George Whitefield's Preaching: An Evangelical Response to the Enlightenment
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SubjectWhitefield, George, 1714-1770.
Preaching -- History -- 18th century.
Apologetics -- History.
Van Til, Cornelius, 1895-1987.
This dissertation examines the preaching ministry of George Whitefield as a precursor to presuppositional apologetics in relation to the cultural shift of the Enlightenment. The presupposition of the authority of the Word of God is the concept that bridges Whitefield’s preaching and presuppositional apologetics. Chapter 1 presents the research questions narrowing the topic. This section also presents background information as well as methodology of this work. Chapter 2 describes the biographical information of Whitefield. The cultural influences marked his life from an early age, but it was the influence of John and Charles Wesley that guided his faith. Chapter 3 outlines the thought of the Enlightenment period. Specifically, rationalism as a means to discerning and living by truth. Philosophical influences such as Locke, Newton, Hume, Descartes, and Kant are overviewed. The First Great Awakening was the result of many cultural and theological ideas boiling over simultaneously. People were craving truth, direction, and a sense of authority. The Awakening highlighted the movement of the Holy Spirit theologically and a resurgence of biblical truth culturally. The work of John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards is also detailed in regards to their efforts to combat rationalism as sole priority in worldview thinking. Chapter 4 highlights the apologetic within the polemic of Whitefield. His Calvinistic theology is identified and connected to the Articles of faith for the Church of England. This leads to the idea of presuppositional apologetics found within his preaching. Cornelius Van Til, the father of presuppositional apologetics, is also overviewed to show the distinct connection between Whitefield’s thoughts in holding a high view of Scripture and what becomes presuppositional apologetics. Chapter 5 examines the sermons of Whitefield for specific content related to evangelical pushback against Enlightenment thought. Key propositions of the Enlightenment regarding authority, morality, and ultimate truth are answered within the preaching of Whitefield. Each are examined thoroughly. Chapter 6 presents a conclusion regarding the apologetic of Whitefield in his preaching towards the Enlightenment. It reveals connections between the presupposition of the authority of the revelation of God and his polemic. Other connections between the reformer John Calvin and the father of presuppositional apologetics, Cornelius Van Til, are also noted.