Batter Up! Baseball and Evangelism

On February 21st, baseball starts its spring training games this year. As fans prepare for another season of America’s Pastime, we remember a rough-and-tumble baseball outfielder from 140 years ago – Billy Sunday. 

Billy Sunday made a transition from a popular player in baseball’s National League during the 1880s to becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister. With frenetic energy and outsized gestures, he was the most celebrated and influential American evangelist during the first quarter of the 20th century (the first inning, if you will).

As an evangelist, Billy Sunday employed common language and a quick wit. For example, in a sermon titled “Old Time Religion,” he told his revival congregations: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

Another time, he observed that “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”

Billy was a front man for Presbyterian Reverend Dr. John Wilbur Chapman, America’s leading evangelist in the 1890s and early 1900s. Billy would set up revival meetings and publicity for Chapman. 

Billy Sunday would go on to be an ordained Presbyterian minister and receive national attention by 1910. He campaigned heavily for prohibition. Once, he had a casket carried from Union Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Capitol proclaiming, “John Barleycorn (liquor) is dead.” He was also a great inspiration to another Billy – Billy Graham.


Today’s post written by Ron Vinson, Executive Director at PHC.

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