him when he tried to alter sacramental practices inherited from Stoddard. But the reception that greeted his rendering of the 1735 revival showed that the day of a more affectional, more conversionistic, less traditional, and less hierarchical Protestantism had arrived.
Even more broadly indicative of a new religious era was the labour of George Whitefield, who first came to America in 1738. Whitefield was a young man who preached traditional Calvinism, an ordained Anglican who flouted church conventions by preaching out-of-doors or wherever he could gather a crowd, an advocate of the older Puritan spirituality who exploited the most up-to-date strategies of marketing and communications, and a person of genuinely self-effacing piety who became one of the great celebrities of the age. Whitefield came to America ostensibly to manage an orphanage in Georgia modelled after the Pietist institution in Halle. But his real business was to preach. Especially memorable tours in and around Philadelphia from 3 April to 5 June 1740 (during which he mesmerized the secular Benjamin Franklin) and in New England from 14 September to 13 October of the same year (during which he and Jonathan Edwards explored their considerable spiritual affinity) marked Whitefield as the first person widely known in all of the colonies that would later constitute the United States. More importantly, his preaching - direct, personal, improvisational, dramatic, popular, and affecting - pointed away from religion conceived as an inherited frame of life to religion conceived as a function of personal choice. That Whitefield inspired many imitators and drew the fire of many enemies was less important for the long term than that he had inaugurated a new approach to religion that would flourish in North America as nowhere else in the world. The key was a faith that embraced much of traditional Christianity but was appropriated personally in a more modern individualistic form.
The revival was both a sign and precipitate of fundamental change. It left New England Puritanism shattered into competing parties - liberals like Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Mayhew, who were pushed by revival enthusiasms to stronger advocacy of rational moralism; conservative Old Lights like Isaac Stiles of North Haven, Connecticut, who struggled to maintain Calvinism in its traditional establishmentarian form; New Lights who followed Edwards in seeking to rejuvenate the comprehensive Puritan churches with the new wine of revival; and Separates who held that the experimental Calvinism preached by Edwards and Whitefield required congregations oftrue believers to come out of the stultifying established churches. In New England as throughout the rest of the colonies, the revivals spurred the labours of energetic Baptists like the theologically and politically astute Isaac Backus,
Was this article helpful?