The Accidental Revolutionary
by Jerome Dean Mahaffey
Baylor University Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker
This book was released several years ago. And, a few years after receiving it, I am just getting down to posting a review of The Accidental Revolutionary by Jerome Dean Mahaffey. Let that not color your impression of this fine book or the reviewer however. The book is not really time-sensitive. And the thoughtful material takes some time to read, digest, and consider.
To make a long story short, Mahaffey's thesis is that George Whitfield's preaching and teaching helped galvanize and form the United States of America, and what he taught gave them philosophical underpinnings and theological justification for the revolt that would come in the colonies just a few years after his death.
Whitefield was unique. He was a Calvinist, and a revivalist. He was admired by the deist Benjamin Franklin, and had along and complicated relationship with John Wesley and his friends. He was born in England, but he died here in America, and his unique and dramatic preaching style was best received in the States.
From early on, Whitefield ordered his life and ministry as he felt led by the Spirit, even if that chafed against his peers and ecclesiastical authority. He took church meetings out of buildings and would speak in outdoor settings (which caused no little uproar, especially in England). He preached without notes. He went more where he wanted to go than where he was directed to go. He was led to faith by the Wesleys, but then adopted some theological beliefs that were not very compatible with them.
Certain ideas began to develop in his preaching and his conversations with folks, especially Americans. He gave people permission, through his preaching, to question authority. And his preaching began to plant the seeds that military revolt was justified in order to experience the freedom that God called his people to live in.
As the Declaration of Independence was written and the Revolution fought, people often felt they were fighting, in some sense, a holy war. Whitefield gave the colonists the theological groundwork to come to these conclusions. That is why some proclaim, "No Whitefield, no revolution" (ix)