Cover image for Inventing the "great awakening"
Inventing the "great awakening"
Lambert, Frank, 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 300 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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BR520 .L36 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book is a history of an astounding transatlantic phenomenon, a popular evangelical revival known in America as the first Great Awakening (1735-1745). Beginning in the mid-1730s, supporters and opponents of the revival commented on the extraordinary nature of what one observer called the "great ado," with its extemporaneous outdoor preaching, newspaper publicity, and rallies of up to 20,000 participants. Frank Lambert, biographer of Great Awakening leader George Whitefield, offers an overview of this important episode and proposes a new explanation of its origins.

The Great Awakening, however dramatic, was nevertheless unnamed until after its occurrence, and its leaders created no doctrine nor organizational structure that would result in a historical record. That lack of documentation has allowed recent scholars to suggest that the movement was "invented" by nineteenth-century historians. Some specialists even think that it was wholly constructed by succeeding generations, who retroactively linked sporadic happenings to fabricate an alleged historic development. Challenging these interpretations, Lambert nevertheless demonstrates that the Great Awakening was invented--not by historians but by eighteenth-century evangelicals who were skillful and enthusiastic religious promoters. Reporting a dramatic meeting in one location in order to encourage gatherings in other places, these men used commercial strategies and newly popular print media to build a revival--one that they also believed to be an "extraordinary work of God." They saw a special meaning in contemporary events, looking for a transatlantic pattern of revival and finding a motive for spiritual rebirth in what they viewed as a moral decline in colonial America and abroad.

By examining the texts that these preachers skillfully put together, Lambert shows how they told and retold their revival account to themselves, their followers, and their opponents. His inquiries depict revivals as cultural productions and yield fresh understandings of how believers "spread the word" with whatever technical and social methods seem the most effective.

Author Notes

Frank Lambert is Associate Professor of History at Purdue University

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Recent scholarship has sought to diminish the scope and scale of the Great Awakening, as the mid-18th century evangelical revival was called on this side of the Atlantic, attributing it to the invention of 19th-century historians. Lambert (history, Purdue Univ.), well known for his biography of George Whitefield (Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 17371770, Princeton Univ., 1994), argues that it was an invention, but of the Colonial revivalists themselves. Lambert uses the term invention in its most positive light as a creation rather than a fabrication or contrivance. Through careful use of primary sources, an understanding emerges of how early revivalists constructed their own understanding of the work in which they were involved and how they were able to develop and expand the movement. Significantly, this work goes beyond explaining the revival itself and shows how a popular movement developed prior to the advent of modern media. Although the bibliography is thin in places, this is a significant scholarly contribution to the literature. Recommended for academic libraries.Daniel D. Liestman, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The Great Awakening has traditionally been presented as a time in Colonial America when the outpouring of God's love and grace became so intense that dynamic revivals spread throughout New England and the Middle Colonies. Lambert does not share this conclusion. He points out quite deftly that there were great revivals at the time of Pentecost and during the historical Protestant Reformation. But the Great Awakening that occurred in the American colonies and Britain from 1739 to 1745 consisted largely of a series of primarily local revivals. These never connected to demonstrate that God was intervening in a major way in the affairs of people to produce great spirituality over a large and expanding geographic area. The enormous celebrity that individual charismatic preachers such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, the Wesley brothers, and the Tennents attained in the secular press and the collected writings of revivalist promoters such as Thomas Prince, John Lewis, and John Gillies only strengthen Lambert's contention that the Great Awakening was largely a product of human invention and not evidence of an outpouring of God's special love at a particular time in history. Illustrations. All levels. J. D. Born Jr. Wichita State University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
List of Tablesp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Introductionp. 3
Part 1 Opening Events: The "Great Awakenings" of the 1730sp. 17
Chapter 1. "... that Religion may review in this Land"p. 21
Revival Traditionsp. 25
"In Such an Age as This"p. 32
Declaring the Acceptable Year of the Lordp. 43
Chapter 2. "the first fruits of this extraordinary and mighty Work of God's Special Grace"p. 54
Revival in New Jerseyp. 55
Awakening in the Connecticut Valleyp. 62
A Faithful Narrative: The Northampton Revival as Told ... and Retoldp. 69
Part 2 Wider Connections: An Intercolonial Great and General Awakening, 1739-1745p. 83
Chapter 3. "imported Divinity"p. 87
George Whitefield and Revivalism in Englandp. 92
"We Hear From Abroad": News of the English Evangelical Revivalp. 102
Why 1739?p. 110
Promoting Whitefield in the Coloniesp. 116
Chapter 4. The "Revival at ..."p. 125
Local and Regional Dimensionsp. 128
Revival Narratives: A Common Scriptp. 143
Chapter 5. "... similar facts ... are now united": Constructing a Transatlantic Awakeningp. 151
British-American Revival Networksp. 155
Revival Magazines: "The Progress of the Gospel in England, Wales, Scotland, and America"p. 165
Historical Connections: The Great Awakening in Salvation Historyp. 171
Part 3 Contested Inventions, 1742-1745p. 181
Chapter 6. The "grand delusion" or "great Mistakes of the present Day"p. 185
The Revival as Artificep. 189
Antirevivalist Messagep. 206
Antirevivalist Publicationsp. 212
Chapter 7. "This is the Lord's Doing"p. 222
Apologies: Defending the Revival as the Work of Godp. 223
Polemics: Attacking Opponents of the Work of Godp. 236
Differentiation: Distinguishing the Work of God from Enthusiasmp. 240
Epilogue. "The late Revival of Religion"p. 251
Notesp. 259
Selected Bibliographyp. 281
Indexp. 295