Archive for the ‘Whitefield’ Category
The First Great Awakening [1730s and 1740s] (as well as the Second that followed [1790-1840]) relied heavily on mass marketing to get people to the revivals. Whitefield would send assistants up to two years in advance to a city to setup venue and distribute flyers. Once there, people were confronted with a serious and emotional display of their status before God apart from accepting Christ. People responded to this bad then good news by equally emotional responses. Consider what Nancy Pearcey says regarding these revivals:
This kind of intense emotional conversion experience is exactly what the camp meetings of the First and Second Great Awakenings aimed to produce. No profound teaching, no high church ceremonies, no theological subtleties, no solemn hymns. Instead the revivalists used simple vernacular language and catchy folk tunes, delivered with lively theatrics to catch people’s attention and move their emotions. Evangelical preachers broke with the older pattern of using sermons to instruct, and began to use their sermons to press hearers to a point of crisis, in order to produce a conversion experience. Instead of talking about a gradual growth in faith through participation in a church, evangelicals began to treat a one-time conversion event as the only sufficient basis for claiming to be a Christian. – Total Truth, p. 263.
The revivals were controversial. The whole of Presbyterians in America were split in two in the Old Side-New Side controversy. It is easy to empathize with people being heated over the matter. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit appeared to be doing a great work and regenerating many hearts, bringing repentance and faith all over the colonies transcending denominational lines. On the other hand, how many of these people were legitimately changed? Were people just whipped into an emotional fervor and coerced into conversion? Were these people ever connected to a local church to be nurtured, catechized, and discipled?
Jonathan Edwards, although not a Presbyterian, sought to bring some peace and truth to the matter and wrote Religious Affections. Edwards evenhandedly carves out a Biblical middle-ground appropriately defending the role of emotions and the heart. In essence, Edwards correctly saw that right beliefs (orthodoxy), right emotions (orthopathos), and right actions (orthopraxis) all go together.
Unfortunately, not everyone read Edwards, Religious Affections. Consider some of the seeds the First Great Awakening planted among infant evangelicals:
The focus on an emotional response; the celebrity-style leader; the engineered publicity; the individual detached from his local congregation. Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 268.
At times, we can see these seeds grown full and writ large in evangelicalism. No sub-group is immune. The Reformed types love their heroes, dead and living. The charismatics can get carried away at times. The para-church can become de facto church surrogate. The big box/megachurch/Christ-Depot/Willow Creek/Saddleback folk can sometimes get caught up in the mass marketing publicity and business model approaches.
Next time, we will look at the Second Great Awakening…
I have been reading a bit recently on evangelicalism as a movement in the United States. I want to devote a few posts to defining evangelicalism and providing some analysis of its strengths and weaknesses, past and present. I have been influenced heavily by Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism, David Well’s No Place for Truth, Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and James Davison Hunter’s Culture Wars.
We shall work our way from the past toward the present and then future, but before we do anything we must try to define evangelicalism.
Many things have served the muddy the term “evangelical” – the politicization of the Christian Right (ie. Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson), fundamentalism (is it part of evangelicalism or not), and the broadness of its history and key figures (ie. Jonathan Edwards, John Darby, and George Whitefield).
Our working definition of evangelicalism will be from David Bebbington (Cambridge), who describes the movement by four distinctives:
1. Biblicism: taking the Bible seriously (and typically holding to the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility)
2. Crucicentrism: having Jesus’ work of atonement on the cross as the central focus of the Scriptures and ministry
3. Conversionism: emphasis on need for all peoples to be converted to Christianity
4. Activism: the belief that Christians must be active in expressing their beliefs publicly
The movement has its beginnings in the First Great Awakening in the early 1700s. It was first in Great Britain and then the United States. Key to its expansion was the vivid theatrical preaching and promotional methods of George Whitefield. In 1735-1739, Whitefield first takes the preaching and revival to Great Britain. At this time John Wesley, a friend from their time at Oxford, had a dismal ministry in Georgia and was invited by Whitefield to come and take over the preaching and revivals in Great Britain. Wesley, by his own admission, was uncoverted at this time preaches until he finally believes the gospel (under the counsel of a Moravian named Peter Bohler). Whitefield then take his preaching and revival to the colonies. Whitefield preached some 18,000 sermons and gave some 12,000 exhortative speeches in his 30 years of ministry. He preached to every major city on the Eastern seaboard of the United States, crossed the Atlantic 13 times, and preached in Scotland, Wales, Great Britain, Ireland, and the Bahamas. Without amplification, Whitefield preached regularly to several thousand people. It is estimated that 80% of the entire population of the American colonies heard him preach at some point. In America alone he preached to 10 million people. It was with great fervor and very broad sowing that evangelicalism germinated.
Next time we shall examine the [controversial] methods of the First Great Awakening…