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George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father Hardcover – 6 Jan 2015


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"I commend this book to any serious student of American history. British by birth, George Whitefield is in fact woven into the spiritual fabric of our own nation-he was a central figure in the Great Awakening of the early American colonies, his rousing sermons and booming voice stirring thousands. He truly is, in the words of Kidd, 'America's Spiritual Founding Father.'"-Frank Wolf, Congressman of the 10th District of Virginia -- Frank Wolf "This superb chronicle of George Whitefield's life is now our fullest biography for the much-studied and much-debated eighteenth-century evangelist. It combines unusual empathy with unusual comprehension."-Mark Noll, author of The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys -- Mark Noll George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father traces the life of perhaps the most important evangelical leader in American history, the minister most responsible for the rise of the evangelical movement in the decades before the American Revolution. Thomas Kidd introduces us to a flawed but deeply religious man whose passionate preaching inspired thousands of Americans to become evangelical Christians. Lucid, well-researched, and insightful, this book is an absorbing account of Whitefield's remarkable life and ministry.-Catherine Brekus, author of Sarah Osborn's World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America -- Catherine Brekus "Thomas Kidd's judicious portrait places Whitefield at the center of the transatlantic evangelical awakening, where he belongs."-Bruce Hindmarsh, author of The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England -- Bruce Hindmarsh "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."--J.I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College -- J.I. Packer "A popularly accessible biography of a legendary Calvinist preacher... A warts-and-all portrait of the man [and] a concise and entertaining read."-David Wilezol, Washington Times -- David Wilezol Washington Times "A remarkably thorough and even-handed biography, beautifully structured from a wealth of primary sources to form the best, most insightful biography of Whitefield ever written."-Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly -- Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly "A narrative that sympathetically helps readers understand what motivated Whitefield's indefatigable preaching of the gospel while setting the flawed itinerant in his context... To help us understand Whitefield, Kidd constantly connects him to larger movements-not least of which is the burgeoning evangelical movement of the day. And he does all of this in an engaging manner, using vibrant prose, good storytelling techniques, and incisive historical commentary."-David Barshinger, ExploringChurchHistory.com -- David Barshinger ExploringChurchHistory.com "A scholarly yet readable 300-page biography that shows the accuracy of its subtitle."-Marvin Olasky, World Magazine -- Marvin Olasky World Magazine "This new biography recalls George Whitefield, the 18th-century English evangelist, as probably the most recognizable celebrity of his age. He was certainly the most traveled, crisscrossing the Atlantic countless times and preaching to audiences, sometimes in the tens of thousands, up and down the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the British Isles... George Whitefield indelibly shaped America, the Anglosphere, the surging global evangelical movement-and modern notions of celebrity."-Mark Tooley, Weekly Standard -- Mark Tooley Weekly Standard "Kidd, a professor of history at Baylor and an evangelical Christian, balances his admiration for Whitefield with scholarly rigor... Kidd's theologically sympathetic approach gives the book a depth that a more detached treatment might not: He misses none of the biblical allusions that peppered Whitefield's utterances, and he is an excellent guide through the tangled doctrinal controversies that dogged Whitefield's career... A great orator keeps his listeners' attention fixed on himself. What made Whitefield great was his ability to keep it fixed on Another."-Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal -- Barton Swaim Wall Street Journal "Thomas Kidd brings a unique set of gifts to this new biography. He is, first of all, a scholar. Accuracy and balance mark his careful writing. But Kidd is not interested in writing just for other scholars... The book is based on extensive research, but it's also a book the non-specialist can enjoy. We are never left is the dust of academic jargon or historical detail... If you only read one biography this year, make it this one - and if you don't have a biography of George Whitefield on your shelf, buy this one... I see Whitefield the man more clearly and realistically now, but I also see Whitefield the passionate evangelist more clearly."-Douglas Connelly, Englewood Review of Books -- Douglas Connelly Englewood Review of Books "This is by far the best biography that exists on Whitefield. The author, Kidd, blends perfectly history and interpretation in an extremely engaging way. I literally couldn't put this book down. Get it. Get it now."-Luke Geraty, ThinkTheology.org -- Luke Geraty ThinkTheology.org "It is a gift to the scholarly community that we have a full and straightforward scholarly biography, and it is a gift to the evangelical community that a historian of Kidd's caliber treats Whitefield so seriously and respectfully. The result is something everyone should celebrate: a careful presentation of a sinful saint who forever changed the face of American evangelicalism."-Justin Taylor, Books & Culture -- Justin Taylor Books & Culture

About the Author

Thomas S. Kidd is professor of history at Baylor University. His previous books include God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. He lives in Waco, TX.

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Amazon.com: 25 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding Work on the Life of George Whitefield 14 Oct. 2014
By Dean - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I looked forward to reading Thomas Kidd's book, George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father, from the moment I heard he was writing it. The reason is because I admire George Whitefield, the English preacher that traversed our nation in the 18th Century preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I also anticipated reading it because Thomas Kidd is an outstanding historian and brilliant writer. His book, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, among other works, hooked me on him as an author.

I got a copy as soon as it was published. I didn't mark it up as I usually do because after reading it, I gave it to a Welsh friend as a gift. When my book budget allows it, I will get another copy, reread it, and mark it up in my normal fashion.

Kidd's treatment of Whitefield is thorough, though I found myself wanting to know more. I suspect, to use a film analogy, the author cut out and left a lot of material on the floor. The biography of C. H. Spurgeon by Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, is laboriously full, but I like that. I can only wish I could read what Kidd left out in his research on Whitefield!

Kidd's biography on Whitefield isn't hagiography. He treats his subject fairly and truthfully, not worshipfully and adoringly. But Thomas Kidd likes George Whitefield. However, he doesn't let his like for him keep him from writing painful and embarrassing things. Whitefield was a man like all of us. He had his own unique struggles. But with his weaknesses he was a good man of sincere heart and was greatly used by God to bring many sinners to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Pick up and read. You won't be disappointed if you do.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Highly recommended! 17 Oct. 2014
By ERIC COLEMAN SMITH - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have come to value the historical writings of Thomas Kidd very highly over the past several years. I am a PhD student studying the Great Awakening era, and have found all of his works - The Great Awakening, God of Liberty, Patrick Henry, etc. - to be well-researched, skillfully-written, and genuinely enjoyable to read. George Whitefield is one of my favorite figures of American and church history, so I was very eager to read Kidd's latest work. I was not disappointed.

His thesis is clear and simple: "The argument of this biography is straightforward: George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity. Whitefield and legions of other evangelical pastors and laypeople helped establish a new interdenominational religious movement in the eighteenth century, one committed to the gospel of conversion, the new birth, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the preaching of revival across Europe and America (3)." In the brisk (only 263 pages) and compelling narrative that follows, I believe Kidd establishes Whitefield's primacy in the founding generation of evangelicalism. Kidd has written the new standard, academic study of this titanic figure.

What I appreciate most about Kidd is his honesty about his presuppositions, laid out so well in the introduction:

"Writing biographies, and writing religious biographies in particular, presents significant challenges. The temptation to write hagiography - the biography of a pristine saint - is ever present. In placing Whitefield within the new evangelical world, I am not offering an unsullied picture of a sanctified man, nor is my primary aim to edify readers spiritually. Yet historians today know that no one of us is fully objective - personal perspectives matter. So let me admit mine up front: I have a high regard for Whitefield. I identify personally with the religious movement he helped start. Yet I hope I have also been fair to his critics and transparent about his obvious failings as a man and minister (3-4)."

I believe that Kidd accomplishes his goal. At no point does he, in the name of spiritual edification, compromise excellent scholarship -- he is thorough in his research and honest in his reporting. Yet he also does not, in the name of academic objectivity, deal condescendingly with the spiritual convictions of his subjects, nor does he sneer at the evangelical pastor-historians who are responsible for advancing Whitefield studies to the present time. He is a Christian man who has written a very good, very faithful biography, that anyone can respect and appreciate. It is Kidd's rare ability to do this that has made him my favorite historian writing for the academy today.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Greatest Evangelical Preacher the World Has Ever Seen...Though Hopefully Not the Last 16 Dec. 2014
By George P. Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
George Whitefield is not well known by Americans today, including American evangelical Christians, his spiritual heirs. In the eighteenth century, however, Whitefield was well known not only in America, but also in his native England—well known, well loved, and widely criticized. Thomas S. Kidd outlines the life of this influential evangelist in George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father.

Whitefield was born in a Gloucester inn on December 16, 1714, to hardworking though not particularly religious parents. He secured a work-scholarship to Oxford University, where he fell under the spiritual influence of John and Charles Wesley and entered ministry in the Church of England. Together with the Wesley brothers, Whitefield led the trans-Atlantic evangelical revival that came to be known as the Great Awakening through ceaseless itinerant evangelism, innovative use of print media, and development of personal and institutional relationships across denominations.

“[Whitefield’s] colleague and frequent rival John Wesley left a greater organizational legacy,” Kidd writes, “and his ally Jonathan Edwards made a more significant theological contribution. But Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of evangelical Christianity.” Kidd concludes: “Whitefield was the first great preacher in a modern evangelical movement that has seen many. Perhaps he was the greatest evangelical preacher the world has ever seen.”

Reading Kidd’s biography of Whitefield—which will be the standard work for years to come—I was struck by several similarities with contemporary American evangelicalism that are worth noting, both positive and negative.

The first is Whitefield’s blend of principle and pragmatism. Whitefield was an ordained priest in the Church of England and a convinced Calvinist. This did not prevent him from working with English Dissenters and Arminians (at least of the Wesleyan variety), Scottish Presbyterians, or American Congregationalists, however. Rather, with them, he emphasized the experience of the “new birth”—that is, being born again—and the doctrine of justification by faith. These expressed the essence of the gospel.

To proclaim that gospel, Whitefield pragmatically utilized a variety of innovative techniques. These included itinerant evangelism, field preaching, personal discipleship (the hallmark of Methodism), and the use of newspapers to promote the ministry. The result was a trans-Atlantic revival united by a powerful spiritual encounter and a theology that explained it, far more than by ecclesiology or denominational distinctives.

The second is Whitefield’s emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, both as the One who brings about regeneration (the technical term for the new birth) and the One who empowers ministers to proclaim the gospel. Wesley’s journals are filled with descriptions of people experiencing the throes of spiritual conviction, not to mention the experience of breaking through to the peace of conversion. He also routinely speaks of the Spirit prompting his actions and words. Kidd even notes a handful of occasions where Whitefield, his colleagues, or his followers may have spoken in tongues. Ironically, in light of the cessationist theology that characterized evangelical Calvinism in the early twentieth century, Kidd points out that the revivalists believed in the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit—though not as Pentecostals do today—while their non-evangelical critics were the ones who were cessationists, believing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased in the Apostolic Era.

This emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit was often a help to the emerging evangelical movement, rooting God’s work in the heart and not merely the head, but it was also occasionally a hindrance. Critics routinely accused Whitefield and his followers of “enthusiasm,” a mindless religious ecstasy detached from good theology, good taste, and good sense. Sometimes, they were right. In turn, under what Whitefield assumed to be the prompting of the Spirit, he often criticized non-evangelical ministers for being “unconverted,” that is, not even Christian. This won him few friends among that group. As Whitefield and his followers matured, they learned to distinguish the fire of genuine revival from “wild-fire.”

The third is the paradoxical combination of unity and division. As noted above, the Anglican Whitefield partnered with ministers of other Protestant denominations to promote revival. This is true of evangelicalism to the present day. But just as there are sharp theological disputes today between Calvinist and Arminian evangelicals, there were sharp theological disputes between the same two groups in the eighteenth century. Whitefield was a staunch Calvinist, as was the Welsh evangelist Howell Harris. The Wesley brothers, on the other hand, were equally staunch Arminians. The theological debates between those four individuals, and their respective followers, were intense and often nasty. Nevertheless, throughout his ministry, Whitefield found his way toward cooperation with the Wesley’s in gospel ministry.

The fourth is the confusion of the gospel and patriotism. Whitefield came to prominence during Protestant England’s seemingly endless wars with Catholic powers. Like other Protestants in his age, he viewed the Reformation dispute with Rome as both theological (How are we saved?) and political (Who will rule us?) in nature. During the War of Jenkins’ Ear with Spain and the Seven Years War with France, Whitefield preached pro-English, anti-Spanish, anti-French, and anti-Catholic sermons that are embarrassing to read today. My guess is that in two hundred years, the patriotic sermons of today’s evangelicals will cause readers to blush too.

It has been said that the past is a foreign country. Reading Whitefield’s biography reminds us that his age was vastly different from our own. Like many in America in the eighteenth century, Whitefield owned slaves, a fact for which he can (and should) be criticized. (His marriage was also nothing to write home about.)

On the other hand, the past is not so foreign that it is unable to teach us lessons about our own time. This is especially true of contemporary American evangelicalism. The trans-Atlantic evangelical revival of the eighteenth century initiated patterns of spiritual experience, theological doctrine, and ministry methodology that are still recognizable among American and British evangelicals today, for better and for worse.

As evangelicals move forward in the twenty-first century, it is thus reasonable to ask: Who will be our Edwards, to teach us in this postmodern intellectual milieu? Who will be our Wesley, to organize, network, and disciple us? And who will be our Whitefield—the evangelist whose preaching of the gospel will draw men and women, boys and girls to Christ? Kidd notes that Whitefield was perhaps “the greatest evangelical preacher the world has ever seen.” I would add only five words: though hopefully not the last.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent addition to Whitefield literature 11 Oct. 2014
By ForeverFree - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent addition to Whitefield literature. I first encountered Whitefield's life in 1982 reading JC Ryle's short, yet powerful biography of Whitefield. Reading it made a spiritual impact upon me. Since then I have read widely on his life, e.g from Dallimore/Tyerman to Stout/ Lambert and beyond. Kidd makes Whitefield's life accessible in a thoroughly documented manner. He allows Whitefield's spiritual genuineness to shine, yet does not gloss over his failures. Great men are men at best. Whitefield was a great man, and filled with much grace to preach the regenerating Gospel of Jesus Christ like few others ever have. Kidd never loses sight of this central truth in Whitefield's life. This volume is a wonderful corrective to the recent attempts made to relegate Whitefield's spiritual power to fanaticism or a manipulative use of techniques to produce results. This book will also serve to stimulate further constructive and critical discussion amongst those who recognize that God did a great, surprising work of grace in the 18th century, though there were troubling issues, which Whitefield well understood. The Lord used George Whitefield in a significant manner. This is not hagiography but historical fact. Even Benjamin Franklin recognized this, though he did not accept Whitefield's Gospel message. Thank you Professor Kidd. This was the first book of yours I've read -- I look forward to getting to know more of your work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The good, the bad and the ugly 4 Nov. 2014
By D. Licona - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Once again, Thomas Kidd does what Thomas Kidd does best. He tells it like it is…the good, the bad and the ugly. It would be nice if all of our heroes were of pristine character but, unfortunately, we live in a world full of flawed humans that not only inspire, but also disappoint. George Whitfield was no different. As an avid reader of history, I am keenly aware when a “historian’s” own preconceived notions and philosophy begin to cloud their research. When I read a book, I want to read the well-researched (and documented!) facts. I know that is exactly what I’m going to get with any book by Thomas Kidd. There was much in George Whitfield’s life in which to admire. There was also much in which to grieve. However, it is also important to put one’s actions into the mindset of their time and culture. Thomas Kidd manages to do that without also giving Whitfield a “pass” in terms of his failures. I highly recommend this book!
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