So every Friday, I’m going to offer up a book review. Just to keep fresh on various topics. Will also post good book reviews from students as I receive them. FIRST UP: Harry Stout’s classic work on George Whitefield: The Divine Drmatist.
Harry Stout presents a portrait of George Whitefield as “Anglo-America’s first religious celebrity, the symbol for a dawning modern age” (xvi). Whitefield’s innovations related to revivals in the Anglo-American context (such as the incorporation of the theatrical in preaching, the para-church nature of his ministry, and the willingness to compete in the marketplace) reveals his ability to adapt to the emerging consumer culture (xvii). This adaptability reflects a salient characteristic of modern evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has demonstrated the ability to adjust to cultural trends over the course of American history and Whitefield provides the example and prototype of evangelicalism’s intersection with contemporary culture.
Utilizing primary source material, Stout presents a compelling argument. The strength of Stout’s argument lies in its comprehensive nature and his ability to trace a consistent profile throughout the narrative. One question that I would raise about the work, however, is the seeming ease with which Stout attributes negative motives to Whitefield. On numerous occasions, Stout questions the purity of Whitefield’s motives and seems to focus on his negative motives. Is there more conjecture than is necessary by Stout? While one could argue the merits of dissecting Whitefield’s motives, would it be more helpful to focus on outcomes? Or would that approach reflect the pragmatism of both 18th century and 21st century American evangelicalism?
 For example, Stout is quick to attribute pragmatic motivations for Whitefield. This perspective could easily disintegrate into a second-hand interpretation of a fame hungry demagogue desperately willing to resort to anything to accomplish his own goals. More could be said about the possibility of a purity in his motivation.