2008 Stone Lectures - Lecture III: Edwards and Whitefield

The summary of the third lecture by George Marsden is now available from Chris TerryNelson at Disruptive Grace. This third lecture in the 2008 Stone Lectures is entitled “Edwards’ Vision and the Religion that Whitefield and Franklin Shaped.” Here is a brief selection:
Although Whitefield and Edwards were both involved in the Great Awakening, and they respected each other very much, Whitefield was personally much closer to Ben Franklin. He stayed in Franklin’s home, and suggested that they found a colony in Ohio to do missions in the Indians there. Whitefield and Franklin had very similar outlooks in some respects. Franklin saw Whitefield’s religion as helpful to society. Both were skilled in promoting themselves, in being “self-made men.”

The friendship between them connects with the traits of later American religion. Both Franklin and Whitefield believed that religion should be voluntary, not something that should be forced by the state as in Europe. American diversity made this a necessity, but Whitefield made it a virtue before it was necessary.

Marsden believes that American voluntarism is a good thing, and so is the separation of church and state. But it has immense implications for the place of religion in American culture. Most successful churches have had to use marketing strategies to grow. Sometimes this explanation is exaggerated, because the logic of it is that the religion will become adapted to what people already want and believe. In fact, what has happened is that many of the most popular religious movements have actually challenged the beliefs and behaviors of their audiences, providing an alternative through the classical tenets of the Christian faith. Despite marketing strategies, Whitefield would still recognize the Gospel in American religion today.
You may read the rest of Chris’s summary here. Tomorrow I will provide the summary of the fourth lecture on “Jonathan and Sarah Attend a Megachurch: the Religious Affections and Evangelicalism Today.”