Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 37:4 (December 1994) p. 582
Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America. By Lyle W. Dorsett. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991, viii + 212 pp., $14.95 paper.
The inaugural volume of the Library of Religious Biography edited by M. A. Noll and N. O. Hatch is also the first full-length biography of Billy Sunday in thirty years and the first to incorporate the papers of William and Helen Sunday located in the archives of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. Dorsett estimates that eighty to ninety percent of the information in his book stems from that collection. From that perspective alone the volume updates earlier biographies of Sunday and is indispensable for any study of the evangelist and revivalism in America.
Billy Sunday was a household name in America for a quarter of a century (1910–35). Dorsett traces the humble beginnings of a man who was born in a log cabin, raised in an orphanage, played professional baseball with two teams (Chicago White Stockings and Pittsburgh Pirates), had offers to play from two other teams (Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Red Stockings), and was converted at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago before entering an evangelistic ministry internship under J. W. Chapman, which eventually led to his own evangelistic ministry.
Dorsett opens up Sunday’s inner psychological state throughout the biography. What is striking from Sunday’s early life is the emotional insecurity that he felt from being orphaned and experiencing a great deal of death in his immediate family, including his father, grandmother, four aunts and an uncle. What little security he did have he found in his pet dog while at the orphanage in Glenwood, Iowa. But when the orphanage was forced to move to Davenport, Iowa, some three hundred miles away, his dog as well as other pets were shot in the field behind the orphanage.
Such episodes of grief and separation followed Sunday into adult life. He had seasons of depression while on the road and separated from his family that only the constant encouragement of his wife Nell could dispel. In his later ministry he insisted that his wife travel with him. His wife was a mother figure and played a key role in Sunday’s success as she became the organizer of his crusades. Grief came full circle in his own family with the premature deaths of his four children.
Dorsett explores the role that women played in Sunday’s ministry—not only his wife but also the singing, administration, and women’s Bible studies of Virginia Asher and the Bible teaching ministry of Fran Miller.
Sunday was a paradigm of early-twentieth-century American society in at least two ways: (1) He personified the transition that was taking place from rural to city life. H...
Click here to subscribe