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Book Review: “Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys” by Mark Noll Essay (Critical Writing)


Mark Noll, a Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College and the author of the book The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys describes the history of Christianity expounding much on the rise of evangelicalism. Initially, individuals understood the concept of evangelicalism differently due to personal thinking.

For instance, in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther proclaimed an evangelical version of salvation in Christ over what he termed as ‘‘the corrupt teachings of the Roman Catholic Church’’ (Andrews 2005, 663). Therefore, it became associated explicitly with the protestant reformation.

However, in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the theologians have harmonized the meaning evangelicalism as the spread of legitimate news. Therefore, much as I may agree with the author’s view on the inherited church orders, I withdraw my support when he describes Whitefield- audacious Christian as an expert marketer.

The author considers the logical-global account of the origins of English-speaking evangelicalism in terms of inherited church orders and genuine Christian experiences, spread of new churches, oppositions from the mother churches, audacious Christians, revivals and controversies in the eighteenth century as well as a new breed of preachers among other factors.

Apart from considering religions and sexual categories, conflicts and wars, science and politics factors as having influenced evangelicalism, the author’s focus is on the organizations and the work of individuals. He focuses on the familiar individuals such as Charles Wesley and George Whitefield among others and events, which outlined the story of the vibrant Christian movement (Andrews 2005, 662).

The author asserts that the revivals in North America and Britain initiated the movement by defining its philosophy, convictions and subsequent direction. In the revivals, characters shaped the main obligations of evangelicals that have existed to date.

The book presents a remarkably comprehensive narration of the rise of evangelicalism in the United States. Therefore, the movements and influences made by Whitefield and Wesley during their preaching are the paramount concern.

The evangelical movements link to the activities of Whitefield. According to the author, Whitefield concerted on conversion and holy living, which marked the evangelistic movements. Since he was exceedingly flexible to the church norms and practices, he adopted religious customs that characterized the fundamental aspects of evangelical movements (Andrews 2005, 664).

Such movements are what the book describes as the general history of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world in the eighteenth century and other regions touched by the evangelical activities. The book presents the works of Whitefield in the US where there was a lot of racism and the slave trade.

Evangelicalism fashioned the general view of people. Noll’s concerns are for an evangelicalism, which had coexisted with the development of knowledge and that, is weak in its formation of worldviews. Rationally, evangelicalism resulted into basic intellectual insights of comprehending the religious structures of British and North American people (Andrews 2005, 658).

Since the new churches emerged from the mother churches, they had to inherit some practices, which formed the church doctrines. For instance, today churches still use and appreciate the hymns born during evangelicalism era. The ability to interpret and apply the doctrines and the bible depends on an individual. Arguably, human interpretations and perceptions are different.

Therefore, they outrage evangelical existence in their minds. As such, subjectivist evangelicalism directed Christians down anti-intellectual paths, which may not prepare a person well to face the mounting challenges of the later centuries.

Moreover, churches continue to claim that they are the true churches of God. People begin to wonder the truthfulness of the evangelicals and the churches. For instance, one of the ‘‘Boston Anglicans insisted that the Church of England was the only true church, because it followed exactly the ecclesiastical pattern provided by Jesus himself’’ (Andrews 2005, 665).

However, Whitefield argued that there was much greater flexibility in the gospel and such reasoning are wrong. Nobody can identify the most evangelical. According to Noll, evangelical principles of true Christianity oppose the inherited church order.

When Whitefield arrived in the US, he started preaching in both the big and the small cities. The author asserts that thousands of people turned up to listen to his sermons. However, the fact that Whitefield was young, charismatic and eloquent does not provide any reasonable grounds that qualify him as an expert marketer (Andrews 2005, 659).

During his short stay at the trading centre, he realizes that people had the ability to smuggle goods-slaves past inspectors. Supposing he was marketing his eloquence, he would not have bothered himself with his mission of influencing people to be holy.

In deed, he began the preaching by asking ‘‘what will become of you, who cheat the King of his taxes’’ (Andrews 2005, 660). He, however, insisted that people would only find the rest in Jesus Christ. According to Noll, the impressive sermons of Whitefield only promote local revivals.

Whitefield is ‘‘amongst the generation of evangelicals who challenged both over-regulation and under-supply in the religious market place’’ (Andrews 2005, 661). The author fails to justify such claims but only questions whether the movements were genuine work of the Holy Spirit or not.

For this reason, thousands of people were ready for the new revival and nothing could stop them from listening to the teachings of Whitefield. Therefore, they never observe Whitefield as an expert marketer.

For instance, Whitefield stated that ‘‘it was best to preach the new birth, and the power of godliness, and not to insist so much on the form: for people would never be brought to one mind as to that; nor did Jesus Christ ever intend it’’ (Andrews 2005, 666).

In conclusion, since people are often responsive to the Word of God, the book provides the concepts of evangelicalism somewhat magnificently. Noll points out how evangelicalism did not reflect the reformation of social structures. It was deeply paternalistic. The author points to the brilliant successes and certain structural and universal failures (Andrews 2005, 657).

The effects of such failures are subjects of study in the other related volumes. Therefore, new preachers need to re-examine their original starting-point. Otherwise, people should reflect on the state of Bible-believing Christianity in the English-speaking world.

Reference List

Andrews, Dee E. 2005. The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesley. Journal of Religion, 85, no. 4 (October): 655-667.

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IvyPanda. "Book Review: “Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys” by Mark Noll." May 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/book-review-rise-of-evangelicalism-the-age-of-edwards-whitefield-and-the-wesleys-by-mark-noll-critical-writing/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Book Review: “Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys” by Mark Noll." May 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/book-review-rise-of-evangelicalism-the-age-of-edwards-whitefield-and-the-wesleys-by-mark-noll-critical-writing/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Book Review: “Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys” by Mark Noll'. 11 May.

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