Jazz Age Evangelism: Paul Rader and the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle

Advertisement announcing the Steel Tent, which became the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle,1922. (CN 38, Folder 1-52)

Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections holds the stories of many an unsung figure in the history of evangelism, people who made an impact in their own time but are little remembered today. Such a one is Daniel Paul Rader, more widely known by his middle name Paul. The Chicago Gospel Tabernacle he started in the 1920s was a center of innovation and excitement, launching the ministries of several significant evangelical Christian figures of the next generation.

Rader was the son and grandson of ministers and was one himself for a few years, before a loss of faith led him to resign his pastorate. After leaving the ministry, Rader worked as a boxing promoter and then as an oil company representative. Around 1912 Rader experienced a renewal of his Christian faith. He became active in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, eventually serving as an assistant to C&MA founder A. B. Simpson on Simpson’s evangelistic tours. The next year Rader became an evangelist himself and preached around the United States. In 1915, he accepted the pulpit of Moody Church in Chicago and in 1919, upon the death of Simpson, Rader became the second president of C&MA.

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Music in the Archival Sphere

Music is an intricate part of every human culture, including not only the production and enjoyment of sound itself, but the place it has in shaping memory and the tone of everyday life.

Song sheet from a 1948 YFC rally in Nimes, France. (CN48, Folder 14-50)

While an expression of art, music can also be a demonstration of deep-held values, hopes and fears, both for individuals and communities. As one of the central missions of Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections includes preserving the history of evangelism and evangelical Christianity, we have sought to document the music of evangelism, in all its variety and multitude.

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“A Gal, A Plane & A Dream”

This March, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections celebrates Women’s History Month and commemorates the many women whose unique voices and stories are preserved in letters, diaries, recordings, and photographs scattered throughout our collections. Pieced together, these historical fragments offer a glimpse into the lives of faithful Christian women who fulfilled their unique vocations in a range of callings as missionaries, writers, doctors, preachers, educators, musicians, evangelists, and more.

Snapshot of Betty Greene (Printed in Mission Aviation, Summer 1948)

Today we remember the life and ministry of Elizabeth Greene (1920-1997), accomplished aviator and first pilot of Mission Aviation Fellowship, whose flying career spanned more than two decades and crisscrossed the globe from Peru to Sudan to Western New Guinea. Greene’s aviation adventures and single-minded focus on missionary service are documented in correspondence, articles, film footage, and photographs sprinkled throughout Collection 136: Records of Mission Aviation Fellowship.

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Holistic Evangelism in the Deep South: John Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries

(PF: Perkins, John)

In celebration of Black History Month this February, Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections highlights the transformational work of the Voice of Calvary Ministries, founded in Mendenhall, Mississippi by John M. Perkins – pastor, writer, and civil rights advocate.

The many reports, brochures, photographs, videos, oral history interviews, and correspondence available in Collection 362: Records of Voice of Calvary Ministries and Collection 367: Papers of John M. Perkins tell the story of a dynamic ministry that sought to emphasize evangelism in a context of holistic community development, economic distribution, and racial reconciliation.

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Out of War, An Open Door for the Gospel: Commemorating 75 Years of SEND International

Advertisement for GI Gospel Hour in Manila, Philippines, 1945. (CN 406 Folder 2-18)

World War II not only commanded the world’s attention and shaped international politics but also proved to be a decisive moment for missions’ history. Young American men and women military personnel traveled the world, saw the war’s devastation, and came face-to-face with the spiritual needs of the local populations. Their war experiences then shaped the college educations they returned to the US to complete and the futures they stepped into. But the context they returned to was also evolving. American Evangelicals were emerging from their isolation following the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy to take a more active role in church, political, entertainment, education, and business spheres. The National Association of Evangelicals was formed, the roots of Billy Graham’s ministry were already taking hold, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Navigators, and Campus Crusade for Christ were established on college and university campuses, and Youth for Christ was on the move among American high school students. Out of this convergence of factors grew new mission agencies, including Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (FEGC), now known as SEND International.

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Ring in the New, Accession the Old: 2021 Edition

As circulation and movement slowly returned, life approached closer to normal in Buswell Library Archives & Special Collections, as elsewhere, in 2021.

The first accession of 2021: 21-01 the papers of David Howard, described below.

Most of the staff worked from the office for almost the entire year and with proper precautions researchers could once more be seen reading in the Reading Room. Normalcy (to borrow President Harding’s term from just over a century ago) could be seen in other areas too. In 2020, the Archives acquired 16 accessions, totaling a little more than 9 cubic feet. In 2021 there were 45 accessions, totaling 119 cubic feet. 

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Little Hollywood on the Prairie

Was Wheaton, IL once a headquarters for cinema in the Midwest? Well, perhaps not quite. But it is true that in the middle decades of the 20th century, Wheaton was the center for the regular production of dozens of films, pioneered by the Scriptures Visualized Institute, also know as the C. O. Baptista Film Mission and C. O. Baptista Films, among other names.

Embracing their central slogan, “The Old Gospel in Modern Technique,” C.O. Baptista films represented one effort among many by Christians in the 20th century to use the possibilities of ever advancing new technologies – from recorded sound on wax cylinders to instantaneous communication via the internet – as new channels for the gospel.

The records of the Baptista Film Mission, including selections of its film catalog, are available and open for research at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives.

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Finding “A Clear Voice”: 65 Years of Christianity Today

On October 15, 1956, 65 years ago today, Christianity Today published their first issue. Explaining the place of the new magazine in an editorial titled “Why Christianity Today?”, the editors stated, “evangelical Christianity needs a clear voice, to speak with conviction, and love, and to state its true position and its relevance to the world crisis.” Employing that clear voice to wide effect, this first printing was sent to more than 250,000 pastors, seminary students, and evangelical Christian leaders across the world.

An autographed copy of this first issue, as well as correspondence, board meeting minutes, financial reports, memos, photographs, audio tapes, and other material mostly relating to the founding of the magazine and a wide range of religious, social, and political issues can be found in Collection 8: Records of Christianity Today, held here at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives.  

A copy of the first issue autographed by four of the magazine’s original five editors (CN8, Folder 14-1).
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The Form & the Message: Letterheads in the Archives

History is all about context. Usually this means the wider circumstances, including what lead up to the events we study and the mental word of the people we seek to understand. But it has a physical aspect too – the material objects that surround people, shaped by and shaping the culture of which they are a part.

Take, for example, the letterhead – the pre-printed part of a piece of stationary that gives the sender’s name, address and other information. Any archivist or scholar who goes through hundreds or thousands of letters will find amazing variety in this simple device.

Some state their data with clipped simplicity, some overflow with the sender’s beliefs, principles, mottos, and images to such a degree that they easily dominate whatever sentences can be squeezed into the remaining white space of the page.

The ability of the physical page to communicate as well as the words upon it is illustrated by the correspondence of J. Edwin Orr (1912-1987). In 2020, the Archives opened Collection 355, the papers of Orr, an influential evangelist and scholar who exchanged thousands of letters worldwide with people over half a century of ministry. What he and his correspondents wrote to each other is fascinating, insightful, and instructive. But what they wrote upon, the stationary itself, can also be charming, illustrative, and sometimes weird, quietly (or not so quietly) conveying its own message and tone.

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Mapping History: Tracing 125 Years of Africa Inland Mission

Maps are a common feature of archival collections, and the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives is no exception. The Archives’ oversize storage cases contain a wide variety of maps—thematic, navigational, topographical, and even blueprints—used for diverse range of research topics and as a popular tool in archival instruction sessions. As primary sources, maps require a specific set of skills to “read” and interpret. Like all items held in the Archives, maps are social documents, reflecting both the intentions and abilities of their creators (cartographers) as well as the needs and expectations of their anticipated users. Maps tell stories. While a single map can capture a landscape, metropolitan grid, or continent frozen in time, a series of maps can document gradual or abrupt change, like shifting national or regional boundaries, erosion of natural landmarks, or rapid urbanization. No map, however extensive or detailed, can be entirely authoritative. They are not neutral documents—maps reveal the political and cultural perspectives and biases of their creators. They can erase as well as document borders, languages, people groups, or landmarks. Finally, maps are frequently described in purely functional terms, providing information and direction to users, but in many cases they are also highly ornamental, utilizing artistic techniques to feature specific geographical or topographical features.

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