September 13, 2007

OUTSIDE SOURCE Book Review: "The Life and Times of George Whitefield," by Robert Philip

BOOK REVIEWED: "The Life and Times of George Whitefield," by Robert Philip
REVIEWER: Randall J. Pederson, Westminster Seminary Bookstore Staff & PhD student-church history
THE REVIEW: "Robert Philip’s The Life and Times of George Whitefield was the first sympathetic biography, published in 1837, of the great transatlantic itinerant preacher. Comprised largely from Whitefield’s journals, letters, and sermons, this early biography presents Whitefield in all his evangelical glory—from his early years in Gloucester, England, his struggles at Oxford and the rise of the English Methodists, to his untimely death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the legacy of his felicitous preaching.
Overall, Philip’s biography is a decent and faithful depiction of Whitefield’s life and message. It is, as Iain H. Murray notes in his introduction, a work that reaches heart and soul and inflames devotion to Christ. It is not, as Murray equally notes, a work of ‘quiet scholarship’, which should be of no surprise as the work predates the so-called renaissance of ‘sociological enlightenment’.
Whitefield was, as readers will soon discover, a complex personality. He loathed himself but had boundless expectations of God’s grace. He forged relationships with prominent leaders, both political and religious, including Benjamin Franklin and the Countess of Huntingdon. Whitefield was not inerrant, nor did he pretend to be. He was called to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit during a time of intense complacency and was used alongside many other American luminaries, such as Jonathan Edwards, to breathe new life into the American religious scene of the eighteenth century. His influence spreads even to today, as new monographs and reprints of Whitefield’s sermons continue to issue from the press.
The Life and Times of George Whitefield is well-suited for pastors, seminary students, and lay readers who want to grasp Whitefield’s life and work but are weary of plowing through Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (Banner of Truth, 1970, 1980).
Regardless of one’s personal interest in Whitefield, Philip’s work still remains the most complete, sympathetic, single-volume biography available today. More definitive biographies of Whitefield have been written. Luke Tyerman’s The Life of the Reverend George Whitefield (1876-77) was the standard reference until supplanted by Dallimore’s.
Critical scholars will find the work less useful, at times hagiographic, more an evangelical footnote to the ‘divine dramatist’ than an accurate description of what happened. This de-spiritualizing of Whitefield’s influence runs through Harry S. Stout’s The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1991) and Frank Lambert’s ‘Pedlar in Divinity’: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals, 1737-1770 (Princeton, 1993)."
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To read this review on its original site, click HERE.
For more information, or to buy this book, click HERE.