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George Whitefield – America’s Spiritual Founding Father

By Thomas S Kidd
April 2015 | Review by Jeremy Walker
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • ISBN: 978-0-300-18162-3
  • Pages: 330
  • Price: 25.00
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Book Review

This volume navigates a number of middle paths simultaneously. The author is an evangelical Christian, yet an academic historian. His is an honest assessment from a sympathetic perspective. It is an American biography of a British preacher, addressing Whitefield as man and as gospel minister. It is also a reasonably full treatment with a relatively brief scope.

Thomas Kidd handles these various balancing acts well, holding their elements in healthy tension. This is a relief, although different readers might have appreciated a slightly different line at points.

Kidd uses the language of Christian faith confidently and accurately, although often more by way of reportage. He states his personal convictions early, but they come through incidentally rather than otherwise. Historically, Kidd faces the facts, whether to do with Whitefield’s spiritual life, his social policies (including on slavery), his personal relationships, or his devotion to God and sacrificial service for Jesus Christ.

There were places in which more developed analysis would have been helpful. I am not sure that I would call it a Christian biography, though it is unashamedly the biography of a Christian. While I missed the theologian’s analysis and assessment at points, I appreciated the historian’s candour.

As the subtitle makes plain, the book is written from an American perspective (appropriately, given Whitefield’s extensive travels and investments there). Some volumes make a grand botch when it comes to the opposite side of the Atlantic, but Kidd is sure-footed in the British sections. He has done his homework, but readers should not expect a ‘British’ book.

Nothing is missing in plotting the trajectory of Whitefield’s life along its key points and primary concerns. The author has the material at his fingertips and works with a sure touch. He writes with a clarity and crispness that makes the volume a ready read, if not always a simple one. Given these positive qualities, some may wish that Kidd had spent more time tracing certain aspects of Whitefield’s life in more detail.

On the other hand, a longer volume might not have supplied so well those who are coming to Whitefield for the first time. Kidd’s efforts provide an excellent and honest introduction to the man, simultaneously serving a number of different audiences.

In sum, the author has achieved what appear to be his aims. Whitefield is required and allowed to be all that he was and was not. The colours of the rose remain vibrant and the scent rich, though one or two of its petals may droop a little and the thorns have not been trimmed.

There is no saccharine sweetness of adoration or vinegar of cynicism, but rather the strong and varied flavours of the vigorous life of a saved sinner in the service of Christ.

Jeremy Walker

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