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May 17, 2021

The Great Awakening

One of the most memorable stories from the book of Acts is Pentecost, when tongues of fire rest on the apostles’ heads amid a sound of rushing wind. Hearing the commotion, a large crowd assembles. By day’s end there are 3,000 new converts. Protestant revivalists in the 18th century often referenced the story of Pentecost. They were part of a movement popularly known as the Great Awakening. Sweeping across English-speaking Europe and the American colonies, it was a religious revival movement that emphasized “new birth” or individual conversion. Revivalists believed that dramatic events were not limited to Bible stories but were occurring in their own times. Many believed that a new Pentecost, with equally dramatic signs and spiritual outpourings, was happening in their midst. But not everyone liked what they saw. Some prominent ministers opposed the revival and were concerned that the emotional outpourings were excessive. Still, the revival movement brought about lasting social and religious change. It deepened commitment to religious freedom and created a sense of solidarity across colonial lines. However, it also divided churches and created an environment in which people questioned authority. Some claim that spirit of defiance helped spawn the American Revolution.


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