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George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father Hardcover – October 28, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


“I commend this book to any serious student of American history. British by birth, George Whitefield is in fact woven into the spiritual fabric of our own nation—he was a central figure in the Great Awakening of the early American colonies, his rousing sermons and booming voice stirring thousands. He truly is, in the words of Kidd, ‘America’s Spiritual Founding Father.’”—Frank Wolf, Congressman of the 10th District of Virginia
(Frank Wolf)

“This superb chronicle of George Whitefield’s life is now our fullest biography for the much-studied and much-debated eighteenth-century evangelist.  It combines unusual empathy with unusual comprehension.”—Mark Noll, author of The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys
(Mark Noll)

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father traces the life of perhaps the most important evangelical leader in American history, the minister most responsible for the rise of the evangelical movement in the decades before the American Revolution. Thomas Kidd introduces us to a flawed but deeply religious man whose passionate preaching inspired thousands of Americans to become evangelical Christians. Lucid, well-researched, and insightful, this book is an absorbing account of Whitefield’s remarkable life and ministry.—Catherine Brekus, author of Sarah Osborn's World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America
(Catherine Brekus)

“Thomas Kidd’s judicious portrait places Whitefield at the center of the transatlantic evangelical awakening, where he belongs.”—Bruce Hindmarsh, author of The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England
(Bruce Hindmarsh)

“Thoroughly researched, and rooted in an exact knowledge of Whitefield’s times; critically perceptive while remaining appreciatively sympathetic; this is the best balanced and most illuminating chronicle of the Anglo-American Awakener’s career that has yet been produced.”­—J.I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College
(J.I. Packer)

“A popularly accessible biography of a legendary Calvinist preacher. . . . A warts-and-all portrait of the man [and] a concise and entertaining read.”—David Wilezol, Washington Times
(David Wilezol Washington Times)

“A remarkably thorough and even-handed biography, beautifully structured from a wealth of primary sources to form the best, most insightful biography of Whitefield ever written.”—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
(Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly)

“A narrative that sympathetically helps readers understand what motivated Whitefield’s indefatigable preaching of the gospel while setting the flawed itinerant in his context. . . . To help us understand Whitefield, Kidd constantly connects him to larger movements—not least of which is the burgeoning evangelical movement of the day. And he does all of this in an engaging manner, using vibrant prose, good storytelling techniques, and incisive historical commentary.”—David Barshinger,
(David Barshinger

“A scholarly yet readable 300-page biography that shows the accuracy of its subtitle.”—Marvin Olasky, World Magazine
(Marvin Olasky World Magazine)

“This new biography recalls George Whitefield, the 18th-century English evangelist, as probably the most recognizable celebrity of his age. He was certainly the most traveled, crisscrossing the Atlantic countless times and preaching to audiences, sometimes in the tens of thousands, up and down the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the British Isles. . . . George Whitefield indelibly shaped America, the Anglosphere, the surging global evangelical movement—and modern notions of celebrity.”—Mark Tooley, Weekly Standard
(Mark Tooley Weekly Standard 2015-01-26)

“Kidd, a professor of history at Baylor and an evangelical Christian, balances his admiration for Whitefield with scholarly rigor. . . . Kidd’s theologically sympathetic approach gives the book a depth that a more detached treatment might not: He misses none of the biblical allusions that peppered Whitefield’s utterances, and he is an excellent guide through the tangled doctrinal controversies that dogged Whitefield’s career. . . . A great orator keeps his listeners’ attention fixed on himself. What made Whitefield great was his ability to keep it fixed on Another.”—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal
(Barton Swaim Wall Street Journal)

“Thomas Kidd brings a unique set of gifts to this new biography. He is, first of all, a scholar. Accuracy and balance mark his careful writing. But Kidd is not interested in writing just for other scholars. . . . The book is based on extensive research, but it’s also a book the non-specialist can enjoy. We are never left is the dust of academic jargon or historical detail. . . . If you only read one biography this year, make it this one – and if you don’t have a biography of George Whitefield on your shelf, buy this one. . . .   I see Whitefield the man more clearly and realistically now, but I also see Whitefield the passionate evangelist more clearly.”—Douglas Connelly, Englewood Review of Books
(Douglas Connelly Englewood Review of Books 2014-12-16)

“This is by far the best biography that exists on Whitefield. The author, Kidd, blends perfectly history and interpretation in an extremely engaging way. I literally couldn’t put this book down. Get it. Get it now.”—Luke Geraty,
(Luke Geraty

“It is a gift to the scholarly community that we have a full and straightforward scholarly biography, and it is a gift to the evangelical community that a historian of Kidd’s caliber treats Whitefield so seriously and respectfully. The result is something everyone should celebrate: a careful presentation of a sinful saint who forever changed the face of American evangelicalism.”—Justin Taylor, Books & Culture
(Justin Taylor Books & Culture)

“In his new biography of Whitefield, Thomas Kidd attempts to restore him to his proper place as America’s foremost early Evangelical, providing a clear-eyed yet sympathetic portrait in the process. . . . Drawing on both his Christian and academic sensibilities, Kidd reports both Whitefield’s serious failures and lasting achievements. Today’s evangelicals would do well to sort through his legacy and learn.”—Bria Sandford, First Things
(Bria Sandford First Things)

About the Author

Thomas S. Kidd is professor of history at Baylor University. His previous books include God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. He lives in Waco, TX.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas S. Kidd teaches history at Baylor University, and is Associate Director of Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. Dr. Kidd writes at the Anxious Bench blog at He also regularly contributes for outlets such as WORLD Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, and USA Today. His latest books are George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father; and Baptists in America: A History, with co-author Barry Hankins. Find him on Facebook at and on Twitter @ThomasSKidd

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dean on October 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I looked forward to reading Thomas Kidd's book, George Whitefield: America's Spiritual Founding Father, from the moment I heard he was writing it. The reason is because I admire George Whitefield, the English preacher that traversed our nation in the 18th Century preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I also anticipated reading it because Thomas Kidd is an outstanding historian and brilliant writer. His book, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, among other works, hooked me on him as an author.

I got a copy as soon as it was published. I didn't mark it up as I usually do because after reading it, I gave it to a Welsh friend as a gift. When my book budget allows it, I will get another copy, reread it, and mark it up in my normal fashion.

Kidd's treatment of Whitefield is thorough, though I found myself wanting to know more. I suspect, to use a film analogy, the author cut out and left a lot of material on the floor. The biography of C. H. Spurgeon by Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, is laboriously full, but I like that. I can only wish I could read what Kidd left out in his research on Whitefield!

Kidd's biography on Whitefield isn't hagiography. He treats his subject fairly and truthfully, not worshipfully and adoringly. But Thomas Kidd likes George Whitefield. However, he doesn't let his like for him keep him from writing painful and embarrassing things. Whitefield was a man like all of us. He had his own unique struggles. But with his weaknesses he was a good man of sincere heart and was greatly used by God to bring many sinners to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Pick up and read. You won't be disappointed if you do.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By ERIC COLEMAN SMITH on October 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have come to value the historical writings of Thomas Kidd very highly over the past several years. I am a PhD student studying the Great Awakening era, and have found all of his works - The Great Awakening, God of Liberty, Patrick Henry, etc. - to be well-researched, skillfully-written, and genuinely enjoyable to read. George Whitefield is one of my favorite figures of American and church history, so I was very eager to read Kidd's latest work. I was not disappointed.

His thesis is clear and simple: "The argument of this biography is straightforward: George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity. Whitefield and legions of other evangelical pastors and laypeople helped establish a new interdenominational religious movement in the eighteenth century, one committed to the gospel of conversion, the new birth, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the preaching of revival across Europe and America (3)." In the brisk (only 263 pages) and compelling narrative that follows, I believe Kidd establishes Whitefield's primacy in the founding generation of evangelicalism. Kidd has written the new standard, academic study of this titanic figure.

What I appreciate most about Kidd is his honesty about his presuppositions, laid out so well in the introduction:

"Writing biographies, and writing religious biographies in particular, presents significant challenges. The temptation to write hagiography - the biography of a pristine saint - is ever present. In placing Whitefield within the new evangelical world, I am not offering an unsullied picture of a sanctified man, nor is my primary aim to edify readers spiritually. Yet historians today know that no one of us is fully objective - personal perspectives matter.
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George Whitefield is not well known by Americans today, including American evangelical Christians, his spiritual heirs. In the eighteenth century, however, Whitefield was well known not only in America, but also in his native England—well known, well loved, and widely criticized. Thomas S. Kidd outlines the life of this influential evangelist in George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father.

Whitefield was born in a Gloucester inn on December 16, 1714, to hardworking though not particularly religious parents. He secured a work-scholarship to Oxford University, where he fell under the spiritual influence of John and Charles Wesley and entered ministry in the Church of England. Together with the Wesley brothers, Whitefield led the trans-Atlantic evangelical revival that came to be known as the Great Awakening through ceaseless itinerant evangelism, innovative use of print media, and development of personal and institutional relationships across denominations.

“[Whitefield’s] colleague and frequent rival John Wesley left a greater organizational legacy,” Kidd writes, “and his ally Jonathan Edwards made a more significant theological contribution. But Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of evangelical Christianity.” Kidd concludes: “Whitefield was the first great preacher in a modern evangelical movement that has seen many. Perhaps he was the greatest evangelical preacher the world has ever seen.”

Reading Kidd’s biography of Whitefield—which will be the standard work for years to come—I was struck by several similarities with contemporary American evangelicalism that are worth noting, both positive and negative.

The first is Whitefield’s blend of principle and pragmatism.
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