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Date of Award

Fall 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Rev. B. Fay Mills was a popular, late nineteenth century Protestant evangelist whose fame approached that of the eminent Gospel preacher, Dwight L. Moody. Preaching to audiences in large urban settings, Mills’ revivals captured headlines and significant column space as he preached sermons of individual salvation from sin from the perspective of Christian orthodoxy. Yet, just as he was reaching the very top of the field of itinerant evangelists, he changed his message to reflect his growing interest in and association with the Social Gospel movement. This thesis investigates the reasons for his shift in theological viewpoint and public proclamations. Since Mills’ personal papers did not survive, evidence had to be gathered from his few published writings, four books written to commemorate his revivals in specific American cities, and newspaper and religious journal articles. This study provides relevant biographical material on Mills and then focuses on his meetings in the cities of Louisville, Kentucky, Columbus, Ohio, and New Haven, Connecticut, because they were his biggest revivals conducted under the inspiration of his new message. Mills’ shift to the Social Gospel resulted from external and internal forces. The precipitating cause was the influence of Rev. George D. Herron, D.D., a charismatic speaker whose preaching of total social reconstruction and the human inauguration of the Kingdom of God drew Mills into his circle of followers. Mills responded to Herron’s vision, however, because of inclinations already at work, which included his family background, personal independence, disregard for abstract theological formulations, and preference for spiritual experience as a guide to truth. As these motivations combined in Mills, he attempted to innovate and use the traditional revival platform to advance his progressive agenda for the social transformation that he believed must precede the imminent advent of a perfect moral order on earth. Mills would find that the medium of church revivals did not mix with the message of radical reform in the minds of conservative Protestant leaders. He could not secure a following, and his popularity waned.

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