It is almost impossible to move in Evangelical circles today without coming across some influence of Dwight Lyman Moody, even if the influence is a negative one in that a group has reacted against Moody! But in general, Moody is a sort of Evangelical saint, and like the Medieval saints, his biographers have often fallen into the trap of writing hagiography.
For this reason a book by Lyle Dorsett on Moody is extremely welcome. A Passion for Souls (Moody Publishers, 1997), is a major biography of Moody. Already a decade old, it is an authoritative work. Dorsett is a careful, balanced historian who does not whitewash his subjects. His biography of Billy Sunday is extremely honest, and he deals frankly with the failings of his subjects as well as with their good points.
Moody was the sort of man whose faults were as plain as his excellencies, and Dorsett reveals that the evangelist had trouble controlling his temper at times. he was also perhaps too ready to tell others that they ought to go into full-time Christian work when they felt no call to it. The title of this book reflects what was the driving force of D.L. Moody, a desire for the salvation of sinners to Christ. And no-one can qiuestion his sincerety. Yet it becomes apparent that Moody, for all his passion and his hard work, had serious weaknesses. He had no formal theological education, and unlike C.H. Spurgeon, he had little informal theological education. Thus he tended to take others' professions of Christianity at face value. For this reason, even when Henry Drummond began to go seriously off the rails and to teach a fusion of Christianity and evolutionary philosophy, Moddy stood by him. He did not see the danger of Roman Catholic teaching, and as a result he was somewhat ecumenical in his influence. Moody seems to have been one of those men who find it easier to take charge rather than delegate. In one sense this was a strength, but it could also be a problem, when he over-extended himself and decreased his effectiveness.
This book is deeply worrying in some ways, in that it is brutally honest about Moody's faults. Apparently no Calvinist himself, Dorsett gives to Moody part of the credit for the decline of Calvinism in Britain and America. If so, then Moody may have added many to the churches, but in his ecumenical compromise, his promotion of liberals such as George Adam Smith equally with such Evangelicals as F.B. Meyer, and his Arminian teaching, were all contributions to the great decline of the Western Churches in the 20th century.
A Passion for Souls is available from ICM Books