I recently sat down with Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and associate director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, to talk about his new biography of George Whitefield, recently published by Yale University Press.
We talked about why he wrote the book, how famous Whitefield was, and explored some of his relationships (e.g., with his wife, with Benjamin Franklin, with the Wesley brothers, and with Jonathan Edwards).
If you first want a quick overview of Whitefield—who was born 300 years ago this month—here is a concise summary from J. I. Packer (who just happened to go to the same “junior school” that Whitefield attended in Gloucester and who was converted just across the street from Pembroke College where Whitefield came to a saving knowledge of the Lord):
The ‘Grand Itinerant’, as his contemporaries called him, was, more than anyone else, the trail-blazing pioneer and personal embodiment of the eighteenth-century revival of vital Christianity in the West, the revival that shaped English-speaking society on both sides of the Atlantic for over a hundred years and that fathered the evangelical missionary movement which for the past two centuries has been taking the gospel literally round the world. . . .
First to preach the transforming message of the new birth, first to take it into the open air and declare the world his parish, first to publish journals celebrating God’s work in and through him, and first to set up societies for the nurturing of those who came to faith under his ministry, Whitefield proclaimed Christ tirelessly throughout Britain and colonial America, drawing huge crowds, winning thousands of souls, impacting myriads more, and gaining celebrity status. . .
And if you want to hear what Packer thinks of Kidd’s work on Whitefield:
Thoroughly researched, and rooted in an exact knowledge of Whitefield’s times; critically perceptive while remaining appreciatively sympathetic; this is the best balanced and most illuminating chronicle of the Anglo-American Awakener’s career that has yet been produced.