Introductions:I'm doing quite a bit of study in the realm of Church History this summer. I'm taking the first of two parts of an overview of Church History and then a more specific study concerning the history of Baptists. In my studies I've come to the point where a bit of discussion on The Great Awakening (1720-1740) is in order. I thought to myself (at the prompting of a discussion board) if I were to teach a class on The Great Awakening what would my main three sections be? What parts of The Great Awakening are crucial to the understanding of what exactly the movement was?
It's important first to understand that we are not speaking in general terms of the Great Awakenings but rather the First Great Awakening. "The Great Awakenings were several periods of rapid and dramatic religious revival in Anglo-American religious history, generally recognized as beginning in the 1730s. They have also been described as periodic revolutions in U.S. religious thought. The term is also used in some respects to refer to American religious revivalism that the Protestant Reformation inspired during and after the 1500s, as well as to identify general religious trends within distinctly U.S. religious culture." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Awakening) The First Great Awakening was indeed a revival, think full commitment not tent preachers with gimmicks, of the soul.
The reasons for the start of this awakening are threefold: Providential in that it was affirmed by the works of Jonathan Edwards and others; Physical as natural disasters and diseases such as an earthquake and diphtheria brought the people to think heavily on eternal matters, and Spiritually there was very little involvement in the church by the colonists and the lack of understanding about spiritual matters brought many to place of questioning.(Ergun Caner CHHI 694 Lecture Notes Lesson 12 Pgs. 3-6)
Controversies: (Old & New Lights)
As with anything in the local church there are always those who champion and oppose. There were those among the Congregationalists who rejected the revival called the "Old Lights". Many of these men and women later became Unitarians. Those who championed the cause of the revival from this group, the "New Lights", began to question things like infant baptism and later became Baptists. "As more religious dissenters and more of the general populace supported the idea of separation of church and state, more ministers from various denominations supported the Great Awakening. Although it began to reinforce the old, traditional theology of Calvinism among people, a new group of preachers arose later in the years called the New Lights. Leaders such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards were New light preachers who gave emotional speeches. They believed that salvation was more important than religious training. In contrast, the Old light preachers used more closely reasoned, rational arguments in their sermons."(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Awakening)
Some important results of the Great Awakening were: renewed evangelism and revivalism, religious freedom, emphasis on being part of the local church, and renewed call and passion for ministry. (Ergun Caner CHHI 694 Lecture Notes Lesson 12 Pgs. 6) The greatest result was that the Great Awakening helped to draw people back to Jesus this was an is still the most important aspect of any revival in the church. That God would draw all men unto Himself so that He alone can receive glory for the work done in men's hearts.