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Researching Swedish pietism has taught me quite a few things. First, I had no idea that Swedes were anything other than Lutheran. Second, I thought that any Swede who had converted to another denomination did so only once they had reached the United States, not in Sweden. Third, I was unaware of the extent of 19th century trade between Britain and Sweden or the consequent export of organised non-Conformism to Sweden from these shores.

In this post, we return to America (now and again) and to Dwight Moody. I also hadn’t realised he had such an effect on Swedish pietists until I read David Gustafson’s book, D L Moody and Swedes, a thorough and fascinating examination of the subject. Dr Gustafson teaches at Linköping University in the Department of Arts and Sciences.

I shall briefly attempt to summarise key points of how important this episode of the late 19th century would be for both parties. (Page numbers indicated below are PDF pages and might not tie in with the printed page number.)

Yesterday’s post mentioned that after Carl Olof Rosenius died, Paul Peter Waldenström (1838 – 1917) succeeded him as editor of the magazine in Sweden, Pietisten. Waldenström already had a considerable following in Sweden among the Mission Friends. Consequently, the American pastors of Swedish descent who were part of the Augustana Synod invited him to teach at the Augustana seminary in Chicago. Although this fell through, Waldenström remained popular over the next several years with the Swedish Mission Friends in Chicago, especially as the Augustana Synod returned to more orthodox doctrine and practice. The Mission Friends were keen to continue with revivals and pietism. As such, their Chicago mission had already broken away from the Synod and they formed four more congregations in Iowa and Illinois, including Galesburg, where one of Rosenius’s disciples had established the mission church. (p. 68)

A Danish pastor who had emigrated with his family as a child, Charles A Anderson, began working with Swedish Mission Friends. He was pastor of the Second Lutheran Church in Galesburg, which had separated from the Augustana Synod. Anderson also created a new synod, the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Mission in the United States.  He also published a newsletter, Zions Banér, which published a report about Dwight L Moody’s 1874 revival in Scotland. Anderson described Moody’s pietistic traits of resistance to denominational confessionalism, an abundance of (notional) holiness and a love for the Word of God. He added that Moody was already well known to Swedish immigrants in Illinois. (pp 69, 70)

By then, Moody was travelling between his home in Northfield, Massachusetts, and his church in Chicago as well as other destinations in the United States and Great Britain.

Because of the cross-pollination of non-Conformist influences and ongoing trade between Sweden and Britain, it was natural that Swedish newspapers would cover Moody’s and Sankey’s two-year revival in England, Scotland and Ireland (not yet an independent republic). This revival captured the imagination of the Mission Friends in Sweden and started a five-year ‘Moody fever’. (p. 73)

Adolf Drake, a Baptist seminary instructor at the denomination’s seminary in Stockholm, published a newspaper, Wecko-Posten, widely circulated not only in Baptist but also in Lutheran circles. Wecko-Posten faithfully chronicled the Moody revival in the British Isles. The paper carried 30 articles on the revival between 1874 and 1875. (p. 75) It is no wonder that the names Moody and Sankey became household words in Sweden!

Martin Johansson, a Lutheran theologian who had recently been ordained a bishop at that time, contacted his Scottish friend, James Lumsden, at the Free Church College in Aberdeen. He asked Lumsden to get full details on the revival from a reliable source (p. 76). Lumsden returned a fulsome account, which got the new bishop longing for a similar phenomenon in Sweden in order to transform the Lutheran Church. By then, other Swedish newspapers were carrying reprints of the revival, spreading news of Moody and Sankey around the country. The Swedes, as well as non-Conformist Britons, found Moody’s universal appeal as an evangelist particularly striking; he attracted and preached to all denominations, never favouring one over the other. (p. 77)

Even after Moody and Sankey returned to the US, Swedish articles continued to appear in the press. Ebba Karström Ramsay (1828–1922) had been following the two around Britain and reported the intensity of the revival, including the demand for Sankey’s songbook.  Ramsay had also met Moody personally in 1875 in Liverpool and in London. (p. 80) She emphasised his personality and the force of his preaching, noting that he was not particularly attractive physically nor a great orator.  However, he galvanised his audiences into prayer and conversion. The newspaper for which she wrote, Wäktaren, went on to publish one of Moody’s sermons as well as a letter from Sankey (p. 81)

More of Moody’s letters appeared in other newspapers, brimming over with evangelical enthusiasm. A newspaper was the closest medium people had to a near-live experience. (p. 82) The cinema, radio and television were still some years away.  The public could not get enough and nor, apparently, could newspaper editors and journalists, some of whom converted through the efforts of pietism. Nya Posten‘s editor Karl Erixon was one of them; the newspaper would publish eight of Moody’s sermons and seven of the aforementioned Paul Peter Waldenström. Other articles included extensive descriptions of Moody’s church in Chicago. (p. 84)

In Britain, several authors published books about the recent Moody revival. (p. 84) In Sweden, stories of the revival as well as more sermons and biographies soon followed.  Ebba Karström Ramsay was among the authors and translators and turned some material into tracts which could easily be handed out to people free of charge. (p. 85)

In 1875, Sankey’s songs were translated into Swedish by a handful of publishers. Two years later, the number of versions and editions had multiplied such that the expression ‘Moody fever’ came into being. Sankey’s songbook was equally important to the pietists, who enjoyed sacred music as part of their tradition.  (p. 88)

In 1876, Swedish evangelical societies began publishing tracts of Moody’s sermons (p. 90), which gained an immense circulation among a pietist audience hungry for the presence of a religious hero none of them would ever meet. Charodotes Meurling (1847–1923) of the Jönköping Mission
Society described the revivals that took place during that time, where Swedish preachers would use Moody’s sermons as part of their evangelisation:

Moody’s simple but bold sermons were translated into our language, were read in homes, and were used as a model by a large number of preachers when they preached the gospel of Christ. The preacher of the Word then did not merely try to impress his listeners with doctrine; people had begun to get tired of that manner of preaching. Now the preachers presented the Word as a “spear and nails to the conscience,” and they did not miss in their aim. Revival also broke out in our country as never before, or at least, as far as one had lived to see. Like a mighty wave, it flowed into all parts of our country, making its way up to the heights of society and down to the lowest ranks. It pushed its way into the King’s palace and into the poor house. During the height of the summer of 1876, it reached our congregation. 141  (p. 91)

Eric August Skogsbergh (1850–1939), also of the Jönköping Mission Society, described his revival experience during this time. He began his mission work as a colporteur — handing out tracts — then went on to sing Sankey’s songs before becoming well known as ‘the Swedish Moody’:

I was one of those who began to spread these songs, and I sang them to people wherever I went. It was wonderful—what an impression these simple and easy-to-sing songs made on the people. Believers here and there prayed to God that the Spirit would also come to Sweden and work, and one already sensed a breeze from the London meetings. And in my simplicity, I wanted more than once to visit London and become acquainted with these men in order, if possible, to participate in the divine powers that worked through them.147  (p. 92)

In 1876, an American ‘disciple’ of Moody’s, Eli Johnson, arrived in Sweden, touring the country and preaching abstinence in a Gospel context. (p. 94) Although he preached in English, his Swedish audiences clearly felt his message. (p. 95)  He had already worked extensively with alcoholics and would evangelise not only around the United States but also Britain and Australia. (p. 96)

That same year, ecumenical gatherings of Protestant clergy in Sweden met to discuss a goal of Christian unity: less dogma, fewer differences, more co-operation and repeal of state laws against laypeople preaching. Open Communion and certain doctrinal views also came to the fore. (p. 107) The participants evoked Moody’s name and example. Paul Peter Waldenström came under censure by the Lutheran evangelical society EFS for a relaxation of the rules of ordination in Sweden, requiring adherence to Lutheran confessions of faith. (p. 108) Nonetheless, he was not deterred. As word spread of his stance, confessional Lutherans became increasingly disconcerted.

Here is something with which I can empathise (emphasis mine), as I do not like the use of one term which is supposed to fit all in a false unity:

Even the popular use of the adjective “Christian” indicated “the new indifference toward denominations and confessions, as well as Moody’s influence to break down confessional walls.”96  (p. 114)

Lutheran clergy (rightly) criticised Moody for this blurring of confessional differences as well as his enthusiastic and instantaneous notional conversions. Worse were his promises of salvation. (p. 115)

My interjection here: This is the problem with emotion in worship — any of it — especially pietism and all its offspring. It leads to confessional error, false unity and scriptural confusion. Just as pietists of whatever stripe — Baptist, Wesleyan or Lutheran — don’t wish to be confused with confessional denominations or Catholics, similarly, we do not wish to be confused with other churches, either. Let’s take a hint from this story and define ourselves as we are — by denomination. If that’s divisive, too bad.

But I digress.

Gustafson asks us to note that Moody fever

preceded the largest wave of Swedish immigration to America. Many Swedish immigrants, especially Mission Friends, arrived in America already familiar with Moody’s sermons and Sankey’s songs. In Chicago, Swedish Mission Friends came directly under his influence, as well as that of Moody’s circle and Chicago Avenue Church. The year 1876 was pivotal for Mission Friends in America, the year when Moody began his revival campaign in Chicago, sparking a Swedish-American “Moody fever” in the United States. From his city-wide evangelistic campaign in the Windy City, a group of “freer” Mission Friends emerged following Moody in America as well as Waldenström in Sweden rather than the tradition of Rosenius and Lutheran läsare. (p. 122)

Most of these immigrants settled in Chicago, with other large populations in New York City, Minneapolis-St Paul, Seattle and Rockford (Illinois). (p. 122)  Chicago became the Swedish-American centre, with the population of Swedish immigrants doubling to over 12,000 in 1880. Most of them flocked to Moody’s Chicago Avenue Church, disappointed to find out he had no personal connection with Sweden but thrilled to hear him preach. (p. 123)

In Moody’s Chicago Revival of 1876, he used new arrivals from Sweden to help evangelise on more individual levels. (p. 128)  Some of these men continued to work for Moody afterwards in planting non-denominational churches, working with other denominational missionary societies on site.  (p. 130)

Dr Gustafson has done sterling work in writing this volume. The research must have been daunting. However, he writes clearly and engagingly.  He doesn’t need an ordinary blogger to tell him that, however, if any of you are or know of someone who wants to read more about the life of Dwight Moody, especially with regard to Swedish immigrants, you cannot do better than this outstanding book.


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