment.

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