Why the 1st Great Awakening?

Everybody has a story.  I have a story.  You have a story.  The harried lady at the grocery store has a story.

Every story is influenced by philosophy.  We often do not think of philosophy as the influencers of our stories.  However, many philosophies and movements influenced the First Great Awakening.  It only takes a single word to begin to assess the motivation of a person, movement, or age.


Today we must ask the writers of the 1st Great Awakening, “Why?”  Asking a simple question will lead you through an issue to discover the deep philosophies and motivations in any movement.

Why did theologians alter their view of Salvation?

The German Lutheran Church continued to experience a spiritual “deadness” in their congregations.  The German Pietists supposed this deadness was caused by a lack of inner conversion.  They determined to make a change.

In Gary DeLashmutt’ article “Early German Lutheran Pietism Understanding of Justification” he states,

“God legally cancels the debt of our sins and imputes Christ’s righteousness to us when we place our faith in Christ and His work on the cross to make us acceptable to God.”[1]

This view of Salvation through faith began to spread throughout Europe.  Here’s another excellent place to ask, “Why?”

Why did the belief in Salvation through faith alone spread through Europe?

Now before we answer that question, we must remember that people are influenced by the stories of others.  With this in mind, it make perfect sense that the spread of Salvation through Faith, not works came right after a dramatic conversion.   John Wesley dramatically converted to Christianity and began preaching a traveling with the message of a faith-based gospel only two weeks later.

The movement was largely based on Ephesians 2:8-9 which explains,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[2]

So, why did this doctrine expand to the American soil?

George Whitfield, also from England, converted as well and spread the movement America through a series of seven evangelical trips. These seven trips allowed this doctrine to travel throughout the new American society.

Why did Johnathan Edwards (the poster boy for the 1st Great Awakening) adopt this doctrine?  

After the doctrine of salvation through faith spread to America, William Tennent founded “The Log School,” now known as Princeton University, to train 13 young men in Biblical Theology.  His son Gilbert Tennent studied there to prepare for his ministry.  Gilbert Tennent’s ministry was a springboard for the ministry of Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards did not simply accept the teachings of others for himself, rather he spent long hours in meditation, prayer, and study.  He would often go on long walks only to return with even more questions than those he left to answer.

Ultimately, his story (and consequently the story of the 1st Great Awakening) was influenced by numerous other sources, many that he did not know existed.

Every story has a beginning, whether complex or simple, profound or superficial.  By asking, “Why?” we begin to understood the motivations of movements, countries, and individuals.


[1] Early German Lutheran Pietism’s Understanding of Justification. (n.d.). https://www.xenos.org/essays/early-german-lutheran-pietisms-understanding-justification

[2] Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Barker, K. L., Burdick, D. W., & Boa, K. (1999). Zondervan NASB study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House.


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