The entrance to Bethesda today
I have finished reading Thomas S. Kidd’s book, George Whitefield America’s Spiritual Founding Father. My previous knowledge of Whitefield was limited. As a child I learned he was an English evangelist, who preached in the 1700’s, and that he had something to do with the Great Awakening. More recently I discovered that he founded Bethesda Academy, an orphanage and school in Savannah, Georgia, which still exists today (and by which I often drive). I did not know that he was only 23, a recently ordained minister of the Anglican church, when he first visited Georgia, that he was close friends of John and Charles Wesley, as well as Savannians, James Oglethorpe and James Habersham. Nor did I know that Benjamin Franklin printed his sermons and reports of his preaching, and that he and Whitefield maintained a close relationship through the end of the preacher’s life.
This is a historical work, including over forty pages of notes, much of them referencing material from Whitefield’s own lifetime. I appreciated Kidd’s refusal to avoid material that today’s readers would find offensive, and also to include original sources that reflected the culture of that time. In the author’s own words:
The argument of this biography is straightforward: George Whitfield 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. Until now, we have not had a scholarly biography of Whitefield that places him fully in the dynamic, fractious milieu of the early evangelical movement. That is what I seek to do here.