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Revival History in North America

The Great Awakening took place from 1720 to the 1750

Its impact was first felt in the middle colonies, where Theodore J. Frelinghuysen, a minister of the Dutch Reformed church, began preaching in the 1720s. In New England, in the early 1730s men such as Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the most learned theologian of the 18th century, were responsible for a reawakening of religious fervour. By the late 1740s the movement had extended into the Southern colonies, where itinerant preachers such as Samuel Davies and George Whitefield exerted considerable influence, particularly in the backcountry.

The Great Awakening represented a reaction against the increasing secularization of society and against the corporate and materialistic nature of the principal churches of American society. By making conversion the initial step on the road to salvation and by opening up the conversion experience to all who recognized their own sinfulness, the ministers of the Great Awakening, some intentionally and others unwittingly, democratized Calvinist theology. The technique of many of the preachers of the Great Awakening was to inspire in their listeners a fear of the consequences of their sinful lives and a respect for the omnipotence of God. This sense of the ferocity of God was often tempered by the implied promise that a rejection of worldliness and a return to faith would result in a return to grace and an avoidance of the horrible punishments of an angry God.

Perhaps most important, the evangelical styles of religious worship promoted by the Great Awakening helped make the religious doctrines of many of the insurgent church denominations--particularly those of the Baptists and the Methodists--more accessible to a wider cross section of the American population. This expansion in church membership extended to blacks as well as whites.

The Second Great Awakening took place from 1795 to 1835

Toward the end of the 18th century another revival, known as the Second Great Awakening , began in the United States. During this revival, meetings were held in small towns and the large cities throughout the country, and the unique frontier institution known as the camp meeting began. The Second Great Awakening produced a great increase in church membership, made soul winning the primary function of the ministry, and stimulated several moral and philanthropic reforms, including temperance, emancipation of women, and foreign missions.

After 1835 professional revivalists traveled through the towns and cities of the United States and Great Britain, organizing annual revival meetings at the invitation of local pastors who wanted to reinvigorate their churches. In 1857-58 a "prayer meeting revival" swept U.S. cities following a financial panic. It indirectly instigated a revival in Northern Ireland and England in 1859-61.

Revivalism is generally, renewed religious fervour within a Christian group, church, or community, but primarily a movement in some Protestant churches to revitalize the spiritual ardour of their members and win new adherents. Revivalism in its modern form can be attributed to that shared emphasis in Anabaptism, Puritanism, German Pietism, and Methodism in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries on personal religious experience, the priesthood of all believers, and holy living, in protest against established church systems that seemed excessively sacramental, priestly, and worldly.

America's first great revival, under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others, revitalized religion in the North American colonies. The Great Awakening was a part of a larger religious revival that was also influential in Europe and Great Britain. In Germany and Scandinavia, Lutheranism was revitalized by the movement known as Pietism. The British revival led by John Wesley and others eventually resulted in the Methodist church.

The preaching tour of the American lay evangelist Dwight L. Moody through the British Isles in 1873-75 marked the beginning of a new surge of Anglo-U.S. revivalism. In his subsequent revival activity, Moody perfected the highly businesslike techniques that characterized the urban mass evangelistic campaigns of early 20th-century professional revivalists such as Reuben A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, and others. 

The interdenominationally supported revivalism of Moody and his imitators in 1875-1915 constituted, in part, a conscious cooperative effort by the Protestant churches to alleviate the unrest of urban industrial society by evangelizing the masses and, in part, an unconscious effort to counter the challenge to Protestant orthodoxy brought on by the new critical methods of studying the Bible and by modern scientific ideas concerning the evolution of man. In the first half of the 20th century most educated Protestant churchmen lost interest in revivalism. After World War II, however, a renewed interest in mass evangelism appeared and was especially evident in the widespread support given to the revival "crusades" of the American Southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham and various regional revivalists.

Copyright 1994-2001 Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.


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