I’d like to thank EP Books for giving me a copy of George Whitefield by Michael A.G. Haykin in return for my honest review, as well as a copy for the giveaway.
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was an Anglican cleric and a traveling evangelist who helped spark and spread the Great Awakening. Whitefield was also one of the early founders of the Methodist church, along with John and Charles Wesley. He abandoned this pursuit, however, over deep theological differences with the brothers and his desire to spread the gospel. Interestingly, Whitefield was a proponent of Calvinist theology and cessationism. His theology in both areas was misunderstood greatly due to the revivals he preached in (which were perceived as radical) and his link to the Wesley brothers.
George Whitefield by Michael A.G. Haykin (EP Books, 2014) is entirely readable, well-organized, and perfect for late middle school or high school students. Though it is arranged as a topical rather than as a narrative biography, this is so well done that it should actually help students and clarify issues rather than boring them.
Dr. Haykin, the Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality as well as the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, begins the biography on George Whitefield with a brief overview of the significance of his life and his feature role in the transantlantic Evangelical Revival.
Chapter 2 addresses Living in the Eighteenth Century, a topic which I found fascinating. Religion was dry and dead while immorality and licentious living were reveled in. London was a sad and segmented society, with much suffering and poverty. Dr. Haykin spends a good deal of time discussing the Church of England and the spiritual situation. To illustrate this, there is a mini-biography of William Grimshaw, an Anglican clergyman converted years into his ministry. The little story is fascinating, and the inclusion of these small testimonies throughout the book really contributes to the engaging nature of this biography.
In chapter 3, Seeking Christ, Dr. Haykin gives an overview of Whitefield’s spiritual journey from his inclusion in “the Holy Club” at Oxford with the Wesley brothers, through his conversion (by means of grace rather than by works as the Holy Club espoused), his travels to America and open-air preaching outside the Kingswood coal mines, his travels to preach, the revival in New England and his time with Jonathan Edwards, and his marriage, late ministry, and death.
Chapter 4 examines George Whitefield’s preaching along with his commitment to evangelism and open-air preaching. Dr. Haykin discusses the criticism of Whitefield’s techniques and includes two more mini-testimonies.
Chapter 5 discusses George Whitefield’s commitment to the doctrines of the new birth and justification by faith alone. These two issues were central to his teaching.
Chapter 6 looks at the work of the Holy Spirit. George Whitefield was vehemently opposed to Antinomianism and committed to continuing sanctification after justification. There are three other points of interest in this chapter. First, John Wesley was teaching (in error) the idea that humans can live in sinless perfection, and Whitefield opposed him on this point. Second, there was a great deal of emotional fervor that accompanied the revival meetings. This fanatic emotionalism took place in the name of the Holy Spirit, and as such, there was also a great deal of opposition. Third, George Whitefield was, interestingly, a cessationist, believing that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the apostolic age, and were reserved for special moves of God. John Wesley was also a cessationist, though his reasoning and timing for cessationism were entirely different.
Chapter 7 examines George Whitefield’s Calvinist (Reformed) theology, including his love for the Reformers and Puritans and his commitment to the doctrines of grace. There is also examination of his debate with John Wesley, an ardent Arminian.
Chapter 8, Impacting the Baptists, discusses the impact the Anglican George Whitefield had on Baptist theology and practice. This chapter is full of the mini-biographies I enjoyed so much throughout the book.
The last chapter examines George Whitefield as a celebrity. From the source documents it appears that he was entirely grounded in his love for Christ and the church, not motivated by the tremendous crowds that thronged to see him past his love for their souls.
George Whitefield was an important figure in the history of the church. His impact is still felt today, and he is worth studying as students move through this part of history. I highly recommend George Whitefield by Michael A.G. Haykin from EP books for older students.
For children ages 7-12, I recommend a more narrative biography on Whitefield from Christian Focus 4 Kids: George Whitefield: Voice That Woke the World (Trailblazers), written by Lucille Travis.
George Whitefield would coordinate well with studies involving
- Scotland, England, and America
- The 18th Century
- Calvinism and Arminianism
- John and Charles Wesley
- The Transatlantic 18th Century Evangelical Revival
- The Great Awakening
You can find George Whitefield at
Bitesize Biographies from EP Books
Additional Bitesize Biographies reviewed at Thinking Kids:
Other books for older students reviewed on Thinking Kids:
- God’s Story: A Student’s Guide to Church History by Brian Cosby
- Water the Earth: A Student’s Guide to Missions by Aaron Little
- Rebels Rescued: A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology by Brian Cosby
- Bitesize Theology: An ABC of Christian Faith by Peter Jeffrey
- Questions God Asks by Israel Wayne
- Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t) by Douglas Bond
Thinking Kids Book Review Indexes
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- Christian Books for Preschoolers
- Christian Books for 4-7 Year Olds
- Christian Books for the Middle Grades
- Christian Books for Middle School
- Christian Books for High School
- Christian Books for Kids’ Devotions
- Christian Books about Parenting
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