Evangelical preachers and converts rejoined by lambasting their opponents as cold, uninspiring, and lacking in piety and grace.
Battles raged within congregations and whole denominations over this challenge to clerical authority as well as the evangelical approach to conversion from “the heart” rather than “the head.” So the first Great Awakening left colonials sharply polarized along religious lines.
By the eve of the American Revolution, their evangelical converts accounted for about ten percent of all southern churchgoers.
The First Great Awakening also gained impetus from the wideranging American travels of an English preacher, George Whitefield.
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Divining America Advisors and Staff The First Great Awakening Christine Leigh Heyrman Department of History, University of Delaware ©National Humanities Center What historians call “the first Great Awakening” can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s.You’ve sketched out the story of the first Great Awakening—its beginnings in the mid-Atlantic, its transit to New England, and its culmination in the South, its legacy of debate and division.And you’ve emphasized that it was only the colonial manifestation of a religious revival of much broader geographic scope—it spread the length of British North America (where, indeed, the only public figure whose name was known to virtually all colonials was George Whitefield!By the 1740s, the clergymen of these churches were conducting revivals throughout that region, using the same strategy that had contributed to the success of the Tennents.In emotionally charged sermons, all the more powerful because they were delivered extemporaneously, preachers like Jonathan Edwards evoked vivid, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human nature and the terrors awaiting the unrepentant in hell.Originally known as “the Log College,” it is better known today as Princeton University.Religious enthusiasm quickly spread from the Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies to the Congregationalists (Puritans) and Baptists of New England.) and reverberated throughout the Protestant countries of Europe as well.So your next move might be to pose the question: What could account for the tremendous appeal of evangelical Christianity to men and women living on both sides of the Atlantic during the latter half of the eighteenth century?But Whitefield—and many American preachers who eagerly imitated his style—presented that message in novel ways.Gesturing dramatically, sometimes weeping openly or thundering out threats of hellfire-and-brimstone, they turned the sermon into a gripping theatrical performance. Throughout the colonies, conservative and moderate clergymen questioned the emotionalism of evangelicals and charged that disorder and discord attended the revivals.