George Whitefield

Ian Clary | November 19, 2014

Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2014. 325 pp. $38.00.

At the end of The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald, narrated through his protagonist Nick Carraway, reflects on the inescapable importance of the past in our striving for the future. Thinking about Gatsby and the green light, Carraway muses, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The lesson is that as humans move ever forward they are being driven ever back. This line well captures what historians call “the usable past.”

I was reminded of this quote as I read Thomas S. Kidd’s excellent biography, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, on the life of the great 18th-century revival preacher. As Whitefield’s life was laid out carefully on the page, I became freshly encouraged that the lessons of history are important not just for today, but for tomorrow.

The publication of Kidd’s biography was timed for the 300th anniversary of the Grand Itinerant’s entrance into the world on December 16, 1714. Whitefield, of course, is famous as the preaching catalyst behind what we now call the Great Awakening, or sometimes the Evangelical Revival…

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