One Man’s Velvet

NPG D4777, George Whitefield

Being something of one of his many modern incarnations, it is little wonder John Piper gushes as he does over George Whitefield.  Oh! the tempatations celebrity affords. Apparently, popularity really is important. Me and my silly admonitions to my children to avoid, as the kids call it, “the cliques” on the playground.

However unintended, the post here does give me another title to my nurture-your-inner-confessionalist reading list:

“Harry Stout, professor of history at Yale, is not as sure about the purity of Whitefield’s motives as Sarah Edwards was. His biography, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitfield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, is the most sustained piece of historical cynicism I have ever read. In the first 100 pages of this book, I wrote the word cynical in the margin 70 times.”

If Stout’s work is the most sustained piece of historical cynicism Piper has ever read then I wonder if his sketch here could be said to be one of the most sustained pieces of religious naiveté ever written. After all, as I read Piper’s thumbnail I wrote the word naïve, well, I lost count. But I don’t think it was a nice, round number like Piper’s.

This entry was posted in Confessionalism, Reformed Confessionalism, under-confessionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to One Man’s Velvet

  1. Piper is not the first to decry Stout’s carefully documented and thoughtful account of Whitefield but can they refute his history? History can be an ugly business but it’s got to be done. Yelling at Harry doesn’t change the facts or a persuasive analysis. Stout isn’t saying anything more than “Whitefield was a human being” and implicitly, “Hagiography is not history.”

  2. Zrim says:


    Your comment makes me think of another by DGH, which roughly paraphrased is: “I get nervous when religionists do things like history (politics, social criticism, etc.).”

  3. Arnold Dallimore railed against and fumed about Stout for pages but never laid a substantive glove on him.

    If Piper doesn’t like Stout then he should definitely not read Marsden on Edwards.

  4. Zrim says:

    Arnold Dallimore railed against and fumed about Stout for pages but never laid a substantive glove on him.

    Stout must have the anointing on him. The Spirit does move in mysterious ways.

  5. Phil Baiden says:

    Can I get some clarification, please?

    Whitefield and the 1GA had some elements that were a bit suspect and led to the 2GA.
    Am I on the right track here?

    Having said that, would you acknowledge Whitefield to be a great preacher and evangelist?

    In other words: Do we dismiss everything he ever did, or learn from him whilst acknowledging his failings?

  6. Phil,

    You should read Stout’s book. You might also look at Recovering the Reformed Confession. There’s an essay in Tabletalk (2003) on Whitefield. No one wants to dismiss everything that Whitefield did nor does anyone here want to deny that the Spirit worked through Whitefield to do amazing things but it is important to recognize that GW was a human being, that he was a sinner, that he helped set in motion patterns and practices and attitudes that made the 2GA possible, that the 1GA and 2GA were not hermetically sealed from one another but that rather the one became the other. So, yes, you’re on the right track.

  7. Phil Baiden says:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I’ll read RRC as soon as it arrives here in the UK…

    Which I’m working on.

  8. Zrim, I’m totally new to this outlook on Whitefield and Edwards. Reading Recovering the Reformed Confession was a jolt to me, but a helpful nudge in the right direction.

    What types of things (if you have the time and inclination to write about them) was Stout calling out Whitefield for?

  9. Zrim says:

    Hi Nick,

    It’s about time you showed up in here. I’ve been holding an extra roll for you.

    Re Stout, as I imply in the post-proper, the book has only very recently made my short reading list (although my reading of Hart has made me familiar with his name). Once time and money shine their face upon me perhaps I will be better able to respond. But my hunch is that it may have more to do with calling out those who would rather uncritically assign nothing but praise to GW than take a more sober posture toward a celebrity-sinner.

    Thanks for stopping by. Your blogging has reminded me what it was like to be freshly turned on to the Reformed tradition all those years ago. You go, boy.

  10. Thanks Zrim. I’ve been a lurker here for a while (sounds creepy I know). The Reformed faith has put wind in my flagging christian sails. Enjoying your healthy doses of cynicism!

  11. GLW Johnson says:

    Charles Hodge’s ‘The Constitutional History of The presbyterian Church in The United States of America’ ( Philadelphia:Presbyterian Board Of Publication, 1851) shows that Hodge likewise took a dim view of both Whitefield and Edwards on revival and the nature of the Great Awakening itself.

  12. GLW Johnson says:

    smiley face?! That shouldn’t be there!

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