The First Great Awakening

Time Period
1733  - 1770
Description
The First Great Awakening transformed religious life and theology in the colonies during the mid-18th century. Proponents of the revivals worried that religion had become a cold, intellectual assent to truth rather than a vital relationship with the person of Christ.

The Great Awakening was not universally acclaimed, but Congregationalist pastor Jonathan Edwards defended the revivals as God's "own peculiar and immediate work." George Whitfield was the most prominent figure of the First Great Awakening. His preaching tours of the colonies drew massive open-air crowds.

Older Protestant denominations faced competition from newer evangelical denominations like Baptists and Methodists. The upstart groups remained a minority in most of the colonies, but their increasing size and influence presaged the Second Great Awakening and the advent of an evangelical religious majority.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Baptist Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
The "First" Great Awakening was only labeled as such during the 1840s by proponents of the "Second" Great Awakening, but even in the mid-18th century American Protestants knew that the revivals they observed were transforming religious life and theology. Proponents of the revivals worried that religion had become a cold, intellectual assent to truth rather than a vital relationship with the person of Christ. Furthermore, the traditional Calvinist view of conditional atonement--that God offers salvation only to the elect--began to soften as many revivalist preachers proclaimed that God promised salvation to all who repented of their sins and trusted in Christ.

The Great Awakening was not universally acclaimed. Conservative ministers criticized the revivals for excessive emotional outbursts and doctrinal irregularity. Congregationalist pastor Jonathan Edwards responded to those critics with a widely-distributed essay, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737), in which he argued that the revivals were God's "own peculiar and immediate work."

While Edwards did much to advance the Awakening through his books and sermons, it was a British evangelist, George Whitfield, who was the most prominent figure of the First Great Awakening. Whitefield conducted regular preaching tours of the colonies from 1738 until his death in 1770. His expressive, extemporaneous preaching style drew in large open-air crowds that routinely numbered as many as 30,000 listeners.

The First Great Awakening had lasting significance for the religious landscape in America. Older Protestant denominations, like Congregationalism and Anglicanism, now faced competition from newer evangelical denominations like Baptists and Methodists. The upstart groups remained a minority in most of the colonies, but their increasing size and influence presaged the Second Great Awakening and the advent of an evangelical religious majority.
Religious Groups
Anglicanism Family: Other Timeline Entries

Anglicanism Family: Other ARDA Links

Baptist Family: Other Timeline Event Entries
Baptist Family: Other Timeline Biography Entries

Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links

Methodist/Pietist Family: Other Timeline Entries

Methodist/Pietist Family: Other ARDA Links

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other Timeline Entries

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Biographies
Edwards, Jonathan
Whitefield, George
Photographs

George Whitefield preaching in Philadelphia- Internet Archive

George Whitefield preaching at a horse race- Internet Archive

John Wesley preaching- Hathi Trust
Source(s)
Ahlstrom, Sydney, 2004. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University

Bookmark and Share