Great Awakening Managed to Prevail, Thus Stemming Enlightenment Rationalism
- Pages: 5
- Word count: 1250
- Category: Enlightenment
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For the period ranging between 1720 and the 1740’s, a religious revival swept across the British American colonies. Unlike other kinds of transformations, this took place at a time when the idea of secular rationalism had been entrenched in American society. Therefore, the religious revival that occurred during this time went against the terrain since, in the larger expansive region, the religious passion had been neutralized (Wullbrandt & Owen, 2016). However, it should be acknowledged that during the Great Awakening period, Christian leaders took it upon themselves by traveling across their jurisdictions to preach and administer the gospel. In particular, the Christian leaders were keen to promote the vigor and enthusiasm for Christianity besides advocating why the masses needed to undergo salvation for them to be forgiven for their sins.
As a result of such concerted efforts by Christian leaders, the dedication towards religion was rejuvenated. Historically, it is believed that during this period, the American culture and by extension various Christian denominations were greatly impacted and influenced. However, it should be acknowledged that the existing conditions in the colonies such as formalism, rationalism, and negligence of pastoral supervision contributed to the revival of religion during the Great Awakening (Wullbrandt & Owen, 2016). Such revival was witnessed among the Congregationalists, Baptists, Calvinists, Anglicans, and the Presbyterians. It is for this reason that the Great Awakening was a notable development towards evangelical Calvinism.
In their evangelical works, revival preachers taught about the birth of Christ, the unequivocal grace of God and the consequences of indulging in sins. As a notable figure during the movement, George Whitefield was a Calvinist who played an instrumental role in spreading the gospel. By moving up and down the colonies, he passionately preached to vast crowds (Wullbrandt & Owen, 2016). At the time, such preaching took place in the open field since the huge crowd that turned up could not be accommodated in a church. Even though during the entire approach George Whitefield managed to gain many converts, he was equally attacked based on perpetuating dangerous religious delusions, stimulating emotional excesses and questioning the religious experience enjoyed by other people.
On the other hand, Jonathan Edwards is a notable apologist and academician who established his name during the Great Awakening. In this regard, he champions for the spread of religion by justifying faith with immense effectiveness. As an academician, he also redefined religious psychology experience to help those that were involved in revival to discern what could work for the Spirit of God. As expected, Jonathan Edwards also faced opposition, especially from Charles Chauncy who staunchly preached against the revival by propagating the belief that it was an outbreak of extravagant emotion. Despite such opposition, the Great Awakening managed to prevail, thus stemming enlightenment rationalism tide that was sweeping across the colonies.
As a consequence, the notable result of the Great Awakening was divisions based on denominations given that whereas some factions supported revival, it was equally rejected by the other faction. However, several educational institutions such as Dartmouth College and Princeton University emerged during the Great Awakening (Rhoden, 2016). Principally, increasing opposition to the established churches prompted the need to accommodate a broader tolerance to religious diversity. This was later followed by the democratization of religious experiences. During the great awakening, it was unimagined that embracing greater religious tolerance would help account the voice of dissent. However, embracing many denominations played a major role in eliminating the possibility of one religion dominating other religions, thus eventually quelling the conflicts that had ensued earlier.
Even though the Great Awakening was perceived as a reactionary measure against the enlightenment, further historical analysis shows that it triggered off a revolution (Koch, 2017). This is attributed to the fact that the faith emerging as a result of the Great Awakening were democratic in their holistic approach to religion. Besides this, the Great Awakening also later transformed itself into a national occurrence since it provided a platform for all colonies to participate. This helped them resolve differences amongst themselves.
Besides Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, some other several Christian leaders and pastors played an active role during the Great Awakening. The notable Christian leaders during this period were Gilbert Tennent, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Samuel Davies, and David Brainard. Even though such leaders were drawn from different backgrounds, they preached a uniform message of awakening the Christian faith and championing for the adoption of a religion that was deemed relevant at the time of Great Awakening. It is for this reason that various doctrines, ideas, and philosophies were entrenched in the Christian faith during the Great Awakening. For instance, it was emphasized that all individuals are born sinners, hence the need for salvation. Furthermore, the preachers also made it clear that individuals could be saved of their sins upon seeking forgiveness and confessing to God. This explains why the followers and the preachers to advocate for new ideas propagated by the Great Awakening were considered to be new lights whereas those embracing traditional and old-fashioned churches were regarded as old lights.
Some people believe the Great Awakening ended sometime in the 1940’s, but they would be wrong. There was a ‘Second Great Awakening’ that took place in the 1790’s. The Second Great Awakening was not near as heated as the First Great Awakening. If the Second Great Awakening had been as atrocious as the First, then people would be more educated on it. The Second Great Awakening cause the amount of people to join religions such as the Baptist and the Methodist grow swiftly. The Second Great Awakening was commenced by preachers James McGready and John McGee based in Kentucky and Tennesse. With this awakening caused a rise in the Baptist and the Methodist. This awakening also had a majority of women compared to the men. With this going on, mostly woman in the South had to choose between submission with God, or with the husband or whoever was the head of their household. Woman joined this movement to give them support from other women and it was something they could do outside the home. It was very rare that a woman could preach or pray. The women were allowed to give their testimonial’s. There is talk about there being a Third Great Awakening but some Historians believe it was not a significant event such as the first, two that affected America and impacted Christianity.
The Great Awakening had many effects on America once it was over. It forced people to become closer, and to have a relationship with God. Some people did not believe that had to go to church to be close with God, they believed they could just see a minister, or ust talk to Him on their own terms. With the Christians going around forcing this on other colonies it caused a separation between the believers and the non-believers. With the Awakenings they have established many Universities that are top schools to this day for example there is Princeton, Brown and Dartmouth University.
- Boundless. “Boundless US History.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ushistory/chapter/the-second-great-awakening/.
- History.com Editors. “Great Awakening.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 7 Mar. 2018, www.history.com/topics/british-history/great-awakening.
- Koch, P. (2017). The first Great Awakening. Redefining religion in British America, 1725–1775. By John Howard Smith. Pp. x+ 345. Madison, NJ–Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015.£ 57.95. 978 1 61147 714 6. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 68(1), 186-187.
- Rhoden, N. L. (2016). John Howard Smith. The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725–1775.
- Wullbrandt, Z., & Owen, J. (2016). The Second Great Awakening and its Negative Effects on Modern Evangelicalism.