When we floated some topic ideas for future issues of Christian History & Biography to our readers at www.christianhistory.net last year, our suggestion of "Phoebe Palmer and the American Holiness Revival" elicited a resounding "Huh?"

This was all the excuse we needed. This was one of those cases of someone almost unknown today, who actually left a Rushmore-sized impression on America's religious landscape.

Phoebe Palmer was the most influential woman in the largest, fastest-growing religious group in mid-19th-century America—Methodism. By her initiative, missions were begun, camp-meetings instituted, and many thousands attested to the transforming power of divine grace. She mothered a nationwide movement that birthed such denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army, bridged 18th-century Methodist revivalism to 20th-century Pentecostalism, and pioneered in social reform and female ministry.

And these are only a few parts of her compelling life story, which in turn is only one part of the wider story of the American holiness revival.

That larger story explains why, for example, the great evangelist D. L. Moody, nearing the end of this life, told his lieutenant R. A. Torrey to preach "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" above all else. It explains how such non-Wesleyans as Moody and Torrey used that electric phrase in a transitional sense—somewhere between an early Methodist meaning (an experience that brought a person to a new plane of holy living) and a Pentecostal meaning (a Spirit-empowerment signalled by speaking in tongues and other extraordinary spiritual gifts).

The holiness kaleidoscope

Through the holiness movement, a high proportion of 19th-century American Christians, and a hefty chunk of the 20th- ...

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