Paul Rader (1879-1938), evangelist and radio broadcaster, was born in Denver, Colorado, the son of a conservative Methodist clergyman and his wife. Educated at the University of Colorado and various Methodist colleges including Hamline University, Rader was ordained into the Congregational ministry in 1904. However, he became disillusioned with the Social Gospel teachings he espoused and quit the ministry in 1909. While in New York City on business in 1912 Rader heard the preaching of CMA founder A. B. Simpson and underwent a profound “re-conversion” experience. Rader joined the ranks of the organization’s travelling revivalists. While conducting a campaign in Chicago in 1914 he came to the attention of the prestigious Moody Church and accepted an offer to become its pastor, a position he held until 1921.
In the summer of 1922 Rader found himself back in Chicago at the invitation of former supporters, and by the end of the year Rader committed himself to head up a new Chicago Gospel Tabernacle. Rader’s “Tab” became a regional center for Midwestern fundamentalists, featuring nightly services, programs targeting all age groups and, most importantly, a burgeoning presence in the new field of radio broadcasting. Between 1925 and 1930 his Tabernacle was the largest religious presence on Chicago radio, relying almost totally on the financial gifts of his listeners to purchase air-time, a strategy that would in later years become the template for conservative religious broadcasters. The coming of the Depression, coupled with Rader’s reluctance to scale back amid growing debt, proved disastrous: in 1933 his organization was forced to declare bankruptcy. Bereft of his high profile venue, Rader wandered from one venture to another until his death from cancer in 1938.
Rader’s example had a profound impact on the shape and direction of the emerging evangelical movement in the 1940s and beyond, not only in evangelical broadcasting but via a number of protégés who went on to found important evangelical parachurch organizations including Youth for Christ, Awana children’s programs, the Slavic Gospel Association, and HCJB missionary radio in Ecuador.
For further reading, see Larry Eskridge, “Only Believe: Paul Rader and the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, 1922-1933,” (MA thesis: University of Maryland, 1985); R.L. Niklaus, et al., All For Jesus: God at Work in the Christian and Missionary Alliance for One Hundred Years (Christian Publications, 1986).