Great Awakening Essays

Jonathan Edwards: America's Theologian-Preacher

Jonathan Edwards is probably the best-known figure associated with the Great Awakening. He has often been caricatured, however, simply as the “fire-and-brimstone” preacher of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Indeed, some secular writers, embarrassed by this distortion, have even attempted to reverse that picture completely, portraying a brilliant New England thinker who was only incidentally religious. The truth is that Edwards was a multifaceted man—certainly brilliant and undeniably a keen logician, but also an intensely religious man of deep and reverent piety. It is Jonathan Edwards, perhaps, not philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who deserves the description “the God-intoxicated man.”

The Preacher and the Printer

George Whitefield, the famous evangelist, became friends with Benjamin Franklin, the famous printer and philosophe, while he was visiting Philadelphia on a preaching tour. This essay takes excerpts from the correspondence between two remarkable men of the eighteenth century.

George Whitefield: The Awakener

“I love those that thunder out the Word,” said George Whitefield. “The Christian World is in a dead sleep. Nothing but a loud voice can awaken them out of it.” Whitefield was almost certainly the greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century. He preached throughout the British Isles and the British colonies in North America. Although Whitefield’s reputation has been overshadowed by Wesley’s, his contribution to the revivals of the eighteenth century is almost as great.

Historical Background

The most important religious development in colonial America was the introduction of religious revivals known as the Great Awakening. Religious revivals first appeared in England, Scotland, and Germany, and ultimately spread to the colonies. The fervor of these revivals represented a reaction against the formality of Congregational churches. A leading figure in the Great Awakening was the clergyman Jonathan Edwards, who attempted to reconcile Calvinism and the Enlightenment.


The Great Awakening in the colonies, unlike in Europe, crossed class lines. This is significant in the development of a common American identity. At the same time, the Great Awakening produced a splintering of American Protestantism.

Essential Question

Did the Great Awakening contribute to the colonists’ desire to declare their independence from England? Explain.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain, in writing, what is meant by the Great Awakening.
  • Students will be able to contrast the "ways to salvation" among the followers of predestination (Puritans) and the revivalists.
  • Students will be able to define "licentiousness," "lewd," "frolicking," and "Arminianism."
  • After reading "Great Awakening: The Christian History," students will be able to relate the reading to the issues that gave rise to the Great Awakening.
  • Students will write a paragraph explaining the beliefs of the Great Awakening.
  • Students will interpret Jonathan Edwards’s speech "A Faithfull Narrative of the Surprising Work of God."


Ask students to write what they think is meant by "freedom of religion" as found in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Ask students to determine if there is any mention of religion in the body of the Constitution.


  • Distribute to each student a copy of Notes on the Great Awakening (pdf). As the teacher calls on students to explain each bullet point, students take notes.
  • Distribute The Christian History (pdf)
  • Review the meaning of "licentiousness," "lewd," and "frolicking."
  • Break students into groups of two. Working together, the team revises spelling and grammar to reflect modern English.
  • Students describe what is meant by "Dullness of Religion."
  • Students describe what the article states regarding the behavior of the youth in paragraph 3.
  • Students describe why and how the behavior of the youth changed.
  • Have students define "Arminianism."
  • Have students interpret each paragraph and conduct a discussion.
  • Distribute A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (pdf).


Students write an essay answering the essential question: Did the Great Awakening contribute to the colonists’ desire to declare their independence from England? Explain.

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