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The Accidental Revolutionary
George Whitefield and the Creation of America
Patriots. Founding Fathers. Revolutionaries. For many Americans, the colonial heroes deserve special celebratory reverence. Yet while Washington's leadership, Franklin's writings, and Revere's ride captivate us, the inspiration and influence George Whitefield instilled within the revolutionary spirits of early Americans is regrettably unknown.
In this refreshing biography, Jerome Dean Mahaffey deftly moves beyond Whitefield's colonial celebrity to show how his rhetoric and ministry worked for freedom, situating Whitefield alongside the most revolutionary founders. As this Anglican revivalist traveled among the colonies, he delivered exhilarating sermons deeply saturated with political implications—freedom from oppression, civil justice, communal cooperation. Whitefield helped to encourage in his listeners a longing for a new, uniquely American nationalism.
The Accidental Revolutionary tells the story of this forgotten founder, who may not have realized the repercussions of his words as he spoke them. Now, Mahaffey delicately shows that Whitefield converted colonists not just to Christianity but to a renewed sense of unification that ultimately made possible the American Revolution.
2. Launching the Ministry
3. A New Birth of Freedom
4. A Revolutionary Message
5. Controversy: "I'm just getting started"
6. Bishop Bashing
7. New England: Overthrow or Unify?
8. Between Two Extremes
9. Good King, Bad King
10. Church and State
11. France, Rome, and Hell
12. Reprisal from the Church of England
13. The Deep Laid Plot
14. Preaching Himself to Death
15. Whitefield's Legacy
16. A Political Man
“Well-grounded in scholarship and carefully executed, Gardner’s method is also highly energetic, associative, and digressive."
—Angelica Alaimo O’Donnell, Fordham University, Anglican Theological Review (95:1)
"In this sparkling biography of the famed 18th century revivalist George Whitefield, Mahaffey argues that his enduring importance in American history lies in politics as much as in religion. A masterful stylist, Mahaffey brings fresh perspectives to old arguments and makes them live again in remarkably arresting ways."
—Grant Wacker, Professor of Christian History, Duke Divinity School
"Mahaffey points out that Whitefield's preaching provided the template for a new way of viewing the world and for Americans to view themselves. ... Students of American history and students of the preaching art will benefit from this book."
—The Baptist Standard
"Mahaffey has written an insightful rhetorical genealogy showing how the interplay of religious and political themes of the Great Awakening fostered the birth of a distinctively American republican identity."
—John Angus Campbell, Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication, University of Memphis
"Mahaffey has put all students and scholars of the 18th-century transatlantic revivals—events that so hugely shaped both the British and the emerging American cultures—in his debt with this incisive and compelling work. His research will help all who seek to better understand this critically important period by providing new insights into the seminal importance of the too often neglected figure of George Whitefield."
—Richard Land, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention
"Mahaffey shows how Whitefield's bold challenge to settled religious doctrines and hierarchies helped coax the colonies in the direction of independence."
—Christianity Today (Oct. 2011)
"Mahaffey's book represents a mature reflection on the long-range implications of religious ideals and their unexpected consequences."
—Peter Choi, Books & Culture (January/February 2015)
"The revivalist George Whitefield was the best-known person in eighteenth-century America, yet he remains almost forgotten among Americans today. Mahaffey offers a readable and revealing introduction to the life of this brilliant preacher and friend of American liberty."
—Thomas S. Kidd, Associate Professor of History, Baylor University, and author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution
Jerome Dean Mahaffey (Ph.D. University of Memphis) is Lecturer in the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University and the author of Preaching Politics: The Religious Rhetoric of George Whitefield and the Founding of a New Nation.