I recently caught up with Kevin Belmonte about his book D.L. Moody – A Life: Innovator, Evangelist, World Changer. Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

Trevin Wax: How did the Chicago fire impact Moody’s life and ministry?

Dl Moody A Life cover photoKevin Belmonte: On a personal level, it was devastating. Moody and his wife Emma lost a home they loved. And on the night of the fire, they sent their daughter and son for safety’s sake to stay with friends.

That said, it was unknown for several hours whether the children had indeed reached safety, and their daughter remembered that Emma Moody’s hair began to turn white during that awful night of worry.

In terms of the future course of Moody’s life and legacy, he relocated to his birthplace, Northfield, Massachusetts, within a year or so of the Chicago fire.

To be sure, Chicago always held a special place in his heart, not least because of the famous mission school he started there in the slum called Little Hell – a school Abraham Lincoln once visited in 1860.

And of course, he founded the Chicago Avenue Church there (the predecessor of the great Moody Church today) and the Chicago Bible Institute (the forerunner of Moody Bible Institute).

But increasingly, in the years after the fire, Northfield became Moody’s base of operations, with all that this meant for the schools he founded there, the world-famous “Northfield Summer Conferences,” the Student Volunteer Movement, and much else besides.


Northfield Auditorium Towers

Northfield Auditorium Towers

Trevin: In what ways did Moody’s ministry and ecumenical partnerships lay the groundwork for the neo-evangelical movement led by Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and Harold Ockenga?

Kevin Belmonte: Moody’s mere Christianity was at the heart of his public profession of faith. It was never more in evidence than when he said:

“Talk not of this sect and that sect, of this party and that party, but solely and exclusively of the great comprehensive cause of Christ …. There should be one faith, one mind, one spirit – and in this city let us … actualize this glorious truth …. Let us contend for Christ only … May the Spirit of God may give us one mind and one spirit to glorify His holy name.”

One might say as well that if C.S. Lewis was the great champion of “mere Christianity” in the 20th century, Moody was the same in the 19th. Why so?

1. Look at the four schools Moody founded. When created, Moody Bible Institute – or the Chicago Bible Institute, its name in Moody’s lifetime – was, in his phrase, “undenominational, or, better, interdenominational.”

The Northfield Seminary, Mount Hermon School, and The Northfield Bible Training School were just the same.

By Moody’s death in 1899, over 5,000 young people, from 18 countries, had been educated in The Northfield Seminary and Mount Hermon School alone. That’s reflective of considerable influence among educators and young people of his time.

2. Look at the books published as part of “The Moody Colportage Library,” a series of books which sold in the millions during his lifetime and had an international readership.

This library was described as “a series of books by well-known Christian authors, undenominational, thoroughly evangelistic, for all classes of readers, in several languages.”

3. Look at the world-famous Northfield Summer Conferences, held for two decades prior to Moody’s death in 1899. Eight hundred students from Yale alone attended them. These conferences were noted for their “catholicity.”

The description given by Moody’s Irish-born son-in-law, A.P. Fitt, is revealing:

“… not a single truth held by evangelical Christianity has failed of due honor in the teaching from the Northfield platform. Not only so, but presentation has been effected through men of every branch of the universal church. A bishop may be followed by an unordained evangelist.

This means more than mere interdenominationalism. While no sect or denomination is ever allowed to present the particular point or points of its difference, it is felt that each stands for certain truths held alike by all branches of evangelical Christianity. Hence, while no controversy arises to mar the sweetness of fellowship, there results a majestic harmony of affirmation.

The value to constructive faith of this agreement…can hardly be overestimated. Northfield undoubtedly finds in this one great secret of its influence.”

In the last summer of his life, 1899, Mr. Moody himself defined the Northfield Conference platform:

“The central idea of the Northfield Conference is Christian unity, and the invitation is to all denominations and to all wings of denominations; but it is understood that along with the idea of Christian unity goes the Bible as it stands.

We seek at these meetings to find points of common belief. Too frequently when Christians get together they seek for the points upon which they differ, and then go at it. The Christian denominations too often present a spectacle of a political party split into factions…”

4. Look at the writers represented in Moody’s classic anthology: One Thousand and One Thoughts from My Library (1898). Here, Moody cited 225 authors – covering nearly all the centuries from the advent of Christianity to 1898.

Of ancient writers, Moody owned books that held the wisdom of Anselm, Augustine, Seneca, and Tertullian. Christian mystics were represented in the writings of Madame Guyon, Madame Swetchine, and Thomas à Kempis.

Catholic writers were also on his shelves. Apart from those already cited, Moody’s book held selections from Francis de Sales and Nicolas Caussin.

The Anglican/Episcopalian tradition was well represented in passages from Richard Baxter, Phillips Brooks, Richard Cecil, John Newton, Jeremy Taylor, and H.W. Webb-Peploe, prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. Puritan writers had a place as well, among them Thomas Brooks and John Flavel.

Moody often cited women writers such as Geraldine Guinness, Frances Ridley Havergal, Leila Mott, Elizabeth Prentiss, and Hannah Whitall Smith.

Many dissenters as well, from across the denominational landscape, were in Moody’s book, including John Bunyan, Thomas Chalmers, Timothy Dwight, A.J. Gordon, Matthew Henry, Blaise Pascal, and Charles Spurgeon.

One key theme sets Moody’s book apart. It’s a very fine anthology in its own right, but it also stands testament to the emphasis on mere Christianity that pervaded his life and career.

5. Look at the tribute paid by distinguished Moody scholar Dr. Lyle W. Dorsett:

“Although he saw no virtue in abolishing denominational distinctives, he carried an abiding aversion to focusing on what he considered nonessentials. He particularly disliked labeling, criticizing, then breaking fellowship with brothers and sisters of different traditions.”

Dorsett also wrote that “class lines as well as denominational ones were constantly crossed” during the revival in Great Britain during the 1870s.

6. Look at the church Moody founded in Chicago. Will Moody, his son and biographer, said of The Illinois Street Church:

“There was mutual concession in unessentials. If some parents wished to have their infants christened this was [done]; but if there were others who were convinced that they must receive the believer’s baptism and that by immersion, this too was provided for by a special baptistry built beneath the pulpit. In the fellowship of the Illinois Street Church, at its inception, was illustrated the spirit of the old Latin motto: ‘In essentials loyalty; in unessentials liberty; in all things charity.’”

The manual of this church, when its name changed to The Chicago Avenue Church after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, was “revised by Mr. Moody and his brethren, a short time previous to his departure for England” in 1873. That manual stated:

“This body of believers desire to be known only as Christians, without reference to any denomination; yet regarding all who hold and preach the truth contained in our articles of faith as equally belonging to the same Head; and are thereby free to co-operate and unite with them in carrying on the work of our common Master.”

7. Last of all, look at the Dedication Bronze for the Memorial Chapel at The Mount Hermon School.

It celebrates the Anglo-American heritage of Mere Christianity. Though built expressly as a memorial for Moody’s sixtieth birthday, he wouldn’t allow this to be mentioned on the bronze tablet in the vestibule, which reads:

“This chapel was erected by the united contributions of Christian friends in Great Britain and the United States, for the glory of God and to be a perpetual witness to their unity in the service of Christ.”

The graves of Moody and his wife Emma

Educating Our Kids: Exploring the Options

41xJ1AnTzGLIt’s the “back-to-school” time of year: the season of buying textbooks, gathering school supplies, and meeting your kids’ teachers. But should it be?

Should Christians leave the public schools and send their children to private or Christian schools? What about homeschooling?

Nothing revs up a parent more than having a family’s educational choice questioned or challenged. But I believe it’s important to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to schooling, and I think we can do so in a civil and respectful manner.

The book Perspectives on Your Child’s Education presents four major options for the Christian family. Each contributor makes a case for his preference and then defends it after being critiqued by the other contributors. Here are three of those choices (I’ve combined the “open-admission” and “covenantal” Christian schools into one), and the strengths and weaknesses of each:

Option #1: Public School System

Troy Temple makes a case for considering public schooling. He does not believe parents should send their children there as “missionaries,” though some speak that way. Neither does he believe public schooling should be required of all Christians. But he does believe public schooling in places where teachers are at least respectful to Christianity is a legitimate option.

The Case For

  • The Christian family has opportunities to serve the school and be involved in the lives of the lost.
  • The Christian family has the opportunity to be a witness in conversation and communication.
  • Shelter and safety for our kids should not be the priority of Christian parents, but the Great Commission.

The Case Against

  • The secular worldview of the public school system distorts the goals of education and excludes value judgments that are an important part of education.
  • Should Christian families allow 30 percent of their children’s waking hours be in an environment that is implicitly anti-Christian?
  • It is not necessary for the Christian family to partner with the public school in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

Option #2: Christian School

G. Tyler Fisher makes a case for open-admission Christian schooling, and Mark Eckel argues for covenantal Christian schools. These positions are more alike than different, so I will treat them together here. These authors believe that holistic education must include Christian teaching (over against the public school advocate) and that teachers well trained in their fields are best equipped to give children the skills to succeed (over against homeschool advocates).

The Case For

  • Education is unavoidably theological, and a Christian school provides a biblical framework that builds God-centered purpose into every part of life.
  • Christian teachers serve as partners with Christian parents to instruct children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
  • A Christian school trains children to identify, analyze, and critique unbiblical worldviews.

The Case Against

  • Christian schools create a “huddle” mentality and can isolate children from opportunities to interact with unbelievers in the world.
  • Christian schooling is not as efficient as homeschooling, and teachers can never replace parents as the primary educators.
  • Christian schools do not necessarily do a better job than public schools when it comes to academics.

Option #3: Homeschooling

Michael Wilder makes a case for homeschooling, since Scripture places on parents the ultimate responsibility for a child’s education. Because public schooling fails to utilize a Christian philosophy of education and because many Christian schools do not live up to their high standards, Wilder believes homeschooling is often (not always) the best choice.

The Case For

  • Formal education is one aspect of a larger, integrated discipleship process – a responsibility that belongs to parents.
  • Parents can be flexible in the educational environment they create and in how to best instruct their children.
  • Homeschooling takes responsibility for education back from the state and returns it to the family.

The Case Against

  • Parents may not have the education they need to prepare their children to succeed academically. Schools provide expert interaction beyond what parents can provide.
  • Isolation from the culture can hinder the church’s mission in the world and lead the family into a “clannish” mentality.
  • Unless parents intentionally seek social opportunities, children may experience inadequate socialization.

Which Option Do You Choose?

Before opening the discussion, I believe it’s important to remember that the church is united by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not by agreement on the best approach to educating our children. It worries me whenever I visit a church where every family has chosen the same educational path (whether it be an exclusively homeschool family church, Christian school clique, or public school involvement). Bible-believing Christians can and do come to different conclusions on this matter.

But our differences should not preclude good and open conversation. Whichever option you choose, you will be served well by people who disagree with you, who point out the weaknesses to your approach. That way, we can acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each and then seek to minimize whatever weaknesses our approach entails.

How have you come to a conclusion regarding education? And why?

I caught up with Raymond Johnson at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention where we talked about our individual Ph.D. work. In talking about our favorite subject (the Gospels!), Raymond shared some fascinating insights from his research in Matthew. I asked him to share here on the blog.


One of the keys to reading the Gospels well is to read them with the literary features of a narrative in mind. This is especially true when reading the carefully crafted literary masterpiece known as the Gospel of Matthew.

Two of the crucial questions readers can ask while trying to understand individual scenes throughout the Gospel are:

  1. “Where will I see this again?”
  2. “Where have I seen this before?”

This is particularly pertinent when interpreting the beginning of the Gospel narrative in light of the end, as well as the end of the Gospel narrative in light of the beginning. For, at both the beginning and end of his Gospel, one of Matthew’s chief concerns is clarifying the identity of “Jesus”—Who is this man?

Parallels in Jesus’ Birth and Death

A familiar example for readers can be seen in the uniqueness of the events surrounding the birth and death of Jesus. On the one hand, at the beginning of the Gospel he is

  • conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20)
  • in the womb of a virgin (Matt 1:18)
  • in fulfillment of the Scriptures (Matt 1:23)
  • after being announced in a dream by an angel (Matt 1:20).

On the other hand, at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, after crying out with an earth-rending voice and yielding his spirit (Matt 27:50), several cataclysmic events occur:

  • the curtain of the temple is torn (Matt 27:51a),
  • the earth shakes (Matt 27:51b),
  • the rocks split (Matt 27:51c),
  • the tombs open (Matt 27:52a),
  • and lifeless people whom Matthew calls “saints” are raised to life (Matt 27:52b).

Again, when Jesus was born, children were slaughtered (Matt 2:16); when Jesus died, the dead were raised to life (Matt 27:52).

Reading with the literary features of a narrative in mind accentuates Matthew’s point—Jesus is one uniquely born; Jesus is one who uniquely dies. The uniqueness surrounding his life teaches us something about his identity and mission.

Parallels in Jesus’ Baptism and Death

A less familiar example can be seen in the scene preceding Jesus’ death and how it alludes to the imagery of his baptism; how it further clarifies the identity of the man called, “Jesus.” At his baptism:

  • Jesus speaks (Matt 3:15),
  • the Spirit descends upon him (Matt 3:16),
  • and the Father audibly testifies from heaven to his identity (Matt 3:17).

In the very next Gospel-scene after God the Father identifies Jesus as the Son with whom he is pleased (Matt 3:17), Satan challenges Jesus identify (Matt 4:3, 6).

Similarly, immediately prior to his death, the pharisaic naysayers challenge the identity of Jesus (Matt 27:40, 43).

Then, after crying out with a loud voice twice (Matt 27:46, 50) an unnerving silence pervades the scene before Jesus yields the Spirit and dies (Matt 27:50). It is only after Jesus’ death that Matthew notes how the Father testifies to Jesus’ identity as the “the Son of God” by means of the cosmological and apocalyptic imagery (Matt 27:45, 51-53); it is only after his death that the gentile centurion positively identifies him as the Son of God in response to the events that testify to his identity (Matt 27:54).

Why the Parallels Matter

The question, then, is “Why did Matthew intentionally employ this imagery in his Gospel-narrative?” The narrative structure is intended to accentuate Jesus’ identity—at his birth, wise men are confounded as a star guides them to the Lord of heaven and earth (Matt 2:1-12); at his death, the heavens, which he created, mourn in darkness (Matt 27:45) and the earth, which he created, breaks (Matt 27:51), giving back the dead as a testimony to his dominion as the Son of God (Matt 28:18).

As the Son of God, he saves people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Further, Matthew’s intentionality in his narrative structure is intended to accentuate the mission Jesus’ death necessitates—his death is life-giving and ultimately salvific for persons from every nation who profess faith in his name (Matt 28:16-20; cf. 27:54). Since Jesus is the Son of God and his life is unlike any other life, his death is a life-giving death (Matt 27:52); since Jesus is the Son of God and his life is unlike any other life, his death has meaning for the nations (Matt 27:54; 28:16-20).

Matthew concludes his Gospel with a reference to the beginning of his Gospel emphasizing the missional implications of Jesus’ life, for Jesus “bears fruit” through the disciples he promises to be with until the end of the age as they are on mission for the renown of the Triune God (Matt 28:20; cf. 1:23).


Raymond and his wife, Meghan, live in Louisville with their three daughters, Abigail, Charlotte, and Emily. He is a Ph.D. student in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is on the ministerial staff at Ninth & O Baptist Church, teaches preaching as an adjunct instructor at Boyce College, and is the Assistant Director of Student & Alumni Services at Southern Seminary. Follow him on Twitter at @raymondj17.

Are you conservative?

Or are you progressive?

Both terms bother me.

To be a “conservative” implies that your primary impulse is to conserve something valuable from history or tradition. But not everything from history or tradition is worth “conserving.” Much of the past has been relegated to the dust heap, and deservedly so.

To be a “progressive” implies that your primary impulse is to progress beyond the present and lead the way toward better days. Sounds great. But not everything we foresee in the future is worth pursuing. Much of what society considers progress today could one day be tossed aside as ridiculous.

So, conservatives appeal to the past, and progressives appeal to the future. And since the problems of the past are on full display and the problems of the future are often unknown, the conservative task is difficult in every generation, for the conservative must make a careful case for retrieving and cherishing good aspects of the past without wanting to “go back.” The progressive has an easier job, since the term itself implies growth toward the common good.

But when we take a deeper look at how the progressive label is applied, we often see people appealing to an imaginary calendar instead of providing sound argumentation.

The Imaginary Calendar

There’s no reason to assume that the position we hold to is right because it’s Tuesday and not Monday. And yet, that’s the kind of ”appeal to the calendar” we often witness in popular progressive circles.

To paraphrase our secretary of state’s warnings to Russia: “We’re living in the 21st century now! You just can’t do that anymore.” To which the Russians giggle and proceed to defy the calendar we have imagined into existence.

“I realized it was time,” politicians say about why they are now in favor of redefining marriage. “It’s time” may be rhetorically powerful to some, but it shouldn’t be confused with actually making a case.

  • N. T. Wright calls vague appeals to “the future” a smokescreen.
  • C. S. Lewis believed it was chronological snobbery to appeal to progress as if the future is assured and the past is irrelevant.
  • G. K. Chesterton believed that democracy means listening to the dead, not just the living. Dissenting is a sign of life, for ”a dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Progressives want to be bold and courageous, to take their place at the vanguard of the future, but there’s nothing particularly world-changing about seeing where the train of history appears to be chugging, throwing yourself on top of the engine, and then imagining you’re the one making the train go.

Besides, if the past is any indication, the history train makes plenty of unpredictable turns.

Progressives and Eugenics

100 years ago, progressives were falling all over themselves to affirm eugenics. Sterilizing people from unwanted groups would purify the gene pool and lead to a better society. Who could be against that? 

Most people today, thankfully.

Those who dissented from the cultural orthodoxy surrounding eugenics a century ago were seen as hopelessly backward, but it was their position that stood the test of time. The “progressive” eugenicists eliminated themselves from the pool of popular opinion, although remnants of eugenic thought still persist in institutions of higher learning.

Progressives and Abortion

One of the most contentious issues facing our nation today is that of abortion. Views on abortion that get called ”progressive” always seem to be in favor of relaxing restrictions. Why is that so? If we see the abortion debate from the standpoint of protecting humans from a violent demise, then shouldn’t the protective measures enacted in the last decade be seen as “progressive?”

Flash back 200 years ago. “Progressive” doctors like Horatio Storer were rallying to expose abortionists, shut down abortion mills, and protect women and children. All their work was later undone by a “progressive” Supreme Court decision that sanctioned the slaughter of fifty million little human beings. See the problem? The label of “progress” lets us down.

Progressives and Divorce

When it comes to marriage, somehow it’s “progressive” to relax divorce laws and make it easier for a couple to abandon their covenant commitments and walk away from their children.

But has no-fault divorce led to “progress” for the family? It’s only progress if you see marriage as a commitment based on romantic feelings, and the needs of children as second to our emotional unions. Today, the world is full of children who know firsthand the pain of broken families, who, when grown, often repeat the cycle in their own lives.

Progressives and Sex

It’s “progressive” to say that all consensual sex between adults is acceptable. But has this led to progress for women? Is cohabitation without marital commitment “progress” for the family? Whatever one thinks about sexual morality, is it accurate to call the sexual brokenness and female degradation we see today “progress?”

It’s “progressive” to argue for sex-change operations, as if we are purely spiritual beings whose physical bodies are irrelevant to who we really are inside. But what if, a century from now, people look back at today’s “progressives” with horror: How could they celebrate the mutilation of their bodies? They thought this was progress?

Progressives and Marriage

It’s “progressive” to be for same-sex marriage, overturning the male/female definition of marriage that has been supported by every civilization for thousands of years. But just how is it progress to envision a family unit where a child is denied the blessing of a mother and father?

In the past, we’ve mourned the tragedy of a child losing a mother or father to death or divorce. Today, we’re seeking to enshrine such a vision into law, to celebrate a family where gender is irrelevant. Is this progress? Or is the bandwagon trampling common sense?

The Myth of Progress

The list could be multiplied. A century ago, the progressives were the ones smashing saloon windows and pushing Prohibition. Today’s progressives look back at such antics as antiquated and backward.

All this to say, progress and progressivism are powerful myths, but they remain just that – myths. Just as the conservative needs to carefully consider what in the past should be “conserved,” the progressive needs to think deeply about how we define “progress.”

After all, totalitarian regimes from Nero’s Rome to Hitler’s Germany have always claimed their policies will usher the world forward in a utopian state, and they use both “conservative” and “progressive” arguments to make the case. The Russians thought they were pushing progress during the Cold War, with Kruschev saying “History is on our side and we will bury you.”

Today, the United States imagines a calendar of progress solidified by our military and economy, with our way of life responsible for spreading freedom to the world and overcoming evil. But not everything we view as “progress” is worth spreading.

Progress must always be measured by a standard.

We make progress as we work hard and move toward an ideal. The temptation, however, is to change the ideal. And that’s why we’d rather trade the ideals of heaven for the shifting sands of popular opinion. To exchange God’s design for human flourishing with our paltry human inventions.

So take note. What passes for “progress” today is often just a slow and steady burrowing into the ground. And the minions below don’t care what we call ”progress,” as long as we are in descent.

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