by Dish Staff
Last week marked three hundred years since the birth of George Whitefield, whom Thomas Kidd, author of George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, describes as “the greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century, and the best known person in colonial America prior to the Revolution.” More background from Kidd:
George Whitefield, born on Dec. 16, 1714, was a Church of England minister who led the Great Awakening, a series of Christian revivals that swept through Britain and America in the mid-1700s. Whitefield drew enormous audiences wherever he went on both sides of the Atlantic, and his publications alone doubled the output of the American colonial presses between 1739 and 1742. If there is a modern figure comparable to Whitefield, it is Billy Graham. But even Mr. Graham has followed a path first cut by Whitefield.
What made Whitefield and his gospel message so famous? First, he mastered the period’s new media. Cultivating a vast network of newspaper publicity, printers and letter-writing correspondents, Whitefield used all means available to get the word out. Most important, he joined with Benjamin Franklin, who became Whitefield’s main printer in America, even though Franklin was no evangelical. Their business relationship transformed into a close friendship, although Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin, unsuccessfully, about his need for Jesus.
In an interview, Kidd draws out Whitefield’s importance for American history: