George Whitefield's

300th Commemoration & Curriculum

Remembering the key evangelist of the great awakening
DR. THOMAS S. KIDD, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

George Whitefield was the preeminent evangelist of the Great Awakening, and arguably the best-known figure in eighteenth-century Britain and America. Whitefield's fame has receded in the centuries since his death in 1770, and has certainly been surpassed by Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening's leading pastor-theologian. A consistent advocate of Reformed theology and perhaps the most accomplished orator in evangelical history, Whitefield deserves to be known widely among Christians today.

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LESSON ONE: WHITEFIELD'S PASSION FOR THE GOSPEL

It would be hard to overstate George Whitefield's significance in the history of Christianity since the Reformation. He was the most celebrated pastor of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, and was the best known person in America and Britain before the American Revolution (best known perhaps aside from the king of England). He is arguably one of the two most influential evangelists, along with Billy Graham, of the past three centuries.

LESSON TWO: WHITEFIELD'S THEOLOGY AND BREAK WITH JOHN AND CHARLES WESLEY

Critics have always accused Whitefield of teaching shallow theology. In fact, the attacks on Whitefield sound a great deal like those on famous TV preachers today-all style and no substance, they say. Even as sympathetic an observer as 19th-century biographer J. C. Ryle said that Whitefield's printed sermons come off as a "mingle-mangle" with few "striking thoughts" or "new exhibitions of gospel doctrine."

LESSON THREE: HOW COULD WHITEFIELD HAVE OWNED SLAVES?

Christian biographers are always tempted to avoid the less attractive aspects of their subject's character. George Whitefield himself recognized this tendency, noting how some biographies of Christian heroes "have given us the bright, but not the dark side of their character. This, I think, proceeded from a kind of pious fraud, lest mentioning persons faults should encourage others in sin."