THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN AMERICA
Who is the most famous man in America? President Trump? Bill Clinton? Denzel Washington?
Different question: who was the most famous man in America 250 years ago? That’s easy: George Whitefield, the great British evangelist. Have you ever heard of him? He spoke to the largest crowds in colonial history and had greater name recognition than Ben Franklin. This guy was a rock star… how quickly a nation forgets. Whitefield is worth meeting!
Newspapers in the colonies called him the “marvel of the age.” Whitefield was a preacher capable of commanding thousands on two continents through the sheer power of his oratory. In his lifetime, he preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million listeners.
Though mentored by John Wesley, Whitefield set his own theological course, becoming a convinced Calvinist. His main theme was the necessity of the “new birth” by which he meant a conversion experience. He was clear that to be made right with God we must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be born again.
The great American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, knew Whitefield and even let him preach in his church. Edwards’ wife, Sarah, remarked about Whitefield, “He makes less of the doctrines than our American preachers generally do and aims more at affecting the heart. He is a born orator. A prejudiced person, I know, might say that this is all theatrical artifice and display, but not so will anyone think who has seen and known him.”
Whitefield made 13 trips across the Atlantic. With every visit to the colonies, he became more popular. Before his tours of the colonies were complete, virtually every man, woman, and child had heard the “Grand Itinerant” at least once. Whitefield’s impact in America was so pervasive that he can justly be styled America’s first cultural hero. Indeed, before Whitefield, it is doubtful any name, other than royalty, was known equally from Boston to Charleston.
If you’re interested in reading more about this fascinating man, I’d highly recommend Thomas Kidd’s gripping biography, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (2014, Yale Press).
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor