What Is The First Great Awakening?

This is perhaps the best summary of the history of religion in America’s colonies, offering an excellent discussion both of the First Great Awakening, and of the ways the First Great Awakening fed into the American Revolution. What historians have called the First Great Awakening may be better described as the revival of religious devotion that spread throughout the American colonies from the 1630s to the 1670s. The beliefs of the new light, of the Great Awakening, vied with those of early colonists, and the religious enthusiasms in the English colonies of the United Kingdom and the British North America tied the British Atlantic together into one common experience during the eighteenth century. The most significant religious development in colonial America was the emergence of the religious revival known as the Great Awakening.

Religious revivals initially appeared in England, Scotland, and Germany, eventually spreading throughout the colonies. In the American colonies, revivals caused congregational churches and Presbyterian churches to divide, while strengthening both Methodist and Baptist denominations. While the Great Awakening united England’s colonies in the United States and increased church growth, experts say that it also caused a rift between those who supported and those who rejected it. In New England, The Great Awakening was influential among many Congregationalists; whereas in the Middle colonies and Southern colonies (especially the rural areas of these colonies), The Awakening was influential among Presbyterians and other dissenting Protestants.

Along with the Presbyterians on the New Side (who would eventually rejoin on their own terms the Old Side), many of New England’s New Lights carried the Great Awakening to the Southern colonies, sparking a number of revivals which continued into the nineteenth century. The Great Awakening was a spiritual revival that spread throughout the American colonies, especially New England, in the first half of the eighteenth century. The First Great Awakening (often called the Great Awakening by historians) is a title sometimes given to the period of increased religious activity, mostly in Great Britain and its North American colonies, in the 1730s and 1740s. The First Great Awakening or evangelical revival was a series of Christian revivals which spread throughout Britain and her thirteen North American colonies during the 1730s and 1740s.

The First Great Awakening took place during the 1730s – 1740s and included such pastors as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield (who captivated Benjamin Franklin ), David Brainard, Samuel Davies, and many others throughout the 13 original colonies. Each had leaders that are notable in history, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield being the most notable names in the First Great Awakening (characterized by Calvinists) and Nathaniel Taylor and Charles Finney in the Second Great Awakening (far less Calvinistic, more in tune with Arminian beliefs held by many people in the newly formed United States). Whitefield and Edwards believed that churches ought to be organized to stand apart entirely from New England governments. While most earlier studies focused on only one or two newspapers from the main cities, and generally dealt only with just one of George Whitefield’s preaching tours, The First Great Awakening in Colonial Americas newspapers included numerous papers from multiple main cities, and also a number of various colonies.

The Great Awakening was not the first time Protestant churches experienced revival; it was, however, the first time a shared evangelical identity emerged, one grounded in fairly uniform understandings of salvation, gospel-proclaiming, and conversion. The revival began with Jonathan Edwards, a highly educated theologian and Congregationalist minister in Northampton, Mass., who was descended from Puritan and Calvinist roots, but who stressed the importance and power of direct, personal religious experience. The Great Awakening of 1720-1745 also spurred a growth of Evangelicalism, which brought believers together under an umbrella of like-minded Christians, regardless of denomination, whose way of salvation was to acknowledge Jesus Christs death on our behalf.

In the 1730s, churches in Northampton felt a stirring from Gods spirit, moving them away from lukewarm apathy and toward an awakening of the soul. Through efforts by the ministers in parishes, a large, widespread revival occurred throughout New England from 1740-1743, marked by an increased interest in religious experience, extensive emotional preaching, and powerful emotional reactions accompanied by conversion, including swooning and crying.

Led by the Tennent family–Rev. William Tennent, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his four sons, all clergy–Rev. William Tennent, a Scots-Irish immigrant, Rev. William Tennent’s Presbyterians not only initiated religious revivals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey during the 1730s, but also established a seminary to train clergymen whose fiery, heartfelt preaching would lead sinners to experience evangelical conversion. Gilbert Tennent helped spark the Presbyterian revivals of the Middle colonies (Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey), partly through his establishment of the seminary, which trained other evangelical clerics.

The earliest expressions of Americas stage of a New Era of faith–the start of the First Great Awakening–appeared among Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Against prevailing views that 18th-century Americans did not retain the fervent devotion to faith that had marked the first colonists, scholars now recognize high levels of religious vigor in colonies following the 1770s.

Indeed, evangelical styles of religious worship promoted during the Great Awakening helped to make religious doctrines from many insurgent denominations–especially Baptist and Methodist–more accessible to wider segments of the American population. Historian Sidney E. Ahlstrom views this as part of the great international Protestant resurgence, which also created Pietism in Germany, evangelical revivalism, and Methodism in Britain. The Great Awakening was a part of a religious ferment that spread throughout Western Europe during the late seventeenth century and the early eighteenth, called pietism and quietism on the continent among Protestants and Roman Catholics, and evangelicalism in England, led by John Wesley (1703-91).

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