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on July 18, 2012
I have to respond to some of the negative comments on this very fine and well researched book on a fascinating subject. First, educated Americans are very well familiar with the cultural phenomenon of the Great Awakening. Second, why should the author--who provides a meticulously documented account of these events-- get emotional over his subject? Because it is religion? Do you want a pious recitation? On the contrary, he provides a lively account of some evangelical excesses and his dry humor shines throughout the text; rarely does one fine such an academic book so vastly informative yet entertaining.

I am amazed that one reviewer singled out Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" for criticism. It is a wonderful sermon filled with vivid imagery that tells us much about the Puritan mentality of the time. Nobody is asking you to believe in the sermon, just to understand it in its historical context. I guess it is such a defective work that it is impossible to go to a decent college and not have it as required reading your freshman year!

Very likely this is the definitive text on the subject. The author covers all sorts of material with a wide geographical spread from New England down through the Southern colonies. You will get a very clear picture of regional developments, which is a bonus. The book is filled with new and original interpretations of the historical data, and devotes much attention to the role that women, Indians, and Blacks played in the Great Awakening. (Usually this approach is burdened by academic political correctness, but here it is truly appropriate and fascinating.) The author's mastery of the primary and secondary sources is superb. If you have any interest in this subject it would be a huge error to miss this book.

Finally,(and this is a personal insight that has nothing to do with the author's methodology) this subject shines much light on the excesses of Protestant fundamentalism that so prominently arise in American politics today among so-called Republican Neo-Cons, or whatever they call themselves. One can gain many valuable insights into the present by studying the past. Americans have long been prone to various exotic manifestations of religious fanaticism. So whatever your interest in the Great Awakening, be assured this book is truly outstanding, and the negative reviewers do not make truly sensible objections. Why, if I were an angry deity, I would hold them like spiders over the fiery pit of Hell and make them recant! Just joking...
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on December 28, 2013
I really give this book 3 and a half stars. Although this is an informative account of the Great Awakening, I cannot wholly endorse it. While Kidd is a great scholar, the book suffers from several things. Before I discuss those, let me first say that Kidd does a good job of surveying source materials for the Great Awakening and we learn a great deal about many of the American participants in the revival. He evenly treats the revival's impact across the colonies without undo focus on New England, as is sometimes the case. He also shows the connection of the revival to the American Revolution and many subsequent developments such as the rise of Baptists in the south and the impact of the revival on African and Native Americans. I like the fact that he shows how the revival demonstrated some of the first attempts at addressing the abolition of slavery in the American colonies (It is of interest that the parallel Awakening in England directly led to the abolition of slavery there thru the efforts of William Wilberforce and others).

Having said that, here are three problems I had with Kidd's analysis. First of all, perhaps because the book is strictly a scholarly treatment, he does not capture the marvelous aura of the revival and what a remarkable work it was. While his writing was not necessarily dry, it was not exactly inspiring either. I am not of the opinion that works of historical scholarship have to be dry and uninspiring, even for a specialized audience. Furthermore, although Kidd claims an Evangelical faith, he tends to treat the revival strictly as a human work with some strange phenomena that is not easily explained. As a Christian, I believe the main thrust of the revival was a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon a nation whose spiritual condition was in serious declension. Kidd fails to capture this reality. Unfortunately, I believe he falls into the category of many Evangelical historians who tend to ignore divinely providential explanations of history in favor of strictly human ones. This is one era of history where that simply doesn't work. There are too many remarkable coincidences and phenomena that cannot be adequately explained apart from divine intervention. But of course this approach to history does not sit well in the secular dominated Academy and this is the milieu out of which Kidd operates. As a Christian I believe this skews the whole enterprise of historiography. If God is the God He has revealed Himself to be in the Bible, a Christian historian must recognize His providential control and purposes in history or risk misinterpreting history as something merely anthropocentric.

Secondly, I felt like Kidd focused too much on the strange and extreme aberrations of the Awakening - i.e. the 'enthusiastical/ fanatical' aspects that tended to sour the Awakening. Reading his account, you almost get the impression that the Awakening was marked primarily by religious hysteria. While such things prevailed in some quarters, I feel as though Kidd gives the impression they represented the main thrust of what was happening. He also provides woefully inadequate treatment of Jonathan Edwards' reasoned response to such extremes. Edwards was the preeminent leader and shaper of the interpretation of the revival's impact which had a profound influence on subsequent Evangelical history. Kidd underplays this important reality. If this is the only book you read on the Awakening you might walk away thinking it was a period of a great deal of uncontrolled religious hype and foolishness. In fact, I think Kidd fails to demonstrate how the Awakening birthed modern Evangelicalism.

This leads to my third criticism. Kidd fails to place the revival in its broader context. I realize he is narrowly focused upon the revival as it unfolded in the American colonies, but this is short-sighted. The revival in America was intricately tied to similar events in Great Britain, with simultaneous awakenings in England, Wales, Scotland and to some extent, Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the role of the Moravians (Germany) was instrumental in what took place both in America and Great Britain. These things receive little or no notice. Although much is said about George Whitefiled in America, we learn little of other key leaders like Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland in Wales; James Robe and William McCulloch in Scotland; and other leaders like the Countess of Huntingdon in England. John Wesley is given some mention, but his role in the broader Awakening is underplayed. In this regard, Mark Noll's book,The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (History of Evangelicalism Series) does a better job of drawing these connections. Furthermore, it is much more readable than Kidd's book, probably because it is addressed to a general audience. Also, Noll makes a better case for how the Awakening shaped modern Evangelicalism.

I don't dismiss Kidd's work altogether because much is learned here that is not readily available elsewhere and he does draw some important insights into the revival. But I would compliment his treatment with Noll's book. I also highly recommend an older work on the Awakening, A. Skevington Wood's The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century (Advance of Christianity Thorugh the Centuries). Wood is an older Wesleyan scholar whose book focuses mainly on the Evangelical Revival as it is called in Great Britain, particularly England. But he also does a good job of showing the broader context to what was happening elsewhere that Kidd does not. What I also like about Wood is that although his treatment makes use of the scholarly sources available at the time (1960), his narrative of events is warm, inspiring and not afraid to demonstrate that the revival was largely a work of the Holy Spirit. He combines scholarship with a pietistic fervor for the sort of revival fires he describes. As a Christian, he views history as something God orchestrates and thus it serves to encourage Christians by its examples for our spiritual edification and not for mere historical interest or intellectual reflection. I had hoped Kidd's work would have done the same. Sadly, it did not. It left more of a bad impression about the Awakening and that is very unfortunate, because in spite of some of its unhappy excesses, it was a wonderful work of God that is sorely needed again in our time. O God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us again!
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on March 1, 2012
This book has a little something for everybody. There is both good and bad with those circumstances. If you like this book depends on what you are looking for.

This book is very well documented. It is heavily based on source material from the time. It has information I think you won't find anywhere else. The author shows the great awakening was more than success on George Whitefield's tours. It involved the movement of the Holy Spirit across a wide array of people up and down the sea board. This book treats the great awakening as a coaches tactical break down of a game plan. I doubt there is any book with such a large volume of raw data on the event. It displays the Xs and Os of what happened from 1740 to 1780 that way. A reader can get an intense knowledge of the event from this X and O breakdown.

This knowledge is important. I think most American's don't know about this great awakening. Preachers would regularly speak to 6 or 8 thousand people in a field. People would be overcome with the emotion of the spirit in all kinds of wild ways. Churches would spring up all over like flowers in a field. These events lead to thousands upon thousands of changed lives. That lead to a changed nation.

There is a negative side of this academic breakdown. The description of the event lacks the passion and emotion that filled the event. You loose that perspective in this book. That is to bad. It misses the point of why this event was very important.

There is some real gems of information in this book. The reader can see how the church was the first institution that opened up doors to African Americans, Indians and others who weren't in the mainstream. You can see how the fights today between church liberals and conservatives had a start way before the start of this nation. The author does do a good job of point out how the church had an impact on the revolution. That too is an important message more people need to know.

I think if you are a seminary student or an expert in Colonial America you will love this book. I do think the average reader will be bored with the book; not because of the message but how it is written.
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on February 19, 2015
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on October 8, 2013
My interest in early American history as it relates to God in the midst is at the top of my reading lists.
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on December 18, 2014
I, too, read this for a graduate readings seminar, and was not much impressed by "The Great Awakening". I didn't think that it was all that well written. The prose is rather turgid in most places. Prof. Kidd did some good research for this, but I found that much of the book just covers the same ground covered by others in his bibliography. He doesn't say anything about the Awakening that wasn't already said by the likes of George Marsden and Mark Noll. As a fairly devout Christian, I believe in the separation of church and state, and Kidd's implication that the two can work together fruitfully--and did in the American Revolution--is troubling.
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on March 16, 2013
Another description of America's ills. Everyone should read this and heed it's message to us. We have turned away from God and our choices are coming home to show us.
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on October 25, 2014
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on December 18, 2014
I read this for a class, and while it is well researched and passably written, I could not abide his thesis that evangelicalism was a good thing--a defining influence on American society. Rubbish. All I've ever seen from evangelicalism has been a corrosive "us vs. them" mentality that separates people from each other. T. H. Breen was much closer to the mark in arguing that consumer capitalism forged a common American identity before the American Revolution, and it was the philosophies of Algernon Sydney, John Locke, Adam Smith, and David Hume, among others, that drove the American Patriots in the Revolution--not Protestant evangelicalism, as Kidd implies in the final chapters. Kidd tips his hand in his follow-up, "God of Liberty," in asserting that the Founders were creating a Christian nation, and that whatever's left of the "wall of separation" between Church and State should be brought down. As an atheist, I found his putting me on notice that I had better just accept this extremely off-putting. No wonder Yale University Press wouldn't publish "God of Liberty": it's nothing more than an evangelical polemic against secular humanism--the true driving force of the American Revolution, and the philosophy to which our greatest leaders have adhered.
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on February 17, 2010
After reading the first 50 pages I regretted taking the course that featured it as required reading. Unless you are entranced by such drivel as Jonathon Edward's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" you are not going to relish one paragraph of this book. Avoid at all costs. We've got enough problems with the latter day adherants to the evangelical movement that think they are the "elect", destined to run everything in the country and the planet. Send a used copy to Sarah Palin. Maybe she'll go away.
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