THE GREAT AWAKENING 6
In the early 18th century, most of the British American colonieswere experiencing the wave of enlightenment. This was an ideologythat people needed to rely on more reasoning, and it gave credence toscience, politics, and philosophy. In other words, it appealed to thehead and the brains. The role of religion was highly undermined andcompromised, and this gave rise to the great awakening. This was awave that led to the resurgence of religion albeit in a new form.Christians in England and the United States were used to thePresbyterian Church and the Church of England where strict proceduresthat hardly influenced or appealing to emotions and feelings wereabsent (Sharp, 2014). Research has demonstrated that these earlychurches before the awakening performed rituals, ceremonies, hadhierarchies, and partook of sacraments. Conversely, the greatawakening brought in a wave of intensive preaching my renownedpastors who caused divisions amongst the Presbyterians. It isessential to state that this new wave of religious belief targetedboth the Christians and the non-Christians. In the south, numerousslaves and black Americans were assimilated into this new form ofreligion.
This new wave of the resurgence of the religious piety occurredbetween the 1730s and 1740s. It sought to appeal to the heart andpeople were encouraged to value their feelings more than theirreasoning. Further, it is essential according to this religious pietyto rely on the Bible and to trust the heart rather than believing inscience or trusting the mind. It is essential to mention that scienceis based on empiricism or what can be observed. Conversely, religionrelies on faith and a supernatural being who cannot be seen (Sharp,2014). Therefore, it was challenging for the ministers of the word toconvince people that religion would be superior to science. This erasaw the recognition of individuals such as Isaac Newton whochallenged the religion and championed the scientific beliefs. Due tothis challenge, the ministers who were championing the revival andevangelism of the new wave of religion focused on the Christians inthe Presbyterian Church and other churches hence causing thedivision. Appealing to the Christians before embarking on thenon-believers was easy.
The ideology of the great awakening was to have believers repent andhave a close relationship with God. The ministers assured thecongregations that they were full of sinners and explained to themthe nature of the punishment that awaits them in hell. In otherwords, the revival evangelism of this awakening sought toestablishment an emotional relationship between believers and God.This was an element that was lacking in the traditional churcheswhere people paid little attention to religion leave for thesacrifices and the rituals. Religion was never taken seriously as apart of everyday life (Sharp, 2014). This aspect is what theevangelical ministers sought to correct by enhancing the value ofreligion in people’s lives. This revival portrayed people assinners and assured them that God was furious with them and the onlysolution was to repent to avoid the wrath of God. It is evident thatthese ministers sought to instill fear amongst the congregations andlead them to the new form of religion. The preachers claimed to havethe powers to bring the sinners back to Christ through repentance andevangelical conversion.
Some of the first ministers who led this revival mission wereGilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. Extensiveresearch has shown that these preachers were spreading the gospel andteachings that were traditionally being preached. However, they didthis in a new strategy that evoked emotions and fear. They describedthe effects of sins in an almost dramatic and theatrical manner.Preachers such as Whitefield cried before the congregation todemonstrate how painful and angry God was with the sinners. Criticsdescribed these behaviors as theatrical and tactics to appeal to thecongregation. Surprisingly, this strategy worked extremely well sincethese preachers were able to convert thousands of people across theAmerican British colonies and even influenced governments whereWhitefield traveled. In the U.S., the first revival was led byReverend William Tennent at the Presbyterian Churches in Pennsylvaniaand New Jersey (Sharp, 2014). Tennent and his four sons who were allclergymen led these Presbyterians towards the new revival throughrepentance. Since they wanted to make sure that the new revivalspread quickly, they started the Log College, currently known as thePrinceton University where clergymen would be trained on how to bringsinners back to Christ. Primarily, these radical clergymen lambastedand criticized the traditional preachers as cold, uninspiring, andlacking God’s grace. This was amid cheering and exhort from thecongregation.
The great awakening brought sharp divisions during the colonialtimes. The traditional Presbyterian Churches and the Church ofEngland or the Anglican Church were against the nature of the newevangelical churches and their mode of preaching. Quakers andAnglican gained more members who could not follow the excesses of theevangelical revivalists. On the other hand, the Methodist Church andthe Baptist Churches which were led by the revivalists receivedthousands of members (Sharp, 2014). Interestingly, there werenumerous people who remained in the Presbyterian Churches but engagedin internal wars regarding the awakening. This led to the formationof two factions namely the old lights and the new lights. Thesereligious divisions were intensified by the fact that some of thecivil governments intervened and supported some factions. Forexample, the Anglican Church’s dominance in Connecticut came to anend after the government demonstrated its support for therevivalists.
There is no doubt that the great awakening has tremendous effects onthe British American colonies and indeed across the world. Some theseeffects are evident to date. It is clear that there was a tremendousincrease in the number of evangelical churches, as well as themembers. The African American and the other slaves got theopportunity to receive religion and repent. Further, the awakeningrevived the value of Protestant religion and believers had a duty topreach the gospel to other people (Sharp, 2014). Despite some ofthese benefits, the awakening led to sharp divisions amongst theChristians and invited the state to interfere with religious matters.Despite having occurred over 200 years ago, the great awakening’svalues are still felt today and preachers have continued to rely onits strategy to spread the gospel.
While concluding, the great awakening can be said to have been anextremely strong wave of revival that was triggered by the way peoplewere leaning towards science and reasoning. The church and religionwere losing their footprint in the everyday life of individuals, andthis awakening sought to revive the value of religion. The BritishAmerican colonies were the major targets for the revival, and thePresbyterian Churches and the Anglican Churches lost many members tothe new evangelical churches.
Sharp, M. (2014). The great awakening: Concepts andtechniques for successful spiritual practice. StAlbert, Alta: Avatar Publications.