Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 35 - The Great Awakening (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-035 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> JOSHUA: I've heard of the Great Awakening in early American history. What was it? And what impact did it have? >> SPEAKER: Joshua, you've hit on a question that keeps historians employed. Was there a Great Awakening? And if there was, what was it? Some historians say what we see in the 1730�s and 1740's is a series of detached events that are largely local in nature. But other historians say, and I think they say so compellingly, is that what you see happening in the American colonies, 1730�s, 1740's, and even beyond, are the first expressions of a new kind of distinctively American religion. And that, in fact, these religious experiences that characterize the experience of individuals as well as larger groups will come to be some of the elements that pull Americans together ultimately politically during the Revolutionary period. That is to say, to use the words of one historian, John Murrin, "No awakening, no revolution." But because we did have an awakening, then there was an American Revolution. So what are we talking about here? Well, there are several significant figures who emerge when we discuss the Great Awakening. And for this answer, I'll mention especially four. Let me go to the big name first, and that is Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards, pastor at North Hampton in what is today Massachusetts, was one of the largest and most profoundly influencing figures in American religious history. He is best remembered for his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." When he preached that sermon as a guest preacher, I might add, it is rumored that people, as he continued with his powerful rhetoric, literally leapt out of their pews saying, stop, stop, we can hear no more. When, in fact, Edwards simply read the sermon largely looking in his manuscript as he made his way through the sermon, but at various times as one person put it, staring off the bell rope in the back of the church. What was it that was so powerful about the sermon and about Edwards ' preaching in general? Well, in the first place, we have to remember that Edwards was a Calvinist. He was a deeply committed man to the Reformed tradition, generally speaking. He believed in human depravity, original sin. He believed in unconditional election. He believed in a limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints, what we generally describe as TULIP theology. He was a consistent Calvinist in this regard. But what interested him was the question of why some responded to the preaching of the gospel and not others. So as he entered the ministry in the late 1720�s, he began to preach as he had been taught, began to preach. He began to teach. He began to expound upon the word of God. He began to write great and lengthy treatises, all that would come together to form a body of material, theologically speaking, that is unique among America's theologians. In his revival preaching, what Edwards did was discover, better yet, explore the response of the individual to things that were preached. So, for example, as he preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," he used very earthy, very down-to-earth kind of examples that would be understood by everybody who participated in that particular church service. Let me give you a case in point, or several, as a matter of fact. He describes, for example, in sinners, the water of God's wrath building up as behind a dam, and each time we sin, the depth of that water becomes deeper, deeper, and deeper to the point where it threatens to overcome the dam, wash it out, and ultimately destroy us. Another case in point: He talks about how we human beings walk on this earth as though we are on solid ground of our own accord. When he says if we were able to see matters from God's perspective, we would see the life we have created is simply one that has rotted and ready to collapse. In all of these circumstances, says Edwards, the only things staving off certain destruction for the individual is the fact that God has not yet withdrawn his hand of mercy. He goes on in his most famous example from this sermon. He describes the hand of God holding a spider over a fire. The God who views you as a sinner abhors you, he said. And it looks at you as a loathsome insect. And should he desire, should he in his justice, let go, your destruction would be assured. But he has not yet, said Edwards. He has not yet. The obvious questions for Christians at this point in time was then, where do we return. Here Edwards' preaching broke down because he believed that Christ had suffered and died and risen again only for the elect. So he was cautious about generally applying Christ's atonement to all people. He would say fly from the wrath that is to come. But he would allow those sinners who were elect to salvation to pursue that God. So there is a lack of distinctive Christ-centered preaching in Edwards ' greatest sermon. Nevertheless, people responded. The power of his rhetoric, the intensity of the examples that he used moved people to respond and to seek out fellowship with the church and to work out with fear and trembling their salvation. Edwards ' events, Edwards ' experience in this regard over the course of the 1730�s would really change the course of events for the American churches. But he wasn't alone. He was joined by others, perhaps a little more radical in their approach than he was. Nevertheless, they also made a tremendous impact in terms of what we call the Great Awakening. Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian preacher in New Jersey, was very famous for one sermon in particular, though he preached many and had a terrific impact. That one famous sermon is called, "The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry." In it, he criticized preaching that was dead and cold. In fact, in one very lively example, he said the preaching of the orthodox preachers is so dead and cold that the words literally freeze upon their lips as they leave their mouth. Not surprisingly, many clergy took offense and asked Tennent the question whether they were truly converted or not. That became one of the issues within the Great Awakening. Who was truly converted and who was not? The other figures we�ll talk about now gave different answers to this, despite the fact that they had commonalities between them. The two men, George Whitfield and John Wesley. Whitfield and Wesley were Englishmen, but both had a tremendous impact on Christianity in America. Whitfield, by his personal presence, he made repeated trips from Britain to America to preach in a variety of places, all the way from New England to the southern colonies. He was the first truly pan-colonial figure in American religion. What he did was to change the way people preached. Whitfield had a tremendous aura about him. Part of it was due to the fact that he was cross-eyed and people would look at him. They simply couldn't help but staring at him, and he exploited this particular characteristic of his person. But beyond that, he apparently had a terrific voice, an amazing voice that could carry for great distances, but also communicate feelings and emotions in powerful ways. For example, he is reported to have been able to move an entire congregation to tears simply by uttering the word Mesopotamia. I'm wondering if you're crying right now, or if you're laughing. On the other hand, the power of his voice, his friend, Benjamin Franklin, one time described how he was listening to Whitfield preach outdoors, without a microphone, obviously, or any kind of assistance in that regard, and simply by the strength of his voice, Franklin judged that there could have been 10,000 people who would have been able to here Whitfield preach on that particular occasion. So he brought these elements of voice and style together, but in addition, he also began to approach people in his sermons in a very profound and personal way. Whitfield emphasized the use of the second person pronoun. In earlier Calvinist preaching, there was a tendency towards the first person plural, we, us, we who are the elect, we who are in the church. Whitfield moved from that more abstract notion to a direct appeal to the individual. You, you, I'm talking to you, and your salvation is at stake. What seems to us a simple and small move, however, really proved to be profound in terms of the way it affected preaching and the response to preaching. However, some said there is a certain inconsistency here. After all, Whitfield was like Edwards, a Calvinist. And he believed in double predestination. He believed that only those God had elected to salvation would actually come to faith on the basis of his preaching. What his critics said was, you preach like you don't believe that. Well, others began to say, why preach that way, unless you really do believe that it is open to all people. And here, John Wesley would depart from the theology of his old friend Whitfield. They had both been at Oxford together in the late 1720�s and early 1730�s, but Wesley began to push things in a new direction saying, let us assume that if God, in the Scriptures, has said, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, he means just that, work it out. And that all people who have the opportunity to hear the gospel also have the opportunity, freely, to respond. Wesley emphasized the freedom of the human will to choose God and to accept him. Now, certainly, Wesley said that couldn't happen without the help, without the aid of the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, he made an important move by beginning to stress more and more the responsibility of the individual Christian in responding to the message of the gospel. In other words, lay out the way of salvation and damnation and make the choice incumbent upon the hearer. These things brought together intensified preaching styles. The use of very powerful and very understandable imagery, the emphasis on human responsibility and the necessity of responding all come together to shape and form what we call the first Great Awakening and to set the stage for American religion so that it would move forward in fact, into new expressions of this theology and more intense expressions of this theology in the very late 1700's and certainly through the first half of the 1800's. That is to say, if there was a first Great Awakening, you can be sure there was a second Great Awakening, too. But I'll have to tell you about that a little bit later. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****