Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How George Whitefield Prepared America for Revolution

Jerome Dean Mahaffey offers a compelling case for George Whitefield's decisive contribution to the American Revolution in the book Preaching Politics:
'The intellectual & enthusiastic cooperation of elements within the New Light & Old Light camps that enabled a succesful Revolution'
Three elements stand out. First. George Whitefield's smart strategy eventually resolved the tensions between the New Lights & Old Lights as he writes to Gilbert Tennent in 1747:
'I can now send you good news from the Northward. My reception at Boston, and elsewhere in New-England, was like unto the first.....Congregations were rather larger than ever, and opposers' mouths were stopped." Whitefield was so encouraged that he was reminded of the revival in 1740.

they had ironed out a working partnership that would be called to duty in the next two decades in the fight against the French and to defy the scheme to establish an Anglican episcopacy in America, which, as people feared, might undermine the authority of colonial governments.'
Second, George Whitefield's preaching gave the different communities the tools to transcend their natural community limits:
'Awakening preaching, among other things, served to break down the form of community expressed through traditional religion. In the traditional scheme, one's identity and religion were by-products of national/religious heritage. In other words, if our church is, let's say, Dutch Reformed and serves as a symbol of our national identity, then "we are all, Christians." The revivalists said, "No, true religion is personal, and each one must choose Christianity personally." The genuine believers became a community having more in common with the other newly born converts down the road than relatives next door.

As ties of nationality faded, the religious ties of a citizenship in the kingdom of God served to bind people into a more inclusive community with a reason and will for increasing the amount of intercolonial contact. Consequently, believers from different national backgrounds could converse with a common vocabulary that transcended any cultural or political differences.'
Third, emphasis on the relationship of the individual to God in George Whitefield's preaching translated into revolutionary pamphlets:
'the Revolutionary polemicists found it necessary to undermine the monarch with religious arguments that privileged the relationship of the people to God over a community's right to choose its preferred form of government. This fact suggest that Lockean liberalism or republicanism ideals wer not as profoundly embedded, or at least as widespread, in the minds of colonists. '
Brent Winter, (I found him while searching for the origin of the word 'Whig') in the video below (at 32:00) makes perfectly clear how George Whitefield's preaching functioned:

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