Book Reviews

Book Review: “Theologies of the American Revivalists” by Robert W. Caldwell III

What images does the word “revival” bring to your mind? For me, the image is a rather monolithic one of fiery preaching and hands waving, altar calls and massive crowds. Robert W. Caldwell III’s Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney surveys the field of these American revivals and offers both a corrective and instructive voice.

The work is organized around different revival movements. Caldwell III differentiates between such movements as the Congregationalists, the New Divinity Movement, Jonathan Edwards, the Second Great Awakening, the Early American Baptists, Charles Finney, and more. After these chapters providing overviews of these varied movements, a chapter follows offering analysis of and response to revival theology.

What the overview chapters revealed to me was that my vision of what a “revival” looks like was really an amalgamated picture combining elements of Jonathan Edwards, the New Divinity Movement, and more. This is one of the greatest strengths of the book; it provides readers with clearer definitions of and differentiation between Revival movements. Each movement had a slightly different goal, many had differing views of what it meant to be “saved,” prayer and spirituality differed as well. Caldwell III helps draw these lines in an interesting, if sometimes dry, way.

The analysis of Revivalist theology leads Caldwell III to argue that a “moderate evangelical” theology can reveal a kind of shared link between all the revivalist movements, as well as reveal the underpinnnings of modern evangelicalism. This latter insight is particularly valuable, especially due to modern evangelicalisms oft-bemoaned lack of self-awareness regarding its roots. Caldwell, through this book, shows that evangelicalism did not spring ex nihilo, but rather had its own period of development with an interesting and sometimes checkered past.

Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney is a fascinating work. Caldwell III has shown that the American Revivals were interconnected in many important ways, but more intriguingly, has shown the spontaneity of the movement and its continuing impact.

The Good 

+Demonstrates the diversity of the American revivals, as well as connections between them
+Shows a broad historical perspective while also focusing on major voices
+Important historically for understanding its topic

The Bad

-Somewhat dry at times

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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