Controversies Of The Great Awakening In The Middle Colonies -- By: Christopher Byrd

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 08:2 (Spring 1999)
Article: Controversies Of The Great Awakening In The Middle Colonies
Author: Christopher Byrd


Controversies Of The Great Awakening
In The Middle Colonies

Christopher Byrd

The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies was a period of much religious revival and spiritual awakening that began with the religious “stirrings” of Theodorus J. Frelinghuysen in the mid-1720s and swelled to a crescendo of revivalistic and religious excitement with the coming of George Whitefield in 1740. Not only did it change the spiritual condition of many people, it also had a great effect on the religious and political thought of the nation. It was, to be sure, a reaction against the rationalism and legalism which had crept into the church. It challenged religious indifference, dead formality, and dependence upon self-righteousness while emphasizing the necessity of the “new birth” and “of being first in Christ by a vital union, and in a justified state before our religious services can be well pleasing and acceptable to God.”1

But a movement which challenged such deep and fundamental views on religion as those which pervaded the pre-Awakening Middle Colonies, would inevitably cause rampant division. This division, manifested chiefly in the Presbyterian Church, was the confrontation between the eighteenth-century forces of Pietism and the Enlightenment.2 This paper aims to set forth a short summary of the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies, and to examine the theological and political dimensions of the controversies arising from the Great Awakening, giving some brief biblical analysis along the way.

A Brief Summary Of The
Awakening In The Middle Colonies

The religious state of the Middle Colonies in the early eighteenth century was deplorable—a condition due chiefly to the failure of the church as an institution to establish itself successfully as it had in Europe. Much of this failure can be attributed to the religious and ethnic diversity that was unique to the Middle Colonies. Nowhere else in the world at that time were there more groups of varying religious and cultural backgrounds in one area of comparable size. Churches simply did not have the same power and influence they had enjoyed in Europe where religious institutions were inextricably tied to culture and often to civil government.

Christianity had lost some of its vitality in being transplanted from the Old World to the New. The second and third generations did not inherit in full the faith of the pioneers. Old World theological issues were matters of less concern in the new environment, and authoritarian church organizations were less effective in the freer life of the colonial frontier. Reli...

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