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The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Library of Religious Biography) Paperback – September 9, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stout, a professor of American religious history at Yale and coeditor of Dictionary of Christianity in America , has produced the first comprehensive biography of Whitefield (1714-1770) in many years. According to the author, the Anglican Calvinist p. 252 clergyman was not only America's earliest popular hero but also the first to unite the colonies in a sense of common identity. With his single-minded emphasis on regeneration, he introduced into religion the personal, privatistic piety that is today characteristic of the evangelical movement. As the title suggests, the key to Whitefield's success on both sides of the Atlantic is to be found in his theatricality. He quickly recognized the power of open-air field preaching. He was a shameless, egotistical self-promoter who, in a startling parallel with modern televangelists, consciously (albeit sincerely) employed histrionics "with all the dramatic artifice of a huckster," a traveling salesman for the New Birth. By the end, according to Stout, there was no private person, only the public preacher. This book reflects exhaustive research and offers a solid portrait of a person of pivotal importance to present-day evangelicalism.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Religious Biography
  • Paperback: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (September 9, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802801544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802801548
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #821,663 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Neftali De Jesus on November 26, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant that Stout wrote a book on such an illuminating figure of history. But their is a lot of biased interjections by the author. Instead of just writing the facts of Whitefield's life, Stout has a tendency on writing about what possibly motivated Whitefield to do something. Many stouts interjections are liberal. For instance, if this book was about Moses and the author wrote about the parting of the Red Sea , the author would go on about how it really wasn't an ocean that parted yada yada yada! I gave it three stars because I love the material. But the storyteller had a bit of a liberal slant.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By BOB W. on December 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Whitefield portrayed in The Divine Dramatist "lived his life almost exclusively for public performance" (xv). His principal motivation appears not to have been saintly piety, but unabashed egocentrism. Harry Stout's itinerant revivalist is an arrogant, shameless egotistic self-promoter (xxii, xxiii, 16, 36-37, 55, 109, 166, 223) who had mastered the art of ingratiation (11). He was an actor who "played the role of pious celebrity to perfection" (103) in order to "sculpt[ ] of himself a heroic figure" (53, 56). An inferiority complex (33, 36-37, 75) caused him to crave "respect and power" (46). Egocentrism serves as the framework from which Stout hangs his Whitefield. He preached because it supplied what neither missions nor charity could. It made "him an unrivaled somebody" (37). Whitfield went to Georgia because a pulpit in Gloucester "seemed too small" and the "much bigger stage" offered by the missions' field was "most tantalizing" (29). Once in Georgia "he realized that this small, struggling colony . . . was much too small a canvas on which to paint his life's work" (61). Whitfield therefore undertook responsibility for establishing an orphanage in Georgia because it "would require substantial travel" and could serve "as a pretext for itinerant preaching" (62, 64, 67-68). The egotistical, self-promoting actor-preacher that emerges from Stout's narrative never quite fully morphs into an eighteenth-century Elmer Gantry. While sharing the fictional charlatan's egocentrism, Stout's itinerant revivalist also experienced a genuine "conversion experience that, he passionately believed, was unmerited and of divine initiative," fervently desired "to activate his hearers to seek their salvation" and was "undistracted by the allure of sex or wealth" (xxiii, xxiv).Read more ›
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53 of 78 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 1998
Format: Paperback
This volume came warmly recommended by Mark Noll in "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind", but turns out to be not so much an autobiography as a mean spirited diatribe about how George Whitefield was a Bad Guy. Beyond the pedestrian failures of not adequately representing Whitefield's theology, this book fails to report his theology altogether. As I read, I thought time and again of those murky Sunday School classes where the Higher Critic of a teacher, having no life with God, labors to remove all the miraculous from the story of Moses and the Red Sea (although I continue to marvel at how God drowned the Egyptians in 18" of water). And I discovered from this book that George Whitefield was invariably insecure, self-adoring, tricky, a hypocrite, sneaky, effeminate, a cheat, self righteous, and well, you get the idea. One wonders if the author could use a little sermon on charity from his subject. But the greatest failure of this little book is its missing what invariable makes biographies of godly persons so readable: not so much the life of the person, but the life of God lived through the person. On this count, the book fails entirely. Save your money.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Glen O'Brien on June 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book situates Whitefield in his transatlantic setting and describes his use of drama and entrepreneurship in the new market opened up by the confluence of the Evangelical revival and the rise of the early American Republic. This is the place to begin for anyone who wants to get a start on understanding "the divine dramatist."
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13 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joshua D. Reitano on June 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Harry Stout does a marvelous job with the difficult task of assessing George Whitefield's career with respect to his skills as a dramatist and promoter. Before reading this book I was very skeptical of the often undue emphasis historians in recent years have attempted to place on style rather than content to revivalists' preaching. But I found Stout's arguement to be very convincing. This is a very helpful volume for anyone interested in George Whitefield, the Great Awakening, or American religion.
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